Oct 12, 2020
In Los Angeles, the home to a very large Armenian immigrant population, there have been numerous demonstrations protesting the bombing of Nagorno-Karabakh, or, as the demonstrators call it, the Republic of Artsakh. The following translation is adapted from an article in Lutte Ouvrière (September 30, 2020), the French revolutionary workers’ group, which explains what is behind this war.
On September 27, the bombardment of Nagorno-Karabakh resumed. For more than three decades, the population of this small mountainous region in the Southern Caucasus has lived through a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan that never really ended and has already cost the lives of 30,000 people.
Nagorno-Karabakh is an autonomous region with a largely Armenian population located inside the Republic of Azerbaijan. Under the former Soviet Union, the fact that Nagorno-Karabakh was separated from Armenia by a few dozen kilometers was not considered important. After all, Nagorno-Karabakh belonged to a much larger state that included dozens of different ethnic groups, who all coexisted.
But the political situation began to shift drastically in the late 1980s. The bureaucratic cliques at the head of the separate Soviet republics challenged the authority of President Mikhail Gorbachev and the central Soviet power. In Armenia and Azerbaijan the bureaucrats acted no different than all the rest. To gain support from the population, the bureaucrats posed as defenders of “their” nation against minorities who had lived there for centuries, calling them foreigners, and even enemies.
The Armenian and Azeri leaders soon began to fight over control of Nagorno-Karabakh. In 1988, the leaders of Armenia rejected what they called “forced Azerification” of Nagorno-Karabakh and demanded that the territory become a part of the Soviet Republic of Armenia. The Azeri bureaucrats responded with a pogrom of the Armenian population in Soumgait, an industrial city. Armenians were attacked and killed on the streets and in their apartments. The border of Nagorno-Karabakh was soon lined with trenches and barbed wire. Armenian troops began to annex neighboring Azeri territories. There was an even more deadly anti-Armenian pogrom in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, in January 1990.
At the end of 1991, the USSR broke up into 15 separate countries, including Armenia and Azerbaijan. Both Azerbaijan and Armenia carried out ethnic cleansing: 400,000 Armenians had to flee Azerbaijan and 800,000 Azeris were driven out of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. The Azeris living in Nakhchivan, a landlocked enclave located between Iran and Armenia, were prevented from gaining free access to Baku by soldiers and new borders.
The slaughter that the people of this region have had to endure is only one example of the wars spawned by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Especially in the Caucasus, monstrosities have been inflicted on a mosaic of populations. These include wars in Chechnya and Ingushetia.
In 1994, there was a cease-fire in Nagorno-Karabakh. In 2008, a declaration calling for a peaceful settlement was signed by Armenia and Azerbaijan. But the fighting hardly ever stopped. In April 2016, 100 people were killed during the “four day war.” Last July, there was more fighting.
For more than 30 years, the leaders of Armenia have continually invoked Nagorno-Karabakh and the need for national defense in order to gain the support of the population, as well as make them forget their poverty and the greed and rapacity of the leaders at the head of the country. Azerbaijan, with its oil resources, is wealthier. But due to the crisis and the collapse of oil revenues, the Azeri leaders have also resorted to patriotic speeches in order to divert their own population. On July 15, the Azeri leaders staged a demonstration in Baku chanting “Karabakh is Azerbaijan” and called for armed intervention.
The big powers profit by arming both sides. Russia arms both Armenia, its declared ally, and Azerbaijan, its partner in world energy markets. Turkey, which is a rival of the Kremlin in the Middle East, Syria, and the eastern Mediterranean and Libya, trains and equips the army of Baku. Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, profits from his appeal to nationalism and brandishes his military credentials by praising the “brother state” of Azerbaijan for fighting “Armenian terrorism.”
The soldiers and civilians who are once more dying in the South Caucasus are not dying “for Nagorno-Karabakh.” They are the victims of their own leaders, who use the war to hold onto power, while states fight each other for regional leadership in a rivalry exacerbated by the crisis in the global economy and its repercussions in these countries.