Karabakh: why was the war inevitable, who benefits from it and how will it end?

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Karabakh: why was the war inevitable, who benefits from it and how will it end?
Karabakh: why was the war inevitable, who benefits from it and how will it end?

September 2020 brought a war to Transcaucasia - the clash between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh became widespread, the total number of victims, apparently, has already exceeded a hundred, and Yerevan and Baku announced mobilization (partial in Azerbaijan). There is no objective sense in the war for the participants themselves. Baku will not win, but Armenia will not gain anything from the conflict. The conflict, however, will objectively benefit Turkey, as well as those who supply weapons to Azerbaijan. The question arises: why was the war possible, despite the friendly position of Russia towards Armenia, and why did they go to it in Baku? And does Yerevan have a reasonable way out of the brewing carnage?

Nikol Pashinyan

Why the dispute and why it will always be

History determines the future - and it often does so mercilessly. The history of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia as a whole makes their conflict with Azerbaijan almost inevitable. At the time of the incorporation of the territory of modern Armenia and Karabakh into the Russian Empire, the Armenians on these lands were already an ethnic minority: centuries of foreign occupation were accompanied by persecutions against Armenians, because of which they, like the Jews of ancient Israel, did not mainly live in their historical homeland.

Under the rule of the Russian Empire, the reverse process of migration began - and by its end the majority in Armenia (and Karabakh) again became Armenians: according to data for 1923, in the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region there were 94% of them, and Azerbaijanis - 6%. But with the formation of the USSR, the leadership in Moscow did not delve into all this and included it as an autonomous entity in Azerbaijan.


Then everything was sadly predictable. As the President of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev said about his work in Soviet times: "I tried to have more Azerbaijanis in Nagorno-Karabakh, and the number of Armenians to decrease." It was impossible to expect anything else: Azerbaijanis (until the 20th century they were more often called Turks or Turks) and Armenians had been in conflict for centuries, and, naturally, having gained control over the Armenian lands, Baku tried to make them as less Armenian as possible. By the end of the Soviet period, the share of Armenians there fell from 94% to 76%.

Then the nineties began, which is why peace and order in Transcaucasia ended - and, apparently, for a long time. In the first half of the nineties, Armenia (about three million of the population) and the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh (about 150 thousand), in conditions of a significant numerical and military-technical superiority of the enemy, were able to survive in a military clash with Azerbaijan (about 10 million of the population).


The distant parts of the Armenian-populated sectors of Karabakh, which were difficult to defend, remained in Baku, but the Armenians took control of a number of rather advantageous heights in areas that were not part of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region under the USSR - including those where before the wars 90 -x lived mainly Azerbaijanis.

During the ensuing ethnic cleansing, Armenians were ousted from the regions occupied by Baku, and Azerbaijanis from the regions occupied by the Karabakh Armenians. Tactically, without the latter regions, it would be extremely difficult to defend Nagorno-Karabakh. Therefore, even if the Armenians suddenly wanted to give them back to Azerbaijan (which is hard to believe), it would be unreasonable for them to do so.

Naturally, Baku wants to return these territories - and the fact that without them Karabakh is almost defenseless militarily does not convince the Azerbaijani authorities. This creates a long-term basis for a conflict that, frankly, is now simply unresolved. Nobody will give in.

Yes, it would be most rational for both sides to recognize the status quo, new de facto boundaries and end the confrontation. But this is the East: the rational here cannot determine politics (however, if we recall the relations between Russia and the West, it is not only in the East that there are such problems). Therefore, in real life, Armenia and Azerbaijan are doomed to a constant arms race and periodic conflicts, in which the much richer (GDP at PPP - $ 170 billion) "oil and gas" Azerbaijan will always have more modern and expensive weapons than "oil-free" sparsely populated Armenia (PPP GDP - about $ 30 billion).


Armenians in such a situation are doomed to some technical lag, which they can hope to compensate only through better motivation. Yerevan knows very well that in the event of Azerbaijan's victory in Nagorno-Karabakh, there will be ethnic cleansing, and those Armenians who do not have time to escape from there will envy those who succeed, but not for long. Because they simply won't be able to live too long. Moments of this kind stimulate a lot of stubborn defense.

Motivation is a big force, but in modern warfare, artillery, counter-battery warfare, combat helicopters and attack drones play a huge role. Armenia has problems with all this: there is not enough money for imports, and its military-industrial complex is too small and does not know how to do really difficult things.

Can Armenia freeze the dispute

Of course, purely theoretically, Yerevan and Stepanakert (the capital of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic) can solve the problem. Nothing prohibits them from recognizing Crimea as part of Russia, in response asking Moscow if not to recognize Karabakh, then at least to guarantee its actual borders in one way or another. For example, the deployment of Russian peacekeepers in Karabakh. Or at least send Armenia the air defense systems that are being removed from service in Russia and other sophisticated weapons of past generations, which will make the attempts of the Azerbaijani offensive on Karabakh mostly doomed.


In practice, this will be extremely difficult to organize. In Armenia, as in all the republics of the former USSR, the cultural landmark is not Moscow, but the West. Russia is perceived as a less successful, developed and modern part of the world, and the West, accordingly, is the opposite.

Therefore, the policy of the country, which was once part of the USSR, is more profitable to position itself either as purely pro-Western (in Ukraine, in Georgia), or as "rich in vector" - in the style of Yanukovych or Lukashenko until August 2020: that is, in every possible way to demonstrate to voters their independence from Moscow and prospects sometime later, in the XXII century or a little later, of joining the European Union or another format of integration with the West. For the sake of fairness, it should be noted that, according to polls, the citizens of Armenia are better than citizens of other CIS countries perceive the allied relations with Russia and the structures to which it is a member.

In such a scenario, there is no place for the recognition of Crimea by Armenia. As well as deep military integration with Russia according to other scenarios. Yes, objectively it would be beneficial for Yerevan.

But people do not act as objectively beneficial to them: they act as their irrational impulses tell them. There are exceptions to this rule, but there are so few of them that they rarely affect historical processes. Cultural references for such impulses are more important than military-technical balance and similar boring things.

Who benefits from the conflict

We have outlined the situation in Armenia in the aggravated situation above: it is unenviable, the conflict is insoluble, the Armenian economy is weak, and Yerevan cannot receive seriously increased assistance to Russia for psychological reasons.But Baku, on common reasoning, cannot be envied.


Let's say Azerbaijan would have won and occupied Karabakh. Ethnic cleansing for 150 thousand people is a massacre, because it is clear that part of the displaced Armenians will be killed. From the Azerbaijani side, mercenaries from the warring parts of the Islamic world can operate. The customs in this part of the world are cruel: they torture and cut heads in the 21st century. All this will inevitably be filmed by the least intellectually developed of the torturers and uploaded to the Internet, and then scandals will begin. After that, it will be difficult for Western states to communicate with Baku: they have forgotten a little about the policy in the East, and are experiencing complexes regarding torture and murder, which became publicly known.

But in principle it is just possible to survive. Baku exports mainly oil, which will be bought anyway - not by the Europeans, but by someone else. Another thing is more important: in practice, Azerbaijan has very few chances to take Karabakh. When his troops occupy a small part of the unrecognized republic and the cleansing of the Armenians begins, Moscow will be forced to react, put pressure on the Azerbaijani authorities, and if they fall into the error of Mikhail Saakashvili's level, it will substantively explain to them why they are wrong. As a result, the occupied pieces may also have to be returned.


In other words, Azerbaijan would have some meaning in the conflict only if it could implement the so-called blitzkrieg. In a purely military sense, this is possible. From the north, Karabakh is covered by the so-called Ohanyan line, and the mountainous terrain is easily controlled from the heights - a quick dash for the Azerbaijani army is impossible here.

From the south, near Fizuli - Horadiz - Jebrail - the area turns into a steppe, and in principle it is possible to operate here even with tank units. Using the advantage in artillery, one could try to disrupt the mobilization in Nagorno-Karabakh, then strike with wedges from the south and quickly occupy the republic before the approach of the Russian units. In this situation, Moscow, which appeared for a nodding analysis, would not have had time to really do anything.

But this scenario is objectively impossible. The quality of Azerbaijan's weapons is high - both Russian and Israeli, and supplied from other countries. Yes, and Turkey is helping: after the recent joint exercises with Azerbaijanis in Nakhichevan, the Turks left some of their weapons there, "imperceptibly" strengthening their strategic partner in the region. But the quality of the command staff in the Azerbaijani army is much lower - and this is something that cannot be imported from abroad. Georgia in 2008 has already shown that even a decent weapon in the hands of an army without sensible commanders is far from working miracles.

It turns out that the conflict is objectively disadvantageous not only for Yerevan, but also for Baku. Both sides receive from him only an eternal arms race and periodically blood. They have no chance of winning decisively.

But the smoldering and periodically flaring up war in the region is beneficial to another country - Turkey. Recall: Erdogan does not burn with love for Russia, and this attitude does not really hide. Yes, in 2016 Moscow saved him from a coup orchestrated by pro-American forces. But gratitude, as we wrote, is not among the virtues of Turkish politicians for many centuries. Erdogan is no exception. Moreover, in recent years, Moscow, according to Ankara, offended the Turks: it did not allow them to cut off a piece inhabited by Turks from Syria.

Therefore, from Turkey's point of view, it is absolutely logical to offend Moscow in response by throwing problems at it in its strategic environment - just as Russia added problems to Ankara by pulling Assad's Syria from almost the other world, which the Turks were planning to begin to share with their neighbors with might and main.

An additional benefit for Turkey is that if everything burns out and Baku starts the massacre of Armenians in Karabakh, then the constant accusations of the Armenian genocide by Turkey itself will automatically fade into the background. In 1915, at least hundreds of thousands of the Armenian population died there, many of them were killed for a reason, but, how to put it mildly, with special cruelty.The new genocide will inevitably push back the memory of the old from the scene: the same Armenians will be more indignant towards Baku than the past sins of the Ottoman Empire.

Another "beauty" of the situation in the eyes of the Turks: Russia will not be able to do anything to the Turks for this. Yes, in theory, she might not have warned Erdogan about another coup, but in practice, after 2016, Ankara itself carried out purges in the army and now considers itself quite safe.

It is hard to be surprised that Erdogan in such conditions has already declared the need to end "the occupation of the territory of Azerbaijan by Armenia."

What will happen to the conflict itself

As we noted above, an attack on Karabakh for Azerbaijan makes sense only in the "blitzkrieg" format with the disruption of mobilization in the unrecognized republic and in Armenia itself with the help of artillery and missile strikes, as well as long-range strike drones.


Any long-term conflict is fraught with the fact that the rich-vector Armenian leadership will have time to get nervous enough to ask for Russian help, and they are hardly ready to fight with the Moscow army in Baku. The West, of course, if really necessary, can turn a blind eye to the ethnic cleansing of Armenians, but it is not a fact: Washington does not want to make Armenia an eternal Russian ally, and if it keeps silent during the massacre, which the Russians will not keep silent about, it will become inevitable.

That is, in the end, no war in Nagorno-Karabakh makes sense for the Azerbaijani leadership without a lightning-fast attack by the Ground Forces. And it is very likely that there was an attempt at such a throw. On video footage from the scene, one can see a large number of burned Azerbaijani tanks, and the Armenian side claims that about 40 of them were knocked out. Finally, Baku announced that it had taken control of six villages in Fizuli and Jabrayil regions. These are the same sectors that we mentioned above - the most suitable for attempting a quick strike by tanks and motorized infantry.

Consequently, the current conflict is a failed attempt at a real full-scale war, and not an intensified reconnaissance in force, such as the shelling of 2016, when Azerbaijan was testing recently acquired attack drones in the defense of Karabakh.

So far, events have shown that Baku in the Karabakh region is capable of incurring serious losses, but its territorial gains are small. However, the fighting is unlikely to end tomorrow: the command, whose first blow failed, is always tempted to regroup, bring up fresh forces and try again.

If the drones and artillery of Azerbaijan can inflict significant losses on the Armenians, this will be perceived by the Azerbaijanis as a positive signal. And then they will try to strike a new blow - in the same directions, if the Baku command does not plan operations very well, or in somewhat different directions, if they know how to learn from their mistakes.

Even if this second attempt fails, in a sense, the conflict will be useful to the Azerbaijani military. He will give them combat experience and an understanding of where specifically to improve combat training. Azerbaijan is much richer than Armenia, so its economy will more easily pass through partial mobilizations than the weaker Armenian one.

The final forecast is disappointing. Even if this time the initiators of the conflict do not achieve their goals and are stopped, nothing will prevent them from trying again and again, turning this conflict into an "endless" one - another analogue of the Arab-Israeli clashes that fade away, then flare up for decades in a row.

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