Karabakh Update

by Marc W on 3/8/2008 · 14 comments

The conflict in Nagorno Karabakh is all over the news today (do a quick google news search and you’ll see what I mean), so I’m just going to post a bunch of quick links. Before I do, I want to clarify a point in my previous post. As an astute reader pointed out (thanks Ari), Karabakh has actually long since declared its independence from Azerbaijan. This was done in a 1991 referendum, which was boycotted by the local Azerbaijani population. As far as I know, no country (possibly excepting Armenia) recognizes this independence. To the links!

Armenia, Azerbaijan Promise Cease-Fire According to this AP story, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza has received assurances from both sides that they have returned to a cease-fire.

US says Kosovo no precedent for Nagorno-Karabakh U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey: “”Kosovo is not a precedent and should not be seen as a precedent for any other place out there in the world. It certainly isn’t a precedent for Nagorno-Karabakh.”

Armenia: Crisis Spotlights ‘Karabakh Clan’ Current Armenian president Robert Kocharian is a native of Karabakh, as is Serzh Sarkisian, the winner of February’s disputed election. Levon Ter-Petrossian, who lost to Sarkisian, accuses the “Karabakh clan” of holding disproportionate amounts of power in both politics and economics. RFE-RL cites a few analysts and journalists who more or less agree with this sentiment, although its worth noting that Ter-Petrossian is the one who brought many of those Karabakh natives to power in the first place. For example, he appointed Sarkisian as defense minister in 1993.

Armenia crackdown: an ex-Soviet pattern? The Christian Science Monitor says that the situation in Armenia is following the pattern laid down by Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Georgia again, and Uzbekistan. They also cite specific numbers on casualties: 8 people killed, 130 injured, 100 arrested (including 30 on Tuesday)

Armenianow, an independent English-language news source from Armenia, has been shut-down for publishing uncensored news. Since March 1, their only posts are official government press releases. However, their pre-blackout posts remain, and they are pretty interesting. They’ve got a lot of photos and eye-witness reports of protests and police crackdowns, and also note that Ter-Petrossian is currently under house arrest (authorities call it “protection.” They’ve also set up a blog for locals at www.armenianow.com/blogs. From the posts (and I have no idea how representative a sample these people are), it seems like there’s a lot of skepticism on both sides. Nobody really buys Ter-Petrossian’s efforts to cast himself as a lion of democracy, noting that there was plenty of corruption and vote-rigging when he was president.

Perhaps to counter that argument, Ter-Petrossian published an editorial in today’s Washington Post in which he claims that Sarkisian will be unable to govern after the violent crackdown and he calls for Western countries to demand new elections.

Subscribe to receive updates from Registan

This post was written by...

– author of 11 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

For information on reproducing this article, see our Terms of Use


Michael Hancock March 8, 2008 at 11:31 pm

Nagorno-Karabakh is really one of the most politically mixed-up places I am familiar with. This might seem trivial, but just analyzing its name is enough to give an idea: using words from three disparate languages [Russian, Turkic, and Persian] to say Black Garden in the Mountains (my translation, so correct me if I’m wrong) tells you that even the namers of this region recognize what a hotch-potch they’ve got on their hands.
Armenia and Azerbaijan will probably see eye-to-eye sometime after Israel and Palestine unite as one country and India and Pakistan decide to get together.
I readily admit to having no expertise on the region, as I’m sure it’s like other places in the region: you’re ignorant up until the point where you are deeply versed in every conflict. However, I am also aware the there are Armenians and Azeris living abroad that are just as ignorant of the day-to-day concerns there, considering that their families were wealthy/lucky enough to fly out of Yerevan and Baku for points West [not just LA, but you know what I’m getting at]. Those making the most noise in the States are advocating for changes and policies that their less fortunate cousins actually living in-country want nothing to do with. I think that Nagorno-Karabakh should be kept in Azerbaijan for no other reason than Armenia only wants it free to better destabilize an already weak Azerbaijan. To my mind, it’s true that Nagorna-Karabakh deserves better management than it received Azeri control, but that’s not to say they could really make a go of it alone, or even as an island enclave owing allegiance to Armenia. As remains clear, the region is still very much a mixed bag.
And that’s my two cents, but I’m hoping hear people that know more on the topic put me right where I’m wrong.

Michael Hancock March 9, 2008 at 1:43 am

Thanks for the feedback. I’m sorry for the pot-shots at the Armenian diaspora – that was cheap. However, Armenia is not living in a bubble. There are Azeris in Nagorno-Karabakh as well. Armenians may feel obliged to take back their ancestral homelands, but they certainly aren’t the only ones that have ever lived in those areas. Azeris aren’t asking for northern Iran, and the Turks shouldn’t be kicked out of Anatolia just because it used to belong to the Romans, the Greeks, the Byzantines, etc. Land is paid for in blood, and the Armenians have paid more than some, but it’s foolish to think that their blood is worth more than others. All the blood in the world isn’t going to give Chechens independence from Russia, and that’s just the sorry truth, right? There’s a thin line between ‘freedom fighter’ and ‘terrorist’ – especially if the freedom fighter is simply terrorizing the person imprisoning him or her.

However, I understand that most of the Kurds and Azeris have since left the area, and that Nagorno-Karabakh is de facto independent. But they seem to be asking for independence, not direct union with Armenia. Again, of course, I defer to your judgment. I’m more a Central Asia [Uzbek/Kazakh/Tajik/Kyrgyz] kind of scholar than a Caucasus one. Which isn’t to say that I have some innate Turkish bias, I think.

Leo Aryatsi March 9, 2008 at 1:36 pm

Artsakh is an Armenian province. Archeological evidence proves it. turks and zionists are the two major destabalizing forces in that region. America is tangled up in this mess (middle east) the way it is because she is a follower when it comes down to it. I wish we could step back and look at the world from our own point of view rather than the one currently provided for us.

Robert March 9, 2008 at 5:33 pm

To Michael – forgive me if it sounds like a cliche – but the Karabakhis – who happen to be Armenians living as vast, vast majority in Karabakh – should be able to decide themselves about their fate. You honestly do not believe that during the American revolution somebody sitting in, say, Switzerland should have decided whether the American independence is a ‘destabilizing factor’ or whether the British rule should have remained there. I appreciate you admitting of not being an expert in the region, that explains your – sorry – ignorant comments. If you read some historical document, look at some older-then-100 years maps, in short, make an effort to see a broader picture – Armenians, being a dominant ethnic group in the region for thousands of years, have been – somewhat successfully – squeezed out (in many cases annihilated) by the Turkish element (Azeris being part of). That happened to Anatolia, to Nakhichevan, to many other historically Armenian lands, and Karabakh is simply a continuation of the trend. Whether Armenians would survive under Azeri rule in Karabakh – NOBODY who knows a little bit of history and today’s reality has any illusions about – in a very short period Karabakhis will be either annihilated or pushed out of the region. Thus saying that Armenians can survive under Azeri rules – is not serious. The conclusion is: this is a fight not only for freedom but also for survival. The great intellectual and moral authority Andrey Sakharov said back in 1988 when the drive for independence started – “Karabakh is a matter of honor for Azeris, a matter of survival for Armenians”.

To Araytsi – Zionists have nothing to do with the problem, don’t create imaginary enemies – you have enough real ones.

Ian March 9, 2008 at 6:57 pm

Um, actually, Robert–the European powers did play itty bitty roles in the American revolution. Not Switzerland, but certainly France, who put a lot directly into the fight. So let’s chalk that up to a bad example.

Michael is right in saying that Karabagh is not Armenian, Turkish, Kurdish, or whatever. Land doesn’t have an ethnicity. If you dig holes deep enough, you’ll find the remains of people who lived before Indo-Europeans were ever near the Caucasus.

Robert, you say that the majority Armenians in Karabagh would be ‘annihilated’ if they were part of Azerbaijan (and it should be pointed out that you imply that Azerbaijanis were involved in the Armenian genocide, the factuality of which I’m not sure) What do you think would happen to the minority Azeris in Karabagh if it were ceded to Armenia?

My point is not to take sides but rather to point out that these kinds of nationalist passions, saying “that’s our land and we’ll annihilate you for it,” is at the root of the problem. On both sides.

Michael, why don’t you speak your mind on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict too, so we can really have a useful conversation?

Michael Hancock March 9, 2008 at 8:00 pm

My mind on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict isn’t made up. I have to honestly say that I have both Jewish and Arab friends [these are not friends of each other] that are normal, rational people until the subject of Israel/Palestine comes up.

I can’t pretend to knowledge of the region beyond a respect for the efforts of Lawrence, a sad remorse for the failure of the “Lebanese experiment” involving Jewish/Christian/Muslim co-rule, and pity for the seemingly permanent delineation of Arab countries by France and Great Britain.

As long as one side refuses to trust the other, basically calling each other animals, they will be treated as they call others. Israeli or Arab, Azeri or Armenian, these fights seem easy to resolve when you aren’t seeing red and not involved in them yourself.
I can understand the mother that says, “I will never forgive those that killed my son.”
I cannot understand the mother that says, “I will never forgive the ethnicity that killed my son.”

As for the topic on hand, I think Ian makes the best point – saying that the Azeris would not be able to control their ‘impulsive’ need to annihilate the Armenians in Karabakh is just sad, to me. The Armenians will treat the minority Azeris no better, and no worse.

I’m trying to come off in this way: I’m not supporting Azeris or Armenians, Arabs or Jews — I have NO ancestral land, and because of this, I generally wish that no one thought they had it. It seems to me that ancestral land is just as stupid as everything else that comes from nationalism. It’s just land. The land doesn’t love you, at least no more than the non-ancestral land you’re currently occupying.

My dad would say – The grass is always greener on the other side because they use all-natural fertilizer.

So let the slings and arrows be tossed. ;0

Michael Hancock March 9, 2008 at 8:18 pm

That was rhetorical.

I’m actually bright, when I’m not horribly gullible, which I’ve been told isn’t in the Dictionary.

I’m gonna go check.

Ian March 9, 2008 at 8:47 pm

No big deal 😉 But when you bring up these territory conflicts you’re bound to rile up some new and interesting commenters. I was hoping also that Leo could tell us more about the Zionist conspiracy in Karabakh.

Robert March 10, 2008 at 3:26 pm

look, I was born and live in Karabakh. maybe for someone this conflict is the matter of territories, national identity, or fear of future problems with similar minorities. however, for artsakh armenians this is the issue of physical (!) survival. as for me, I don’ t need any country or whatever to recognize me. what does it mean: a self-proclaimed state? are there any other types of countries?
I agree with the idea that the land does not have any ethnicity, but home and fatherland do. 70 years of azeris in karabakh is nothing comparing to armenian churches of 5th centuriy A.D. The most important, it was us, who were there when azeris came and claimed our lands like they did with nakhijevan and many other pieces. and now they call northern iran to be southern azerbaijan. than’s ok for the west. guys, we need your oil…what next?
if azeris are convinced of their rights, lets put it legally, no problem. but they know that the only way to get Karabakh is to conquer it, which appeared to be impossible even with thousands of taliban mercenaries, ukrainian pilots and snipers, turkish weapon and chechen guerillas. you know why? because the motivation is absolutely different.
and when you think about this conflict and plan some possible solution, keep in mind that dozens of thousand people spent years in basements, saw how rats ate babies’ noses, people get killed by bomb when collecting water from spring. this is how azeris can deal with “their” population. if you don’t know it, that’s ok, but we do.

Ian March 10, 2008 at 4:20 pm


You didn’t answer my question–what do you think would happen to the Azeri minority in Karabakh if Armenia annexed it?

Michael Hancock March 10, 2008 at 6:10 pm

Is there a chance that Armenia doesn’t recognize Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence because that would actually make it harder for them to annex it?

R March 11, 2008 at 2:13 pm

Since the conflict there are no Azeris left in Karabagh. Likewise there are almost no Azeris left in Armenia itself and there are only a very few Armenians (mostly wives of Azeris) left in Azerbaijan (not including Karabagh) out of a prewar population of maybe 400,000.

Armenia has not recognized Karabagh’s independence because it does not want to be seen as the aggressor in the conflict, however, Armenia backs Karabagh’s right to self-determination and provides financial and military aid to Karabagh. It is certainly the desire of the people of Karabagh to join Armenia. Second choice would be independence. Returning to Azeri control is not considered an option.

The best account of the war over Karabagh and the circumstances leading up to it is “Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War” (New York, 2003) by British journalist Thomas de Waal.

Ian March 11, 2008 at 2:33 pm

Thanks for the book recommendation, R–I’ll definitely get it.

Robert April 1, 2008 at 1:23 am

De Waal’s book is ok, with lots of info about the conflict. It’s also painfully balanced (sometimes the ‘neutrality’ comes at price of “bending the truth”). You are welcome to share your thoughts here, I hope after the reading you might be better equipped for a reasonable discussion.

Previous post:

Next post: