Last updated on October 2, 2022
Armenia and Azerbaijan are at war again. The two small countries rarely are in the limelight, despite the fact that the whole mountainous region of Caucasus is one with high geopolitical stakes. This conflict needs to be paid more attention to.
The tension between the two countries very rapidly rose between the 13th and 14th of September over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, a southern Azerbaijan region populated by Armenians, which Armenia wants to reclaim. Of course, for Azerbaijan, it is out of the question to give up a piece of land to Armenia, who they consider their biggest enemy.
First, what are the origins of this rivalry? The two countries were, until 1991, republics of the Soviet Union. The Republic of Azerbaijan was a strategically important region for the communist regime because of the abundance of petroleum resources on the Azerbaijan side of the Caspian sea. Stalin (who was not head of state yet) gave the Nagorno-Karabakh region to Azerbaijan to bribe them for their resources. Because one powerful authority ruled all the regions, questions of nationality were not a problem.
But with the USSR beginning to lose its imperious sovereignty in the mid-80s, it was only a matter of time until the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh claimed their reattachment to mainland Armenia in 1988. From there, they declared their independence in 1994 ( while still officially belonging to Azerbaijan). Until 2016, there was a status quo maintained without any direct conflicts. But from that moment on (note: the conflict is believed to have been the government’s attempt to distract people from the worsening of the country’s economy), the tensions rose and rose until the fight picked up again in September of 2020 (which ended with Russian army intervention), and now September of 2022.
So what impact does this war have on the rest of the world? Firstly, we need to look at the geography of both countries. They are part of the mountain region referred to as “The Caucasus”, which shares a border with Iran, Turkey, and Russia. Indeed, the region is sandwiched between three key players in the global geopolitical scene. In particular, Turkey plays a very important role in this conflict.
To fully understand the role of Turkey in this conflict, we have to go back to April 1915. In the context of World War 1, which opposed the Allies (the UK, France, the Russian Empire, etc…) against the Central powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, etc…). Armenia, which was a part of the Ottoman Empire at the time, was accused by the young Turks at the head of the Ottoman Empire of treason. The Turks argue that the separatist Armenian people were secretly collaborating with the Allies for the sneak attack on the peninsula of Gallipoli. However, the Armenians contest Turkey’s version of the genocide, which killed 1,3 million Armenians (source: Memorial de la Shoah). According to them, the young Turk government wanted to repress all separatist forces and eradicate all traces of Christianity from Turkey: Armenia is Christian orthodox, while Turkey is Muslim.
To this day, Turkey refuses to recognize the existence of the genocide. Thus, the two countries have a very hostile diplomatic relationship. Moreover, Turkey and Azerbaijan are very close allies, because Azeris (the ethnic majority in Azerbaijan) and the Turks have very similar ethnic backgrounds. Armenia, located geographically between the two countries, is in the way, especially for Turk nationalists for whom the unification of the Turkish people is paramount.
Naturally, Erdogan’s Turkey has every reason to support Azerbaijan, to get rid of Armenia, which for so long has been a source of burden. The country supports Azerbaijan militarily and is a big factor in this seemingly small conflict. On the other hand, Armenia is supported diplomatically by the US and Iran. Why Iran? Because, in Northern Iran, there is a very active separatist group of Azeris who want to be a part of Azerbaijan instead. For Iran, which wants to gain more control of Middle Eastern and Central Asia, this must not happen since it will give more power to Turkey, which shares a similar ambition.
Thus, the fight in Nagorno-Karabakh is not to be taken lightly. There is much more at stake than we think, and NATO, as usual, is not doing anything, apart from criticizing Turkey (which is a member of NATO too!). Additionally, Azerbaijan has huge petroleum and gas reserves in the Caspian sea, which has become very attractive to Europe since the Ukraine war cut all the resources from Russia. Should we let Turkey get their hands on that resource and the power that comes with it? Again, the West’s reluctance to intervene comes with a huge cost, both diplomatically and energetically.