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    HomeOpinionsHere's what I think: The Armenia / Azerbaijan situation

    Here’s what I think: The Armenia / Azerbaijan situation

    I had actually written this article about a month ago at this point, but had to shelve it week after week as election news took centre stage in the last four weeks. I had then planned to put it out in the midweek before the elections’ first round, but I then had to shelve it once more as Ersin Tatar had gone to Ankara, opened Maraş, and had his government collapsed. Since then, in all honesty, it’s all gone right for Ersin Tatar, but a long-awaited lull in proceedings here in Cyprus has finally allowed me to turn my attention back to the outside world, beginning with the situation between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

    Here's what I think: The Armenia / Azerbaijan situation 1
    Tom Cleaver

    Azerbaijan and Armenia are currently engaged in armed conflict over the Karabakh region. The region was, as many are, historically a mix of different ethnicities, though with an Armenian majority, and was included within the borders of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic by Joseph Stalin in 1921. The official borders of Azerbaijan have remained unchanged ever since, but following its and Armenia’s independence from the Soviet Union, Armenia invaded Karabakh in the early 1990s and has held it ever since, expelling the local Azerbaijani population. What appears to be happening at the moment is a belated counter-attack by Azerbaijan to regain control of all of the land within its borders.

    It is unclear what triggered the current conflict at this point, with both sides pointing the finger at each other for the resumption of tensions. The fog of war has well and truly descended at this point, with veritable information from the region and beyond increasingly hard to come by, some nuggets aside. We know that Armenia has been shelling Azeri cities outside of Karabakh – the northern Azeri city of Ganja has been under shellfire for some weeks at this point. It is also believed that Azerbaijan is making decent headway in the south of Karabakh, with towns such as Füzuli, Cebrayıl, and Hadrut now back under Azeri control for the first time in over twenty five years, and Azerbaijan now having total control over its border with Iran.

    This is all well and good, but as I am sure many of you will know, the propaganda war is in some cases almost as important as the war itself. This is something that Armenia is all too aware of, and though they may be losing territory on the ground, they seem to have a near-monopoly over messaging and over the wider world’s opinions on the conflict. It’s being framed as Turkish aggression, neo-ottomanism, and even in some cases an attempt at occupation on the part of Azerbaijan. It is none of these things. Karabakh falls entirely within the borders of Azerbaijan, and the Turkish military is nowhere to be seen as yet.

    The propaganda war has of course a religious element – the Armenians being Orthodox Christians and Azeris Turkic Shia Muslims – and the undertones of that within Europe, especially in countries like Greece, from which mercenary fighters have been attempting to join Armenian ranks. However, as I’m sure the more level-headed among you realise, belonging to one religion or another doesn’t make you right or wrong by default. It should go without saying that the virtue of a religion does not override the conduct of a person or a nation.

    The moral high ground is most certainly not Armenia’s

    Armenia is the aggressor here, engaged in military conflict outside of its own borders. At the moment, the only thing Armenia is the victim of in this conflict is its own over-exuberance, and its demands of complete support from all sides is eventually going to wear thin on the patience of the international community. Recalling its ambassador to Israel because of arms sales to Azerbaijan is petty and short-sighted, and will potentially leave a bitter taste in the mouth of many of Israel’s closest allies, such as the United States. Furthermore, the longer this conflict drags on, the more exposure to the facts of the situation people will potentially have, and the less yielding they may be to the Armenian propaganda wave.

    I don’t see this ending well for Armenia. I am no military strategist, but particularly in the south of Azerbaijan they seem to be being pushed backwards at a reasonable speed. At this point, ceasefires have come and gone, and with both sides unwilling to back down it seems that this war will only end if someone wins it. Azerbaijan may have a job advancing as quickly through the more mountainous central Karabakh, so I would imagine that this conflict may carry on for quite a while.

    Talk of a “moral high ground” in conflict is often futile and pretty pointless, but in any case given the facts of the situation I must stress that said “moral high ground” is most certainly not Armenia’s. Armenia itself, being guaranteed by Russia, is actually not under attack at all – as I have mentioned the fighting is exclusively within the borders of Azerbaijan. The right of a nation to defend its own territory is one that any sane person can agree on, and thus I would urge the large numbers of people within the “European world” to take another look at the facts in isolation.

    Azerbaijan, as many are, is a multi-ethnic country as things are. If and when this conflict ends, the Armenians of Azerbaijan must be allowed the same rights and representation as any other minority in the country. In reciprocation, however, Armenia and the international community must respect the sovereignty and the borders of Azerbaijan.

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