There are many forgotten regions of the world. Areas in which there is no shortage of human suffering that doesn’t make the big ticket news. Sadly, this has only increased with Russia’s war on Ukraine. One such region which has historically been overlooked, is Armenia. A small nation within the Caucasus that is fighting their own battle of survival. So let’s take a look at Armenia for a moment.
“We want to sign a paper, as a result of which we will be criticized, scolded, called a traitor, even the people may decide to remove us from power, but we will be grateful as a result of this Armenia will receive lasting peace and security on an area of 29,800km2. I will sign a solution that will ensure this. I am not interested in what will happen to me next; I am interested in what will happen to the Republic of Armenia” –Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan
PM Pashinyan said this on the 14th of September 2022 after Azeri attacks rocked the east of the nation for three days, the 12th-14th of September. At least 200 Armenian soldiers were killed in the attacks (as per Armenia, Azerbaijan claims 450), and at least 80 Azeri soldiers (As per Azerbaijan, Armenia claims 431).
Why is this happening..?
In order to understand what will happen in the future, we should understand; why are they fighting..? The two nations have long been embittered in ethnic strife over the region of what is commonly known as Nagorno-Karabakh, or Artsakh (Hereafter referred to as Artsakh). There is much to the areas history, but the modern strife can be dated to the Soviet era. Artsakh has a majority Armenian population, but was handed to the Azeri SSR in an attempt to gain Turkish support. Before and after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the region voted to join Armenia. A war ensued (from 1988-1994) which saw Armenia gain hold of not only Arstakh, but also several surrounding majority-Azeri regions. Despite this, Artsakh (and those separate regions) were internationally recognized as Azeri in the 1991 Alma Ata declaration. In 1991 Artsakh declared independence as the Republic of Artsakh. Though it has been effectively independent since, it is still internationally recognized as Azerbaijan.
In 2020 tensions once again boiled over into war. Known as either the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war, or the “44-Day War”. Though Armenia was able to hold on at first, Turkish supplied drones on top of thousands of Syrian mercenaries (some from Jihadist groups known for disappearances in Afrin) eventually overwhelmed Armenian and Artsakh forces. Thousands were killed in a month and a half, only ending with a Russian brokered ceasefire. Azerbaijan gained back the majority Azeri territories, and also gained pieces of Artsakh. Territory has been granted to Azerbaijan in pieces, with the local Armenian populations oftentimes being forced to evacuate the areas being handed over to Azerbaijan. The signing of this peace deal saw widespread protests throughout Armenia, including the storming of Armenia’s parliament building by hundreds of protestors. The crisis was so bad Armenia had to hold snap elections after widespread calls for Pashinyan’s resignation. Pashinyan still managed to win these elections.
Now fast forward to September 2022. Azerbaijan attacks for three days, citing “large-scale provocations” from Armenia (they claim Armenia was laying mines near several Azeri held regions). Across the three days, three separate videos emerged which shocked the world. The first that emerged showed Azeri soldiers raping, torturing, and then killing a female Armenian soldier. Her legs and fingers were cut off, with one of said fingers then being put into her mouth, and rocks were put into her eye sockets. One of the other two videos depicted Azeri soldiers executing 7 Armenian POW’s, with the last depicting an Armenian soldier being tortured by Azeri soldiers. In the last day, Pashinyan says he will recognize Azerbaijan’s territory. The statement was immediately met with protests as many gathered outside the gates of Parliament. Though he initially walked back on this statement, saying “No document has been signed and is going to be signed”, in Mid-October it was officially announced after a meeting between Azeri President Aliyev and PM Pashinyan in Prague that Armenia would indeed seek to recognize Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity as apart of what they hope to be a final peace deal. The meeting was largely organized by French President Macron and EU Council President Charles Michel. Michel has hosted several meetings between Aliyev and Pashinyan in Brussels.
So what does this mean..?
It means Armenia will recognize Artsakh as territory of Azerbaijan.
Artsakh’s government has repeatedly stated, both before and after this announcement, that they will never accept any position within Azerbaijan. They have demanded self-determination. Protests have been increasing in the self-declared Republic for the past couple years both in frequency and magnitude. Most recently, on the 30th of October, 40,000 gathered in Artsakh’s capital, Stepanakert, to protest. Both government and populace have unequivocally rejected anything short of self-determination.
Despite these protests, PM Pashinyan, President Aliyev, and President Putin met in Sochi on October 31st, in what was to lay the groundwork for the final peace deal. The meeting was fairly unsuccessful in establishing anything new, however, and only reaffirmed things that had already been agreed upon. (I wrote an article on this meeting which you can view here: https://theatlasnews.co/conflict/2022/11/01/armenia-azerbaijan-sochi-talks-prove-unfruitful/ )
Since this meeting, Pashinyan has agreed to a Russian proposal to delay the issue of status for Artsakh for an indefinite period of time.
“Moreover, it must be admitted that this is not a new situation, but in any case. To what extent is the policy of the government of Armenia in accordance with this vision? I must say that it fully and 100% coincides.”
The role of Iran
“At the moment, I cannot say whether there have been negotiations at the level of the relevant officials of the two countries. I do not rule out that there are and will be opportunities to supply Iranian weapons to Armenia,” -Iranian MP Robert Beglarian, while discussing a large-scale military drill that was occurring at Azerbaijan’s border in Mid-October.
Given the region, it was only a matter of time before I brought up Iran. But what role do they play in this conflict, and what do they seek to gain from it..?
Since Azerbaijan’s independence from the USSR, their relations with Iran have been rocky. Since the 44-Day war, they have deteriorated rapidly. Iran has repeatedly stated that any changes to Armenia’s recognized border will be “unacceptable” to them, even vowing to counter any attempt to do so with “Special resistance”. Several times since 2020 they have held large-scale military drills on their border with Azerbaijan, including two since the September attacks.
Several different groups have tried to hold meetings between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Several times the EU hosted the two, and of course Russia. Within the last few days, Iran attempted to host one such meeting, inviting the leaders of both nations. Pashinyan showed up, Aliyev refused. The speaker of Iran’s parliament was set to visit Azerbaijan in the coming days, he has postponed this trip and will instead head to Armenia.
Whether Iran means that they will militarily intervene is currently unclear. Especially since Azerbaijan presently occupies sovereign Armenian territory that they seized during the September attacks. Over the last two years Iran and Armenia have grown significantly closer, particularly in trade.
What does Iran seek to gain here..? Iran is a large regional power. They have their hands in many nations throughout the Middle-East and the surrounding area, and are currently fighting proxy-wars against both Turkey and Saudi Arabia, as well as many others. Azerbaijan is a very close ally of Turkey. They won the 44-Day war because of Turkish support. Armenia is a fantastic way for not only Iran to insert themselves in the Caucuses region, but also dislodge a potential Turkish hegemony over the area.
So what does the future hold..?
Since the 44-Day war there have been countless ceasefire violations, and still hundreds killed outside of conventional warfare. Armenian villages inherited by Azerbaijan face either evacuation or harassment and threats by Azeri forces. Armenian cultural and historical sites face widespread destruction by Azeri forces. President Aliyev has stated that people within Artsakh who don’t wish to accept Azeri citizenship “can find another place of residence”, calling any attempt at discussion of their future an “internal matter”.
“In any case, they can rest assured that their lives integrated into Azerbaijani society will be much better than their present life”.
Assuredly, what the future holds is either another war or a massive humanitarian crisis. Armenia simply does not have the international support to have a positive diplomatic outcome that would see Artsakh unified with them or independent, nor is Pashinyan pursuing a path like this. Artsakh’s government does not run under Armenian direction, and thus does not have to fold to any agreement Armenia proper signs. This being said, Armenia recognizing Artsakh as Azeri territory signals a decrease in Armenian government support for Artsakh, which spells a very uncertain future for the unrecognized Republic. Many within Artsakh are determined to stay there, as is shown by the massive protest in Stepanakert. Notably, Pashinyan’s “29,800km2” does not include Artsakh.
Appeasement has been shown time and time again to not work. Artsakh’s future is in their own hands.
-Written by GoodHistory contributor Sébastien G