On October 4, the military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Naka region entered the eighth day, and the two sides fought fiercely.
Since late September this year, the military conflict that broke out again in the Naka region has aroused people’s curiosity about the region. After years of mediation, why is the peace in the Naka region still in fog?
Nagorno Karabakh (Naka for short) is located in the southwest of Azerbaijan, covering an area of approximately 4,424 square kilometers. As of 2015, the population of the region is around 150,000, of which more than 99% are Armenians.
For two centuries, the Naka region has been the center of the Transcaucasian conflict. The Transcaucasus is also an important area where ethnic groups meet in history. In modern times, it has been a key area for the game of great powers and a guarantee zone for European energy security.
“Nagorno” is derived from Russian, which means “mountainous”; “Karabakh” is derived from Azerbaijani, which means “black garden”. “The Black Garden” has become a synonym for this area.
In the middle of the 8th century BC, Armenians have settled in Transcaucasus. Around the 3rd century BC, the Azerbaijanis living in Karabakh were under the rule of the Caucasus Albanian State. In the 1st century BC, Rome conquered the land and Karabakh became a province under the rule of the Roman Empire. In the 7th century AD, Karabakh became a relatively autonomous area under Arab rule, managed by several Armenian princes.
In 1747, the region broke away from foreign rule and moved towards independence, establishing the Karabakh Khanate. Before Karabakh’s independence, Azerbaijanis and Armenians lived together under foreign rule. Azerbaijanis accounted for a relatively large majority and believed in Islam, while Armenians adhered to the Christian faith.
The first major transformation in the Naka region occurred in the 19th century. In 1864, Russia finally controlled the Caucasus through war, and Karabakh changed from an independent Khanate to a province under the rule of the Tsar.
The Tsarist government not only changed the demographic structure of the Naka region, but also favored Armenians in its policies.
Out of distrust of Muslims and strategic considerations of competing with Turkey for the Black Sea and surrounding areas since the 18th century, Russia began to move a large number of Armenians from Iran and the Ottoman Empire to the Karabakh region through forced immigration and civil encouragement of immigration. To change the situation where Muslims occupy the majority of the population.
According to statistics, in 1823, Christian residents only accounted for 8.4% of the total population of this area, and by 1897, Armenians accounted for 42%. The Tsarist government not only changed the demographic structure of the Naka region, but also favored the Armenians in policy. The Karabakh region gradually became the core area for Armenian nationalists to gather strength. The changes in the demographic structure and the inclination of the tsarist policy eventually led to the first ethnic conflict between the Azerbaijanis and Armenians during the 1905 revolution in Russia.
Mutual slaughter leaves painful memories
After the collapse of the Romanov dynasty in 1917, the Republic of Armenia and the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan were established in the Caucasus. The two sides fought for Karabakh.
During the conflict, a large number of Azerbaijanis in the Karabakh region were massacred. Since then, Azerbaijan united with Turkey and forced the Armenian Revolutionary Union Party to retreat to the mountainous area. The latter established the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, and Naka was officially named.
In 1919, a ceasefire was achieved in the Naka region. The following year, the Paris Agreement passed by the Paris Peace Conference put the sovereignty of the Naka region to Azerbaijan, but the Armenians in the region continued to fight with the support of the Republic of Armenia. This is the second conflict between Azerbaijanis and Armenians in the Naka region in history. The mutual slaughter between ethnic groups has left painful memories for the two peoples.
After the October Revolution, Soviet Russia controlled the Caucasus. Azerbaijan and Armenia became the republics of the Soviet Union, and the Naka conflict changed from an international issue to a domestic issue.
In the 1920s, the Transcaucasian Committee, in order to build a political structure of checks and balances, included the Armenian majority Naka region as an autonomous prefecture under the jurisdiction of the Republic of Azerbaijan, and included Zangezur, which is an absolute majority of Azerbaijanis. Armenia’s jurisdiction even turned Nakhichewan, the border area of Azerbaijan, into an enclave.
In this way, on the basis of the previous Caucasus policy of the Russian Empire, the Soviet leader’s policy of checks and balances and fragmented rule not only failed to resolve the existing contradictions between the two ethnic groups, but instead cultivated ethnic identity and made the Naka region a Soviet nation. The fuse of the outbreak of the problem has planted the bane.
The high-level Soviets did not want to take further measures on the Naka issue, but the Armenians in the Naka region have not stopped their efforts to demand that Naka return to the Republic of Armenia. In the process, Armenia’s nationalism continued to rise. In February 1988, an Armenian massacre by Azerbaijanis in Sumgait occurred on the basis of the refusal of Armenians from the Naka region to apply to join the Republic of Armenia. Since then, ethnic conflicts have occurred from time to time, and small-scale conflicts have continued.
In January 1990, a massacre of Armenians occurred in Baku, Azerbaijan, and the conflict further escalated. However, the Soviet Union before the disintegration of the Soviet Union was unable to resolve the conflict except for repressive methods.
In February 1988, there was a massacre of Armenians by Azerbaijanis in Sumgait
On the whole, the Naqqa region is moving from peace to conflict. There are not only the adverse effects of the immigration and ethnic policies of Tsarist Russia, but also the interference of neighboring countries, especially Turkey, and the politicization and ineffectiveness of ethnic issues in the Soviet Union. Resolve the consequences of contradictions.
Increasing contradictions in the post-Cold War era
After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the new round of the Naqqa conflict that began in 1988 became an international conflict. In 1991, the Azerbaijani government revoked the autonomous status of the Naka region. Subsequently, the Nagorno-Karabakh region held a referendum and established the “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic” that has not been recognized by the international community.
In order to control the Naka region, Azerbaijan launched a military offensive against the region; the Republic of Armenia also launched a large-scale military offensive against Azerbaijan to help the Armenians here.
During the war, the two sides used large-scale weapons, offensive and defensive, and massacres with ethnic cleansing colors also occurred from time to time. For example, in the Hogari massacre in February 1992, the Armenians launched a purge against the Azerbaijanis. After ethnic cleansing, Armenia opened up land access to the Naka region-Lachin and Kebarja districts, and in July 1993 took control of Azerbaijan’s important town Agdam.
At this point, Naka and surrounding areas were under Armenian actual control.
After the escalation of the Naqqa conflict, starting in 1992, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the predecessor of the CSCE) decided to establish a Minsk group with the United States, Russia and France as co-chairs to mediate the Nakka conflict. The United Nations also passed a number of resolutions in 1993 calling for Armenia to withdraw its troops, but neither the Minsk Group nor the UN agreement failed to bring about a ceasefire.
In May 1992, Armenia signed the Collective Security Treaty under the leadership of Russia. Azerbaijan did not join the treaty organization due to ethnic and religious considerations, but developed close diplomatic relations with Turkey. In May 1994, under the coordination of Russia and other countries, the two countries signed a ceasefire agreement in Bishkek.
After the signing of the ceasefire agreement, international organizations such as the Minsk Group, the International Crisis Group, and other international organizations put forward a number of phased solutions to the Naka conflict. The peace talks directly met and negotiated with the leaders of the two countries to resolve the issue of belonging to the Naqa region. However, mediation did not promote a substantial breakthrough in the Naka peace, and the Naka conflict became a “frozen conflict.”
Conflicts are frequent and the crux is difficult to solve
Since Naqqa has fallen into war recently, the foreign ministers and leaders of the co-chairs of the Minsk Group (the three countries of the United States, Russia and France) have issued a statement requesting both sides to exercise restraint and calling for peace talks to promote peace, but the conflict continues. So, what is the crux of the Naka conflict?
Naka and surrounding areas are under Armenian control.
The first is historical grievances, especially the memory of the Holocaust. Since the first conflict between Armenians and Azerbaijanis in the early 20th century, ethnic cleansing between them has occurred many times. In the massacre, hundreds of thousands of Armenians and Azerbaijanis died, and neither the elderly nor children were spared. This memory of the massacre has had an extremely negative impact on the establishment of mutual trust between Asia and Afghanistan, and has also cast a shadow on the people-to-people exchanges between the two peoples that have coexisted in history.
Repeated conflicts will only bring reconciliation efforts to nothing. After the end of the Cold War, the economic blockade between the two sides, the interruption of communications, trade and other communication networks, and media propaganda on the theme of strengthening national identity and inspiring memories of the Holocaust have increased grievance and anger.
Russian military base built in Armenia
Difficult identity issues are also tearing the region. From a historical point of view, the two ethnic groups have a history of living in the Naka region, and they also have the experience of living together, but neither can confirm that their ancestors absolutely controlled the region.
In fact, neither Armenians nor Azerbaijanis considered how important Naka was before the 20th century. However, since the controversial massacre of Armenians by Turks in 1915, the development of Armenian nationalism has been particularly prominent in the Caucasus. Azerbaijanis whose ethnic origin is similar to that of the Turkish people naturally became the other in the Armenian national identity.
In this context, the loss of the Armenian majority of Naka region means a betrayal of the Armenian national identity. Any compromise by Armenia on the Naka issue will cause great domestic turmoil.
On the other hand, although Azerbaijan does not have the same strong nationalist wave as Armenia, the fact that Azerbaijanis in the Naka region has occupied the majority in the past for a long time, and the history of Naka belonging to the Republic of Azerbaijan during the Soviet Union, makes the loss of Naka mean Azerbaijan’s Sovereignty has been violated.
The discrimination of Armenians against Azerbaijanis in the late imperial Russia and the discriminatory policy of the Azerbaijani government against Armenians in the Naka region during the Soviet period exacerbated the difficulty of mutual identification. The different religious beliefs and the long-term low development of the Naka region have further stimulated the desire of Armenians to integrate into the Republic of Armenia. The difficulty of identification leads to no compromise between the two parties on issues of principle, and the difficulty of negotiation can be imagined.
In addition, the game of national interests between major powers and surrounding areas has increased the difficulty of resolving the Naka conflict. Due to the special geographical location of the Caucasus region, coupled with the proven oil reserves of the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, its importance has triggered a contest of interests between the big countries and countries in the surrounding areas. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, in order to maintain its strategic presence in the Caucasus, Russia established military bases in Armenia and maintained close relations with Armenia, but at the same time maintained contacts with Azerbaijan, which has oil and other resources.
Turkey is trying to expand its influence in the surrounding area. The Erdogan government has been supporting Azerbaijan with a high profile since the 2016 Naka conflict to expand its influence in the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.
The EU has established energy security channels in this zone, especially in Azerbaijan. The United States regards this zone as an important strategic and energy zone that checks and balances Russia and Turkey. The painful historical memory, complicated identification problems, mutual distrust and uncompromising, and the game behind the big powers make it difficult for people to see the prospect of black garden flowers blooming in a short time. However, we still firmly believe that there are thousands of ways to resolve conflicts, and the most undesirable is force.