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Nagorno-Karabakh: The Infinite Battle within the Black Backyard

Points of the battle within the Nagorno-Karabakh area between Azerbaijan and Armenia are certainly not dissimilar to these of the South Tyrol battle between Austria and Italy. Already because the second half of the Nineteen Nineties – particularly after the struggle between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 1994, which led to a “frozen” transitional state of affairs till November 2020 – delegations from the 1994 loser nation Azerbaijan have repeatedly visited the Autonomous Province of Bolzano-South Tyrol within the border triangle of Italy-Austria-Switzerland to review the mannequin for attainable battle options involving the worldwide neighborhood. There’s an East-West focus on the Eurac Research Center for Advanced Studies in Bozen-Bolzano. An international Nagorno-Karabakh conference of the Eurac Analysis Institute for Federalism and Minority Rights came about on the finish of October 2020 with the participation of Mario Raffaelli from Trentino province, who acted as mediator of the OSCE Minsk Group between Armenia and Azerbaijan and helped to develop the six “Madrid Rules” for Nagorny-Karabakh battle decision in 2007. As well as, there was the work of the Eurac Institute for Comparative Federalism for the Minsk Group particularly, particularly for minorities and displaced individuals. The area was a subject on the main Central Asia Convention in Moscow in 2019, the place a re-ignition of the battle was already rising as a risk in wordings and a sure populist rhetoric of nationalism.

This text presents some ideas over the next 4 factors with a purpose to present a minimal foundation for dialogue on the present state of affairs:

  1. What’s the battle about?
  2. Causes and backgrounds
  3. Potential options

What’s the battle about?

The battle in Nagorno-Karabakh, the “mountainous black backyard” within the South Caucasus, has a protracted and complicated historical past, together with the autonomy concern concerned. Much like different “hyper-complex” conflicts, the battle presents non secular, ethnic and civil-religious-nationalist parts along with political and financial ones, which make it significantly tough to resolve. Id narratives play an important function within the Nagorno-Karabakh concern, which has repeatedly led each the territorial powers and the key powers behind them to have interaction in symbolic insurance policies that inspired battle. For hundreds of years, the coexistence of the intently interlocked Armenian and Azerbaijani populations has produced each constructive and destructive examples. As well as, the a number of adjustments within the ethnic-territorial distribution of the inhabitants haven’t made issues simpler. In trendy instances, after the Russian November Revolution, Nagorno-Karabakh was annexed to Azerbaijan in 1921-23 regardless of an Armenian majority (although with a bigger Azerbaijani minority on the time than at the moment), partly as a result of the Bolsheviks there had better affect in Moscow than their Armenian counterparts. Regardless of repeated makes an attempt by Armenia and the representatives of Nagorno-Karabakh to vary the affiliation to Armenia, nothing modified till the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The decline of the Soviet multi-ethnic state below Mikhail Gorbachev in 1988 led to a resurgence of nationalism additionally within the Caucasus and resulted in Nagorno-Karabakh’s renewed utility to vary from Azerbaijan to the Soviet Republic of Armenia, which was rejected by Moscow. In consequence, the area unilaterally declared itself unbiased in 1991 below the identify “Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh”, since 2017 below the identify “Republic of Arzakh” (the Armenian identify for Nagorno-Karabakh), which was not recognised by another state, nor by Armenia itself for lack of prospects of success. In consequence, a full-scale struggle developed from 1991 to 1994 with the participation of normal military models from either side, which claimed as much as 30,000 victims and compelled about 700,000 Azerbaijanis and 400,000 Armenians to flee the area. It ended with an Armenian victory, the upkeep of Nagorno-Karabakh’s de facto autonomous standing and the occupation of surrounding Azerbaijani territories, the so-called seven districts, which Armenia henceforth occupied as “buffer zones” on the grounds of army safety. Between 1991 and 2020, a “frozen battle” emerged from this constellation and not using a definitive answer. The “freeze” appeared to the background powers and the worldwide neighborhood, together with Russia, Turkey, Iran and the OSCE, in addition to numerous EU states within the diplomacy-oriented Minsk Group, together with France, to be the one option to hold the area in stability and stability, given the complexity and lack of prospects for a definitive consensual answer.

Nonetheless, from 27 September to 10 November 2020, a brand new six-week regional struggle unfolded wherein the Azerbaijani military, supported by the “brother nation” Turkey, “responded” to alleged Armenian provocations with a large-scale assault. This allegedly concerned Arab, together with Syrian and Libyan mercenaries mediated by Turkey, in addition to state-of-the-art weaponry, together with drones and heavy long-range bombardments. Even earlier than that, in 2016 and in between, there have been repeated smaller skirmishes with casualties that have been barely registered by the worldwide neighborhood. The all-too-small OSCE border management mission, with a group of solely six, was overwhelmed by the state of affairs. This newest struggle claimed at least 4000 victims and ended with a clear victory for Azerbaijan. On 10 November 2020, after the failure of EU and OSCE peace missions, a ceasefire was agreed below roughly mono-lateral mediation by Armenia’s defending energy, Russia. The ceasefire supplied for the deployment of Russian mediation troops, the territorial return of the seven occupied districts in addition to components of the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan, and the restoration of Azerbaijani sovereignty over the territory in precept, though many individual modalities remain to be clarified. Of the roughly 150,000 inhabitants of Nagorno-Karabakh, 99% of whom are Armenians in keeping with stories by the German Federal Agency for Civic Education (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung), about 90,000 had fled in the midst of this struggle.

Causes and backgrounds

The causes and backgrounds of why a brand new open struggle broke out within the autumn of 2020 after repeated smouldering small conflicts lie, as all the time with bigger army confrontations, within the coincidence of assorted elements. Basically, 5 dimensions labored collectively right here, which mutually bolstered one another below the given situations of the time. As all the time, the historic state of affairs was decisive, since particular person causes normally solely work together to provide a struggle when the encircling bigger historic second makes it attainable or favours it.

The 5 dimensions are as follows:

i) De-internationalisation and the pattern in the direction of neo-nationalism within the world grand scheme of issues

The Caucasus has lengthy been seen as a powder keg with many “unsolvable” conflicts that many stakeholders imagine have to be frozen till the historic second for a extra consensual answer arrives. However this could presuppose a sure recognition of primacy of multilateralism and worldwide legislation by all sides. The respective readiness has been weakened lately; and with it the worldwide and, relying on that, the territorial local weather modified. Because the second half of the 2010s, neo-nationalisms have sprung up globally, encouraging extra nationalist initiatives, in order that there was a rising willingness within the space to droop balances with a purpose to fulfill nationwide pursuits. States returned to their very own curiosity insurance policies, together with with regard to Nagorno-Karabakh. The politics of spheres of affect additionally skilled its resurrection by the use of the “return of geography” (Paul Dibb), additionally known as the “revenge of geography” (Robert D. Kaplan), as a strategic mentality. Due to this fact, the latest struggle of 2020 will be described as a neo-nationalist struggle, particularly between the 2 states concerned, Azerbaijan and Armenia, but additionally of the powers behind them, Russia (Armenia) and Turkey (Azerbaijan) respectively. Iran, as a regional energy with a direct widespread border with Nargorno-Karabakh, was not directly concerned as a 3rd social gathering, however has as much as a 3rd of Azerbaijanis in its inhabitants and due to this fact doesn’t wish to be drawn into a brand new Azerbaijani nationalism.

ii) A proxy struggle of recent nice energy ambitions between Russia and Turkey

The Nagorno-Karabakh struggle of 2020 was additionally a “proxy war”. New regional nice energy ambitions of neighbouring powers turned efficient – not least as a consequence of the return of geography. The neo-nationalist wave inspired a brand new “chess game” mentality and resulting strategic manoeuvres within the zone. A paradoxical logic prevailed: each proxy struggle powers, Russia and Turkey (Putin-Erdogan), have been capable of revenue from the battle. For by the use of the latest Nagorno-Karabakh battle of 2020, each powers have in actual fact helped one another to strengthen their presence within the Caucasus and to “dialectically” increase their territorial energy within the model of the nineteenth century. De facto, they’ve divided the general zone between them. On the one hand, Azerbaijan has turn out to be extra depending on Turkey; alternatively, Russia, along with its already current army base, has turn out to be much more entrenched within the space by offering the pacification troops, and Armenia has turn out to be much more depending on its defending energy. Nonetheless, there’s a hazard that when this technique of mutual strengthening of each background powers is accomplished, it could finally result in conflicts between Russia and Turkey – which on the identical time are companions or not less than partly strategically cooperate in different battle contexts corresponding to Syria. This might make the general cooperation between the regional powers much more advanced.

iii) Home political causes

Rearmament, supplied by Russia to each Armenia and Azerbaijan after 1994 on a quite strict business-basis, was paired with an growing civil-religious cost of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute on either side. Id-revanchism turned stronger with the worldwide rise of “imaginal politics” and the return of “tribal politics”. As well as and following one other world pattern, a sure populism emerged on either side, which “naturally” performed with the ethnic element within the disputed space. Nationalist populisms on either side used symbolic methods, albeit to totally different levels and never in the identical method. One home nationalist level of competition was the Yerevan-Stepanakert freeway, which was an instrument for the “integration” of Nagorno-Karabakh into Armenia and was additionally understood as such by either side (much like the Tirana-Prishtina freeway between Albania and Kosovo within the Balkans).

iv) Non secular fault strains

Armenia just isn’t solely Christian, however even sees itself as an “Authentic Christian” nation; Azerbaijan is Islamic with a Shia majority. Either side have been forcedly secularised in Soviet and post-Soviet instances, and people in cost tried to tone down the non secular element. However because the “return of religion” within the Nineteen Nineties, it has been bolstered once more. This included the function of Christian activism of the Armenian diaspora in France, but additionally of Islam, likewise in France, a nation that lately has been repeatedly shaken by religion-based terror and spiritual conflicts. This had repercussions which echoed within the battle space. The truth that France sits on the OSCE Minsk Council is a footnote that appears not completely unimportant right here.

v) Financial system

Two pipelines run close to the disputed space. The issue of resource control ought to not be underestimated, as it’s perceived to be of specific significance for nations depending on it, particularly in instances of pending transformation of the vitality concern.

Understandably, many questions come up in regards to the final result of the latest battle. Why did Azerbaijan win the 2020 struggle when it misplaced the 1994 one? As a result of it’s now economically and, as a consequence, militarily far stronger than it was in 1994, primarily due to its wealth supplied by mineral assets, particularly oil and fuel – and since it was actively supported by Turkey. In distinction, on the Armenian aspect, Russia tended to behave extra cautiously due to its earlier Ukraine and Crimea insurance policies. The widely extra expansive angle of the authoritarian Turkish authorities of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, particularly since his “complete” assumption of energy in 2014 and after the failed coup of July 2016, additionally performed an vital function within the re-escalation to open battle. Erdogan desires of an Islamic superpower between East and West and sees the “brother nation” Azerbaijan as his pure sphere of affect equally to the Chinese language province of Xinjiang (Uyghurs). He’s pursuing nice energy politics from the Caucasus to Syria and Libya. That’s the reason some thought that this struggle was sarcastically the tip of an unbiased Azerbaijan, as a result of the nation had strategically turn out to be a part of the Turkish affect sphere. As is all the time the case in conflicts, the behaviour of Turkey can be because of the need for revenge on the a part of those that contemplate themselves underestimated or not taken significantly – in different phrases, it is usually resulting from political psychology. Above all, Erdogan needs to point out the EU that he has affect.

To summarize, the Government Director of the World Traits Institute for Worldwide Politics Potsdam, Erhard Crome, in a dialogue with the creator put the state of affairs in these phrases:

The actions of Russia and Turkey within the area are normally portrayed as competitors. The quintessence of their actions within the Caucasus and the Center East is that they’re each increasing their positions, not collectively, however in a pseudo-competition that principally quantities to reciprocity. Within the course of, they’re pushing the West, the EU and the U.S. alike, out of the conflicts and their decision, and geopolitically out of the area. Turkey has elevated its management over Azerbaijan. Putin by no means needed unhealthy relations with Aliyev. In Armenia, Pashinyan had blinked towards the West throughout his ‘velvet revolution.’ On this respect, his and Armenia’s defeat in 2020 got here simply on the proper time: Russia now has a stronger, treaty-based presence within the area with peacekeeping troops, and a brand new Maidan turned a distant prospect. Due to Putin, Armenia didn’t lose all of Karabakh, and Erdogan ensured that Azerbaijan didn’t win all of it. The Western blink is simply answered by Biden with the popularity of the genocide of Armenians within the First World Battle. However this appears to me a quite helpless symbolic gesture. By the way, all of the analysts are skirting an attention-grabbing geopolitical concern: by letting the at present unemployed IS fighters go to Libya, Chad or the Caucasus to die as non secular fighters, Erdogan is decreasing their numbers in Idlib. Which means Russia and Assad gained’t need to do a lot bombing there earlier than the realm is sooner or later returned to the federal government in Damascus, whoever is president there then.

Potential options

Three predominant constructing blocks will be thought of for options and views – though all three stay ambiguous when it comes to strategic manageability and concrete implementation on the bottom: a) the newest ceasefire settlement of 10 November 2020; b) the Madrid Rules of 2007; c) the South Tyrol mannequin.

a) The ceasefire agreement of 10 November 2020 known as for, amongst different issues,

the cessation of hostilities, the return to Azerbaijan of all districts within the neighborhood of Nagorno-Karabakh beforehand managed by Armenian forces, the deployment of Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh, and the return of refugees below the supervision of the UN Refugee Company.

b) The Madrid Principles have been introduced by the OSCE in 2007 and reaffirmed by the Minsk diplomatic group in 2009. They weren’t supposed as an answer, however as a mechanism for détente and on the identical time a freeze, which – in a typically intentionally imprecise method – was to provoke a path in the direction of the preparation of a longer-lasting answer. As Uwe Halbach (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik Berlin) summarised it:

Since 1992, the Minsk Group of the Organisation for Safety and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has been mediating within the battle, of which Germany is a member. Since 1997, it has been led by three co-chairs: USA, Russia and France… Since 2007, the ‘6 Madrid Rules’ have been on the negotiating desk. They supply for six central ideas (‘fundamental guidelines’) for battle decision: 1. the return of 5 of the seven provinces surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijani sovereignty; 2. an interim standing for Nagorno-Karabakh (pending a ultimate settlement) that ensures safety and self-determination for its inhabitants; 3. a hall between the Republic of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh (the so-called Lachin Hall, observe by R.B.); 4. the long run settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh’s standing by way of a legally binding expression of will by the events to the battle; 5. the suitable of all displaced individuals and refugees to return to their properties; and 6. worldwide safety ensures and peacekeeping.

Level 1 was settled with the end result of the struggle on 10 November 2020, as all seven districts have been recaptured from Azerbaijan and awarded to Azerbaijan within the short-term ceasefire. The remaining factors are open, though level 5 appears comparatively consensual, not less than rhetorically.

c) The South Tyrol mannequin could be a sturdy and constitutionally anchored territorial autonomous self-administration of Nagorno-Karabakh together with ethnic proportionalities (proportional illustration mannequin within the authorities and public administration) and worldwide safeguards for stabilisation regardless of presumably additional micro- and meso-conflicts. Following this mannequin, the thrust in the direction of lasting pacification might be, along with the six Madrid Rules, which in themselves stay solely transitional orientations for containment: a regional, far-reaching autonomy for Nagorno-Karabakh with major and secondary legislative rights inside Azerbaijan, presumably in partial features additionally for the seven districts now (once more) below Azerbaijani administration, with a purpose to promote regional unity and reconciliation. The South Tyrol mannequin was publicly introduced up by Azerbaijani President Ilhan Aliyev as a attainable battle decision technique in October 2020, which led to each events to the battle quickly calling on Italy as a mediating energy. But in Nagorno-Karabakh, as within the South Tyrol battle, the angle of the protective energy can be decisive: within the case of South Tyrol, it was Austria. Within the case of Nagorno-Karabakh, the state of affairs is difficult by the truth that there are two defending powers: Russia and Turkey. As well as, the function of Iran stays unclear.


Territorial self-government primarily based on autonomy whereas belonging to one of many battle states could also be a viable path for Nagorno-Karabakh that guarantees success. The South Tyrol mannequin is an effective template for this. It is usually a pluri-ethnic mountain space and presents either side the narrative of successful story, in order that it may lend some legitimacy to the proponents of territorial autonomy from the outset.

Alternatively, there are the variations within the historic, political, cultural and spiritual backgrounds. As ideal-typical because the South Tyrol mannequin appears to “match” at first look, in times of “re-globalisation” a lot relies on contextualisation and “glocalisation”, if they don’t seem to be even decisive. Any success of implementation relies upon crucially on the desire of all sides in addition to the encircling historic state of affairs. It will to implement the South Tyrol mannequin of territorial autonomy is at present missing, particularly among the many winners, whereas among the many losers trauma-favoured “revenge” fantasies prevail. From this attitude, the South Tyrol mannequin won’t be immediately relevant, however the dialogue about it may contribute to stabilising the state of affairs as a course of and developmental perspective. Within the coming years, this might result in a declaration of ideas in addition to tentative work on the variation of assorted clauses and mechanisms.

As a precondition for this, a joint invitation of delegations from all three territories concerned might be issued: Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan and Armenia may go to South Tyrol to have a direct have a look at the autonomy mannequin in follow, its achievements, alternatives and limits, ideally in cooperation and change with the governments in Rome and Vienna. Representatives of Eurac Analysis and the South Tyrolean provincial administration may advise the battle events and the powers behind them. For such consultations, Eurac Analysis based its personal specialised centre in February 2019, the “Eurac Center for Autonomy Experience”, which on the identical time represents a bridge between science and the provincial administration. Inside the framework of this centre, representatives of the battle events might be invited to South Tyrol with sustainability-oriented preparation and follow-up. If useful, this course of may additionally contain the South Tyrolean EU parliamentarian Herbert Dorfmann, who’s President of the European Parliamentary Society in addition to a board member of the European Folks’s Get together (EPP).

Nonetheless, earlier experiences of autonomy in Nagorno-Karabakh have been quite changeable to destructive. Autonomies have been promised, granted partly and brought away once more. For any sturdy autonomy answer, a lot relies on the concrete territorial distribution of the ethnic teams – do they stay combined into one another or separated in keeping with teams? Since at the moment 99% of the Nagorno-Karabakh inhabitants is Armenians, and provided that within the surrounding districts stay primarily Azerbaijanis, ideas of the South Tyrol autonomy such because the so-called “ethnic proportional illustration” are hardly relevant. This precept supplies for the distribution of earnings and posts within the state administration in keeping with ethnic standards. With just one% Azerbaijanis, nonetheless, that is hardly related in Nagorno-Karabakh, however may however be an indication of goodwill. Regardless of these restrictions, nonetheless, self-administration is possible in precept, together with territorial fiscal sovereignty if appropriate.

A significant impediment is, not like in South Tyrol the place all battle sides have been Catholic, the non-identical faith of either side concerned, with an Islam that’s in disaster internationally (Fareed Zakaria) and a extra militant interpretation of Christianity on the opposite aspect. Then, whereas in settling the South Tyrol dispute all sides concerned have been democracies, there’s the non- or semi-democracy on either side and in each background powers Russia and Turkey. This makes the state of affairs totally different from the one which led to the foundations of at the moment’s South Tyrol mannequin between 1972 and 1992. At the moment, autonomy was negotiated between Austria and Italy – i.e. between two states that have been each Catholic, each democracies and the place there was a will to achieve consensus after the expertise of struggle. As Erhard Crome has aptly identified, within the case of South Tyrol:

there was no non secular cost to the battle – everybody was Catholic. And: at the moment there’s the EU as an umbrella over the entire thing (as over Alsace-Lorraine): all are residents of the Union, pay with the identical euro and the borders are open. All of that’s lacking within the Caucasus area and it is a method contributes to the battle cost.

Different variations are the South Tyrol idea of “dynamic autonomy”, i.e. its fixed and acutely aware evolution explicitly inbuilt in its founding technique, which runs counter to the partial pursuits of either side. One other hurdle is that in South Tyrol the police and army are reserved for the state of Italy. This will seem to many in post-war Nagorno-Karabakh as a usurpation and will make the acceptance of an autonomy association with out its personal police energy questionable. Mainly, nonetheless, that is really a misunderstanding of what autonomy is: a compromise answer. Autonomy within the sense of the South Tyrol association means, for all its alternatives, to components of its inhabitants to be a part of a nation with a unique cultural id and historical past. A ultimate drawback is the shortage of involvement of civil society within the pacification course of. Or as Uwe Halbach put it:

The OSCE mediation within the battle is happening at a excessive diplomatic stage. Civil society forces are insufficiently concerned within the course of. In an authoritarian state like Azerbaijan, non-governmental organisations have a tough time, and this is applicable all of the extra to actors who advocate dialogue with the battle opponent. However on the Armenian aspect, too, peace activists encounter appreciable reservations. There’s a excessive diploma of distrust on either side and a particularly low diploma of willingness to compromise. These psychological limitations have been additional hardened by the ‘April Battle’ of 2016. After the change of energy by way of the ‘Velvet Revolution’ in Armenia, there was a short interval of détente in 2018, with indicators of willingness to compromise in [the two capitals] Yerevan and Baku. However already at first of 2019, the tone turned harsher once more and the fronts hardened once more.

Total, one query nonetheless begs: is there room for political initiative? From the present perspective, the query can solely be answered inadequately. The difficult state of affairs requires additional negotiations and clarifications. Within the medium to long run, nonetheless, it’s doubtless that and not using a tailored autonomy answer for Nagorno-Karabakh, the battle will proceed to smoulder, whatever the willingness or unwillingness of these in energy. The worldwide neighborhood mustn’t wait for brand new revanchisms to ignite. The home political escalation of the state of affairs in Armenia after the misplaced struggle of 2020, with an “tried army coup” in February 2021 denounced by the top of presidency Nikol Pashinyan after the Armenian army sided with the political opposition and demanded Pashinyan’s resignation, was a critical warning signal. How US President Joe Biden’s announcement in April 2021 that the mass murders of Armenians within the twentieth century could be categorised as genocide will have an effect on Turkey’s behaviour within the area additionally stays to be seen. Equally, French president Emmanuel Macron’s response in the identical month that “Armenia and France might be eternally tied collectively” may affect the additional improvement of the dispute.

The angle is restricted. The EU can primarily turn out to be energetic and rating factors with the trump card of the South Tyrol mannequin. For lasting success, diplomatic or intergovernmental reconciliation gestures are usually not sufficient. Painstaking detailed work on the bottom is critical. One factor for certain will proceed to carry true in Nagorno-Karabakh: Historical past is a superhuman course of made by human beings. Any battle decision technique on the bottom should transfer consciously within the paradoxical discipline of pressure between what is feasible and what can’t be influenced.

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