The 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: Armenian claims and the realities

By: Nijat Muradzada
For the past three decades, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has dominated the geopolitics of South Caucasus. The oil-rich strategic region is considered as the major corridor between two continents due to its location in the heart of Eurasia. Two neighboring countries, Azerbaijan and Armenia, have a prolonged dispute due to the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The suppressed longstanding discord under the Soviet rule revitalized since the proclamation of independence by Azerbaijan and Armenia in the autumn of 1991 and soon transformed into a large-scale war accompanied by intense combats. As a result, in 3 years, 20% of Azerbaijani territory (Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent seven districts) has fallen under Armenian occupation, more than 1 million Azerbaijanis were displaced, including those from both Armenia and Karabakh, and Azerbaijani civilians had been subjected to ethnic cleansing in Khojaly, Aghdaban, and Garadaghly by Armenian armed forces.
The war entered a passive phase with the Bishkek protocol of ceasefire in 1994. The peace negotiations were initiated in 1992 by several organizations. Among them the foremost is the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), but all failed to provide the lasting peaceful settlement of the conflict. The international community, including the United Nations, recognizes the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent territories as a part of Azerbaijan and requires immediate withdrawal of Armenian troops. (See the UN Security Council Resolutions 822, 853, 874, 884).
Nevertheless, the conflict re-erupted with the heaviest clashes in late September 2020, after the declaration of new territorial claims and military provocations by the Armenian side. As the situation has escalated, Azerbaijan launched a large-scale military operation to liberate the UN recognized territories that were occupied by Armenia between 1991 and 1994. Subsequently, in the light of the ongoing successful operations of Azerbaijan Armed Forces, the Armenian PM began to make speculative statements that were absolutely inaccurate and unrealistic. Undoubtedly, his main purpose was to manipulate the public opinion to conceal the inefficiency of his government and draw the attention of the dominant powers through the Armenian diaspora.
As a part of the black propaganda, the Armenian side imaginary produced a list of baseless arguments and accusations to enjoy from the status-quo as much as they can. Hereby, five general claims concerning the latest issues are given, and comprehensive answers have been provided.
Claim: “Azerbaijan has no interest in ceasefire and peace.” It has been almost 30 years that the conflict exists, and despite the continuous intentions of Azerbaijan regarding the peaceful settlement, throughout this period, the Armenian side has manipulated the peace talks and undermined the bilateral diplomatic reliability. The longstanding Armenian neglectful attitude towards the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and reluctance to settle it peacefully exacerbated the further inevitable escalations in the region.
The negotiations process has been hindered by the endogenous and exogenous Armenian factors at all times. Thomas de Waal mentions in the passage of “The fall of Ter-Petrosian” in his book, “Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through peace and war”, Levon Ter-Petrosian, ex-president of Armenia faced a “palace coup” from his closest ministers in 1998, in a pivotal moment as he was advocating the compromised settlement of the conflict. De Waal also writes about the fate of Ter-Petrosian’s successors. On the eve of a new discussion, based on the “Goble Plan”, which was proposing, ultimately, a territorial exchange between two countries, two assailants entered the parliament building when a session was winding up and immediately opened fire. Within a few minutes, eight men, including Prime Minister Sarkisyan and Speaker of Parliament Demirchyan, were dead, and eight others were wounded. More recently, in August 2016, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), a major U.S. based Armenian lobby organization, launched a campaign against the Madrid Principles. Moreover, March 2020 was a culmination point when Armenia officially rejected the Madrid Principles. The Armenian Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, has instead attempted to revitalize nationalist debates. So that Pashinyan has publicly given hate speech directed against Azerbaijan and had intensified illegal visits to Nagorno-Karabakh.
By considering the above-mentioned factors, in the latest escalations, Azerbaijan neatly declared a list of preconditions absolutely complying with the UN Security Council Resolutions for a ceasefire and peace talks. The foremost matter that the preconditions comprise is the withdrawal of the Armenian troops from the occupied territories immediately for a lasting peace. However, this constructive offer was rejected by the Armenian government, and this again illuminated the Armenian unwillingness to implement the UN Security Council Resolutions. Herewith it becomes clear that the Armenian PM Pashinyan has no intention for the ceasefire and peace, as he wants to ignore the conflict and perpetuate the status quo to produce new arguments for his internal political purposes, similarly to his predecessors. Claim: “Azerbaijan got foreign military aid and brought mercenaries to Nagorno-Karabakh.”
Azerbaijan cooperates with several countries in numerous spheres. As known, Azerbaijan’s major trade partners in the military field are Israel, Turkey, and Russia. But they are the trade partners. Namely, receiving military aid and purchasing military equipment refers to different concepts. Azerbaijan Armed Forces have a progressive approach, and the policymakers pay exclusive attention to the modernization both in equipment and strategy. Moreover, the budget of the Azerbaijan Armed Forces ($2.267 billion) is 3,6 times larger in contrast to the Armenian Armed Forces budget ($634 million). Accordingly, the budget of any army is the fundamental indicator of the overall state of it.  On the other hand, the number of active personnel in Azerbaijan Armed Forces is 66,950, and the number of reserve personnel is more than 300,000. In this case, any rational and non-biased individual would easily comprehend that in contradistinction to the Armenian side, Azerbaijan has tremendous human potential for the army, thus, practically there is no necessity to involve mercenaries. Furthermore, Azerbaijan is a member of various conventions that strictly prohibits the involvement of mercenaries and the citizens of 3rd countries in the conflicts. By considering the mentioned facts, it is obvious that the Syrian presence in Azerbaijan is baseless and it is another vicious attempt of the Armenian side to enlarge the dimension of the conflict.
Nonetheless, the involvement of mercenaries and volunteers who are the citizens of 3rd countries for the Armenian side has appeared in the articles of the leading international and national news agencies. For instance, Al-Akhbar, a Lebanese daily Arabic language newspaper published an article on October 5, 2020, with the headline of “The Armenians of Lebanon answer the “call of duty”: The liberation of “Artsakh” passes through Bourj Hammoud” (The original headline in Arabic: It is clearly mentioned that from late September several groups of volunteers, which are Lebanese Armenians left Beirut for Yerevan to join the front. Also, on October 7, 2020, an article has been published in the French state-owned news agency, France 24 with the headline of “Armenian volunteers returns from France to fight for Nagorno-Karabakh”. Herein, the author touched on the details and motives of the Armenian volunteers that have been transferred from Paris to Yerevan. Lastly, I would like to quote from an article in the website of Radio France Internationale – RFI published on the date of October 3, 2020, with the headline of “In Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenian volunteers discover the war” (The original headline in French: Dans le Haut-Karabakh, les volontaires arméniens découvrent la guerre). The first paragraph exactly says: “Dark circles under the eyes, tight jaws, we saw them in uniform in the streets of Khankendi (Ed.), the so-called “capital” (Ed.) of Nagorno-Karabakh, back from a few days on the front after an express training. Coming from Lebanon, Syria, or Latin America, these people in their thirties joined the Armenian ranks in the early hours of the resumption of fighting”.
In the light of these substantial facts, the Armenian side could not provide genuine pieces of evidence regarding the mercenary involvement for Azerbaijan. From my point of view, the technological capabilities and advancements of the Azerbaijani army in a limited period of time, have surprised the Armenian military. They cannot admit being blindsided, therefore, attributes its losses to a foreign involvement or military aid. Unfortunately, rather than preventing French citizens involving in a war at the territory of a 3rd country, president Macron, unseemly to his position, renewed Armenian groundless claims for the sake of the votes of the Armenian electorate.
Claim: “The life of Christian Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh will be endangered if Azerbaijan would control the region.”
Azerbaijan is a unique country that reputed for multiculturalism and tolerance almost in all spheres of life. Rarely in the Muslim world, Azerbaijan provides religious freedom throughout the country. Namely, Islam (Both sects; Sunni and Shia), Christianity (All major currents, such as Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism), and Judaism (The largest compact settlements of Jews in the world, outside of Israel is in Guba rayon) is freely exercised in the country. More than 2 thousand mosques, 13 churches, and 7 synagogues operate in Azerbaijan and this number rises yearly.
Besides, the ethnic composition of Azerbaijan dissimilarly to Armenia is quite rich. Namely, about 30 ethnic groups live in the country and tens of languages are spoken besides the official language. It is also estimated that for the time being a large group of Armenians is living peacefully in Azerbaijan despite the war factor.
Aznif Baghdasaryan, an Armenian woman who was rescued and evacuated from the war zone attended a press conference on October 7, 2020, in Baku. She said: “I have always been frightened that I will be killed if I am captured by Azerbaijanis. That was why I was afraid. However, absolutely opposite has happened, I have been treated very well”. This specific example implies that there is no risk for Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, who holds Azerbaijani citizenship.
Claim: “Armenia hit only military targets in Azerbaijan.” In recent days, Armenia has fired more than 10.000 different types of shells and missiles at densely populated Azerbaijani settlements. More than 500 houses were completely destroyed or severely damaged. Overall, 31 civilians were killed, and 168 more wounded.
On October 4, 2020, Armenian Armed Forces used Smerch multiple rocket launchers in the shelling of the second-largest Azerbaijani city of Ganja, which is 70 km far from the front. Afterward, the so-called “President of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic” Arayik Harutyunyan, confirmed on his official Facebook account that he ordered an artillery attack against Ganja deliberately as a part of military operations. The use of prohibited cluster munition in this operation has been observed and reported (According to the Cluster Munition Monitor report, Armenia refuses to become a member of the Convention on Cluster Munitions). As a result of the missile strike on Ganja, one civilian was killed, 32 more were injured, including an ethnic Armenian woman Karina Grigoryan, who has been living in Ganja for many years.
The adviser to Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan, Vagharshak Harutyunyan openly admitted in an interview with the Vesti program on the Russia 1 TV channel (October 5, 2020, Vesti program in 20:00) that in order to spread panic among Azerbaijanis they have modified the artillery units and hit the civilian settlements. This nefarious confession is a true violation of the Geneva Convention, and it will orient the flow of processes in an uncertain direction.
Besides, the Armenian Armed Forces shelled the industrial city of Mingachevir, which plays an essential role in the area, due to its water reservoir and key power plant. Furthermore, one of the most strategic projects, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline was another target of the Armenian side. These examples outline that the Armenian state terrorism manifests itself.
Claim: “Azerbaijan wants to occupy the territories of Armenia.” From the first day of the operations, Azerbaijani officials clearly informed the international community regarding Azerbaijan’s stance that it respects the territorial integrity of all sovereign states. Hence, ongoing operation is in the UN-recognized Azerbaijani territories. Also, it has been repeatedly expressed that the cardinal objective of the operation is to implement the UN Security Council resolutions through liberating the occupied territories.
Contradictorily to Azerbaijan’s peaceful attitude, however, the Defense Minister of Armenia, David Tonoyan announced his plan that implied further territorial expansions in the lands of Azerbaijan. In March 2019, Tonoyan had an official visit to the U.S and there he called on Armenia to prepare to pursue a “new war for new territories”.
In a recent interview, Armenian PM Pashinyan said that Nagorno-Karabakh will never be part of Azerbaijan again. The ultra-nationalist and racist attitudes of the Armenian state didn’t change, albeit the governments and figures change. Ordinary Armenians are becoming prisoners of this sick ideology and sacrificing their lives for nothing. Additively, Pashinyan’s statement clearly expresses hate towards Azerbaijanis, as he knows that while the occupation will continue, Azerbaijanis will not be able to return to their homelands. It is a solid argument that demonstrates how the Armenian ruling elite is bounded with extremist sentiments. Rather than implementing the UN Security Council Resolutions, Armenia intends to annex new territories. In the contemporary world, where the process of interaction and integration among people, companies, and governments is peaking, such medieval and lawless standpoint of Armenia has no right to survive.
Consequently, for almost 30 years Azerbaijan has always demonstrated constructiveness on the negotiation track. However, as there was no substantial development in the peace talks, the necessity of the embodiment of the UN Security Council Resolutions with the military option became inevitable.
In the current situation, pugnacious Armenia, a country with territorial claims to all of its neighboring countries is a major regional threat. The destabilization of the South Caucasus would significantly jeopardize the mega projects especially, the ones in the energy and transportation sectors. Therefore, the success of Azerbaijan in this just war will not only liberate the occupied territories, but it will guarantee the prosperity and welfare for the regional countries and for Armenia itself as well.

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