The Unknown Caucasus War- Azerbaijan & Armenia

Nestled between Georgia, Iran, Russia, Turkey and two other disputed enclaves, Nagorno-Karabakh and Nakchivan lies Azerbaijan and Armenia. The two former Soviet Union states have been fighting a brutal, century-long war on territorial and ethnic lines. Except the local Azeri & Armenian media houses, the media in those nations who either hold interests in these countries or have extended support to one or the other of the two parties involved and have a solid, vocal stand in the war, the minimal to absolutely no media coverage about this war by the international media is precisely why the war between Azerbaijan & Armenia is shockingly unknown.

After the downfall of the Russian empire, Georgia declared itself as an independent state following which both Azerbaijan & Armenia also declared themselves as independent nations on the same day. But independence was a very short-lived phenomenon for all the three countries because now they were being integrated into the USSR which was essentially the successor of the Russian Revolution which overthrew the Russian Empire.

The Nagorno-Karabakh region, during the Soviet times, was officially under the Azerbaijan SSR though they were predominantly inhabited by Armenians. Apart from a few confrontations during their stint in the USSR, Azerbaijan & Armenia largely maintained cordial relations if not peaceful. As the end of the Soviet Union kept getting more & more imminent, clashes between Azerbaijan & Armenia started getting deadlier and bloodier eventually resulting in a mass exodus of Armenians in Azerbaijan and Azeris in Armenia back to the lands they belonged ideally. Both the sides accuse each other of severe ethnic cleansing and Azerbaijan has been repeatedly accused of destroying monuments which served as testaments of Armenian heritage in the Nakchivan enclave. The war that began in 1988 ended in 1994 with a Russian-brokered ceasefire. Armenia took over the control of not only the Nagorno-Karabakh region but also seven other districts around leaving Azerbaijan with 15% of less territory.

Today, Azerbaijan & Armenia have absolutely no diplomatic relations, whatsoever. Threats of taking over Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia fly very casually from Baku to Yerevan. Nagorno-Karabakh is a de-facto independent state run by an Armenian majority government and backed by the Republic of Armenia but internationally recognised as a part of Azerbaijan. Nakhchivan, on the other hand, is not a disputed enclave but is an autonomous region, under Azerbaijan and is a breakaway from mainland Azerbaijan surrounded by Iran, Armenia and Turkey. This is the closest Azerbaijan gets to Turkey, one of its most important ally.

Citizens of Armenia, individuals with Armenian descent and people whose passport clearly displays a proof of their visit to Armenia can never visit Azerbaijan. During Eurovision, a pan-European music contest is when the mutual hostility between Azerbaijan & Armenia get more and more glaring. It is often said that every time a contingent from Armenia performs on stage no television set in Azerbaijan would dare to telecast it. In fact, the state will ensure the performance never finds its way to Azeri households. Azerbaijan won Eurovision in the year 2011 because of which they were now going to host the 2012 edition of the contest. The 2012 edition saw the Armenians withdrawing from the contest citing security concerns. Also, if a citizen of Azerbaijan or anybody from Azeri territory even goes ahead and votes for the Armenian contingent, he can be reprimanded or arrested by the state on charges of espionage and for being a potential security threat.

There was a time when Baku’s defence expenditure was more than the whole of Yerevan’s national budget. With low oil prices and not so very good global economy, oil & gas rich Azerbaijan is now forced to slash its defence expenditure which may or may not be great news for Armenia. When compared, Azerbaijan seems to be doing relatively better economically. 2016 saw fresh clashes between Azerbaijan & Armenia. This time Azeri forces not only tried to attack Armenian forces but also recapture territory.

One must keep in mind that if the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia gets blown out of proportion it can lead to a regional catastrophe. One may ask how? Azerbaijan is backed by Turkey and Armenia is backed by Russia. Azerbaijan continues to co-exist with Russia bilaterally with a sense of great distrust. Meanwhile, relations between Turkey and Armenia have always been strained on lines of the Armenian genocide and also Turkey’s support for Azerbaijan. Armenia struggles without energy sources because both Turkey & Azerbaijan boycotted supply to the nation and a lot of transnational energy projects have been stalled or shelved because of territorial and diplomatic disputes.

Efforts to garner peace in the region have failed miserably and the two nations continue to remain at loggerheads with the potential of a war breaking out literally at any given time doing nothing but threatening the already threatened global peace & security. As for Azerbaijan and Armenia, a miracle is what we await!

Madhuvanti Srinivasan

Motor Mouth. Language Enthusiast. Lover of the Middle East & Turkey. Foreign policy & politics aficionado.

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