Ill-starred 'partiotic games' of Karabakh separatists lead Armenia into deadlock
    Serhey Bohdan's scenario

    ANALYTICS  27 March 2023 - 14:14

    Serhey Bohdan

    Last week, Azerbaijan's defence ministry once again issued a statement about the ongoing military supply of the remnants of the separatists in Karabakh that is carried out from Armenia. The transportation is not secret as it is taking place in the presence of Russian peacekeepers, according to the published video. It is also obvious that Azerbaijani Army is promptly controlling the territory and could have used force against such actions by the Armenian side.

    However, the Azerbaijani side did nothing more than record the fact of the violation, especially since in their current version these movements of the Armenian military are still of no strategic value - they will not help the Armenian armed formations to retain their last positions. This is nothing more than irresponsible revanchist games of politicians, endangering the lives of the Armenian military and civilians.

    Karabakh impasse

    The fantastic adventurism of the Armenian leadership should be noted here. Indeed, the current hold-up of Armenian forces on Azerbaijani territory can only be described as a natural trap. Once the Azerbaijani military had established control of the territory between the former NKAO and the former Armenian SSR, above all the road through Lachin, the separatists' position became non-defensible in principle.

    Firstly, the separatists would no longer be able to receive any serious support from Armenia. Yes, the section along the border with Armenia is not strongly supervised , but they will not be able to establish a reliable supply of a hypothetical grouping in Karabakh. Let me repeat that Baku could not have published the video of the violation, and would have simply put up the video of the destruction of the armed infiltrators of the Azerbaijani state border, and arranged the rigorous surveillance regime. But it did not since the disease and the fundamental problem must be treated, not its manifestations. That is, the political problem of the illegal presence of Armenian military and separatist formations on Azerbaijani territory must be resolved first and foremost, rather than individual vehicles being shot down.

    Secondly, there is also no military sense in holding positions because there is no serious base in Karabakh itself for separatism and confrontation with Baku. In a conventional war, the Armenian forces there would be quickly crushed, but there are no conditions for guerrilla warfare. Yes, there are mountains covered by forests, which are conducive to guerrilla warfare. But guerrillas cannot operate without a friendly population - as Mao, who knew a lot about guerrilla warfare, wrote, guerrillas must operate among the population 'like a duck to water'. And the Armenian population in Karabakh, even by Armenian calculations, is much smaller than it was in Soviet times. The situation appears to be that, despite all the nationalists' arguments about a 'Greater Armenia', ordinary Armenians have chosen not to settle in what has been taken away from their neighbours. However, what matters here is not the numbers, but the consensus view on depopulation. Consequently, almost nowhere in the Armenian-populated part of the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan is there any 'water' in which a 'duck' could breed that could challenge the Azerbaijani authorities. It is possible, of course, to organise clown guerrilla shows like the IRA or ETA of recent decades. But militarily it would simply be an irresponsible game with human lives.

    In fact, the events of recent years have already confirmed in practice that there is no basis for separatism in Karabakh. The Azerbaijani army has never encountered a guerrilla movement - the notorious 'fidayeens' wandering through the mountains have remained only a historical legend.

    There is no one to fight in Karabakh unless soldiers from Armenia itself are sent to wage a pointless and hopeless war. But there is nothing to fight for in Karabakh, as the already meagre economic base for separatism is disappearing before our eyes. It is fertile land, but the wealth there has been acquired through hard work and there are no sources of quick and easy profits that would help the separatists to finance their activities (such as the notorious 'blood diamonds'). The remnants of the political and economic base of separatism are now finally disappearing, as it is becoming impossible to ensure the reliable export of illegally mined minerals from there.

    Illusions of military superiority

    But how this problem of such hopeless and senseless Karabakh separatism appeared in Armenia? And why do some Armenian figures still hope to save this inherently doomed idea? History suggests the answer. Let us recall the instructive parallels between the origins of modern Armenian statehood and the history of the first Armenian Republic of 1918-1920. Thus, the first modern Armenian statehood in the early 1920s, metaphorically speaking, collapsed as a result of a certain "intoxicating success". Moreover, the success was largely the result of other forces, but the Armenian leaders took credit for it and lost common sense.

    As a result, first Armenia has arrogantly taken steps that at times seem strange in terms of the proportionality of its ambitions to its capabilities. It refused to engage with other Caucasian peoples within the Transcaucasian Federation or to establish good neighbourly relations with Türkiye, in addition to making exorbitant territorial claims. It looks insane, especially if you know how it all ended - with lost wars, devastation, famine and the collapse of the first Armenian Republic.

    But one important nuance must be taken into account, which is evident in the discourse of Armenian politicians at the time. They were counting on their military. Even now, Armenians are very fond of remembering the likes of Nzhdeh, Droh and Andranik. But their units, which the politicians of first Armenia hoped for so much, emerged and developed as part of the military machine of the Russian Empire, and not the poor newly proclaimed mountainous republic. The empire fell and the power of these units quickly waned. In that sense, the recent Armenian propaganda film about Nzhdeh looks ridiculous, in which a sober eye immediately notes that Nzhdeh and his associates are armed, equipped, and trained according to the Russian model.

    Due to the fact that the Armenian elite fit into the Russian expansion project in the region, they were able to get at their disposal ready regular units by the time of the collapse of the Russian Empire. Yes, not many, but the other newly independent states in the Caucasus did not have any! And the Armenian establishment decided that it could do anything, especially when the Ottoman Empire began to collapse after the Russian Empire. Everything ended in failure, which, however, was paid for mainly by people of all nationalities in the region who were not involved in these ventures.

    Is there a parallel between the Karabakh separatists of late Soviet times and the Dashnaks of a hundred years ago? There is a direct link between them. Today's Yerevan cannot get over the "intoxicating success" in the territorial expansion of the 1980s and 1990s, the success was rather bloody, but undoubtful in the opinion of Armenian separatists.

    Meanwhile, the structures that made the territorial expansion possible at the end of the Soviet era, like the armed formations of the first Armenian Republic, were made up of Armenian activists but emerged and gained strength through powerful external forces that were in no way of Armenian origin. It was they who succeeded, taking advantage of a fleeting situation in which it was the Armenian side that had organised units, while the opposite side had only hope in the existing authorities and forces of law and order, who were constantly receiving contradictory instructions. Under these circumstances, even a small number of minimally trained and armed men with minimal equipment was sufficient for the Armenian extremists.

    And this equipment and people showed up. It is not just about how the Armenian nationalists exploited the resources and cadres of the Soviet system. The role of the ASALA fighters in the Karabakh war, who were well-trained and organised, is far more obvious. ASALA in general was one of the most effective terrorist organizations in the region in the 1980s. One needs only read the biography of Monte Melkonian, the most prominent of the ASALA activists and commander of the Armenian forces in Karabakh, to understand that in Karabakh the Azerbaijani Interior Ministry and then allied security forces faced people who were not just carrying out terrorist attacks against Turkish "soft" civilian targets, but were fighting in real, extremely violent internal conflicts like the Lebanese war with its rampant violence and ruthlessness. ASALA owes its rise to the Syrian regime of Hafez al-Assad. It was he, most likely secretly from the USSR, who helped the Armenian radicals to build ASALA and the Kurdish radicals to build the Kurdistan Workers' Party. It was for an extremely important purpose: to prevent Türkiye from carrying out its grandiose plan for the modernization of the southeastern parts of the country, which, according to Damascus, threatened Syrian interests.

    This is the whole mystery of those Armenian "successes" of the First Karabakh War, if you can even call what was done a success. At a moment of public turmoil in the region, a force created for other purposes and using the resources of a third party was brought in. A force that happened to be in the hands of Armenian elites in the first place. The absurdity of the Armenian nationalists' claims to the seized regions of Azerbaijan became apparent almost immediately when the occupation was not followed by any serious programme to develop them. As soon as Azerbaijan grew stronger, it became clear that the Armenian nationalists had no programme to retain the seized Azerbaijani lands either.

    The parallel with the first Armenian Republic can be traced again at this stage. After the failure of its expansionist foreign policy, it sought foreign patrons in vain, even proposing to become a mandated territory of the United States. Patrons, as we know, were not found back then. And now, Pashinyan, who has been kicking the CSTO for a long time, suddenly started talking about Yerevan's fears that, allegedly, "the CSTO is leaving Armenia". However, it is unclear how sincerely he was upset by this, for the Armenian leader added afterwards: "We must record that the existing security architecture was not working. To be honest, we knew it wasn't going to work." Therefore, Yerevan is "trying to establish cooperation in the politico-military sphere with numerous other countries".

    In other words, there is still no understanding in the rhetoric of the Armenian leadership that the territorial expansion project was originally nothing more than an inhuman adventure and that the Karabakh separatists cannot be saved, as the Armenian side does not have (and initially did not have) the basic military means to do so. At a recent press conference, Pashinyan claimed that the 2020 war was lost because a "fifth column" was operating in the army. Earlier he also hinted that the CSTO allies did not help - as if the CSTO was really supposed to protect the Armenian presence in the occupied territory of Azerbaijan. Anything but admitting the obvious - there was no chance from the outset.

    Pashinyan's doctrine

    However, continued military activity on Azerbaijani territory is only part of the Armenian leadership's risky game and only a symptom of a fundamental problem. The core of the problem is the continuation of the separatist project and Yerevan's evasion of the recognition of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. The current Armenian leadership seems to have been influenced by the spirit of Kosovo or the Russian annexation of Crimea and the eastern Ukrainian regions. Pashinyan has probably decided that Yerevan will soon have a chance to pull a similar trick. This is an interesting development because in the past Armenia did not even dare to recognize a separatist entity. Now, finding itself in a much more difficult situation, Yerevan is starting an even more dangerous game of recognizing/non-recognizing the territorial integrity of the neighbouring country.

    The Armenian leader accepts the principle of territorial integrity in individual speeches and steps. However, if we look at the totality of his actions, a different impression emerges. Yes, in autumn in Prague, Nikol Pashinyan signed a declaration with Ilham Aliyev enshrining this principle and appeared to agree to this principle also during the meeting in Sochi. But by the end of the year the Armenian side had virtually stopped negotiating a peace treaty, so Baku began to talk of a boycott and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov warned Yerevan that Moscow had had enough of this deliberate stalling of the settlement process. At a press conference on March 14, the Armenian premier continued this tactic, criticizing Azerbaijani proposals based on the fundamental norm of recognizing each other's territorial integrity.

    In parallel, Pashinyan has launched a desperate attempt not only to deploy an EU "civilian mission" on the border with Azerbaijan, with gendarmes monitoring the situation. He even decided to try to bring the negotiations with Baku back into the format of the now-defunct OSCE Minsk Group! As a result of many years of activity of the latter, as we know, the problem of occupation of Azerbaijani lands and expulsion of the population from them has not been solved one bit, but the threat of "creeping legitimization" of the territorial expansion of Armenian nationalists has been ensured. After the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war, the Minsk Group became dysfunctional. Azerbaijan, Russia and even the EU openly acknowledged the breakdown of this international mechanism. But Yerevan continued to try to resuscitate it! In February, for example, Andrzej Kasprzyk, the personal representative of the OSCE chairman, visited Yerevan.

    This avoidance by the Armenian government of a clear recognition of a basic rule of international law - the territorial integrity of other states - effectively means the Armenian establishment is returning to dangerous experiments with separatism and redrawing borders. Yes, Pashinyan is doing this following prominent politicians in the East and in the West. But it is worth remembering that Western experiments with the secession of Kosovo were followed by Russian excesses in the form of the seizure of Georgian and Ukrainian lands. And it should not be thought that these Russian moves will go unanswered. Russia itself is now facing the issue of the Kuril Islands. And in response to Russian narratives about "no Ukrainians", the West is increasingly discussing the "artificiality" of Russia itself.

    And if Pashinyan and other Armenian politicians continue to raise the issue of Karabakh, they will sooner or later face the same reaction from the other side. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev recently spoke out on the matter, speaking in the village of Talysh in the Tartar region: "In order for Armenia to live peacefully on the territory of 29 thousand square kilometres, there is one condition - they must accept our conditions, officially recognize Karabakh as Azerbaijani territory, and conduct delimitation works based on our conditions. Only in that case can they live in peace on 29 thousand square kilometres of territory, as they already wish. If Armenia doesn't recognize our territorial integrity, then we won't recognize their territorial integrity either. Armenia and the hypocritical countries behind it should know what the result will be."

    However, there could be a reaction not only from Azerbaijan. And there can be suitable narratives to justify the disputed territorial affiliation - there are materials, because the composition of the population in the region has changed in different periods, the population is also differently named, and each mountain and lake has not only Armenian but also Azerbaijani and other names. Well, in response to stories about Armenians as autochthons of the Armenian Plateau, you can always tell us about the resettlement of Persian and Turkish Armenians to their current places of residence. But why open this Pandora's Box? And do revanchist circles understand that this will undermine the foundations of the future development of both Armenia itself and the region around it? It is easy to let the genie of mutual territorial claims out of the bottle, but does the current Armenian state have enough strength to withstand such a situation? And does it have any other option to save Armenia apart from relying on foreign patrons and an increased foreign military presence in Armenia itself?

    Azerbaijan has proposed a different option: to return to the familiar boundaries of the modern period and build a common future for the region. 'Nagorno Karabakh' is no longer even a 'frozen conflict', but a pathetic remnant of an expansionist and separatist project on the territory of the Karabakh region of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Armenia had many bright pages in its past history with other peoples of the region, including Turkic peoples, before the era of political radicalism in the second half of the nineteenth century. Only a careful selection of historical materials allowed nationalists to construct an ideology of eternal hostility with "Turkic aliens". And lead Armenia to a dead end.


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