Liberation alarmed by situation in Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh)

The situation in the Southern Caucasus since the lightning offensive of the Azerbaijan Republic’s army against the Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) enclave on Tuesday 19 September is both alarming and rapidly deteriorating – with the very real possibility of further bloodshed, a wider regional fallout, and a major humanitarian crisis to follow. 

Following the full-scale military attack by the Azerbaijan Republic’s military on the long-disputed landlocked territory – the majority population of which has been ethnic Armenian for as long as records have existed – the fast-moving events have taken a sharp turn for the worse with many thousands of desperate local civilians either seeking safety at the bases of Russian troops that have been stationed in the area as peacekeepers since the one-month war in autumn 2020 or taking to the roads towards Armenia, legitimately fearful of what absorption into the Azerbaijan Republic would portend for them in reality.

The news of the Azerbaijan Republic – supported by NATO member and aspiring regional power, Türkiye – essentially looking to dictate terms to the Armenian side, with no effective censure or restraint from the hitherto largely passive international community, is sharply destabilising the situation in a region already fraught with tension.  And this instability has the potential to extend well beyond the frontiers of the two countries immediately concerned.

The news of a massively provocative meeting held on Monday 25 September between the leaders of the Azerbaijan Republic and its chief backer, Türkiye (to celebrate the former’s recent “victory”) in the Nakhchivan exclave has significantly raised the level of alarm in both Iran and Armenia.  Nakhchivan is a strip of the Azerbaijan Republic’s territory sandwiched between Armenia, Iran, and Türkiye, which the governments in Ankara and Baku have long desired to see linked overland with the Azerbaijan Republic via the Zangezur corridor, thereby rendering the two countries contiguous with one another.  Such a scenario would not only involve the carving out of land from the sovereign territory of Armenia along its southernmost flank, but also the unilateral re-drawing of the borders between Iran and Armenia thus constituting a flagrant violation of international law.  This would, of course, carry the implicit risk of further military aggression by the Azerbaijan Republic – this time against Armenia itself – significant bloodshed, as well as a wider conflagration.

Liberation is seriously concerned about the seeming lack of any proactive, effective, or material measure on the part of the UN and its Security Council in response to the rapidly escalating situation on the ground in the Southern Caucasus; the blatant violations of international law being committed before the eyes of the world by the Azerbaijan Republic, including ethnic cleansing; as well as the grave impact of these developments on the blameless civilian population of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) and the risk of another dire humanitarian crisis.

Liberation strongly concurs with the editorial of the Morning Star newspaper on Monday 25 September focusing on the developments in Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) and thus hereby reproduces its text for our readership:

The Nagorno-Karabakh tragedy has roots in past genocides

The conquest of ethnic Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijan is an unfolding disaster. It has all the hallmarks of an ethnic cleansing operation. Regional leaders said today that the 120,000 Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh would leave en masse as they did not feel safe.

Why would they? Since Azerbaijan last launched a war there in 2020 observers have documented torture and extrajudicial executions by its forces.

Cultural bodies like Caucasus Heritage Watch have protested at evidence of the destruction of Armenian churches, their conversion into mosques or intrusive “restoration” projects removing Armenian inscriptions.

There are grim precedents. Shusha, a city retaken by Azerbaijan in 2020 whose cathedral is undergoing one such “restoration,” had its Armenian population massacred by Azeris in 1920.

It was an aftershock of the Armenian genocide, in which upwards of a million Armenians were put to death by the Ottoman empire and young Turkish republic.

Does the history matter? Azerbaijan is a Turkic country and a close ally of Turkey, which armed and trained its military before the 2020 war.

Turkish President Erdogan has intervened in the Libyan and Syrian civil wars and occupies part of north-east Syria, leading Damascus to accuse him of wanting to rebuild an Ottoman-style empire. He has openly celebrated the ethnic cleansing wave that accompanied the birth of the modern Turkish state, threatening Greece with “another Izmir,” referring to the elimination of the Greek and Armenian populations of that city (then known as Smyrna) in 1922.

The Armenian genocide was a forerunner of the worst crimes of the 20th century. The transition from multinational empires to nation-states was complex, and for some nations had a genuine element of liberation.

But the notion that a state ought to be ethnically homogenous was used from the start in Turkey and later by fascist regimes to justify the seizure of land and the expulsion, and ultimately the extermination, of other races.

Nor should socialists ignore the use to which this nationalism was put by US president Woodrow Wilson following the end of the first world war. National liberation from the Austrian, German and Russian empires (for Europeans, not colonised territories) was counterposed to the socialist internationalism of the Russian Revolution, an alternative vision of “liberation” that left the class structure of Europe intact.

But territories inhabited by a mix of races cannot be easily defined as belonging to one or another.

The determination to draw ethnic borders has led to repeated bloodshed in the Caucasus since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

It was also used to justify the dismemberment of Yugoslavia in a series of brutal wars, and erupts sporadically into violence in Serb-majority North Kosovo to this day. It prompted Ukrainian nationalists to attack the rights of Russian speakers after the 2014 coup, and is now used to defend an expansionist war allegedly in their defence by Moscow.

These conflicts are erupting again because nationalist “solutions” last only as long as one side has the power to subdue the other.

Azerbaijan’s hand has been freed by Russia’s entanglement in Ukraine. Russia has brokered a ceasefire as it did in 2020, but these amount to Azerbaijani victories imposed despite the evidently pointless presence of 2,000 Russian peacekeepers.

Five Russian soldiers were even killed in last week’s fighting without Moscow feeling confident enough to react, either because it is overstretched or because good relations with Turkey are its best hope of fragmenting the Nato war machine.

Regional conflicts, given the interest of major powers in exploiting local grievances, equate to flashpoints that could lead to wider wars.

And the prospective flight of the entire Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh is a tragedy, the effacing of a people and their culture.

Those resisting this catastrophe deserve our solidarity — while we fight for all countries to respect the rights of minority peoples and reject the divisive politics of nationalism.

Photo: An official welcoming ceremony for Prime Minister of the Republic of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who paid an official visit to Azerbaijan, 2010/Creative Commons. There are grim precedents of current events . Shusha, a city retaken by Azerbaijan in 2020 whose cathedral is undergoing one such “restoration,” had its Armenian population massacred by Azeris in 1920. Azerbaijan is a Turkic country and a close ally of Turkey, which armed and trained its military before the 2020 war.

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