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Karabakh: Some afterthoughts in the aftermath of war (Updated)

The city of Aghdam after 27 years of Armenian occupation

Now that the war is over and most of the Armenian occupation is being dismantled in favour of an Azeri reconstruction of the region some afterthoughts are in order in the aftermath.

One thing that has dominated reports from Karabakh over the last week has been the revelations of the Armenian vandalism inflicted on the formerly occupied territories.  The Azeri cities, settlements and villages of Fuzuli, Jabrayil, Zangilan and Aghdam are now seen for the first time by the outside world, in their state of ruin, destroyed by the occupiers and left to decay for a generation. They are ghost towns resembling the abandoned Chernobyl – although parts of Aghdam look more like Hiroshima. Homes, monuments, cultural and religious buildings, and even cemeteries in these areas, and in the great Azeri cultural centre of Shusha, were razed to the ground (Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan even admitted in a speech: “Shushi was an unfortunate, colourless city. Did we need Shushi? If we needed it, why was it left in that condition?”)

The retreating Armenian settlers/colonists were also seen conducting a “scorched earth” policy in the areas they were leaving. Settlers/colonists are often noted for destroying their occupation infrastructure when they are overcome by local majorities which they can no longer keep down. The settler mentality is a racist one of superiority in which the most humble colonist believes himself a higher form of civilization than those he understands he is destined to replace on a territory. When his world is shattered by a resurgence of those he dispossesses he takes all that he sees as his work, no matter how mundane – even toilet bowls! Of course, the destruction of settlements, houses, schools and livestock is environmental crime. Most of the settlers “achievements” are, in fact, the result of theft from the precious resources of the local environment, which has been illegally taken from the original inhabitants. So this is also a war crime and reparations should be justly demanded from the former occupiers. By signing the armistice the Armenian government has formally accepted its responsibilities as prime participant in this criminality, removing the pretence of a free-standing separatist pseudo-state being the culprits.

According to the prescribed schedule of the armistice, Armenia withdrew its occupation forces from the Aghdam district on November 20. Two major stages therefore remain: withdrawal of Armenian forces from the Kelbajar and Lachin districts. President Aliyev at a meeting with Russian ministers on a ‘shuttle visit’ to Baku, expressed his satisfaction with the mechanisms for implementing the agreement and the role of Vladimir Putin in helping to localise the conflict, stabilise the situation and beginning the peace process.

The Victory

It was certainly possible that a total defeat of Armenia could have been inflicted by Azerbaijani army. This was, of course, possible in purely military terms. By the sixth week of the war the Armenian forces had lost nearly all their military equipment (150 tanks, 60 armoured vehicles, 80 artillery pieces, 50 rocket launchers and 30 air defence units) and 20,000 men were in the process of being surrounded by Azeri forces. The Former Deputy Chief of Staff Levon Stepanyan told Sputnik Armenia that over 10,000 of their soldiers had deserted. Being wiped out from the air by the pinpoint accuracy of the drones was sapping the will of even the most fanatic to fight. All the limited counter-attacks had failed with high cost and the only means of striking back were random missile attacks on Azerbaijani civilian centres. Mikayel Minasyan, former Armenian Ambassador put the dead and missing at around 4750 soldiers.

However, although the war was going well for Azerbaijan, if it had continued on until the total military defeat of the Armenians, the victory at Shusha would probably have been seen, afterwards, as the high point. Undoubtedly, casualties would have been much higher for the Azeris if the war had continued. If Stepanakert had resisted there would have been a Sarajevo type siege situation that would have damaged Azerbaijan internationally, more and more as long as the resistance held out. This might have even provoked Russian intervention on “humanitarian” grounds. As such, the result would have been the same as the war ended with the same positions. If the war had stopped before the fall of Stepanakert the Armenians would have scored a moral victory within an overall defeat, despite any casualties they would have suffered and inflicted on Azeri forces.

If there had been no Russian intervention and Stepanakert had fallen to Azerbaijan after a fight, the scene would have been portrayed as a massacre in the West, despite any evidence to the contrary about the city being the military hub of the occupation. Streams of Armenian refugees struggling across high ground in winter conditions would have invited comparisons with the experiences of Azerbaijani civilians during 1992-3. And the Armenian lobby would have ruthlessly exploited them in a much more successful manner than the forgotten people of 1992-4.

Furthermore, Azerbaijani forces would then have had to fight to liberate the occupied territories closer to the border with Armenia. This presented all sorts of risk including Armenian hit and run guerrilla resistance within the occupied territories themselves and increased use of artillery bombardments, from positions within Armenian territory. These Azerbaijan could not counter without direct attacks on Armenia, which would almost certainly have invited Moscow’s intervention on CSTO treaty grounds.

There were also other dangers that were developing in the war. Azerbaijan shot down a Russian helicopter along the border with Armenia, mistaking it for an Armenian flight. Armenia began using Iskender missiles just before the armistice. These had the potential of causing great numbers of civilian casualties in Azerbaijani cities. In short, what should have been a limited conflict, and which Azerbaijan attempted to keep as such, had the potential to get out of hand and spiral out of control. Russia would not allow this in what it saw as its backyard for reasons of hegemony and prestige.

It seems to have been the case that around mid-October President Putin, using telephone conversations with Prime Minister Pashinyan and President Aliyev, put forward the proposal that the war be ended with an agreement for the return of the Azeribaijani IDPs to Shusha. According to the Russian President the Armenians rejected this agreement as being too damaging to the security of the occupation. The inference is that this was acceptable to Azerbaijan, although the actual status of Shusha is unclear. Now Shusha is a liberated part of Azerbaijan, with no question over its status.

The rapid Russian peace deal, when it came, had the advantage of taking the Armenian opposition to Pashinyan by surprise and making it incapable of organising further resistance in Karabakh. There were certainly elements in Yerevan who would have taken the Armenian state down in resisting to the bitter end. It has always been a trait of Armenian nationalism to recklessly sacrifice its people for the sake of territory and there were undoubtedly those who would have taken this road. The Armenian Prime Minister had deceived his people into believing the war to be going well. When they suddenly found out the real truth Pashinyan had already signed the armistice/surrender and the Russians were in. And the Armenians could not afford to defy Moscow, which had them in its pocket militarily and financially, by then continuing the war.

The present writer has little doubt that the war was halted at the right time. Any sooner, during the three ceasefires that failed to hold, would have produced a too limited victory that would have produced a third war. Any later, in pursuit of complete victory could well have produced serious problems that would have threatened the actual victory itself, or tarnished it in various ways that threatened it. Enduring victories are better than total victories that prove temporary.

A lengthy and more costly war that dragged on, by producing further Armenian resistance, in whatever limited form, would have made the most important task facing Azerbaijan – the reconstruction of the occupied territories – very difficult. For a start, greater resources would have had to have been devoted to further military operations and future defence. Even with the armistice defence will still be a priority with new de facto borders having to be strengthened and monitored for infiltration of armed gangs from Armenia aiming to terrorise returned Azerbaijanis into leaving again. Shusha will have to be built up as a fortress guarding the territories from its strategic vantage point.

Russia’s Role

The reconstruction of liberated Karabakh and the surrounding provinces is the most important project that faces Azerbaijan now. This difficult and costly process will have to be conducted under stable conditions to be successful.

The presence of Russian forces, however small, on sovereign Azerbaijan territory is obviously an affront. Some have suggested that it has limited the victory too much. However, the placing of the Nagorno Karabakh rump in quarantine, fenced in by Russian forces is probably an advantage in reality – in the short-time, anyway. If the effort of the first 5 years of reconstruction is successful and Karabakh is rejuvenated, with the return of substantial numbers of Azerbaijanis, reconstructing their settlements and infrastructure, then the rump of Nagorno Karabakh can be tackled in 5, 10, 15 or 20 years, when Azerbaijan is ready to deal with it. Six months notice is required to be given to the Russian peacekeepers according to the armistice. If Azeris are not persuaded to return in substantial numbers to Karabakh and surrounding provinces, because they have put down too many roots in exile in Baku or other places over three decades, for instance, then the country will not be ready to absorb the remaining territory.

In an ideal world the war would have been confined to Azerbaijan recovering its territories from Armenian occupation and this would have been achieved completely. But the world is not an ideal place and many people who act as if it were are sadly disappointed when it proves to be a brutal and arbitrary place. Many who oppose Russian interference would prefer Western interference. But what has the West actually done for Azerbaijan and what can we expect of it now? Certainly in many Western countries the Armenian narrative predominates and democracies are very attuned to elections with political representatives responsive to well organised and long established Armenian lobbies. The Azeri diaspora which has been mobilised for the first time, in response to the Armenian provocations that caused the war, is in an early stage of development, but it has made its mark and will not allow the Armenians to have their own way in the future, as they have been accustomed to.

Russia, although a historic ally of Armenia and having a sizeable Armenian lobby, looks after its affairs without reference to the influence of interest groups. This can be seen in the course of the war when Putin came under pressure to aid the expectant Armenians. Only 7 years ago the Chief of the Russian Federation’s large military base in Armenia stated that: “If the leadership of Azerbaijan decides to use force to restore jurisdiction over Nagorno-Karabakh, the base can enter armed conflict per Russia’s CSTO obligations.”

President Putin would have judged the relative merits and problems of taking such a decision. He would have looked at the relative records of Armenia and Azerbaijan as neighbours of Russia and the qualities and dependability of their leaderships. Armenia’s leadership had changed in the intervening period to Russia’s detriment. Putin had put up with Pashinyan but once the new Armenian Prime Minister played fast and loose with Moscow relations and then provoked a war that upset the Russian strategy of balancing of forces in the Southern Caucasus, he was not going to be saved, despite his expectations. Putin would have weighed up the geopolitical factors in assisting Russia’s ally Armenia. He decided not to, until he judged he was merely saving them from disaster. International Law was used to justify the lack of intervention. A new balance of power had emerged with the victories of the Azerbaijanis and it was within this that Putin decided to work.

To judge it correct to intervene Putin would have had to see an acute threat to Russia’s vital interests that could not be eliminated by any means short of force, or that one of Moscow’s post-Soviet neighbours might escape to join a hostile alliance. Putin would also have had to hold a reasonable hope that military intervention would have yielded a reduction in the threat to Russia’s vital interests. None of these conditions applied to Pashinyan’s war with Azerbaijan and Baku’s military response. What then was the point of rolling back Azerbaijan and losing Baku, perhaps to the West?

Unlike the Western characterising of Moscow, Russia’s primary strategic interest is not to acquire more territories, but to prevent the emergence of hostile major powers or regional hegemonies on Russian borders and to ensure that Russia is surrounded by friendly states. 

One U.S. political commentator shrewdly put it like this with regard to Russia’s relations with Azerbaijan:

“Azerbaijan is the type of country with which Putin seems to feel comfortable—a stable autocracy whose cautious ruler pursues consistent and predictable policies. Azerbaijan causes few headaches for Russia and demands only that its transactional approach be reciprocated. President Ilham Aliyev began his rule only three years after Putin took over Russia; his father Heydar Aliyev had ruled Azerbaijan for a decade before that, not counting the Soviet period, when he also ruled the country as his own fiefdom. Heydar Aliyev’s time in the senior-most ranks of the Soviet state, Communist Party, and security services nomenklatura made his attitude very different from other post-Soviet rulers, some of whom had been minor provincial apparatchiki in Soviet times and saw Moscow as the source of all power. Heydar Aliyev treated Russia’s post-Soviet rulers without the fealty or fear that some of his contemporaries showed. 

Ilham Aliyev does not have the experience or ability of his father, but he has inherited that legacy of autonomous sovereignty… Azerbaijan and Russia have enjoyed a functional, transactional relationship that is cordial, neighborly, and devoid of emotion. To some extent, Azerbaijan grew ideologically closer to Russia in the wake of the Ukraine crisis, as both countries saw themselves as attacked and undermined by a fifth column of Western-supported civil society and nongovernmental organizations. In 2014, the chief of Azerbaijan’s presidential apparatus—usually considered closest to Russia in the Azerbaijani leadership—published a long, scathing article outlining that worldview.” 

What this shows is that Azerbaijan was extremely fortunate it had a leader of the background and character of Ilham Aliyev, and it was doubly lucky that Armenia had got a leader of the character of Nikol Pashinyan. In such things are wars won and history made.

The simple rule of thumb is that Russia rewards good neighbours and it punishes bad neighbours. It really is that simple.

Putin has stated that Azerbaijan has recovered its legally recognised sovereign territories. He has described Karabakh as an integral part of Azerbaijan in a TV interview this week. He has also defended the right of Turkish military involvement within Azerbaijan and in the ceasefire headquarters in Karabakh.

Putin made the comment that any attempt by Armenians to overturn the agreement signed with Russia would be “suicidal”. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov warned Armenia that “any attempts to question this agreement both domestically and internationally are unacceptable.” This was followed by a visit of the heavyweights of the Russian government, including Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, to Yerevan to impress on the Armenians what they would be up against if they attempted to slide out of the agreement. The Russians know the Armenian form very well.

Putin has put Armenia firmly in its place, as the Moscow Times reported on 21 November:

“Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan called on Saturday for greater military cooperation with Russia, a day after Azerbaijani troops began moving into disputed territory previously held by Armenian separatist forces.”

The thorough defeat it suffered in the war, it appears, has chastened Armenia and its wayward leader. The opposition has also buckled under Moscow’s pressure, which had the effect of making them see sense. Yerevan is firmly back in the Moscow orbit, waiting for any scraps Putin may throw it from his table. The future of Pashinyan is in doubt but what is not in doubt is Armenia’s dependence on Russia. And it is completely Yerevan’s fault. What must the Armenian diaspora in California be thinking now?


Russia conquered Transcaucasia in the 1820s. From then until the Tsarist collapse in 1917 it ruled the region. After a brief Turkish foray into the area, which helped establish Azerbaijan in Baku the British occupied the whole region after it won the Great War. It appeared that Britain had won not only the Great War but also the Great Game with Russia, but appearances were deceptive. Britain had no longer the will to pursue its Imperial work in the way it had before the Great War and it began to blunder, underestimating the Bolshevik ability to revive the Russian state. The British could have prevented a Russian return to the Southern Caucasus if it had made an early functional settlement with Ottoman Turkey. But Lloyd George pursued a punitive policy against the Turks, in conjunction with the Greeks and Armenians. This policy allowed the Russians back into the Caucasus. Turkey recognized Russia as the hegemon in the Southern Caucasus in 1920. That was when Russia was Bolshevik. It did so when it was under great pressure from the West. Britain had abandoned the region in the previous year.

In 1920 Turkey and Russia arranged things in the Southern Caucasus to keep the Western Imperialists out. In 2020 the same relationship has arranged things with a similar concern about meddling from the West – France and the U.S. in particular. The Russian/Turkish supervisory role is vital for stability. If it persists Armenian aggression will be severely curtailed and the conflict over Karabakh has the potential to be managed toward a functional settlement. No other eventuality presents that possibility.

Peaceful co-existence in Karabakh is, for the foreseeable future, only possible through separation and confinement of the Armenians behind Russian bayonets, quarantining the rump of Nagorno-Karabakh which the Armenians seized, homogenised and expanded to destruction. Under present conditions Armenian nationalism, with its narrow, self-seeking and indeed, self-destructive, orientation will persist (perhaps until it manages to wipe out the Armenian people completely).

What we have in Karabakh, is a conflict between two nationalities. Finding an accommodation between what are effectively two nations sharing the same territory involves discovering a way these historic peoples can share this land in peaceful co-existence. The previous Armenian regime attempted to solve the nationalities issue by removing one of them entirely. It failed.

For the next 5 years, at least, the Armenian population of two-thirds of the former Nagorno Karabakh will be isolated from their Azerbaijani neighbours. It would be very unfortunate if they would remain a ringed off homogeneous enclave within the Azerbaijani state, permanently guarded by Russian forces. That would maintain a “siege mentality” which would certainly not be conducive to the building of future good relations between the two peoples of Karabakh, or between Armenia and Azerbaijan. There needs to be development of mutual trust and interest within Karabakh itself, as well as between Armenia and Azerbaijan to address the totality of relations in the conflict. An historic and comprehensive agreement with functional governmental arrangements for reconciliation, within an all-embracing settlement, is imperative for an enduring peace.

One final thing worth saying: This has proved to be one of the best wars in history. International Law and justice has been served by the ending of an illegal and malignant occupation that has poisoned relations in the region for a generation. The good guys have won and their victory has been clean and magnanimous to the defeated enemy. Bloodshed and destruction was minimised and confined to the military forces of the enemy by the way in which the victorious Azerbaijanis fought. No wars are good but this was one which deserves to secure an enduring peace for all.

President Aliyev’s statement of 22 November

“A promising new situation has emerged in the region. I am confident that positive trends will continue to grow. In any case, Azerbaijan is ready for this and today we will discuss in detail our vision of how we think the region will develop. Of course, the trilateral statement is an important step towards establishing a strong and lasting peace in our region. I would like to emphasize the personal role of the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, who very actively and effectively participated in the development of the text of the agreement, and the fact that the agreement is being successfully implemented is largely due to the fact that this text also contains the signature of the President of the Russian Federation.

I would also like to note the important role played by the President of Turkey Mr Recep Tayyip Erdogan in strengthening security measures in the region. In general, I think that the format of cooperation both in terms of the peacekeeping mission and in terms of the long-term cooperation in the region is acquiring new outlines today. I think that this meets the fundamental interests of the countries of the region because countries of our region should certainly play a leading role, including the matters of strengthening security. What was agreed in the trilateral statement suggests that, with goodwill and a constructive approach, it is possible to resolve issues that previously seemed insoluble.

We are well aware of all the vicissitudes of the settlement process. But I am glad that we have managed to reach the decisions that will allow both the people of Azerbaijan and the people of Armenia the opportunity to live in peace, to try to heal the wounds of war, to try to think about the future, about a common future, a safe future for us, for our neighbors, and thus contribute to the strengthening of security in our region.

We are also glad that other members of the Minsk Group who did not directly participate in the elaboration of provisions of the statement have also expressed their attitude, a positive attitude towards the text of the statement, albeit with a slight delay.

Of course, we had the right to expect a more prompt reaction from them, but apparently there were certain factors that did not allow them to develop a position. But as they say, it is better late than never. I know that a meeting of representatives of the OSCE Minsk Group was held in Moscow. I think that their positive approach to the statement will also play an important role in strengthening security measures and long-term peace.

I would also like to note that I fully share the position of the President of the Russian Federation who expressed hope not to hear the phrase “Nagorno-Karabakh conflict” again. I also hope I will never hear it again. And when we talk about Nagorno-Karabakh, we will only hear news related to the development, elimination of the consequences of the war and reconciliation of the countries that were once at war with each other.”

President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev at the meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov.


War and Peace in Karabakh (Updated)

The text of a question and answer piece I did with Deutsches Zentrum fur Sudkaukasus on the war in Karabakh and the armistice:

What are the real reasons for the current escalation? Would the war have been avoidable? 

The second Karabakh war was probably unavoidable. Such an injustice and moral blow was dealt to the Azerbaijanis in the early 1990s by the Armenian take over of Karabakh and subsequent occupation of nearly a fifth of Azerbaijan, that a response was inevitable one day. The ethnic cleansing of around 750,000 Azeris, the massacres at Khojaly and other places, by the Armenians, compounded the enormous hurt inflicted by the territorial loss on Azerbaijan. 

The mistake the Armenians made was that their victory was too complete and they proved incapable of trading land for peace as the first Armenian leader, Ter-Petrosyan, wanted to do. He knew the problems, including isolation, that the failure to do this would bring to Armenia, but he was ousted when he attempted a settlement. After that the Armenians obstructed every effort made for a diplomatic solution and their attitude to any compromise actually hardened, both in the occupied territories and in Armenia itself. The sheer intransigence of Armenian nationalism left the Azeris little option but to accept their humiliation or attempt to regain their territory by armed force one day. For this eventuality they developed their economy, improved their military capacity and prepared a plan of campaign utilising the latest military technology. But first they put their faith in the Minsk Group and International Law to right the wrong they had suffered without resort to war.

In your view, what responsibility does the Armenian leadership under Nikol Pashinyan bear for the dramatic worsening of the situation? 

The new Armenian Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, was undoubtedly the trigger for the second war. He came to power in a Colour Revolution against the Karabakh Clan who had dominated Armenian politics since the victory in 1994. Pashinyan unbalanced Armenia through his promise of reform and peace which he retreated from when he met with opposition from the former ruling elite. Pashinyan decided to save himself by attempting to outflank the opposition by becoming a bellicose nationalist and out Karabakhing the Karabakh Clan. He did this to save himself and to avoid the fate of Ter-Petrosyan. 

So Pashinyan proceeded to engage in a series of provocations that effectively detonated the conflict. These included, among other things, promising “new wars for new territory” signalling a further advance into Azerbaijan’s territory; holding illegal elections in the occupied territories; demanding representation for ‘Artsakh’ in the peace negotiations, effectively ending them; and bombarding Azerbaijan with artillery at Tavuz in July, inflicting military and civilian casualties.

This led to a popular upsurge of anger that was directed against the government in Baku for its seeming inaction. The Aliyev government could not respond effectively to the Armenian military provocation because it took place on the national border between the two countries, rather than the line of contact with the occupied territories, inviting a potential Russian intervention if its ally, Armenia, was counter-attacked. But the writing was on the wall for Pashinyan and when the Armenians mounted more military attacks in September the war kicked off. It seems that the reckless Pashinyan over played his hand with disastrous consequences. 

For almost 28 years, the OSCE Minsk Group with Russia, USA and France are unsuccessfully attempting to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh-conflict by peaceful means. Why did these efforts fail so far?

The OSCE Minsk Group failed because its makeup was always weighted against Azerbaijan. Russia, France and the US chairs all had various degrees of Armenian influence upon them within their societies that made them unlikely to engage in meaningful action against the Armenian occupation, despite  International Law supporting the Azerbaijan position. They therefore went through the motions of peace making for over two decades and tolerated the Armenian prevarications and refusal to engage in meaningful negotiation toward a settlement. 

It was probably believed that Azerbaijan would never risk a military operation to liberate their territories and it would be stopped in any case. That proved a mistaken assumption and it only increased Azerbaijan’s frustration, resulting in a decline in faith in the Minsk group. It also emphasized the unfortunate fact that International Law is impotent without the use of force. In the end, because the international community failed to deliver, it took Azerbaijani military action to provide the impetus to implement International Law and the four UN Security Council Resolutions of 1993. The war and peace deal have really made the Minsk Group defunct now and Russia and Turkey are the new powerbrokers. If the US and France had planned to guide the “Artsakh Republic” gradually and stealthily to independence that objective has been destroyed. 

To what extent will Armenia’s military defeat affect Russia’s dominant power position in this country?

Armenia’s defeat will probably strengthen Russia’s hold over the country, at least in the short term. Prime Minister Pashinyan had flirted with the West and this was a bad mistake. Russia, in the final analysis, is the only reliable support Armenia has in the region. Historically Tsarist Russia made an Armenian state possible through its colonisation policy that concentrated the dispersed Armenian population around Yerevan as frontiersmen. Bolshevik Russia saved Armenia in 1920 from complete collapse after the disastrous Dashnak mismanagement of the state. 

President Putin would have not been amused by Pashinyan’s Colour Revolution and his subsequent courting of the West. The Russian President would have determined to let Pashinyan suffer the consequences of his provocations and ignore pleas for assistance when he triggered a war in Russia’s backyard and then started to suffer serious defeats. After Armenia shattered two Russian brokered ceasefires by bombarding Azeri cities, Putin bided his time knowing that a rescue of Armenia from itself, at the right moment (such as the fall of the strategic centre, Shusha) would put the country firmly back in Moscow’s pocket. 

The Russians were able to implement the Lavrov Plan, the essence of which was that there would be a phased withdrawal by Armenia from the occupied territories around Nagorno-Karabakh, and a Russian peacekeeping force in the region guaranteeing the security of the Karabakh Armenians. This had been resisted by the Armenians before the war in favour of making the much larger “Republic of Artsakh” permanent. But now the Lavrov plan has been imposed on a more favourable basis to Azerbaijan, with a third less territory left to the Armenians. This has frustrated the aims of France, the US and some Europeans who desired a multilateral solution to the conflict and an international peace agreement. Paris and Washington were rendered impotent by the sudden appearance and acceptance of the Russian plan. 

Armenia is now totally dependent on Russia’s goodwill, having used up its Russian supplied armed forces and decimated its Russian-subsidised economy by provoking its neighbour. And what’s left of ‘Artsakh’ is a small protectorate of Russia, completely dependent for contact with Armenia on Russia and for its continued existence on Moscow. Azerbaijan controls the key strategic centre of Karabakh, Shusha, which is recognised on all sides as the key to controlling Karabakh. 

According to the agreement reached on 10.11.2020 the Russian peacekeeping forces are to be deployed in some parts of Nagorno-Karabakh to ensure the security. What do you think of this mission? What does this development promise for the entire region?

The fairly small Russian peacekeeping mission (under 2000) is primarily there to secure continued Moscow influence in the region. The rump of Nagorno Karabakh, the territory it will operate within, is of little interest to Russia in itself. It is the leverage the Russian military presence can exert upon Yerevan and Baku that gives it significance. If Russia had chosen to support Armenia earlier in the war it could have lost all influence over Azerbaijan. If it had waited for a total rout of the Armenians (which was imminent) it risked a very dangerous situation in which Armenia collapsed and Russia could not pick up the pieces of the state containing its military bases. Russia’s long term objectives in the remnant of Karabakh are unclear. But it will be there for five years at least exerting strong influence over the actions of both Armenia and Azerbaijan. 

There is naturally hostility toward the Russian presence in Azerbaijan but Moscow’s forces can certainly be useful to Baku in the short term. Russia, in moving in to maintain geopolitical influence, has also taken on responsibility and it will probably be blamed by both sides if things start to go badly wrong. The Russians have committed themselves to managing the Armenian defeat and withdrawal from the occupied territories. Over the next month Russia has agreed to facilitate this rapid Armenian withdrawal from the Azerbaijani regions Armenia has held for nearly three decades. There are hundreds of Armenian settlers in these areas who might put up resistance. 

Azerbaijan has gained Lachin, Kalbajar and Aghdam without having to sacrifice blood and treasure to win them. The peace plan saved Azeri forces from having to assault Stepanakert which would have been bloody and difficult and perhaps turned into a Sarajevo, damaging Azerbaijan’s international reputation. The illegal Armenian settlers and their settlements will now be ushered out of the Azerbaijan provinces by Russian power and influence while Azerbaijan can concentrate its resources on re-homing its internally displaced people on lands, many of which have been won without a fight. At the same time the Russian forces will form a ring around the Armenians remaining in the rump of Nagorno Karabakh, with the armed forces of Azerbaijan in an outer ring around them. Any Armenian resistance to the deal will have to be directed at Russian forces. 

One unexpected development of the war has been a second corridor forming an overland route between Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan. For the first time in 30 years there’s going to be a direct road connecting Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan, and Turkey, as a consequence. This has the potential to develop into the busiest transport artery in the Southern Caucasus with Russia-Azerbaijan-Turkey trade going through a slice of Armenian territory, protected by the Russian forces. So Azerbaijan has gained direct access to Nakhchivan and Turkey in the most important geopolitical outcomes of the war.

It is difficult to predict the prospects for the region in the longer term. If Armenian nationalism can be chastened, after it absorbs the enormity of the defeat, increased stability could be possible through the Russian/Turkish security partnership. However, instability in Armenia and further reckless behaviour perhaps encouraged by the geopolitical enemies of Russia and Turkey (who are many) might unravel the whole settlement and ignite a more limited form of conflict that could persist for years.

Note on Reconstruction: President Aliyev has just announced that Azerbaijan will re-home between 7 and 10 thousand internally displaced families per year in Karabakh and the other formerly occupied territories. This also shows the value of the 5 year Russian presence for deterring further Armenian provocations and allowing the re-population of the liberated region by the state. It would take more than a decade to re-home everyone that left and now survive. Many of the towns are filled with mines which have to be carefully cleared, there is almost zero infrastructure: no electricity, no water, and poor roads. The construction of new houses, schools and kindergartens is essential, many of which have been burned in a scorched earth policy, by the departing Armenian settlers. Agricultural land needs to be rejuvenated. An enormous budget will be required. According to independent experts the damage to Azerbaijani lands will amount to between $20-50 billion. And all this in a very large territory, larger than some EU countries. This enormous undertaking can only be done under stable conditions over a period of 20 years or so. How much harder this would have been with another winter of fighting, Armenian resistance and further shedding of blood. The thing most needed is stability to guarantee that Karabakh is Azerbaijan in a real sense, not just territorially. Fighting on against Armenia would have made this very problematic. All the occupied territory might be won by force and Armenia thoroughly defeated but the resources needed for re-homing the people would be expended on war and not rebuilding.

Armenia Azerbaijan Geopolitics

Victory at Shusha!

Today, 8 November 2020, Shusha was confirmed to have fallen to Azerbaijani forces. It is a historic day for Azerbaijan. The 26 year Armenian occupation of Karabakh was dealt a fatal blow with the return of the old capital to de facto Azerbaijani authority. At the same time pictures showed the Armenians abandoning the capital of Stepanakert (Khankendi) in droves and heading for Armenia. They leave peacefully in cars, unmolested by the Azerbaijani forces. The scene is so different from 3 decades ago when Azerbaijani civilians – women, children and old men – fled across snow covered mountains and were hunted down and killed in their thousands by Armenian forces.

The only problem the Armenian refugees have is Yerevan obstructing their entry to the motherland, as they are expected to die for Armenia in Karabakh, presumably forming suitable propaganda material for the last “genocide” card – the card Armenia always plays as it goes down to defeat.

The importance of Shusha for the Azerbaijanis is immense. It was always the ultimate focus of their advance. Shusha was the first capital of Karabakh and the major centre of the Azerbaijani population. It is a celebrated cultural centre for Azerbaijanis, where fine poetry, art and architecture flourished. Vagif, the creator of the literary Azerbaijani language resided there, as did great poets like Zakir and Natavan. It was also the home of the founder of Azerbaijani classical music and composer of the first opera in the eastern world, Hajibeyov. Accomplished singers like Bulbul and Khan Shushinsky worked there. In military affairs, Shusha was a famous impregnable fortress that notably preserved its independence by withstanding many great sieges of the Persians and Russians. It has immense symbolic significance for Azerbaijanis for those reasons.

Strategically it has always been of great importance, perched on a cliff, with its great fortress, and had to be taken in order for further progress to be made by armies. It sits on the road to the Lachin corridor, which is the main supply line to the highlands of Karabakh. It therefore holds the main route into Armenia and vital to the Armenian occupation as a source of military supplies and reinforcements. When Shusha fell to the Armenians in 1992 it was a devastating blow to Azerbaijan. Likewise the fall of Shusha on 8 November represents a fatal blow to the Armenian occupation, strategically and symbolically.

Azerbaijani forces had surged up the border with Iran in the south, brushing all resistance aside. At that point they could have brought tanks and armoured carriers up against the Lachin corridor that connected Armenia to the mountains of Karabakh. Such an attack may well have succeeded, but at high cost, since the Azerbaijanis would have been exposed to Armenian artillery from many sides. Instead, the Azeri forces decided to pivot to the north and directly into the mountains of Karabakh.

The Armenians may not have been expecting that, clinging to the legend of the impregnable fortress of Shusha, located high up, and guarded by cliff walls on its southern and south-eastern sides.

The battle for Shusha has been hard fought. The Armenians put up substantial resistance in the form of ambushes on advancing Azeri forces, who have had to carefully negotiate very difficult terrain – mountainous wooded ravines and gorges with narrow roads. Casualties have been high on both sides. However, over the last month, Armenian forces have suffered far too heavy losses in manpower and materials to make their defensive advantage pay. Due to the degrading of their forces through Azeri attacks they struggled to defend the entire length of the 40km road that connects Armenia to the population centres of the ‘Artsakh Republic’, including its capital Stepanakert (Khankendi). Azerbaijani special forces had reached the road on October 4, and having established a foothold the Armenian armed forces proved unable to drive them out, despite all their efforts.

The President of ‘Artsakh’ Arayik Harutyunyan stated the old Armenian dictum: “Who controls Shusha, controls Karabakh” and called on all Armenians to stand up and defend the “holy city” to the death. Volunteers from the diaspora were pictured flying in after answering the call. And on 6 November Artsrun Hovhannisyan, the official representative of Armenia’s Defense Ministry, stated: “Shushi is ours. Shushi will not fall”.

For over a week, battles raged across the mountain ranges and ravines south of Shusha as Azerbaijani forces painstakingly secured key strategic heights to make an assault on the city possible. The Armenian army used both artillery and sudden ambushes on the Azerbaijani units to prevent the advance on the city. But by 4 November, Azerbaijani forces had gained control over the key points on the mountains to the south of Shusha and the vital road from Shusha to Lachin, and on to Armenia. The next day Azerbaijani special forces proceeded towards the cliff that Shusha stands upon, beating back resistance from arriving Armenian reinforcements.

It was vital that the Armenians dislodged the Azerbaijani forces from the Shusha to Lachin road and from the surrounding heights. If their efforts failed they would lose a vital supply route that was crucial to holding on to remaining territory they had occupied since 1992-4. However the Armenian forces failed to launch a successful counter attack and all of their attempts resulted in heavy losses. Much of the fighting was apparently hand to hand and the knife was the weapon of choice for the mountaineering special units, who had evidently been training up just for such an operation against the Armenian defence.

The loss of Shusha means that it is much more difficult for the Armenians to use the terrain to their advantage in the future. It time for them to come to the negotiating table before more lives are wasted and their position deteriorates further.

Although Azerbaijani forces were handicapped by the difficulty of transporting heavy equipment through the mountains surrounding Shusha, the special forces reached the Shusha-Lachin road without this backup. Low lying clouds, fog and the intentional burning of the woodlands around Shusha appear to have obstructed the use of drones by the Azeri forces. The burning of the forests was blamed on Azeri use of phosphorous shells by the Armenians. This has been shown to be another piece of Armenian fake news – why would an advancing army obstruct its own progress by obscuring visibility to one of its most effective weapons? Also the Armenians have suddenly employed Orlan-10 drones from Russia. These are reconnaissance drones that operate at a low altitude, un-interfered with by cloud cover, and provide specific targets for Armenian artillery. Their use proves that the igniters of the forests were the Armenian side.

But it all came to no avail. Shusha is now under Azerbaijan’s control on 8 November 2020.

The “disputed territory”

Karabakh is often described as a “disputed territory” in the Western media. That is a false statement. There is no actual dispute about the legal status of Karabakh – it is recognised almost universally as part of the sovereign territory of Azerbaijan. The Karabakh conflict is actually a conflict of two nationalities within a territory that is wholly a de jure part of one state.

It cannot be denied that there were historically two nations in Karabakh – before one of them were completely purged from its territory in 1990s. There was a willingness to live side by side, without substantial conflict, during the centuries when Karabakh was an independent khanate or part of Turkic, Persian or Russian Tsarist administered territories. However, after the rise of Armenian nationalism in the 19th Century, and then the emergence of an Azerbaijani national consciousness, in large part as a consequence of Armenian territorial ambitions, two nations confronted each other in Karabakh. There was almost a complete absence of common collective feeling between the two communities.

The Armenian claim to Karabakh is based on the notion of “self-determination”. “Self-determination” is a very problematic concept. It was trumpeted across the world during the Great War by Britain, the United States and Bolshevik Russia. The slogan of “the right of self-determination” was mainly used as a means of sowing dissensions in the territories of the enemy. When it was attempted in the territories of those who advocated it the same states who advocated it repressed it with vigour.

There has probably been an Armenian presence in Karabakh for centuries, and particularly in the highland areas. No one denies that.

Up to around a century ago there had been a Muslim majority in Karabakh, according to the Russian censuses. In the 18th Century it had been the territory of Muslim Khanates who had signed peace treaties with Russia, which led to their absorption by the Tsar’s Empire. From the 1830s Tsarist Russia implemented a colonisation of Christian Armenians to bolster the frontiers of their expanding Empire. Armenians grew from being only 10 per cent of Karabakh (according to Russian figures) to half the population, within 2 generations. In 1911 a Russian observer, N.Shavrov, who had been involved in Tsarist colonial policy, noted that only 300,000 of the 1.3 million Armenian population of the Southern Caucasus were originally from the region.

The principle of “self-determination”, already problematic, loses all validity when majorities are achieved by the processes of colonisation and the displacement of populations.

Armenians claim that Karabakh was Armenian since time immemorial. That is nonsense. But this is part of the Armenian nationalism which views the Armenian nation as a primeval entity that was there as a subject of history, when history began. Nations are not eternal phenomena, of course. They are historically evolved mixtures of race, religion, language, economic interest, dynastic influence and geography blended, in various proportions, through historical events, to produce a cultural affinity between large numbers of people, finally producing a nationality.

In May 1918 3 nation states emerged in the Southern Caucasus from the Tsarist collapse – Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Karabakh was a territory of Azerbaijan during the period of the first Azerbaijan Democratic Republic in 1918, the British occupation during the following year, the independent Azerbaijan Republic after that, and the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan from 1920 onwards. It was never a part of an Armenian state, before or after Tsarist Russia came down across the Caucasus.

The Azerbaijani case is based on sovereignty, something that usually trumps “self-determination”. If it did not the world would be chaos. 


Nagorno-Karabakh was created by Stalin in the 1920s as part of a settlement to solve the nationalities problem in the region that had emerged from the emergence of nations out of the Tsarist collapse during the Great War and Bolshevik sloganising over the right to self-determination.

Stalin was the Bolsheviks expert on the national question and knew the area well, being a Georgian and having spent a number of years as an activist in the industrial city of Baku.

The settlement involved separating the mountainous (Nagorno) part of Karabakh (black garden) from the rest of Azerbaijan, and surrounding provinces, and forming an autonomous region. Stalin, after careful consideration, had decided, along with other prominent Bolsheviks from the region in the Kavburo, that Karabakh should remain a part of Azerbaijan, despite Armenian nationalist claims on it. To achieve a balance he had an arbitrary boundary drawn that included as much of the Armenian populace of the mountain region within the autonomous region and which excluded as many non-Armenians as possible. This reduced the Azerbaijani population in the autonomous area to less than 20 per cent. However, the major Muslim settlements of Shusha and Aghdam had to be included within it as the population was mixed from village to village and town to town. The Muslims in each of the 7 provinces surrounding the new entity of Nagorno Karabakh constituted at least 90 per cent of their populations.

This created an autonomous Armenian controlled enclave inside the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. There was a substantial piece of Azerbaijan territory between Nagorno Karabakh and the Soviet Socialist Republic of Armenia. And Armenia signed up to this settlement, probably deciding that Stalin meant business and was not to be messed with.

For over 60 years this settlement worked. It was not perfect, of course. The Armenians produced occasional petitions, once Stalin was safely dead, to the Soviet leadership, urging Moscow to give them the land they coveted. The Soviet leadership remained unmoved in the face of this nationalist irredentism. There was some Azerbaijani annoyance at the settlement, which involved the giving of Zangezur to Armenia as part of a trade off. But the Moslem population of the autonomous region steadily grew from just over 10 per cent to around 25 per cent in the 1980s and there was a general acceptance of the settlement on the basis that autonomy was a price that had to be paid to ensure the continuance of the territory under the sovereignty of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic.

The First War for Karabakh (1988-94)

The First Karabakh war came about as a result of the internal collapse of the Soviet Union around 1990. The Soviet leader Gorbachev disorganised the Communist Party of the Union to prevent a roll-back of his reforms, aimed at improving on the Leninist state. This loosened the cement that held the Union together and led on to disintegration. Disintegration of state authority ushered in a period of flux in which nationalist forces, long since curtailed, were let loose.

The collapse of the Soviet Union affected Armenia and Azerbaijan in different ways. The unfreezing of nationalisms and the sudden unleashing of nationalist passions gave the Armenians a great advantage in their dispute with Azerbaijan over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The Armenians had a tradition of ethnic, racial and religious nationalism that predated the Union. This nationalism was extravagantly expansionary and greatly desired increases of territory that would encompass all Armenians, no matter how little they constituted of the population. At least a third of Ottoman Turkey, and large amounts of territory, including whole regions of Georgia, Iran and Azerbaijan were earmarked for ‘Magna Armenia’. The Armenians also had a notion of being a special (Christian) people in a sea of less civilised humanity that they used to their advantage in the West.

The collapse of the Soviet Union suited them greatly. They had really just buckled down under the Soviet system, working it to any advantage they could get from it, whilst retaining practically all of their previous character. The Armenians’ vigorous nationalist spirit was perfect for the catastrophic situation in 1990-1 when Gorbachev blundered to disaster and removed all restraint and his successor, Yeltsin, encouraged on the deluge. 

The very certainty of the Armenian character and position made them purposeful actors in the situation. They called for the replacement of the Union treaty of 1922 and immediately established a national army of 140,000 men and armed and trained it, in conjunction with its diaspora from the US, and the terrorist elements that had honed their fighting skills in Lebanon. Arms and munitions were sent into Azerbaijan’s territories and paramilitary forces established in Nagorno Karabakh.

The Azerbaijanis, on the other hand, became a mass of uncertainty within this confusion. Their problem stemmed from the fact that the Union had had a much more profound effect on them. It had contributed greatly to the national development of the Azerbaijan and when it began to fracture they were greatly divided about what to do about it. The Azerbaijani Communist Party was one of the most loyal and dependable of the Union’s components and there was considerable support in the society for the existing system. However, the situation instigated by Gorbachev and followed through by Yeltsin required a nationalist response. It began to emerge in Azerbaijan in the shape of the Popular Front. This popular nationalism was greatly enhanced by the completely unnecessary massacre (Black January) of around 150 civilians in Baku during a single day by Gorbachev’s forces.

History has shown the Azerbaijanis to be a people who are loyal to lawful authority. In 1988 they really had only one requirement of the Soviet Union – that it defend the settlement it had imposed in the 1920s, with the army of the state, and put down the separatists. That was a very reasonable request to make of the Soviet leadership, who had shown every willingness to engage in such defence of state structures in the past. Azerbaijan had no army to defend its territories against the Armenian separatists and their supporters from Armenia and diaspora. It relied on the Union of which it formed part and trusted it to defend its people in Karabakh.

But when Gorbachev failed the Azerbaijanis, general confusion ensued and faction fighting, attempted coups and military mutinies disabled a unified defence of Karabakh. By the time a national army was organised of new young conscripts and the senior Politburo member, Heydar Aliyev, had returned to stabilise the situation in 1993 it was too late. Karabakh and 7 surrounding provinces had been lost to concerted nationalist action by the Armenians.

The Armenian land grab resulted in considerable violence and forced migrations of population from 1988 to 1993. Armenians left Azerbaijan and Azeris left Armenia in the hundreds of thousands. Whilst the attacks on Azerbaijanis in Karabakh were systematic and organised by well armed paramilitary forces, those against Armenians, like at Sumgait, where two dozen were killed, tended to be characterised by reactive mob violence. The most serious and notorious incident occurred at Khojaly in February 1992 when over 600 Azerbaijani villagers were massacred by Armenian forces.

Between the Wars

The Armenian victory and occupation of such a large area of Azerbaijan proved something of a poisoned chalice. The separatists wanted Karabakh but the Armenian appetite for territory, combined with the Azerbaijani collapse left them in control of a large amount of territory. Levon Ter-Petrosyan , the first Armenian Prime Minister after independence, realised the danger and attempted a settlement with Heydar Aliyev. However, Ter-Petrosyan was ousted by Armenian nationalists before he could come to an accommodation with Baku. From then onwards the Armenians demanded nothing short of independence for Karabakh, a demand they knew the Azerbaijan government could never concede, particularly after the bitterness that the occupation, massacres and ethnic cleansing had produced.

In the years following the First Karabakh War the pseudo-state of ‘The Republic of Artsakh’ was established by the Armenian separatists out of the nearly 20 per cent of Azerbaijani territory. But it remained unrecognised by virtually every government in the world (including even Armenia, for reasons of diplomatic repercussions). ‘The Republic of Artsakh’ was an illegal “rogue state” in every sense of the word.

In 2006 ‘Artsakh’ adopted a new constitution that formerly annexed the 7 occupied territories around Karabakh. Infrastructure was began that indicated this was a permanent occupation, rather than territory that was to be given up as part of a peace deal. Settlers were brought in from Armenia and abroad to colonise the lands on which Azerbaijanis lived and were displaced from – a war crime under the Geneva Conventions. It became increasingly unacceptable to advocate the trading of land for peace in both Armenia and Karabakh. Ambitions grew and the Karabakh clan dominated the politics of Yerevan.

The “frozen conflict” remained frozen for 26 years with the Armenian separatists continuing to occupy the large slice of Azerbaijan and aiming to hold it while those Azerbaijanis it had forced out died off. Armenia paid over half the amount needed to sustain the pseudo-state of ‘Artsakh’. It was turned into an armed camp and one of the most highly militarised areas of the world. In doing this Armenia needed large subsidies from Russia. And it could not pay for the weaponry required to arm its armed camp so that Moscow had to provide much of it free of charge. In return Russia got a large strategic base and Armenia began to feel that it could rely on its Moscow sponsor indefinitely.

But the land grab had had important economic implications for Armenia. It found its natural trading partners and routes gone. Both Azerbaijan and Turkey closed their borders and Georgia, which Armenia claimed territory from, was no useful substitute. Iran, to the south, became its only outlet and trading partner.

The economic isolation led to a large decline in the Armenian population, as well as any growth in ‘Artsakh’. Armenia lost a quarter of its population with 1 million of the 4 million leaving since the secession from the Soviet Union. In the same period Azerbaijan’s population increased from 7 to 10 million. The corruption of the Armenian political elite, which was pro-Moscow and known as the Karabakh clan, because of its origins in the conflict zone, led to a colour revolution led by a journalist, Nikol Pashinyan. And Armenia was unbalanced by this turn of events.

Pashinyan, after promising reform and a meaningful peace process, retreated in the face of nationalist opposition and, in order to protect himself from the opposition, reinvented himself as an expansionary nationalist supporting “new war for new territories” and engaging in provocative behaviour that shattered Azerbaijan’s hopes of a negotiated return of its territories.

The Failure of International Law

The current war in Karabakh – the Second Karabakh War – is understood to be about the implementation of international law on the Azerbaijan side. In 1993 the UN Security Council passed 4 Resolutions demanding that Armenia withdraw its military forces from the territory of Azerbaijan it had occupied as part of the First Karabakh War. The resolutions also demanded that Armenia permit the 750,000 or so people it had ethnically cleansed from the occupied territories to return to their homes.

The UN Resolutions further demanded that Nagorno-Karabakh be returned to Azerbaijan’s sovereignty, along with the 7 provinces that surrounded it, which were captured and depopulated of Azerbaijanis.

The Minsk Group was established soon after the 1994 ceasefire to solve the issue of Karabakh and presumably implement international law in relation to it. The Minsk Group has 3 of the Permanent Members of the UN as its Chairs – The United States, France and Russia. But for over 2 decades it allowed the Armenians to give the UN Security Council the runaround, while at a same time its permanent members and allies went around recklessly destroying legal and sovereign states with impunity.

At the end of September 2020, the Azerbaijan government, which had carefully built up its economy and armed forces over the course of a decade or so, and put together an effective battle plan, decided to implement international law itself, after a series of political and military provocations by Pashinyan and his forces. In just over a month the Azerbaijani army achieved more than the UN Security Council and international law had achieved in 26 years.

What the Armenians brought on, in September 2020, was something entirely different from the experience of the 1990s. They faced a professional, well organised Azerbaijani army with the latest technology in warfare. Pashinyan’s reckless provocations in which Armenia overplayed their hand has resulted in all the efforts made 30 years ago being wiped out with the occupation.


On October 29, Russian President Vladimir Putin presented a possible plan for ending the conflict. This was presented as the Azerbaijani army had made good progress in liberating territory but before the crucial battles had been won.

It involved Armenia immediately giving up the Azerbaijani territories that didn’t belong to Soviet Nagorno-Karabakh and the actual status of Nagorno-Karabakh to be determined later. However, this proposed solution has been overtaken by events on the battlefield. The only important territories remaining to the Armenian occupation are the Lachin District and the Kalbajar District in the North, along which runs the only remaining supply route which hasn’t as yet been severed by the Azerbaijani army. However, this is a very long road vulnerable to attack if used by military columns.

So most of the occupied territories are now no longer in the possession of the Armenians to trade. By breaking the ceasefires with bombardments of Azerbaijani civilian areas they continued the war to a more complete defeat.

2 nations occupy a common territory they contest ownership of there has to be some level of injustice done to one nationality to resolve the issue. The question is: what is the least injustice that can be done and within what context can any injustice be ameliorated for the community suffering the injustice of a functional settlement.

In the 1920s the Kavburo decided on maintaining the territorial status quo and Karabakh remaining part of Azerbaijan with an autonomous Nagorno-Karabakh being established to placate the Armenian population. When the Soviet Union collapsed the Armenians instituted by force a zero-sum approach of winner takes all (and more).

If the Armenians, during their 26 year occupation, had been prepared to make an accommodation with the Azerbaijanis, trading the territory they had won in the first Karabakh war for peace, there may have been a solution possible whereby the Armenian population of Nagorno Karabakh achieved a degree of operation from Azerbaijan and an institutionalised link to Armenia. However, Armenian nationalism was neither willing, or able, to accommodate such a settlement.

Having provoked a war, shed a large amount of blood, and lost most of the occupied territories to the Azerbaijan such a solution is neither possible or indeed desirable.

The Armenian solution to the Karabakh problem represented an injustice to 750,000 people who were not only deprived of national rights, but also had their rights of existence taken away by the occupation of Karabakh and its surrounding territory. So 750,000 people had their national rights denied by around 145,000. It also involved the denying of full national rights to the 7 million people of Azerbaijan at the time.

On top of that ‘Artsakh’ is a pseudo-state, with its illegality representing a permanent barrier to its inhabitants’ participation in the democratic life of a state.

So, the solution that involves least injustice at present is the placing of the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh under the sovereignty of Azerbaijan. The 2015 population of ‘Artsakh’ according to Armenian figures was around 145,000 (probably less). That represents an injustice to just over 1 per cent of the population of the state. The population of Armenia is 3 million as against Azerbaijan’s 10 million. So at a secondary level there would also be a much less injustice done.

An important point in all of this is the impressive tolerance of Azerbaijan as a heterogeneous state. As well as Azeri Turks there are Lezgins, the largest minority group, Russians, Talysh, Tats, Avars, Georgians, Armenians and Jews making up the population. The Azeris are the most secular of Muslims who wear their religion lightly. Armenia, on the other hand, is a mono-ethnic, homogenous state, with a strong sense of ethnic purity as a basis for its nationality and seemingly incapable of tolerating, let alone absorbing, minorities.

Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan represents the minimal injustice possible in the situation, within a multi-ethnic state that has a real interest in incorporating all the inhabitants within the democratic system of the political life of the state. Perhaps there is an argument for some form of autonomy. But any other settlement, that leaves the issue unresolved only invites further conflict in the future.

Armenia Azerbaijan Geopolitics Russia

Karabakh: How colonisation and ethnic cleansing made the Armenian “majority”

Armenian colonists being transported by the Russians to settle Karabakh and Erivan

During a TV interview with the Azerbaijan President this week the German presenter asserted that historians had concluded that Karabakh was historically an Armenian area and Armenians were a majority within it. President Aliyev quite correctly countered this assertion with the question “which historians?” and pointed out that history is often written with a political agenda in mind. And, of course, most of what is loosely called “history” with regard to Karabakh has been written by Armenians with the intention of constructing an argument in favour of their people controlling the place called Karabakh.

Such has been the success of Armenian propaganda that this notion of Karabakh being historically Armenian is simply taken for granted, factual knowledge in the West. However, quite the contrary is actually the case.

Leaving aside the fantasies of great Armenian kingdoms stretching thousands of miles across Anatolia and the Southern Caucasus since time immemorial, if we look at the evidence of recent history we see that there is little to support the Armenian version of history about Karabakh. And we can do so largely through the use of Russian, British and Armenian accounts.

What we find in these sources is that although there was probably an Armenian presence in the area called Karabakh for centuries it was never the dominant or most substantial element. Only comparatively recently, during the 20th Century, as a result of a Russian colonisation process over generations did Armenians come to form the majority in the highland areas of Karabakh (Nagorno Karabakh).

The Muslim Khanates

The Eastern part of the Anatolian high-plateau and the Southern Caucasus region, containing a Christian Armenian population, was divided between the Ottomans and the Persians from the 16th Century. This division, defined in the Amasya and the Qasr-i Shirin peace treaties, existed until the Russian conquest as a result of the wars with Persia/Iran in 1804-1813 and 1826-1828.

Baku, Quba, Sheki, Shamakhi, Karabagh, Nakhchivan and Erivan were all Muslim khanates during the 18thCentury with predominantly Muslim populations. There were minorities of Georgians, Armenians and Jews within these khanates, and some had powerful chiefs over their peoples, but the khanates were Muslim entities and recognised as such by all significant external interests (Audrey Altstadt, The Azerbaijani Turks, p.8.)

Svante Cornell, the Swedish scholar, describes the character of these khanates, including Karabakh, in the following passage:

“From the early sixteenth century, the ruling dynasty of Iran—the Safavid—was in fact a Turkic dynasty. During the subsequent 200 years, Azerbaijan remained stable under Safavid rule. However, the Safavid dynasty fell in 1722 and the empire disintegrated… The Azerbaijani areas of the empire disintegrated into more or less independent khanates. These were organized on the model of the Iranian monarchy, and their financial base was state ownership of land. Tribalism was still an important factor, as members of a tribe living in an area formed the constituent territorial units of the khanates. Although the Azeri language was already widely used as literary language in the fifteenth century (i.e. before the Safavid era) there was no tradition of unity or common state. Further the population on Azeri territory was not (and is still not) homogeneous. There were Armenians, Lezgins, Talysh and Kurds inhabiting the area and forming sizable minorities. The consequence was that Azerbaijan was divided into almost twenty khanates; needless to say, this fact facilitated Russia’s manipulation of the local leaders, in conformity with its traditional policy of ‘divide and rule’.” Svante E. Cornell, Small Nations and Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus, p.21.)

Sir John MacNeill, the British Envoy to Tehran, writing in 1836, when more Armenians had been brought to Karabakh, gave this interesting description of the character of the khanates:

“By the treaty of Goolistan Persia had ceded, and Russia had acquired, Georgia, Immeretia, Mingrelia, Derbend, Badkoo, and all Persian Daghistan, Sheerwan, Shekkee, Ganja, Karabaugh, and parts of Moghan and Talish. Of these, the first three were inhabited chiefly by Christians of the Georgian and Armenian churches. Karabaugh was partly Christian and partly Mahommedan; but the population of the others was chiefly, and of some almost exclusively, Mahommedan. Each of these latter divisions had been held by a chief, whose dignity was hereditary in his family, and whose relations to the superior government and to the population subjected to his authority resembled, in many respects, that of a feudal baron in Europe. He possessed a jurisdiction nearly absolute in his own khanate, or barony, maintained a number of troops for the defence of his country, paid a fixed revenue to the crown, furnished a stated number of horse or foot, or both, to serve the sovereign in his wars, and himself attended when he was summoned.” (Sir John MacNeill, Progress and Present Position of Russia in the East, pp. 66-7.

These autonomous khanates were, to some extent, buffers between the Russians in the North and the Iranians to the South. They had availed of the turmoil in Iran during the second half of the 18th Century to break free of the Shah, before Aga Muhammad Khan succeeded in bringing them back under Persian influence in the 1790s. However, caught between two more powerful countries their existence was precarious.

With the absorption of Georgia by Russia in 1800 the khanates room for manoeuvre was drastically curtailed and their days were numbered.

The Russians moved across the Mountains from Daghestan into the Southern Caucasus. In January 1804, General Pavel Tsitsianov attacked and captured Ganje, the key to opening the way to the northern provinces of Iran. General Tsitsianov’s army overran the Ganje khanate, killing the Khan and around 3,000 of his people. This demonstration of brutal force was meant by Tsitsianov to be an example to the other Khans – resist and you will perish.

After the destruction of Ganje, the Karabakh, Shusha, Sheki and Shirvan Khanates surrendered to Russian suzerainty, with the Khans signing letters of concession to the Tsar, drafted by General Tsitsianov. The Khanates were occupied without the use of any further force and became vassalages under the control of the Russian military commander. The khans were provided with a personal salary by the Tsar and continued to have control of their internal affairs, but had to pay tribute and accept stationed Russian garrisons. (Tadeusz Swietochowski, Russia and Azerbaijan, p.4.)

The ruler of Karabakh, Ibrahim Khalil Khan, was forced to sign a treaty with Russia, under Oath. The articles of the Treaty of Kurakchay made the Karabakh Khanate a Russian protectorate, with the Khan renouncing the right to treat with other parties. Along with vassalage the Khan had to pay Russia a large annual tribute and accept a unit of Russian soldiers stationed at the Shusha fortress.

The significant thing about the Treaty of Kurakchay is that there is no mention of Armenians in it. The Russians acknowledged, in receiving the title deeds, that this was a Muslim Khanate. Any Armenians that resided within it were considered to have no great significance and certainly it was not regarded by anyone as an Armenian territory. (The text of the treaty can be found here.)

In October 1813 the Persians signed the Treaty of Gullistan with Russia, after defeat in the first Russian/Iranian war (1804-13). With the signing of this Treaty, the Khanates extending from Derbend and Baku, to Ganja and Karabakh were added to the Russian Empire. So, Eastern Georgia, Daghestan, and the Azerbaijani lands North of the Araxes River (Baku, Shirvan, Derbent, Karabakh, Ganje, Shaki, Talysh and Quba Khanates) were taken by the Tsar, leaving most Azerbaijani Turks to this day in Iran. Gullistan was a kind of armistice rather than a final settlement between Russia and Iran. It was an interlude that was ended when the Iranians began a second war to regain the lost territory from Russia.

After losing the second round of war with Russia, Persia surrendered all territories to the north of the Araxes River in the Treaty of Turkmanchai of 1828. This Treaty confirmed the placing of the Northern Azerbaijani Khanates under Russian rule.

Armenians as a Colonising Element

One of the most significant aspects of the Treaties of Gullistan and Turkmanchai was St. Petersburg’s use of the Armenian populace to create a Christian buffer-zone along her expanded borders with Ottoman Turkey and Iran. This had the effect of separating Caucasian Moslems from their co-religionists in the two great Moslem states. Between the late 18th Century and the dawn of the 20th Century Russia resettled and concentrated a large number of Christian Armenians in this buffer zone, using the Armenians as a colonising element among the Moslem populace and producing significant demographic changes in the region. (Galina M. Yemelianova, The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict in the Context of Muslim-Christian Relations, Caucasus International Journal, Vol. 7, No.2, Winter 2017, p.126.)

It was Peter the Great who first saw the potential of using the Christian Armenian population across the Caucasus for the purposes of Russian expansionism and control. Peter was the first Tsar to order the resettlement of newly occupied Moslem territories with various Christian populations.

Catherine the Great’s rule featured the “Eastern System” of Prince Potemkin, including a fortified line in the North Caucasus colonised by Cossacks, and the establishment of a navy to control the Caspian. Potemkin wished to employ the Christian Georgians and Armenians as advance guards of Tsarist expansion toward Constantinople. The Prince sent a letter to the Armenian Catholicos Luke assuring him of Russian determination to put an end to Moslem authority. Potemkin wanted to establish the significant Armenian minority in control of the strategically valuable Khanate of Karabakh to create a Christian state in the locality, joined with Erivan. (Abgar Ioanissian, Rossiya i armanskoe osvoboditelnoe dvizheniye, p. 80, Cited in Farid Shafiyev, The Russian-Soviet Resettlement Policies and their Implications for Ethno-Territorial Conflicts in the South Caucasus, p.43.)

Luigi Villari, who later observed the terrible massacres of 1905-1906 in Baku and elsewhere, noted:

“The wily Romanoffs saw in the Armenian people a most useful instrument for the advancement of their Middle and Near Eastern policy, a race widely scattered over the dominions of Turkey and Persia who might be employed against those powers at the opportune moment. Armenians were granted many exemptions and privileges and admitted into the ranks of the Russian army and public service, while Armenian commercial colonies were established in all the chief towns of the Empire. Peter’s successors followed a similar policy and the immigration of Armenians continued and increased.” (Luigi Villari, Fire and Sword in the Caucasus, p.145.)

The advance of Russia and its increasing military prestige were welcomed by the widely spread Armenian minority, particularly those already inhabiting the districts of Tiflis and Karabakh. In Karabagh, although the Armenians were a small minority, the Russians found it easiest to rule the region through the Armenian nobility, who were dependent upon Tsarist power, and the Russians took steps to enhance the position of the community there. (George Bournoutian, ‘Eastern Armenia from the Seventeenth Century to the Russian Annexation,’ in The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times, ed. Richard G. Hovannisian, pp. 81-107.)

During the first Russo-Persian war local Armenians contacted the Tsar’s agents in Southern Caucasia and provided valuable information about the movement of Iranian forces. (AKAK, Vol. II, 1868, p. 290. Cited in Stephen B. Riegg, Claiming the Caucasus: Russia’s Imperial Encounter with Armenians, 1801-1894, pp.47-8.)

In June 1805, a year after the failed Russian assault on the Erivan fortress, Tsitsianov sought to recruit Armenians residing in mountainous Karabakh. He goaded the Karabakh Armenians about their past “famous bravery” and questioned whether they had lately become “womanly, like those Armenians who engage only in commerce.” (AKAK, Vol. II, 1868, p.833.) Tsitsianov urged the Karabakh Armenians to attack any retreating Persian forces after Russian assaults. By the end of 1805 the Tsarist Army had gained control of Karabakh, with the collaboration of local Armenians. (RGVIA, f. 482, op. 1, d. 200, l. 2. Cited in Stephen B. Riegg, Claiming the Caucasus: Russia’s Imperial Encounter with Armenians, 1801-1894, pp.47-8.)

Russia looked to the local Armenian population to entrench its gains in the Southern Caucasus. The Tsar relied on the eager participation of the Armenians to advance further into Persian territory and to settle the newly conquered lands. Many Armenian meliks answered the Tsar’s call by defecting from Persia to Russia’s service with their Armenian peasants. (AKAK, vol. III, 1869, pp. 235-36.) In the latter stages of the war, with the Persians on the retreat, Armenians in Persia were often forcibly resettled in Russian territory. In one example, during December 1812, the Russians “liberated” 3,000 Armenian families near Lankoran and brought them for resettlement to Karabakh. (RGVIA, f. 482, op. 1, d. 23, ll. 1-1ob.)

Stephen Badalyan Riegg, the US/Armenian scholar, notes:

“Active Armenian participation in the Russian war effort in 1804-13 manifested itself primarily in the form of intelligence gathering. Broadly speaking, these activities fell into two categories: Persian Armenians sneaking out of Yerevan and other Persian territories into Russian camps with information, and Russian officials dispatching Armenians on specific espionage missions… Successive tsarist commanders relied on the reports and information provided by Armenians to formulate strategy, ascertain Persian and Ottoman actions, and communicate with entities where the Russian presence was impossible.” (Stephen B. Riegg, Claiming the Caucasus: Russia’s Imperial Encounter with Armenians, 1801-1894, p.63.)

Along with “Armenians’ active participation in the Russian war effort in the South Caucasus—from Karabakh Armenians’ fighting alongside Tsitsianov’s army to their espionage for Gudovich” the Armenians were viewed as “St. Petersburg’s key regional ally” setting the stage “for a partnership that would remain intact for several decades.” (Ibid, p.65.)

At the beginning of the second Russo-Persian War of 1826-8, Archbishop Nerses of Ashtarak encouraged the Armenian community of Tiflis, Ganja, Karabakh, Shaki, Shamakhi, Baku and Derbend provinces to fight with the Tsar’s Caucasus Corps against the Iranians. Nerses created an Armenian national flag and assisted in the formation of an Armenian volunteer militia, under the leadership of Armenian ecclesiastics. These militias fought with the Russian army in the battles of Oshakan, Ashtarak, and Echmiadzin. In May 1827, hundreds of Armenian soldiers deserted the Iranian garrison of Erivan, and went over to the Russian army. This incident forced the Iranians to cease recruiting the Armenians for military forces. (George Bournoutian, ‘The Armenian Church and the Political Formation of Eastern Armenia,’ AR 36, no. 3, 1983: p. 13.)

The Armenian Colonisation of Karabakh

Article XV of the Treaty of Turkmanchai allowed for the large-scale movement of Christian Armenians from Persia into Erivan and Nakhchivan. The areas which were incorporated into the Russian Empire as Moslem Khanates, with only small numbers of Armenian subjects, began to experience significant demographic change under the Russian conquest.

Sir John MacNeill, former British minister at Teheran, noted the Tsar’s role in this forced migration, aimed at building up the Armenian colony around Erivan. The biggest concentration of Armenians in the south Caucasus was in the Erivan Khanate, where they had made up about 20% of the total population. In this Khanate, in Etchmiadzin, was located the seat of the head of the Armenian Church, the Catholicos:

“The Emperor Nicholas… removed partly by force, and partly by the influence of the priest-hood, many thousand families of Armenians from the Turkish provinces in Asia to his own territories, as he had already moved nearly an equal number from Persia, — Cleaving whole districts depopulated, and sacrificing, by the fatigues and privations of the compulsory march, the aged and infirm, the weak and the helpless.” (Sir John MacNeill, Progress and Present Position of Russia in the East, pp.105-6.)

This was the start of the population change in the Caucasus, beginning in 1828-9, when for the first time the Armenian population began to rise above the 25 per cent level. As Svante E. Cornell noted:

“… a majority of the Armenians in the Caucasus lived scattered in the numerous Azerbaijani khanates, notably in the khanates of Yerevan, Karabakh and Nakhchivan… Armenians were to play a crucial role throughout the entire period of Russian rule in the Caucasus, being loyal allies and occupying important positions in the administration… Russia consistently tried to alter the demographic conditions in the South Caucasus, by inciting Muslim Azeris to leave, and welcoming Christian Armenians in great numbers.” (Svante E. Cornell, Small Nations and Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus, pp.19-20. Tadeusz Swietochowski, Russia and Azerbaijan, p. 11.)

Following the second Russo-Persian war, the question of how to keep the newly annexed regions secure emerged. The Russian historian, I.I. Shavrov estimated that between 1828-1830, 40,000 Armenians moved to Transcaucasia from Iran and around 80,000 arrived from the Ottoman territories, to be settled in the Elizavetpol (Ganja) and Erivan gubernias. He noted the important implication of this by 1911: 

“Out of the 1,300,000 Armenians who now live in the Transcaucasus over 1,000,000 are newcomers. Russia moved them there.” (I.I. Shavrov, New Challenges to the Russian Cause in the Transcaucasus—Upcoming Sale of Mugan to Aliens, pp.59-60.)

In the five or so years from 1828, around 140,000 Armenian migrated to the Russian Transcaucasia, of whom 100,000 came from the Eastern Ottoman territories and 40,000 were from Northern Persia. General Paskevich advised Armenian delegations he met in Iran that the right to resettle in Russian Transcaucasia had been guaranteed by Article XV of the Treaty of Turkmanchai. Paskevich advised all Armenians to migrate over the border as soon as possible, before the departure of Russian forces. The mass resettlement was organised by the Russian military.

The Armenians were not always enthusiastic migrants. Many, happily living in Northern Persia, had to leave behind homes, property, gardens and land. Cossacks were sometimes moved in to “encourage” them to move to Russian territory by General Paskevich. (Firouzeh Mostashari, On the Religious Frontier: Tsarist Russia and Islam in the Caucasus, p.42.)

These Armenian migrants were encouraged to settle in the newly captured territories of Erivan, Nakhchivan or Karabagh. General Lazar Lazarev, an ethnic Armenian, whom General Paskevich had appointed to organise the mass resettlement, issued a proclamation in April 1828 stating that Armenian migrants could choose to settle in Erivan, Nakhchivan or Karabagh, where they would be given fertile land on which they were required to pay only one-tenth of the produce of their farms in taxes.

During the Soviet period, in 1978, to mark the 150th anniversary of their resettlement from Iran, Armenians erected a monument in Maraga, Karabakh. However, in 1988 it was destroyed by the secessionist Armenian nationalists, presumably to obliterate the recent origins of the populace and maintain the false narrative of an ancient and original possessor of the territory. (Farid Shafiyev, The Russian-Soviet Resettlement Policies and their Implications for Ethno-Territorial Conflicts in the South Caucasus, footnote 238, p.86.)

The Armenian settlers were awarded an exemption from taxes for six years and provided financial assistance. Those who owned property could send their families on ahead while sales were facilitated. Lazarev distributed subsidies among the Armenians as a big incitement to emigrate and there were reports of forced uprooting of Armenian settlements by the Russians. General Paskevich instructed the Russian administration in Nakhchivan and Erivan to settle Armenians by whole villages and not to mix them with the Muslim populace. In addition, Etchmiadzin ordered that all priests leave Iranian territory or face the loss of position and be punished in the afterlife.(SAOKOIAN, Vol. 2, pp.159-160. Cited in Farid Shafiyev, The Russian-Soviet Resettlement Policies and their Implications for Ethno-Territorial Conflicts in the South Caucasus, p.85.)

According to Lazarev himself, in just over three months, between the end of February and early June 1828, he managed to relocate over 8,000 Armenian families. The vast majority of around 40,000 people were directed to the Armenian and Nakhichevan oblasti, with the rest of the migrants sent to Karabakh. (RGIA, f. 383, op. 29, d. 539, ll. 12-13. RGIA, f. 383, op. 29, d. 539, l. 9ob. Sergei Glinka, Opisanie pereseleniia armiian, p. 87. Cited in Stephen B. Riegg, Claiming the Caucasus: Russia’s Imperial Encounter with Armenians, 1801-1894, pp.128-9.)

This had obvious repercussions for the ethnic/religious make-up of these two regions that were to become the cause of dispute for generations. In their objections to the influx of Christian settlers, native Muslim inhabitants complained to the Tsarist authorities that they had been “deprived of all means of farming, and thus of feeding their families in the future.” (NAA, f. 90, op. 1, d. 435, l. 50.)

The influx of Armenians into these areas had the effect of precipitating the departure of native Moslems, who migrated toward the territories of the Shah and the Sultan, with Shi’ites tending to go South to Persia and Sunnis West to the Ottoman Empire. Many of the uprooted Moslems, from the Nakhchivan and Ordubad regions, left behind their abandoned homes and fields. (NAA, f. 90, op. 1, d. 448, ll. 7-7ob.)

Bournoutian, analysing Persian and Russian sources to estimate the population change as a result of Tsarist conquest estimated that 26,000 or around 30 per cent of the Moslem population of the Erivan Khanate died or migrated out, and around 45,000 Armenians migrated in by 1832. (George Bournoutian, Eastern Armenia in the Last Decades of Persian Rule, 1807-1828, p.69.)

Over the following century more than a million Armenians were resettled in the Southern Caucasus, many of them in mountainous Karabakh, where there had been only around 19,000 Armenians to 35,000 Moslems in the 1830s. (J.F. Baddeley, The Russian Conquest of the Caucasus, pp. 67-76.)

Svante E. Cornell writes:

“… immediately after the treaty (of Turkmanchay), Russia encouraged and organized a population exchange. Thus, huge number of Armenians left Persian and Ottoman lands to settle in the Russian Caucasus, and respectively large numbers of Muslims left the South Caucasus for areas under Persian or Ottoman control. According to Russian census reports, the Armenian population in Karabakh represented 9 per cent of the total in 1823 (the remaining 91 per cent being registered as ‘Muslims’), 35 per cent in 1832, and a majority of 53 per cent in 1880… the figures for Mountainous Karabakh remain unknown; it is nevertheless certain that the overall increase in Armenian population was due to an increasing migration of Armenians to Mountainous Karabakh or an exodus of Muslims from the region. The process accelerated after every Russo-Turkish war (1855–56 and 1877– 78) as Russians saw the Azeris as generally unreliable and as potential allies to the Turks, given their ethno-linguistic affinities. In contrast, the Armenians were seen as Russia’s natural allies in the region, devoted to the tsar, and reliable. In a sense, then, Armenians were favoured by the authorities and even took up important positions in the administration of the region… Armenians left Turkey whereas numerous Azeris, in particular Sunni Azeris, migrated from the Caucasus to the Ottoman Empire. By the turn of the century, there were over 1,200,000 Armenians in the South Caucasus.” (Svante E. Cornell, Small Nations and Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus, p.54.)

Karabakh was about 80 per cent Muslim in 1823, according to Russian sources. (Nigar Gozalova, The Karabakh Issue in Relation with Armenia and AzerbaijanAVIM Conference Book, No.24, 2019, p.39.) After the liquidation of the Karabakh khanate it was administered by the head of the military district of the ‘Transcaucasian Moslem Countries’. In 1840 it was transformed into Shusha uyezd, and later became part of the Elizavetpol province. Karabakh became the centre of territorial conflict between the Armenians and Moslems of the area:

The province of Karabakh was divided into two parts – the mountainous region and lowlands. The mountainous part of Karabakh was a commanding and strategically important area. Its landscape provided a military advantage to local Armenian elites – the maliks – in defending their position against the mostly Muslim lowlands. During the siege of the fortress of Shusha by the Iranians, one of the main reasons behind the successful defence by the commander of the garrison, Colonel Reutt, was the assistance provided by the local Armenians inhabiting the area in the vicinity of the fortress. According to a Russian survey, while the Armenian population was plentiful in the mountainous areas, the Muslims formed the majority of the rest of the Transcaucasian Khanates as well as in the lowlands of Karabakh in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. (George Bournoutian, The 1823 Russian Survey of the Karabagh Province: A Primary Source on the Demography and Economy of Karabagh in the Early 19th Century.)

Along with the Armenian inward migration to Karabakh and other areas there was a corresponding Moslem exodus to both Persia and Ottoman Anatolia. Between the 1780s and 1914 around 6 million Moslems fled from the Ottoman Empire’s borderlands to the Anatolian provinces. Population movement in Eastern Transcaucasia, which generally meant an immigration of Armenians and an emigration of Moslems, increased during the Crimean War of 1853-56, and after, and the 1876-78 Russian-Turkish War. But it was not until nearly 1880 that the Armenian population of the Erivan province reached a solid majority. (Nigar Gozalova, The Karabakh Issue in Relation with Armenia and AzerbaijanAVIM Conference Book, No.24, 2019, p.42 and p.74. In 1897 Moslems constituted 53 per cent and around 55 per cent in 1916.)

Shavrov, who was involved in colonial policy in the Tsar’s administration summarised the effects of the Russian colonisation process in Transcaucasia in ‘A New Challenge to the Russian Issue in Transcaucasia’ in 1911:

“From 1828 to 1830 we resettled more than 40,000 Iranian and 84,000 Turkish Armenians to Transcaucasia and placed them in the best state lands in the provinces of Yelizavetpol and Iravan, where the number of Armenians was insignificant… The mountainous part of Yelizavetpol province and banks of the Goyja were settled by these Armenians. It is necessary to keep in mind that apart from 124,000 Armenians, which were resettled officially, a great number of Armenians settled there unofficially, so the total number of settlers considerably exceeds 200,000…

The successful end of the Turkish war of 1877-1878 brought about an influx of new settlers from Asia Minor, about 50,000 Armenians and 40,000 Greeks settled in the Kars province, and the empty province got sufficiently great numbers of foreign populations. Moreover, General Tergukasov brought 35,000 Turkish Armenians to the Surmali uezd, all of whom remained in the area.

After this, a continuous flow of Armenians from Asia Minor started… During the course of Armenian disturbances in 1893-1894, the Armenians moved on an even larger scale. At the time of arrival of Prince C.S. Golitsyn, the newly appointed commander-in-chief, in 1897, the number of resettled Armenians was not 10,000 as in 1894 but about 90,000… of 1,300,000 Armenians now living in Transcaucasia, more than 1,000,000 don’t belong to the number of indigenous inhabitants and were settled here by us.” (N. Shavrov, A New Challenge to the Russian Issue in Transcaucasia; Upcoming Sale of Mughan to Foreigners, pp.59-60.)

An Armenian majority in what is now the Armenian Republic only became a majority through the Russian conquest, Armenian colonisation and the displacement of the original Moslem inhabitants. As a result of this Russian plantation and subsequent attritional factors by 1900 the Armenian population of Russian Caucasus had reached 1.3 million. (Tadeusz Swietochowski, Russia and Azerbaijan, p.11.)

Effects of the Colonisation

The Armenian colonisation organised by the Tsarist state was a sometimes informal colonial policy, instituted by the military governors of Transcaucasia, and it was inconsistent, ebbing and flowing according to events and improvised decision making. However, it was still very real in its effects.

Sir John MacNeill described accurately the effect of the change in power relations brought about by the Russian conquest of the Southern Caucasus:

“In most of the provinces the Mahommedans had been the rulers and the Christians their subjects. When the power of Russia was consolidated, the Christians naturally became the favoured people, and domineered over their former masters with senseless insolence, scoffed at their religious rites, and were even known to interrupt their most sacred ceremonies. The Musselman saw a mosque converted into a stable and another into a tavern, and was taunted by the Armenians with the premeditated insult they had offered to his faith.” (Sir John MacNeill, Progress and Present Position of Russia in the East, p.73)

The Armenian migrants settled on Crown lands or bought out Moslems with Russian subsidies. However, despite the population displacement, relations between the communities were generally tolerant, with little evidence of serious conflict. This may have been because separate settlements were established that mitigated against territorial rivalry. Also, the Armenians were not so different from the Moslems, being an Asiatic/Oriental people rather than European. There had indeed, already been long-standing Armenian settlement in the area. It was the Russian presence that was seen as more alien. (Tadeusz Swietochowski, Russia and Azerbaijan, p.11.)

The cause of serious conflict lay in the future with the development of nationalism, particularly the Armenian variety of the Dashnaktsutiun, and Western encouragement of the Christian Armenians to be a Western people, with a special status above the rest of the population, in a potential nation-building project.

Below is a later Dashnaktsutiun account of these events, from Dr. Pasdermadjian, from 1919:

“The part of Armenia that is under Russian sway is included in the Transcaucasian Provinces of Russia. It was conquered by the Russians in the early part of the nineteenth century and wrested from Persia. Before the Russian conquest Transcaucasia was divided between a number of Khanates and Melikates (small self-governing principalities). The Khans were Tartars by origin and ruled mostly over Tartars, while the Meliks were Armenian feudal lords, and their domination extended over the Armenian districts of Carabagh. All these different principalities were tributary to the Persian Government. Neighbouring these dependencies to the northwest there existed a Georgian Kingdom, including the present Provinces of Tifiis and Kubias. Georgia, being squeezed in between two powerful Moslem countries like Persia and Turkey, and subject to permanent attacks from these quarters, appealed toward the end of the eighteenth, century, to the Empress Catherine for protection and help. At this juncture, in the year 1787, the Armenian Meliks of Carabagh took occasion to send a delegation to the Russian court praying for Russian assistance against Tartar neighbours, who were in constant conflict with them.

The Russian Government promised immediate help to both Armenians and Georgians, and, moreover, undertook, in so far as the Armenians were concerned, to free them from Persian domination and to organize a new Armenian State made up of the Armenian Provinces under the suzerainty of Russia.

Encouraged by these promises, both Armenians and Georgians placed all their military forces at the disposal of Russia and powerfully contributed to bring about the conquest of Transcaucasia from Persia. But, unfortunately, the solemn promises of the Empress Catherine were not fulfilled, and the conquered territory was brought under Russian sway. It was through the enforcement of this method that Georgia and part of historic Armenia, including Echmiadzin, the seat of the supreme head of the Armenia church and nation, were annexed by Russia.” (Garegin Pasdermadjian, Armenia and her Claims to Freedom and National Independence, pp.9-10.)

There is an acknowledgement in this passage that it was Muslim Khanates that gave way to the Russian conquest. But there is also an attempt to distort history by suggesting that Karabakh was an Armenian enclave. In fact, Karabakh had been an independent Khanate in the period 1743-1805. Ibrahim Khalil Khan, the ruler of Karabakh, had successfully resisted a large Persian army from his Shusha stronghold in the 1790s, and it was he who signed the Kurakchay Treaty on 14 May 1805, which ceded hegemony to the Russians. At this time there were certainly an Armenian populace in Karabakh, and particularly the most mountainous part. But they would have represented only a minority of the population of the Khanate. (Aydin Aslanov, Karabakh as Independent Khanate, 1747-1805, pp. 4-11 and Jamil Hasanli, How Karabakh Khanate was Joined to the Russian Empire: Historical Myths and Realities, IRS, No.1, 2012, pp.15-21.)

It is interesting that Pasdermadjian gives the credit to the Armenians for inviting the Russians into the Caucasus, and for placing themselves at the Tsar’s disposal for a military conquest. Bournoutian’s research supports Pasdermadjian’s claim. It is, however, curious why this should be a cause for boasting.

The Armenian dream of an autonomous Armenia under the supervision of the Church, guarding the Tsar’s frontier, went unrealised. Eastern Armenia was for a short time in the 1830s re-named the Armianskaia Oblast, creating the impression of semi-autonomy. However, St. Petersburg soon grew uncomfortable that this policy might be misinterpreted, and in 1844 the entire region of the Southern Caucasus was re-organized into the Russian Caucasian Region with Tiflis as its administrative centre and seat of the Russian Viceroy. 

Russia also disappointed the Armenians in Karabagh. Despite its significant Armenian population, Karabagh became part of the Muslim Province, which included the territories of the Khanates of Shirvan, Shakī, Qubā, and parts of Talish, after Russian conquest.  This was partly because of the treaty which Russia made with Ibrahim Khan of Karabagh in 1805, which guaranteed his family the governorship of the region in exchange for becoming a Russian vassal. But the inclusion of Karabagh in the Muslim province was to be one of the most significant legacies of the Tsarist conquest, which the Armenians spent two centuries attempting to undo.

The Tsars’ attempts at colonisation of the Caucasus with Russians largely failed and settlers returned to Russia. The Russians that were settled proved to be unsuitable colonising material.

So, Russia had, instead, to settle and concentrate Christian Armenians as a colonial element in the region and over a million Armenians were planted in the Southern Caucasus during the 19th Century. The period during the final Russian-Persian war of 1826-8 and after, saw a large migration of Muslims out of Erivan Province and its occupation by Armenian settlers. The wars of 1855-56 and 1877-78 resulted in further migrations turning Erivan from an Iranian Province with a Moslem majority in 1820 to a Russian Province with a slight Christian majority by the end of the century. Karabakh similarly, in which around 10 per cent of the population were probably Christian in 1820, had begun to develop a Christian majority by the start of the 20th Century. (George Bournoutian, Eastern Anatolia in the Last Decades of Persian Rule, 1807-1828, pp.69-74)

The claim of “self-determination” for the Armenians of Karabakh is negated by the processes by which they became a majority in this territory. Majorities formed by colonisation and ethnic cleansing of local populations are not legitimate in exercising such a right.

Ethnically Cleansed Occupied Provinces (1988-2020)

Gubadli – 1988 population 38,543/33,704 displaced Azeris

Fuzulii – 1988 population 125,181/117,918 displaced Azeris

Jabrayil – 1988 population 72,753/69,000 displaced Azeris

Agdam – 1988 population 204,015/149,697 displaced Azeris

Khojaly – 1988 population 16,425/11,629 displaced Azeris

Kalbajar – 1988 population 77,488/71,458 displaced Azeris

Zangilan – 1988 population 42,487/38,982 displaced Azeris

Shusha – 1988 population 34,679/30,397 displaced Azeris

Lachin – 1988 population 78,565/74,145 displaced Azeris

Khojavend – 1988 population 12,735/11,104 displaced Azeris

For more information see Great Britain against Russia in the Caucasus; Ottoman Turks, Armenians and Azerbaijanis caught up in Geopolitics, War and Revolution (Manzara-verlag, 2020)

Armenia Azerbaijan Geopolitics

Karabakh War: Week 4 (Updated)

Position on the battlefield at the time of the ceasefire on 26 October

During the fourth week of the war to liberate the occupied territories the Azerbaijan army again made steady progress. It launched a successful offensive in the direction of the Gubadli district with fighting centring on the village of Khanlig. Gubadli town was officially liberated on Sunday 25th. Zangilan district began to come under the control of the Azerbaijani Army, despite Armenian counter-attacks, which were not stronger because of the difficulty in transferring reserve forces of the Armenian army to this sector.

There has been much speculation by Armenians as to the lack of a successful counter-attacking strategy. It has been speculated that Pashinyan is a military genius who is holding back his main forces until the Azerbaijanis are held up by local forces and vulnerable to an attack from fresh battalions. Contrary to this has been the speculation that Pashinyan is an agent of the Azerbaijanis/and or Putin/and or George Soros and is preparing the surrender of ‘Artsakh’ in a covert plan. Take your pick.

In military terms there is a more simple explanation for the failure of the Armenians: The conventional front line of 100,000 Azerbaijani troops has almost doubled since the beginning of the war and the 50,000-strong Armenian army, conducting defensive battles on the northern front in the area of Aghdere and Kelbajar, in opposition to the advance of Azerbaijani forces in the Khojavend district and in Aghdam, is deprived of the ability and resources to move sufficient men to make a counter-offensive count.

Azerbaijani forces are also threatening along the Lachin corridor, which could be cut, preventing the transfer of new reserve forces from Armenia to Karabakh. This is the most direct supply route from Yerevan to Xankendi/Stepanakert. Also with part of the Armenian army (behind Russian flags) on the state border of Azerbaijan with Armenia, including Nakhchivan, then the availability of forces for transfer is severely limited. All the time Azerbaijani drones are focused on the main task of the systematic destruction of enemy personnel and military equipment and the losses that the Armenian side are suffering don’t even allow for a replenishing of lines, let alone their increasing.

Something should be, however, noted about Azerbaijan’s use of drone warfare that has so impressed Western military experts. Most of Azerbaijan’s weaponry is actually bought from Russia, Belarus and Iran. The drones come from Turkey and Israel. But the drones don’t do the liberating of territory. They soften the defences and prevent troop and equipment movement. Azeri ground troops do the fighting still, and suffer the cost of having to win back Azerbaijan’s sovereign territory.

To the south, in the area of the Khudaferin reservoir, Azerbaijani forces are engaged in the formation of infrastructure development and establishing new border posts on the frontier with Iran.

The two main Armenian groups in defensive positions from Aghdere to Aghdam and from Murovdag to Madagiz are threatened by a potential breakthrough of Azerbaijani troops to the Lachin corridor. They will need to use the only escape route through the humanitarian corridor before their encirclement and possible annihilation.

What we are seeing at present is a pincer movement by Azerbaijani forces from the North-East and along Southern front to the border with Armenian. The front along the Eastern line of contact has been left static and Azeri forces are carefully gaining control of strategic heights to force the withdrawal of Armenian forces below and ultimately secure settlements with the lowest cost possible.

Casualties, however, are inevitably mounting on both sides – though they appear to be far greater on the Armenian side, now running into the thousands.

During the week the Armenian Prime Minister stated that there “was no diplomatic solution” to the conflict (while his Foreign Minister stated there was ONLY a diplomatic solution). Pashinyan was showing he was unwilling to engage in a solution that would undo the occupation at the conference table, on the basis of international law, saving countless lives. This seems to strongly suggest that the Armenians are only interested in ceasefires for tactical reasons – to give breathing spaces for recuperation, strengthen defences, moving forces unmolested by Azerbaijani drones and perhaps hoping for the onset of winter to obstruct Azeri mobility and re-freeze the conflict.

Ceasefires are no good if they are merely opportunities to return to war and particularly if they are broken with fatal provocations against civilians, many miles from the battlefields. In such circumstances the Azerbaijanis have no choice but to continue the war, which while it costs precious lives, will hopefully save further lives in the future.

The Azerbaijanis face 3 potential problems in maintaining their advance:

First, the interference of other powers, primarily Russia. In this respect, the statements made during the week by President Putin will be disappointing for the Armenians. He stressed Russian neutrality toward Armenia and Azerbaijan stating that both were friends and it was inevitable that Azerbaijan would regain its lawful territory. This seems to be suggesting that Putin will allow the war to run its course in Karabakh, and the other occupied territories, and the only outcome will be their return, in one way or other to Azerbaijan.

Pashinyan got nowhere with the EU – which has serious problems with Covid and the British exit – in Brussels during the week and NATO were perplexed at exactly he wanted them to do, and why it was any of their business anyway. But Pashinyan’s crying to the West, in an attempt to get support there, must surely have produced a frown on Mr Putin’s face and a corresponding determination to allow the Armenian PM to stew in his own juices, which are largely of his own making.

In the US, Pompeo met the two Foreign Ministers, but blotted his copybook beforehand by uttering pro-Armenian sentiments. His intervention proved to be more of a media event than anything of substance, although it did secure a third ceasefire, it appears. President Aliev’s 30 minute interview with Fox News in which he impressively stated Azerbaijan’s case, proved much more interesting and decisive.

Second, the difficulty in dislodging Armenian opposition in more challenging terrain. As the Azerbaijani army moves further and further into the highlands of Karabakh progress is much more difficult. The Armenians are well dug in, with engineered strongpoints, and they have constructed large tunnel networks of defence. The precision technology has made assaults possible in this challenging obstruction but positions still need to be taken by ground forces that need to be careful of ambushes produced by suddenly emerging troops. The Armenians know the local ground well and their chief skill lies in this form of warfare, rather than conventional fighting on the battlefield.

Thirdly, there is the war from Armenia that cannot be responded to. As Azeri forces move toward the Lacin corridor they face the difficult problem of being bombarded from Armenian territory, without being able to respond. They can take up defensive positions but will find retaliation problematic without the Armenians claiming Armenia itself is under attack and “a genocide” is on the agenda. Of course, this is nonsense but it threatens justification for a Russian intervention if Armenia is attacked.

So this is the most serious problem for Azerbaijan – the Armenian ability to continue the war from positions on Armenian soil that cannot be neutralised by Azeri strikes, without risking Russian intervention to stall the war for liberation. Within this there are further possibilities of Armenian missiles being launched at the dead of night against Azerbaijani civilian targets.

Some Armenians have called for strikes against Baku and other strategic targets like pipeline infrastructure, using the formidable Russian missiles they are known to possess. However, it is probable that Moscow would not allow, at present anyway, such a drastic escalation in the war. That is not to say it might permit something like this to occur under certain circumstances (perhaps the risk of total Armenian collapse brought about by suicidal defence of ‘Artsakh’) but at present the Armenians are confined to using their Smersh missiles, which are very hit or miss in their effect.

So, the war continues, until Armenia does the sensible thing and participates in a managed resolution of the conflict on the basis of international law, providing for a durable solution for long-term peace and stability.

Update: At 08.00 GMT on Monday another “humanitarian ceasefire” has come into effect. What are the prospects of this holding?

On one side we have the Armenians giving out mixed and even contradictory messages – PM Pashinyan saying there is “no diplomatic solution” to the conflict while his Foreign Minister claims there is “only a diplomatic solution possible”. There are question marks about whether the Armenian/’Artsakh’ military forces are actually under the full military control of Yerevan. The opposition to Pashinyan, although united behind their forces in Karabakh, must surely be questioning the leadership of Pashinyan after he took on such a costly war that has already lost so much territory.

On the other side is Azerbaijan which is clearly united behind its President and winning the war. It does not want a breathing space for the Armenians to regroup their military forces under the cover of a ceasefire, or the possibility of Yerevan being allowed to spin out negotiations for years to come. The Azerbaijani army is successfully implementing the UN Security Council Resolutions on the battlefield. Baku wants a meaningful peace process and resolution of the conflict on the basis of international law that makes conflict in the future unnecessary.

Only time will tell what the outcome will be…

Armenia Azerbaijan Geopolitics Russia Turkey and Ottoman Empire

Karabakh War: Week 3

The devastation in Ganje after Armenian ballistic missiles struck a residential area killing more than a dozen civilians including a number of children

Despite the ceasefire of last weekend the Karabakh war has continued much as it did over the previous fortnight. The Azerbaijani army has maintained its steady advance, but now out of the plain and into the settlements of Nagorno-Karabakh proper (i.e. the highlands). It has secured Hadrut, whose fall was a great moral blow to the Armenian occupation. Hadrut’s strategic location and its capture meant that Armenian forces defending the Fizuli and Jebrail regions risked being surrounded and were forced to leave their positions.

The battle for the city of Fuzuli, the citadel of the plains of Karabakh, was an important moment in the latest conflict, with the Azerbaijani Army crushing the resistance of the occupying army. Armenian soldiers raised white flags in increasing numbers. The road to the center of Nagorno-Karabakh – the cities of Shusha and Stetanakert/Khankendi – were now open for the Azerbaijani forces.

This next phase will presumably involve an increasingly difficult fight for Azerbaijani forces against the occupation. The Armenians have had a long period to build defensive positions and should be able to put up more robust resistance in such terrain. However, the precision technology available to the Azeri forces is making advance much more possible than observers ever anticipated and the defensive advantages possessed by the Armenians are being nullified by the UAVs. There is an air of disbelief among the Armenian supporters at the defeats being suffered and territory lost. Battles rage around the Aghdere-Aghdam districts and information suggests that Shusha, the old Azerbaijani cultural centre, could perhaps fall at any moment – a major symbolic blow to the Armenian occupation.

A week ago the Azerbaijanis, despite doing so well on the battlefield, seemed ready to accept a ceasefire and there was considerable disappointment that their army had been stopped in its tracks by the talks in Moscow. On the other hand, Armenia’s PM, Nikol Pashinyan, seemed to be begging for a ceasefire, to provide a much needed breathing-space within which its military forces could be re-organized for renewed defence of its retreating positions. It appears that Pashinyan may actually have approached the President of Azerbaijan through intermediaries to secure a halt to the Azeri advance.

And then Armenia shattered the ceasefire with a ballistic missile attack on Azerbaijan’s second city of Ganje that destroyed apartment blocks and claimed around a dozen lives. This made the ceasefire impossible for the Azeris and their army, after beating off some Armenian counter-attacks arranged under cover of the ceasefire. The Azeris promptly resumed the offensive, capturing more territory and clearing the borderline with Iran of occupation forces close to the Araxes River.

During the week there was an Armenian missile attack on Nakhchivan that thankfully resulted in no loss of life. Further Armenian missiles landed in Iran and Daghestan, showing the inaccuracy of their firing. On Saturday morning the Armenians repeated their missile attacks on Ganje with even greater devastation and loss of life to the Azerbaijani civilians. Whole blocks were demolished by 2 missiles and a number of small children, along with their families, killed. The tactic is always the same: missile launching in the early hours of the morning as civilians sleep soundly in their beds, to register maximum terror among the civil populace and high casualties.

Sixty Azerbaijani civilians have now been killed and 270 more have been injured since the outbreak of hostilities on September 27. Among the dead civilians are six children. As a result of the shelling of civilian areas by the occupying country’s armed forces, 1,700 houses and 90 multi-apartment buildings, have also been severely damaged. There have been no fatalities or any damage in Armenia, because the war is being fought entirely on the territory of Azerbaijan.

Matthew Bryza, the U.S. interlocutor in the Minsk talks, suggested that these reckless actions were evidence of increasing Armenian desperation, intended to draw Baku into attacking Armenia proper and provoking a possible Russian rescue of Armenia. The indiscriminate killing of women and small children far from the battlefield certainly raised levels of anger to unprecedented levels among the Azerbaijani populace. So far, however, the Azeris have mourned their dead and continued the war on the battlefield, refusing to be diverted from the main task in hand.

Bryza also speculated that Prime Minister Pashinyan had lost control over his military and seemed to be defying Putin – after initially welcoming the prospect of a ceasefire. Putin had forced Pashinyan to drop his novel demand that the independence of “Artsakh” be respected by Baku in talks – something the Azeris could never accept. Pashinyan had found himself in a bind with having to suffer further defeats on the battlefield or submit to Putin’s terms of reference.

So there was strange behaviour indeed in Erivan, suggesting that there were growing divisions within the Armenian command. Perhaps the ceasefire was seen as a defeat which could not be sold to the Armenian public, after all the forceful rhetoric, belligerence and intransigence that had characterised the policy of the Armenian government over the previous year. Undoubtedly, territory had been lost and the notion of the “invincibility” of the Armenian army, carefully cultivated since the 1990s, had been severely damaged in the picking of this latest fight with Baku.

One of the reasons for Armenia’s defeats has been its under-estimation of the substance of Azerbaijan. The Armenians are fond of portraying Azerbaijan as a mere appendage of Turkey, when they are not describing the Azeris as a “fake nation” created upon the whim of Joe Stalin. They may have had their notions confirmed by the chaos and faction fighting that reigned in Azerbaijan at the fall of the Soviet Union. That contrasted with the nationalist certainty that characterised Armenia and its instinctive reflexes that began exercising a renewed appetite for expansion into Karabakh and other areas.

The Armenians believed that as long as their back was protected against Turkey (who they could continue to provoke in safety through their Genocide lobbying) they were more than able to deal with the Azerbaijanis.

However the Armenian success in the new world of nationalism that the fall of the Soviet Union ushered in, that perfectly suited its proclivities, led to the building of castles built on sand. Soon, the forceful acquisition of Karabakh, with its attendant ethnic cleansing and poisoning of neighbourly relations sowed the seeds of future problems. Armenia, isolated by pariah status, totally dependent on Russia and Iran’s goodwill, saw its economy melt down and its population leave in increasing numbers. Even its paradise of “Artsakh” proved unattractive to all but the most hardy of its frontiersmen. And all the while Azerbaijan, released from the burden of defending it, built up a solid economy and a professional army designed to fight a new war to recover its occupied territory at the right moment. And Pashinyan provided it with that moment by his reckless and provocative actions through 2019-20.

Alexander Baunov, writing for the Moscow Carnegie Centre, has penned a thoughtful article about “Why Russia is Biding its Time on Nagorno-Karabakh”. It aims to explain why Putin, having seen his ceasefire plan fail, has decided against any intervention for now, to prop up the Armenians.

Baunov first makes an important point in relation to Moscow/Baku relations: Azerbaijan has been a model independent state, keeping fully in line with Russia’s World War II narrative and determined to establish friendly relations with its former rulers:

Unlike other former Soviet republics with frozen conflicts (Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova), Azerbaijan has not been an enemy state for Russia. It has never had a government that turned anti-Russian rhetoric into a key foreign policy commodity, or proclaimed emancipation from Russia its main aim… Azerbaijan has cooperated with NATO and provided symbolic contingents of its troops to NATO operations, but it has never voiced any official ambition to join the alliance. Among the former Soviet states, Azerbaijan has always been an example of how to follow a foreign policy that is entirely independent from Russia, while maintaining a good relationship with Moscow and Putin. This example is also important for Russia itself, as it shows that good relations with Moscow don’t have to come at the cost of submission or signing up for Russia-led integration projects, and independence from Moscow doesn’t necessarily entail falling out with Russia or a demonstrative rapprochement with its enemies. “

So Russia may have reasons to help Armenia, but it has no reason at all to punish Azerbaijan. Neither the Russian government nor the public have cause to blithely deploy the country’s military force against Azerbaijan.”

The author then turns his attention to Armenia, which while it may be an ally of Russia, is by no means a friend:

“Armenia is an important Russian ally. But the Kremlin has been apprehensive of the current Armenian government ever since it came to power, as it is the result of regime change brought about by street protests: a color revolution, which the Kremlin views as a deadly sin.”

“Pashinyan welcomes the activity of Western NGOs, including those funded by the U.S. philanthropist George Soros, who has been accused by ultraconservatives of financing color revolutions. As far as the Kremlin is concerned, allowing these NGOs to operate freely is nothing short of a security breach. The current Armenian government’s second deadly sin in the eyes of the Kremlin is the prosecution of former president Robert Kocharyan.

“Russia’s reticence where Armenia is concerned is also linked to the fact that, regardless of Putin’s role, Russian diplomats—both in the 1990s and now—feel that Yerevan wasted time when it could have resolved its  territorial dispute peacefully. Moscow understands that the military victory of Armenia, a small and poor country, over richer and more populous Azerbaijan was down to chance as much as anything else.”

Many Western accounts have tried to paint the Karabakh conflict as an incident in a supposed geopolitical struggle between Russia and Turkey, with Armenia and Azerbaijan being mere proxies. This is a hopeless delusion – perhaps wishful thinking on the part of the West. And this Western misapprehension has been echoed among the Russia worshipping analysts who are inclined to a flamboyant Russian nationalism. Mr. Putin, however, is first and foremost a practical statesman rather than an adventurous Russian nationalist.

The truth of the matter is that:

“Armenia may be Russia’s ally, but Azerbaijan is not its enemy, and nor is Turkey, which is backing Azerbaijan. If the attacker were Georgia, for example, which is backed by the United States, things would be a lot more simple. It would also be simpler if it were Ukraine or Moldova trying to restore its territorial integrity in such a manner.”

“Russia’s partnership with Turkey, despite its tensions and periodic clashes, allows Russia to remain in Syria and go about its business in Libya without sustaining major losses. But most importantly, it helps to create a situation in which regional conflicts can be solved without U.S. involvement—something Russia values highly. Squeezing the United States out of regional conflicts is more important for Russia than stopping other regional powers from gaining a bigger role in them.”

“Being free to act without Western interference is also important for Turkey, and for this reason, it is reconciled to Russia’s presence in conflicts that Ankara considers important. Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan are united by their joint resistance to the West and their shared ambition of a greater role in global affairs. This anti-Western platform is more important than the shared Christian platform on which Armenia is pinning its hopes.”

The author speculates that while Putin will be prepared to allow Armenia to lose in Karabakh, he will not allow it to lose Karabakh entirely – in order that Russia can save face. This is a moot point and remains to be seen. If that were the case a form of partition would need to be imposed by Russia, and the question arises about how the Russians will assist the Armenians in stopping the Azerbaijani army?

He also thinks such a settlement would enable Armenia to free itself of Russia. But I cannot see how that would be an aim of Mr. Putin. Surely he will either have to apply force to re-freeze the conflict with redrawn frontlines managed by Russia or allow Armenia to suffer defeat, short of collapse.

Before Pashinyan unbalanced Armenia Russia had managed to successfully play off Yerevan and Baku to maintain its hegemony in the region. There was a strong suspicion that it was not in Moscow’s interest to resolve the Karabakh conflict but rather to prolong it, so that both Armenia and Azerbaijan would continue to require Moscow’s goodwill, keeping them both firmly in the sphere of influence of Moscow. It was well known that Moscow sold weapons to Baku and offered them at cheaper prices to Yerevan, or even provided them free. But much of this weaponry has now shown itself to be inferior. When contrasted with the precision technology Azerbaijan has purchased from Turkey and Israel and used to good effect, it has been revealed to be the weaponry of the last war, rather than the present one.

An Armenian defeat short of collapse would undoubtedly see the end of Mr. Pashinyan. And that would enable the restoration of a pro-Moscow regime in Yerevan. The war defeat would also demonstrate the impotence of the toxic Armenian diaspora in California, despite all their aggression and bluster. That would also be very good for Russia. There has always been a tension between the diaspora who would prefer a western re-orientation on the part of Armenia and the leaders before Pashinyan who knew that Russia was Armenia’s effective maker and breaker. This conflict would be resolved and Yerevan, defeated in war and surrounded by hostility, would be entirely dependent on Moscow, particularly in relation to any continued Armenian presence in Karabakh. Some Armenian bloggers are now even suggesting that Yerevan becomes an official part of Russia, having bungled its independent existence.

That may be Mr. Putin’s ideal outcome – if he can manage the Armenian defeat in a controlled way that does not risk Yerevan plunging the region into a wider war for its aggressive territorial ambitions. That would be a disaster that would not be welcome in either Moscow or Tehran.

Finally, something needs to be said about the young men and women whose photos appear every day on social media and who have been lost by their grieving families and country. It is a tragedy that these young lives are lost and they will never have the chance to enjoy the pleasures of life and the love of their family and friends. Azerbaijan went into this war with great reluctance, and rightfully so. It may have been easier to have continued in the situation where the great injustice that had been done to the country was pointed out but few died in trying to rectify it. But it wasn’t to be. By its actions in the 1990s Armenian nationalism made this war almost inevitable one day. What was done to Azerbaijan – the occupation of nearly a fifth of its sovereign territory and the ethnic cleansing of 800,000 people, along with the massacres of innocents in places like Khojaly – was too much for a people’s self respect. And the bungling Mr Pashinyan just pushed them too far, one time too many.

There are difficult decisions for all concerned in the coming weeks. The management of the conflict toward a peaceful and functional settlement that reflects the new balance of power on the battlefield, which reduces the possibility of future war, is in the interests of everyone.

Armenia Azerbaijan Geopolitics

An end to the Armenian occupation of Karabakh is the only hope for Peace and Stability in the region (Updated)

The front lines in Karabakh as of Friday

On Friday night it was announced, after 12 hours of meetings in Moscow, that “a humanitarian ceasefire” has been agreed to between Armenia and Azerbaijani in Karabakh. After the Saturday 12.00 start of the ceasefire, as the Azerbaijani forces stood down, it appears there were further Armenian artillery barrages and attacks, perhaps aimed at recovering lost ground. These were successfully repulsed and the ceasefire appears to be fragile at the time of writing.

Up to the cessation of the hostilities the Azerbaijani army had made a steady advance in liberating parts of its country occupied by Armenia since 1994. The Armenians, who had been obstructing negotiations for 26 years, suddenly became very keen on a ceasefire and peace. They were losing substantial amounts of territory and being driven back on the battlefield by a superior army. Their attempts to goad the Azeris into retaliating against Armenia proper, by firing missiles at the cities and towns of Azerbaijan, failed.

The Armenians also found their efforts to expand the war for Karabakh into a regional conflict thwarted. Mr. Putin told them during the week that Azerbaijan was not attacking Armenia, so they had no right to expect Russian assistance. It was clear that Armenia’s Prime Minister, Pashinyan, had made a miscalculation and overplayed his hand. He had provoked a war and his occupation forces were paying a heavy price in both blood and territory for his actions. The news of the negative battlefield situation has been kept from Armenians.

Many Azerbaijanis will be disappointed with the news of the ceasefire. It is not that they are warmongers and wished for a prolongation of conflict. However, they do want a final resolution of the conflict that has blighted their lives for a generation. They do not want future generations to face the burden and sacrifice that future conflict will entail. The steady erosion of the occupation of Azerbaijani territory by the Azerbaijani army’s successful military operations promised the possibility of a final resolution of the problem, perhaps once and for all. They will be concerned that the pause will give the Armenians a breathing space in which to organise more substantial resistance than they have been so far able to mount. And they will be concerned that they could be cheated at the conference table of the fruits of the hard won victories of the Azerbaijani forces on the battlefield. Transitions from war to politics are very problematic.

The Azerbaijani army has performed well in the 10 or so days of fighting. However, conflict has taken place mostly on the plains and capturing the highlands (Nagorno) of Karabakh would prove difficult for any army. A 5:1 majority of forces would probably be necessary for a successful campaign and casualties would certainly be higher on the offensive side. The Armenians have had years to build strong defensive positions, unmolested by the native Moslems, who they drove out in the 1990s. Assaulting such positions would be costly, particularly with winter drawing in. Barring a total Armenian collapse it would be very time consuming too.

It is interesting that the war was stopped just as a very important battle, for Hadrut, was in prospect. As one observer noted:

“Hadrut is the first regional center with Armenian population in Nagorno-Karabakh, within the former autonomous region, which the Azerbaijani side announced occupied/liberated. Prior to this, Azerbaijani troops occupied two villages in Nagorno-Karabakh – Talish and Madagiz (Sogovushan). But the main battles unfolded in the Jebrail region – a practically uninhabited territory of the Azerbaijani regions occupied by the army of Nagorno-Karabakh in the 90s, from where the entire Azerbaijani population was expelled. In fact, in this area, the parties are fighting for the right to own the ruins… The second reason is the strategic location of the settlement – if it is controlled by the Azerbaijani army, the Armenian forces defending the Fizuli and Jebrail regions will risk being surrounded and will be forced to leave their positions. The road to the center of Nagorno-Karabakh – the cities of Shushi / Shusha and Stetanakert / Khankendi – will be open for the Azerbaijani forces.”

Perhaps the Azerbaijan army had lplanned to encircle the highland areas of Karabakh, cutting them off from Armenia, by thrusting to the south and then retaking the territory of Azerbaijan to the West of Nagorno-Karabakh, around the Lachin corridor. However, this too would have met with more substantial Armenian resistance, brought in from Yerevan.

The celebrated British military strategist Basil Liddell Hart once pointed out that “Victory in the true sense… surely implies that one is better off after the war than if one had not made war.” (The British Way in Warfare, p.41) The British know a thing or two about the waging of war, having fought more wars than any nation on earth, and more successful ones at that.

If the war in Karabakh ended now and the conflict moved to the conference table the Azerbaijanis could certainly claim a victory. They have captured a fair amount of territory from the separatists; destroyed much of their military forces and equipment; demonstrated that the Azerbaijani organisation and technical superiority over the Armenians can be decisive; witnessed no successful advances of Armenian forces in any area; revealed that Russia will not support or aid Armenia unconditionally; and shown that the occupation is not a permanent feature in Karabakh, but perhaps likely to collapse, given sustained pressure.

The staus quo has been ended and the situation transformed during the last fortnight.

The Armenian government, which was talking about “new war for new territories” only a year ago, holding elections in its occupied territory and announcing the transfer of its “capital” to Shusha, to signify a permanency of existence, is now facing an existential crisis. Half of the Armenians resident in the occupied territories took the road to Yerevan in an orderly retreat (unlike the poor Azeris who trekked the mountains in the 1990s) and Mrs Pashinyan was never sighted near the frontline in battle dress and assault rifle.

But the biggest change of all was seen in the Armenian Prime Minister himself. Pashinyan was transformed from a bellicose warrior into a beaten man, pleading for a referee to stop the fight. Tass reported Nikol Pashinyan’s sudden desire to trade territory with Azerbaijan on 6 October, prompting one notable Armenian blogger, who goes under the name The Rise of Russia, to comment:

Ultimately, I believe this is Nikol’s war. In my opinion, this war is why Nikol is in power today… This war was the biggest opportunity we had in 26 years to take additional lands if only to off-set land losses we have had in this war. This was the greatest opportunity we had in 26 years to annex or recognize Artsakh. Nikol’s regime have thus far done none of it. No matter how one looks at it, Nikol’s choice of words is a form of capitulation in the middle of a war. If the fighting stopped tomorrow, Artsakh would technically be the loser...

If Armenia was going to politically cave-in like this after only one week of warfare – and also begin begging for Russian help – then why didn’t we agree to deploy Russian peacekeepers in Artsakh and handover the “5 territories” to Baku BEFORE all this bloodshed and destruction? If Armenia is doing so well militarily, as we are constantly being told, then why is it barely over one week into this war and our nation’s leader is talking about “concessions” and not “new territories” as we were assured prior to the war? And if Armenian forces in Artsakh are NOT doing so well militarily, then why has Nikol not yet used the full potential of the Armenian military to turn-the-tide of the war and bring the war into Azerbaijani territory and force Baku to instead talk about concessions? Nikol and his George Soros financed kindergarten in Yerevan is not who we needed in power in a time of war. Nikol’s regime is a liability.” ( ‘Second Battle for Artsakh, Autumn 2020’)

The Azerbaijanis have won a victory like they have not seen in a generation – although it is far from a complete victory. And total victory will be something that will be difficult to achieve militarily.

Armenian propaganda and the West

As its forces were retreating last week Armenian propaganda tried to muddy the waters in the West, and it is succeeding to a degree with the help of the simpletons of a dishonest and ignorant media. Whether this media is simply dishonest or ignorant is a moot point. However, it is not reporting the facts of the matter and its involved in obscuring the truth.

The Western media is telling us everything that this conflict is not about and not what it is really about. The media is saying it is Christians against Muslims, even though Azerbaijan is a secular and heterogeneous state; it is saying that this is a Turkish war when no Turks are involved and the Azerbaijani army is doing all the fighting; it is spreading rumours of the involvement of Syrian fighters being in the ranks of Azerbaijani forces when the only evidence points to Lebanese and Syrian activists fighting and dying for Armenia; it warns of ethnic cleansing and genocide when the only forces who have been involved in such activities are those who currently occupy Karabakh and prevent the return of 800,000 Azerbaijanis from their homes.

What this conflict is really about is a country fighting to regain its sovereign territory, universally recognised as such by the nations of the world, through its own hard effort, after decades of placing its trust in the international community to come good on the simple implementation of International Law. This International Law is declared in 4 UN Security Council Resolutions of 1993 (822, 853, 874, 884) that demand “an immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of all Armenian forces from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan”, and the re-incorporation of such territory within Azerbaijan, along with the return of the internally displaced persons ethnically cleansed by the forces of the occupation.

The International community has failed to follow through on its principles, and by reducing International Law to the status of a mere debating point it has brought it into disrepute. Prime Minister Pashinyan has stated that International Law does not matter because “Karabakh is Armenian” and has an Armenian majority. He does not say that it has not just got an Armenian majority, but that it is actually exclusively Armenian. That is because the large historic Muslim population of Karabakh and the 7 surrounding provinces of Azerbaijan were forced out between 1988 and 1994. Their settlements were destroyed, their places of worship turned into pig-sties, and thousands were murdered in their homes or died fleeing across the highlands.

The Armenians never say how they obtained their majority in Karabakh prior to the time they reduced the Moslem minority they had whittled away, to zero. Up to around a century ago there had been a Moslem majority in the area. A century previous it had been the territory of Muslim Khanates who signed peace treaties with Tsarist Russia. From the 1830s Tsarist Russia implemented a colonisation of Christian Armenians to bolster the frontiers of their expanding Empire. Armenians grew from being only 10 per cent of Karabakh (according to Russian figures) to a majority within a century. In 1911 a Russian observer, N.Shavrov, who had been involved in Tsarist colonial policy, noted that only 300,000 of the 1.3 million Armenian population of the Southern Caucasus was originally from the region. (A New Challenge to the Russian Issue in Transcaucasia, pp.59-60)

The principle of “self-determination”, already problematic, loses all validity when majorities are achieved by the processes of colonisation and ethnic cleansing.

There has indeed been an Armenian presence in Karabakh for centuries, and particularly in the highlands. No one denies that. But that has nothing to do with the rights or wrongs of the current situation and does not alter the fact that Karabakh was a territory of Azerbaijan during the period of the Azerbaijan Republic in 1918, the British occupation during the following year, the independent Azerbaijan Republic after that, and the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan from 1920 onwards. It was never a part of an Armenian state, before or after Tsarist Russia came down across the Caucasus.

During the period of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic (1920-1991) Karabakh was governed under Azeri sovereignty as the autonomous region of Nagorno Karabakh (highland Karabakh). In those 7 decades it was a shared territory with a mixed population, majority Armenian/minority Azerbaijani. Nagorno Karabakh had its critics, but it was a stable political entity in which both communities could live in peace.

Karabakh and its surrounding territories has been under Armenian control/occupation for the last 26 years. The Armenian solution to Karabakh’s diversity problem was to eradicate that diversity and to create an exclusive Armenian entity – no Moslems, Jews, Azerbaijanis or Kurds were welcome. That is the fact of the “ethnic-Armenian enclave” that the Western media describes as a “disputed territory” – an ethnically cleansed, illegal statelet, unrecognised by the world, except as an occupied territory of Azerbaijan. A dispute between an illegal occupation and a legitimate government.

What now?

One disappointing aspect of the ceasefire announcement has been the following: “While Turkey has aspired to join the Minsk Group talks as a co-chair, the statement issued by Armenia and Azerbaijan contained their pledge to maintain the current format of the peace talks.”

This means that the Minsk group, which has failed to secure Armenian co-operation in a settlement for 2 decades, will continue to be the forum for conflict resolution. The Minsk group has not only proved itself ineffectual in applying International Law to Karabakh, it is also severely weighted against the Azerbaijanis in the composition of its chairs. Russia, with its important strategic military bases in Armenia and historic support for Armenians is one of the co-chairs. France, with its substantial Armenian diaspora is another. President Macron has shown himself as hardly an objective influence in recent weeks with his statement that he favoured Armenian control and would not allow Karabakh to be governed by Azerbaijan along with his general anti-Turkish disposition. The U.S. also has a powerful Armenian diaspora and the best that can be said of it involves its seeming recent disinterest in the region.

The 3 chairs of the Minsk Group – Russia, France, US – are UN Security Council Permanent members. As such they are officially exempt from International Law under UN rules and each of them can confer exemption from it on any country they choose.

So in any negotiations the cards are stacked heavily against Azerbaijan and the process could really have done with a Turkish presence to balance up the situation.

One thing should be clear, however – this is the Minsk group’s last chance at a settlement. If it fails to satisfy the UN Resolutions in its operations it should be put out of its misery.

At present it seems that the Azerbaijani military victories have done something that 26 years of negotiations failed to achieve – they have apparantly forced a concentrating of minds and efforts to attempt a settlement at the conference table. However, there should be no half-measures in the search for a solution. The Armenian military solution to the problem – ethnic cleansing, occupation and resultant isolation – has clearly failed and has been shown to be unsustainable.

It should now be apparent to Yerevan that its victory in 1994 was a pyrrhic one. Karabakh has proved a poisoned chalice for the Armenian people themselves. While the land-grab at the collapse of the Soviet Union gave some self-satisfaction to expansionary Armenian nationalism it destroyed the chances of good relations with its neighbours and made Armenia a pariah state, isolated, with a shattered economy and rapidly declining population. It was dependent on Russia, which had rescued it from near defeat in 1992. And it could only look over enviously at the country it had “defeated” in Karabakh as Azerbaijan stabilised, and developed economically into a well-organised, strong and confident independent state, with a growing military capacity. All it had was “Artsakh” but “Artsakh” meant everything to it.

Now “the chickens have come home to roost” as they say.

As for Azerbaijan, it has every reason to settle this issue in a reasonable and accommodationist spirit. All the evidence suggests that President Aliev went to war reluctantly, after the utmost provocation from the occupation forces, and all prospects of a peaceful solution were evaporating, along with the aggressive actions of Prime Minister Pashinyan. There is no intention to prolong a conflict with Armenia a minute longer than an ending of the occupation of its territory entails. Any such prolongation of war would represent a terrible drain on Azerbaijan’s economy and be a millstone around Baku’s neck in terms of blood and treasure. That is why Baku has decided to give peace a chance, for now.

Russia can do without Pashinyan. A new Armenian leader would undoubtedly understand the importance of Russia to the continued existence of the Yerevan Republic. On the other hand, if President Aliev was to lose power in Baku, this would be much worse for Russia. Since Russia would take a great deal of the blame for the failure to resolve the conflict any new government in Baku would be likely to look westward in the future.

Despite those who present this as an Erdogan/Putin face-off both Russia and Turkey have every reason to co-operate and assist in resolving the conflict in the interests of peace and stability in the region. The Western media (and its Russian nationalist reflection) which imagines this to be a geopolitical struggle between Russia and Turkey, rather than an Armenian/Azerbaijani conflict over Karabakh will be disappointed. Both states stand to gain from a full and peaceful resolution of the issue, working together to cement ties and friendly relations. Likewise Iran, which has a great chance of rebuilding bridges and good relations with Azerbaijan.

If Russia decides to prolong the conflict over Karabakh of course it can. This could be achieved by supplying Armenia with weapons and munitions in an informal manner to enable it to hold out and produce a long draining war of attrition. However, this risks upsetting the geopolitical balance in the region by turning both Azerbaijan and Turkey westward. The relations Putin has established with Erdogan over recent years would undoubtedly be endangered.

The nightmare scenario in the conflict is such an Azerbaijani success that leads to unbalanced Armenia going berserk and loosing off its Iskander missiles at large population centres, causing large scale casualties in Baku, for instance. Such an event would probably be the one thing that would bring Turkey into the conflict directly against Armenia. And then a whole new level of conflict would ensue.

The most important thing now is to reach a functional and enduring solution to the Karabakh conflict. The best scenario would involve an Armenian submission to the full implementation of the UN Resolutions. This would minimise the bitterness a further intensification of conflict and losses would develop among both peoples. An Armenian concession would enable the possibility of the existing Armenian populace remaining in Karabakh, and those who have fled the battlefield returning. The Azerbaijani population could finally return to their homes after nearly three decades. The process could be supervised by the UN or by Turkey and Russia, acting collaboratively.

After that, functional local government could be developed in Karabakh, with a cultural equality agenda and safeguards for both communities in terms of security and political decision making. Relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan could develop on a more positive footing with a sharing of responsibility for the future good relations between the two communities in Karabakh.

Best of all, future generations of Armenians and Azerbaijanis would never need to fight and die over Karabakh, but could share in its peace, prosperity and stability. But there is much to do before a durable accommodation between Armenia and Azerbaijan can be realised. And it can only be achieved through an end to the occupation of all Azerbaijani territory.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, only a day after this article was written, and 2 days into the ceasefire the Armenians devastated apartment blocks in Ganje, Azerbaijan’s second city, using missiles. There are many civilian casualties, who were sleeping when the rockets hit. This confirms the article’s premise that the Armenian side seems to want to provoke the Azerbaijanis into making a retaliatory strike on Yerevan, to draw in Russia and Turkey into the conflict.

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The Present Karabakh Conflict

Armenian occupation forces surrender to the Azerbaijani liberators of Karabakh territory

This week I gave an Interview with CBC Azerbaijan on the present Karabakh conflict. I stated my position clearly:

“I believe the current outbreak of hostilities to be entirely the responsibility of the Armenian Government of Mr Pashinyan. It has resulted from a series of provocations that have given Azerbaijan little option but to remove the threat to the peace and security of its citizens coming from the occupation forces in Karabakh. These have included the deliberate targeting of the Azerbaijani populace in artillery barrages, sabotage of the negotiation process and other activities in contravention of International Law in the occupied area. The Azerbaijan Government has entered into hostilities with the utmost reluctance but has been forced into the military option as the only solution available for eradicating the threats mounting against its citizens by the aggressive activities of Mr Pashinyan.” (Dr. Patrick Walsh, author of ‘Great Britain and Russia in the Caucasus: Ottoman Turks, Armenians and Azerbaijanis caught up in Geopolitics, War and Revolution.’)

I need to explain why I have come to that conclusion in more detail. So this article is a follow up to the previous pieces I have published on this website, including ‘Armenia Unbalanced’ written a couple of months ago, which predicted where things were heading.

Basically, it is indisputable that the Pashinyan government in Erivan sabotaged the long-standing peace negotiations over Karabakh, that whilst going largely nowhere, still held out hope of a peaceful settlement of the conflict for Azerbaijan. The government in Baku, despite the occupation of its territory, was loath to plunge itself into another costly war without exhausting all possibilities of a peaceful resolution of the conflict on the principles of International Law, that were firmly on its side. The government in Baku knew that the Azerbaijani army had been developed into something that was unrecognisable from the forces that lost Karabakh in the 1990s. But it wished to give peace a chance, even though it was a very slim chance indeed in the hands of the Minsk group.

One of the first manifestations of a new belligerent attitude under the Pashinyan government occurred in 2019. Last year, David Tonoyan, Armenia’s Defence Minister, dropped a bomb shell when he announced the intention of “new war for new territories”. This was meant as a threat to Azerbaijan that if it attempted to regain Karabakh by force it would face an Armenian advance into the country that would expand the Armenian occupied zone further into Azerbaijan’s territory. Such a thing would be catastrophic for any government in Baku. It must have concentrated minds in Baku on the fact that 26 years after the ceasefire the state was still vulnerable to Armenian expansionism. Tonoyan stated that an expansionist policy would be advantageous to Yerevan because it “would rid Armenia of this trench condition, the constant defensive state, and will… shift the military action to the territory of the enemy.” 

If this was a bluff it was a very dangerous and provocative bluff indeed. The proclivity of Armenian nationalism toward expansion of territory toward the Magna Armenia dream of the Great War period was well known and had endured despite the catastrophe of a century ago. Combined with the constant Armenian military probing of the border it would have woken Baku out of any lethargy that might have set in from a false sense of security it had in the increasing capacity of the Azerbaijani military forces in relation to Armenia’s declining population and economy. 

In March 2020 the occupation forces in Karabakh held illegal elections within an emergency situation brought about by the spread of the Covid virus. These elections were not recognised as legitimate by most of the world and were an affront to International Law. Many countries stated their opposition to this affront. Two months later in May it was announced that the capital of the secessionists was to be moved from Stepanakert to the historic Azerbaijani centre of Karabakh, Shusha. Shusha holds deep symbolic value for Azerbaijanis and represented a further calculated provocation to their sensitivities. 

In July 2020 Armenian forces instituted a serious escalation of hostilities at Tovuz on the Armenian/Azerbaijan border. It was significant that military engagements occurred along the actual border between the Republic of Armenia and Azerbaijan, 300km from the front lines between Azerbaijan and Armenian-occupied Karabakh. Azerbaijan had no interest in fighting in this location and it would only have been to its disadvantage to have engaged in hostilities there. Azerbaijan, with no territorial claims against Armenia proper and having little to gain in any offensive operations was taken aback by the Armenian offensive action. It was the next stretch of territory that Baku was intent on demilitarizing as part of the de-escalation plan the Azeri military was following as part of peace negotiations. It is also an important strategic region for Azerbaijan with its gas and oil pipeline supply to Europe running adjacent in the hinterland, toward the border with Georgia, as the new link of the Southern Gas Corridor. Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, later confirmed that it was Armenia’s decision to attempt to push up to a position within 15km of the Azerbaijani export pipeline that ignited the conflict at Tovuz.

The lack of a robust response from Azerbaijan to the Armenian probing at Tovuz in July seems to have given Pashinyan and the Armenians the belief that they could go further. Large demonstrations in Baku accused the Aliev government of inaction and called for a response. The pressure was from the Azerbaijani populace on the government, to respond with greater military resolution, rather than the government in Baku manipulating nationalist passions to disperse opposition. A further Armenian provocation was going to be very problematic for the government in Baku.

However, further provocations followed. During September there were reports of Lebanese Armenians (who were affected by the explosion in Beirut and the meltdown of the economy) being brought to Karabakh as colonists to bolster its declining population. This is illegal under International Law governing occupied territories and again caused consternation in Azerbaijan with its large number of IDPs, demanding the right to return and now seeing  their homes occupied by foreign settlers. Illegal settlements of Lebanese and Syrian Armenians are taking place in the occupied territory of Azerbaijan in Zangilan, in Qubadli, in Lachin, in Kelbajar, in five villages in Agdam and in one village in Fizuli. These illegal settlements are replacing the displaced Azerbaijanis who were ethnically cleansed by Armenian terror squads.

At around the same time the wife of President Pashinyan paid a high profile visit to the occupied territories of Karabakh. She was pictured in full military dress, in various battle poses, firing an assault rifle in the direction of Azerbaijani lines. This extraordinary media event was presumably meant to signal a personal devotion to a military solution on the part of the Armenian Premier and a final rejection of the possibility of a negotiated settlement. 

There were also reports and pictures of squads of PKK operatives journeying to Karabakh to engage in training and perhaps offensive operations on Azerbaijan territory. Perhaps this was fake news – meant to draw Turkey into the conflict and encourage Mr Putin to become saviour of Armenia. But it also raised the temperature in Azerbaijan. Furthermore, the capture of an Armenian sabotage unit on the Azerbaijan side of the line of contact amplified such fears of offensive operations threatening Muslim villages across the line of contact. 

The Armenian Government also put its diplomatic effort into raising the stakes. Yerevan obstructed a special session of the UN General Assembly arranged to discuss a collaborative response to the Covid pandemic. The Armenians did this purely because this important event had been proposed by the Chair of the Non-aligned movement and Azerbaijan President, Ilham Aliev. The proposal was backed by 130 countries and Armenia was the only country to oppose the session. Armenian nationalist interests was felt to be important enough to trump the interests of humanity in general. And that, of course, is a very Armenian attitude.

Pashinyan also began insisting publicly that Nagorno Karabakh be given official existence and recognition in the negotiating process between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This radical proposal was obviously unacceptable to Azerbaijan, and indeed contrary to International Law, which does not recognise such an entity in the first place, let alone giving it legitimacy by admission to formal talks. If this unprecedented move on the part of the Armenian Prime Minister was designed to subvert the peace process Pashinyan was undoubtedly successful. When President Aliev heard this his confidence in progress at the negotiating table would have been shattered.

This led to Svante E. Cornell, Director of the Institute for Security and Development Policy, and one of its co-founders, state that the OSCE Minsk Group was hopelessly outdated as a mechanism for resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. He said:

“Our Institute has for years pointed to the absurd situation where competent but mid-level diplomats in three countries that do not agree on much are tasked with the resolution of a conflict that has gone on for thirty years and which involves interests of major powers. The fact that the main power that intervenes in the conflict for it own purposes, Russia, is also the most active co-chair of the Minsk Group is patently absurd and ensures there can be no progress. In effect, both France and the US have mostly allowed Russia, and particularly Foreign Minister Lavrov, to take the lead on the conflict while everyone knows that Russia is not interested in a solution. The Minsk Group has become at best an excuse for inaction, by showing that there is a ‘process’ in place. But in reality there is no such process.”

Cornell concluded:

“This has undermined Azerbaijan’s approach to seek to resolve the conflict through the process of international diplomacy. If diplomacy proves incapable, it leaves Azerbaijan with two options: simply accept the loss of territory, or to seek other ways to restore its territorial integrity. Second, the escalated involvement of great powers, particularly Turkey and Russia, on opposing sides of several conflicts including Syria and Libya, has directly affected the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan because the regional powers now see the conflict in the perspective of their broader rivalry. This provides both advantages and disadvantages for Azerbaijan – greater Turkish support, but also greater risk of confrontation with Russia. Finally, it is also clear that the transition of power in Armenia did not, as Azerbaijan hoped, lead to a more compromise-oriented government intended on resolving the conflict, but to a more assertive Armenia that seeks not only to stall negotiations, as was the case before, but to fundamentally change the negotiation process by rejecting Madrid principles, demanding changes to the composition of negotiations, resettling Middle East Armenians into the occupied territories, and so on, while also threatening “new wars and new territories”. We can debate the reasons behind all these changes but they all have led to a very unstable situation that could no longer be contained,” (

All the provocations from Erivan and occupied Karabakh, plus deliberate statements by PM Pashinyan that “Karabakh is Armenia” and inaction by the Minsk group, closed off any hope there had been in the decades long and stalled peace process.  So what then?

All the while the Azerbaijanis were receiving little sympathy in the West – despite International Law being firmly on their side. Biased and ignorant reporting from the BBC and the British press in general seemed to show the old favouritism toward Armenia of the Christian West – despite the Armenians being very much in the wrong. President Macron’s statements in favour of the Karabakh separatists were particularly despicable.

As Thomas Goltz, who has long experience in the Caucasus, has recently said, the Armenians have dominated the narrative in the West. Karabakh is often termed “an enclave” of “ethnic Armenians” giving it an emotional value (of poor Christians) being surrounded by hostile (Muslim) forces. In fact, Karabakh is populated entirely of Armenians because the substantial non-Armenian populace was ethnically cleansed from it in the late 1980s/early 1990s. There are approaching 1 million displaced people from Karabakh, adjacent Azerbaijani provinces and Erivan, and Karabakh is actually a sovereign part of Azerbaijan.

Karabagh is also routinely described as “disputed territory” in the Western media as if the claims of both parties are equal under International Law, when they are not. International Law and practically every country in the world recognises Karabakh as being part of Azerbaijan and being under the sovereignty of the government in Baku.

As such the Armenians, aided by the Western media, have successfully taken the debate away from its fundamentals of International Law where 4 UN Resolutions of 1993 clearly and unambiguously describe Karabakh as being an integral part of Azerbaijan and subject to the sovereignty of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Armenia is militarily occupying internationally recognised Azerbaijani territory in violation of UNSC Resolutions 822, 853, 874, and 884, which were even supported by Russia.

The following extract is from an article in ‘The Oriental Review’, ‘Russian Strategic Calculations In The Nagorno-Karabakh Crisis, written by Andrew Korybko, the geopolitics writer:

“Russia is very well aware that Armenia is the aggressor, just like it’s always been. That’s why it isn’t considering activating the CSTO’s mutual defense clause. Russia, like the rest of its UNSC counterparts, regards Nagorno-Karabakh as Armenian-occupied Azerbaijani territory according to international law. It doesn’t want to get dragged into a war in support of its ally’s expansionist policy. Russia would have nothing to gain from doing so and everything to lose, including its strategic relations with Azerbaijan and possibly even Turkey too.The best possible strategy at this time is for Russia to put immense pressure on Armenia behind the ceases to agree to another ceasefire as soon as possible, provided of course that the Azerbaijani side is willing to go along with this as well for whatever its reasons may be. Regrettably, however, Russian influence over Armenia has shrunk since Pashinyan’s rise to power as a result of the so-called “Velvet Revolution”, which was really a Color Revolution against the country’s legitimate government.”

Pablo Escobar, the veteran political analyst, has a piece written for the ‘Unz Review’ entitled ‘What’s at Stake in the Armenia-Azerbaijan Chessboard (

The most interesting sections of this article are the comments supplied to the writer by another (anonymous) political analyst, an expert on the geopolitics of the Caucasus. Escobar calls him “Mr. C.” I have included the comments about the Karabakh conflict made by Mr. C below. I believe them to be basically accurate:

“For decades, the equation remained the same and the variables in the equation remained the same, more or less. This was the case notwithstanding the fact that Armenia is an unstable democracy in transition and Azerbaijan had much more continuity at the top… Azerbaijan lost territory right at the beginning of the restoration of its statehood, when it was basically a failed state run by armchair nationalist amateurs [before Heydar Aliyev, Ilham’s father, came to power]. And Armenia was a mess, too but less so when you take into consideration that it had strong Russian support and Azerbaijan had no one. Back in the day, Turkey was still a secular state with a military that looked West and took its NATO membership seriously. Since then, Azerbaijan has built up its economy and increased its population. So it kept getting stronger. But its military was still underperforming.”

“Basically, in the past few months you’ve seen incremental increases in the intensity of near daily ceasefire violations (the near-daily violations are nothing new: they’ve been going on for years). So this blew up in July and there was a shooting war for a few days. Then everyone calmed down again.”

“The Azerbaijani side thought (the coming to power of Pashinyan) indicated Armenia was ready for compromise (this all started when Armenia had a sort of revolution, with the new PM coming in with a popular mandate to clean house domestically). For whatever reason, it ended up not happening.”

“(During the July hostilities at Tovuz) Armenia asked for CSTO protection and got bitch slapped, hard and in public; second, Armenia threatened to bomb the oil and gas pipelines in Azerbaijan (there are several, they all run parallel, and they supply not just Georgia and Turkey but now the Balkans and Italy). With regards to the latter, Azerbaijan basically said: if you do that, we’ll bomb your nuclear reactor.”

“Armenia’s sabre rattling got more aggressive… and throughout the summer, the quality of the Turkish-Azerbaijani military exercises increased (both prior to July events and subsequently). The Azerbaijani military got a lot better. Also, since the fourth quarter of 2019 the President of Azerbaijan has been getting rid of the (perceived) pro-Russian elements in positions of power.” 

“(President Erdogan may have informed President Putin) ‘We’ll go into Armenia directly if a) Azerbaijan starts to lose, b) Russia goes in or accepts CSTO to be invoked or something along those lines, or c) Armenia goes after the pipelines. All are reasonable red lines for the Turks, especially when you factor in the fact that they don’t like the Armenians very much and that they consider the Azerbaijanis brothers’.”

“The peace talks are going nowhere because Armenia is refusing to budge (to withdraw from occupying Nagorno-Karabakh plus 7 surrounding regions in phases or all at once, with the usual guarantees for civilians, even settlers – note that when they went in in the early 1990s they cleansed those lands of literally all Azerbaijanis, something like between 700,000 and 1 million people). Aliyev was under the impression that Pashinyan was willing to compromise and began preparing his people and then looked like someone with egg on his face when it didn’t happen. Turkey has made it crystal clear it will support Azerbaijan unconditionally, and has matched those words with deeds.”

“In such circumstances, Russia got outplayed – in the sense that they had been able to play off Armenia against Azerbaijan and vice versa, quite successfully, helping to mediate talks that went nowhere, preserving the status quo that effectively favored Armenia.”

“(The point of the war from the Azerbaijani side is) either to conquer as much as possible before the “international community” [in this case, the UNSC] calls for / demands a ceasefire or to do so as an impetus for re-starting talks that actually lead to progress. In either scenario, Azerbaijan will end up with gains and Armenia with losses. How much and under what circumstances (the status and question of Nagorno-Karabakh is distinct from the status and question of the Armenian occupied territories around Nagorno-Karabakh) is unknown: i.e. on the field of battle or the negotiating table or a combo of both. However this turns out, at a minimum Azerbaijan will get to keep what it liberated in battle. This will be the new starting point. And I suspect that Azerbaijan will do no harm to the Armenian civilians that stay. They’ll be model liberators. And they’ll take time to bring back Azerbaijani civilians (refugees/IDPs) to their homes, especially in areas that would become mixed as a result of return.”

“(Moscow cannot do not much under these circumstances) except to go into Azerbaijan proper, which they won’t do (there’s no land border between Russia and Armenia; so although Russia has a military base in Armenia with one or more thousand troops, they can’t just supply Armenia with guns and troops at will, given the geography)… The EU and Russia may find common cause to limit Azerbaijani gains (in large part because Erdogan is no one’s favourite guy, not just because of this but because of the Eastern Med, Syria, Libya).”

Now, it is all to play for in Karabakh. It seems that the Armenian Prime Minister has over-played his hand. Pashinyan has successfully unfrozen “the frozen conflict”.

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‘Great Britain against Russia in the Caucasus’ Preface

‘Great Britain against Russia in the Caucasus’ is about how the geopolitical relationship between Imperial Britain and Tsarist Russia had a transformative effect on the destinies of Ottoman Turks, Armenians and Azerbaijanis. From the Great War of August 1914, the course of history for these empires and peoples of Transcaucasia, was irrevocably altered and set on a new course. 

The Russian movement south across the Caucasus during the early 19th Century had a profound effect on the peoples of Transcaucasia, as well as the Ottoman Empire. The struggle between Great Britain and Russia known as “The Great Game” that then ensued, added a new geopolitical dimension to the region stretching from the European Ottoman provinces to Southern Iran. However, at the moment when this great geopolitical struggle reached its pinnacle it was then seemingly suspended, by mutual agreement of the two empires, in response to an alteration in Britain’s Balance of Power policy. And the effect was utterly cataclysmic.

It was the over-riding of “The Great Game” by the reactivation of the British Balance of Power policy, signalled in the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907, that led on to the Great War on Germany and Ottoman Turkey. This catastrophic event was to have the most fundamental and transforming effect on the peoples of Transcaucasia, when the Tsarist state succumbed to Revolution in the waging of it.

After the Great War of 1914 nothing was ever the same again for Britain, Russia, Ottoman Turkey, the Armenians and the people of Azerbaijan. The miscalculated War produced Revolution in Russia, and other places, and the idealistic catch-cries of the new world provoked nation-building in the most improbable of places. Without the alteration of the British Balance of Power, the suspension of “The Great Game” and the consequent Great War, the map of the region may have remained rolled up and unaltered for generations.

At the end of 1918, as a result of its Great War victory, the British Empire had gained control of a vast land area stretching eastward from Istanbul into Anatolia, the Caucasus and Transcaspia. Behind this area a great belt of land, running east from Palestine, through Mesopotamia/Iraq and into Persia lay in England’s hands, to do what it wished with.  In front of this Britain was supplying and supporting various military forces that were disintegrating the Russian state through civil war. The Great War of 1914 had not only succeeded in destroying Germany, and the Hapsburg and Ottoman Empires, but it had also seemingly won Britain the Great Game of a century of geopolitical rivalry with Russia.

Yet in the moment of triumph of Imperial Britain, and in less than two years, Russia was back in the Caucasus and Transcaspia and it was pressing down on British Persia. And Russia was no longer Tsarist Russia but Bolshevik Russia.

This extraordinary turn of events is not explained to any satisfactory degree in the history books of the Anglosphere. Consequently, accounts are bemused by England’s behaviour in 1919, which is only understandable within its geopolitical context. Why the great statesmen of England did what they did deserves more attention and explanation. The history of Ottoman Turkey and Transcaucasia is really inexplicable without trying to understand their calculations and effect on events.

Winston Churchill, who features strongly in this story, once called Russia “a riddle, inside a mystery, wrapped in an enigma.” But Russia is hardly an enigma. For the most part of two centuries it has controlled the Caucasus and unless someone prevented it from doing so, it remained in authority over the region. The peoples of the Caucasus were simply too many and too divided to resist the power of the Russian advance. Only two internal collapses of the Russian State, in 1917 and 1990, provided the space for new states to be born and to thereafter function with a degree of independence.

Britain is much more an enigma in relation to the Caucasus than Russia actually is. Of course, the Caucasus is hardly in Britain’s backyard, but neither are the great expanses of the world she conquered and controlled for centuries elsewhere. But Britain, despite its immense power, had a fundamental problem with the region. That was because British power was sea power and the Caucasus were too continental for Britain’s main weapon of war, the Royal Navy, to be employed there to any great effect. Lord Salisbury once warned the Armenians that his navy could never traverse the Taurus Mountains to assist their objectives. Neither could it climb over the mountains of the Caucasus. What was needed were soldiers and that is what Britain lacked.

During the Great War Britain had built an army larger than it had ever accumulated in its history. Soldiers were available to Britain: in Persia, Turkey and among the Moslem peoples of the Caucasus, who were opposed to Russian domination and would have willingly fought against it. And there lay the key to a successful defence of the Caucasus against the Russians if the will was there to make it a reality. In 1918-19 it seemed that the foundations of a very advantageous situation were there for Imperial Britain. There was even Russian state collapse during the previous year to assist it. And then…?

Where there is a will there is a way. But in 1919 Britain’s will failed and there was no way. Imperial Britain, seemingly at the height of her power, having won its greatest of wars, baulked at the situation that confronted it, and the Imperial retreat began, unexpectedly, in the moment of victory. The Caucasus region and its peoples, who had been encouraged to form buffer-states and given a brief taste of independent existence, fell back into Russian hands – now Bolshevik hands – for nearly three quarters of a century. And the locals were left to make the best of it.

To understand Great Britain’s failure, we need to understand the British Imperial mind and its view of the Caucasus.

Much of the world is credulous about Britain. That is hardly surprising, since Britain imposed itself upon the world in three great worldwide wars, conquered a large part of it in the course of these, established successful and powerful colonies as a result, and made the English language the default language for the writing of history, among other things. That historical process of forceful action, sustained over centuries, has produced conditioned reflexes which have inhibited thought and produced a great deal of innocent credulity.

Any attempt to write the history of this period without considering the primary role of Great Britain in shaping the destiny of the peoples of the Southern Caucasus and Anatolia, is really “Hamlet without the Prince”.  

To explain all this, it is necessary to examine the fundamentals of the mindset of Imperial Britain, which came to determine things in Anatolia and Transcaucasia during 1917-21. So, the early British interventions in Persia, the Great Game against Tsarist Russia, the importance of the Indian Empire and the Balance of Power policy are all surveyed. The consequence of this and the course of the Great War that followed was that Britain had a divided mind when it assumed the mastery of the Caucasus in 1918, which meant that it did not know what to do as clearly as the Bolsheviks did.

Lengthy quotations from significant actors and commentators are sometimes included – something that is unfamiliar in academia. This is done because the reader is required to step into another world, the world before the Great War changed the world forever, to understand why people acted as they did, and things were done as they had been done prior to the interregnum.

The thing about the period just after the Great War was that although a new world had dawned – not least of all because the New World (America) had been drawn into the War – the people who presided over this new world had minds that had been formed in the period of the old world, before the cataclysm. They could not act how they would have acted in the old world and had to adjust for a new world that was unfamiliar and which they had no experience of in practice. History, the basis of past understandings and consequent actions, could not help them. So, without bearings, they blundered.

The very act of fighting the Great War had also changed the minds that had considered issues in an entirely different light before the fighting had begun and had went on, and on, and on.

The context of the story is the geopolitics of Great Britain versus Russia. But it is also about the battleground on which the issue between them was fought. It is Ottoman Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and their peoples, who, after all, did most of the fighting and dying. So, the internal politics and struggles between the various elements present in the region are an important aspect of this history.

The sudden but temporary confluence of interests between Bolshevik Russia and the new development of Republican Turkey, brought about by Lloyd George’s disastrous policy of using the Greeks and Armenians as catspaws to impose a punitive settlement on the Turks, is crucial in understanding what then happened. And the critical role of the Armenians in acting as a source of internal destabilisation, due to their relationship with the Western Imperial Powers, as perceived patrons, is given the significance it is due.

All this determined the result of the battle for the Caucasus that Bolshevik Russia quite unexpectedly won over Imperial Britain from a dire position only a few months previous.From the early nineteenth century Russia was the great constant in the affairs of the Caucasus and Britain was the great potential variable. That is probably why Great Britain’s influence has been overlooked by historians. It is the role of variables to change things. The wider geopolitical interests of Britain were what destabilised Transcaucasia, set it on a new course, and led to the historic events which this book is about. But when the battle was over it was Russia which held the field, alongside the new Turkish state born out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.

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New Publication: ‘Great Britain against Russia in the Caucasus: Ottoman Turks, Armenians and Azerbaijanis caught up in Geopolitics, War and Revolution.’

For most of the 19th Century Great Britain and Tsarist Russia confronted each other in a geopolitical struggle known as the Great Game. During this period Britain supported the Ottoman Empire as a giant buffer state against Russian expansion toward the Mediterranean. But in 1907 the Great Game against Russia was suddenly suspended in the interests of a drastic alteration in Britain’s Balance of Power policy that identified Germany as the main threat to British global predominance. An unlikely alliance was established between the two former deadly enemies which had momentous consequences for Tsarist Russia and the world.

The primary consequence of this revolution in British Foreign Policy was the Great War of 1914, waged by Britain, Russia and France on Germany and the Ottoman Empire. In the course of this catastrophic global war the Tsarist State collapsed, throwing much of Eurasia into flux, and letting loose new forces into the world. The Russian Revolution and Bolshevik coup, along with universalistic slogans encouraging “self-determination” trumpeted by the Allied Powers, provoked nationalism and new nations, in areas where such notions had been weakly developed previously, like Transcaucasia.

Within this turmoil the new nations of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia emerged out of the Russian Empire and took their first steps toward independence in a situation of great instability and uncertainty. The Armenians, the most nationalistic and militarized people in the region who had collaborated in the attempt to destroy the Ottoman State, were now employed by the badly-stretched Entente to reconstruct a new Allied front in the Caucasus replacing the Russian lines that had melted away. And this was to have tragic consequences for the local Muslim population.

At the end of 1918 Britain finally won its Great War on Germany and the Ottoman Empire, whilst seeing its former enemy, Russia, descend into chaos. Britain had seemingly won not only the Great War but the Great Game against Russia and occupied its territory in the Caucasus, with the power to determine the region’s future for the first time. Or so it seemed.

The collapse of the Russian State resulted in the Caucasus becoming one of the centres of a new conflict as Britain supported regime change in Moscow by promoting and facilitating civil war in Russia. The new Transcaucasian states of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan had been provided with a vacuum in which to be born and develop as nations and the British occupation was availed of for this development. But the freedom of action of these new nations was short lived after Britain, lacking the will to sustain its occupation for various reasons, abruptly began a withdrawal.

This study, for the first time, places the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Armenian question in its full geopolitical context of the Great War, Russian State politics and Revolution, and the changing Foreign Policy of Great Britain. Without this context full understanding of these world-historic events is impossible.

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