Guest blog post by Astghik Sargsian, Yerevan State University of Languages and Social Sciences.
April left the media swamped with twin accounts of the so-called Four-Day War that erupted in Nagorno Karabakh, Caucasus. On the slippery grounds of objectivity, the reports of the more influential media tend to glide towards the narrative of the oil and gas-rich Azerbaijan.
Most reports offer similar descriptions of Armenia and Azerbaijan “trading fire” or of “heavy fighting” that erupted “between the sides”.
The accounts yield the impression that Armenia and Azerbaijan share the responsibility of resuming the conflict. The reader is left with no answer as to which of the sides initiated the war last month after the truce in 1994.
Nagorno Karabakh is currently populated by ethnic Armenians. It is de facto an autonomous region that strives to maintain its autonomy.
Armenia has little objective reason to want war.
Both Karabakh inhabitants and the Armenian government have what they want –Karabakh’s independence from Azerbaijan to which the region was annexed by the Soviet regime. Since Armenia has the apple of discord under its political sustenance, it has little reason, if any, to attack Azerbaijan.
The Azerbaijani government is displeased with the status quo. Baku has made no secret of their intention to annex the NK region to Azerbaijan’s territory by force. Azerbaijani politicians have been consistently using war rhetoric for two decades now, adding up momentum of verbal eagerness for non-peaceful outcome to impressive obtainments of warfare, lubricated by oil dollars. The president of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev recently let out on twitter that “Armenia wants to keep the status quo unchanged” (4). If change is not desirable for Armenia, why should “aggressive Armenia”, as Aliyev claims in a subsequent twitter line, provoke or instigate war?
The second factor that makes Armenia highly unlikely to want war is the gap between Azerbaijan’s and Armenia’s military budgets.
According to authorities in Baku, Azerbaijan has raised its military spending 20-fold over the last decade to as much as $4.8 billion last year. Nagorno-Karabakh’s ally Armenia saw only a threefold increase to $447 million, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (5). Combined with war rhetoric, a twentyfold increase in military spending makes one hesitant to believe the peaceful intentions of the Azerbaijani government, lavishly advertised on Aliyev’s twitter page, as well as his claims that “Armenia wants war”.
Baku’s energetic accusations of Yerevan of starting war despite counterevidence alerts the international community to be wary of Azerbaijani official statements on the issue. Independent experts see the massive violation of the ceasefire as Azerbaijan’s intention to “show a military muscle” and pressure Armenia into a “flexible stance”. Baku accepts that Armenia should be “pressured” into a solution.
It is also very unlikely that the Armenian leadership could have ventured military clashes hoping for Moscow’s support. Over the recent years, Russia has sold Azerbaijan an estimated $4 billion worth of weaponry, according to The Moscow Times.
Under the latest deal with Armenia, Moscow promised to provide Armenia with a $200 million credit to buy weaponry. According to latest reports, the promise to Armenia has been left on paper despite the emergency situation in Karabakh.
Azerbaijan’s defense minister says, the delivery of military equipment from Russia continues.
There is further inconsistency in Aliyev’s twitter rhetoric that creates a more explicit picture of who actually initiated the war. Very recently, he promised to “plant the Azerbaijani flag in NK” , which, under the circumstances, cannot be achieved unless Azerbaijan resumes the war against NK held by Armenians and plans to win it.
To Azerbaijan, Nk is an issue of “territorial integrity”. To Armenia, it is a matter of survival for the peaceful Armenian population in NK.
Lately, Yerevan declined territorial compromise in NK. The decline is psychologically rooted in the past: in 1915, turks murdered 1.5 million Armenians living on their territory. If left at the mercy of the Azerbaijani army, the NK Armenian population feels they are running the risk of another genocide by turkic Azerbaijanis, openly supported by Turkey.
A few days ago, the president of Azerbaijan was photographed rewarding an Azerbaijani soldier who had beheaded an Armenian-Yezidi 20-year-old in compulsory military service protecting the border of NK.