The OSCE need not continue to claim sides “lack will” towards a settlement of this conflict. Azerbaijan has territorial claims against Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenians who live in Nagorno-Karabakh have demonstrated they will fight to the end to maintain self-rule. For the Minsk Group to continue thinking it’s business as usual is like the insane doing the same thing over and over yet expecting different results.
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By David Davidian
To estimate the motivation of Baku in their April 2nd military offensive against Nagorno-Karabakh (NK), one must look at a confluence of at least six elements that contributed to the timing of Azerbaijan’s decision. First, Azerbaijan has been building-up its military over the past two decades, but mainly in the past five to seven years, acquiring among other items, an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) infrastructure from Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAS) and has purchased as many weapons as Baku’s oil revenues could withstand from Russia or any other seller. These purchases violate arms control agreements, but there is no arms control court Azerbaijan can be taken to. Having weapons your enemy doesn’t generates a euphoria to use them.
Second, last summer Armenia was promised $200 million in Russian arms, the same basic weaponry Russia sells to Azerbaijan. Every subsequent arms sale made to each side contains more lethal and higher technology weaponry. The general understanding was that the latest Armenian package included shoulder fired heat seeking missiles that would have severely impacted the efficacy of Azerbaijan’s Israeli UAVs. Armenia claimed it has been receiving shipments of these Russian arms right along, but this appeared to be a bluff. Perhaps the shoulder fired weapons were a bluff as well. This is nothing that a petrol-dollar bribe could not verify within the Kremlin walls. Baku was led to believe that Armenia was itself bluffing shipments for some reason, and concluded it had to act before Armenians actually received the latest Russian weapon shipments by an attack to inflict the maximum pain on NK.
Third, US intelligence reported that there had been a slow but consistent build up of both Turkish forces near its northeast border and an equivalent buildup in Azerbaijan forces along its border with NK starting during the fall of 2015. US officials stated such a buildup could lead to renewed fighting.
Fourth, Azerbaijani ISIS fighters have been steadily returning home and have been encouraged by Baku to take up residence along the NK front. Having learned that unconstrained human barbarity is alive and well, these veteran ISIS fighters have been reportedly terrorizing the local Azerbaijani population, raping and looting. As a result of latest fighting, at least four Armenian POWs were beheaded by Azerbaijani fighters. Parading severed heads is a signature act of ISIS. During their offensive, Azerbaijani soldiers cut ears off of elderly Armenians as they were murdered in their homes. Baku felt these native ISIS fighters needed to be engaged in their specialty, against Armenians, rather than local Azerbaijanis.
The latter barbarity is very important as it points out what the Armenians of NK have been saying since this region was placed under Azerbaijani jurisdiction in the early 1920s by Joseph Stalin. NK Armenians will never subject themselves to be ruled by Azerbaijanis. These Armenians were given another reminder of what life would be like under Baku’s rule.
Fifth, Russia thwarted Turkish attempts at wielding huge political and economic influence in Syria. It is convenient to blame the deterioration in Russian-Turkish relations as a major reason why their rhetorical proxies engaged in hostilities, especially an Azerbaijani offensive. Last October, weeks before the Turks shot the Russian SU-24 jet at the Turkish-Syrian border, Turkish military helicopters violated Armenian airspace, twice, blaming it on bad weather. There were no repercussions associated with this violation, perhaps demonstrating the lack of causality in degenerated Russian-Turkish and those between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Even though Turkey and Azerbaijan publicly consider themselves sister republics, both Baku and Moscow have business interests exclusive of Turkey and are competitors in the hydro-carbon market. Armenia and Russia are members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Statements made about this April 4-day war by constituent members of the CSTO raised eyebrows in Armenia, especially remarks by Kazakhstan’s President Nazarbayev, frankly calls into question the commitment of constituent CSTO states. Azerbaijan is neither a member of the EEU or CSTO. Turkish attempts at convincing Azerbaijan to place a thorn in the side of Russia via NK is far down on this list. The cost of such a Turkish thorn is high. Azerbaijan wouldn’t even agree to the recent cease fire until Russia moved a 1,700 man special military operations unit to the Azerbaijani border to demonstrate its seriousness in urging a cease-fire.
Sixth, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group itself, which “spearheads the OSCE’s efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict”, has a role in allowing the situation regarding NK to reach a point where Azerbaijan felt comfortable attacking NK. These same negotiators, some of whom witnessed Kosovo extracted from Serbia, seemingly expect the complete opposite from NK. Apparently, self-determination has a different meaning in the Balkans than the Caucasus. When the OSCE wants it both ways, wars break out and people die. The OSCE was forced to close offices in Baku late last year and many have lost respect for this group.
The OSCE need not continue to claim sides “lack will” towards a settlement of this conflict. Azerbaijan has territorial claims against NK and Armenians who live in NK have demonstrated they will fight to the end to maintain self-rule. For the Minsk Group to continue thinking it’s business as usual is like the insane doing the same thing over and over yet expecting different results. Moreover, the Minsk Group must know that Azerbaijani officials have admitted their real goal is to force Armenia into an unsustainable arms race, similar to what US President Reagan did to bankrupt the Soviet Union.
After all the fighting, with a hundred Armenian dead and many hundreds of unreported Azerbaijanis killed, all Baku can show for its military offensive is having captured a small grassy mound in neutral territory. In return, Armenia has received the honor of having shot down more Israeli UAVs than any other state or group.
There is no other way out for OSCE negotiators than to clearly understand that Armenians will not be ruled by Azerbaijanis who, among other things, behead prisoners of war. The Japanese treatment of Allied prisoners during WWII was no better and they were found guilty of war crimes.
David Davidian is an Adjunct Lecturer at the American University of Armenia. He has spent over a decade in technical intelligence analysis at major high technology firms.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of TransConflict.