BACK STORY with DANA LEWIS

LINE OF CONTACT/ARMENIA AND AZERBAIJAN SLIDE INTO WAR

September 30, 2020 Dana Lewis Season 2 Episode 10
BACK STORY with DANA LEWIS
LINE OF CONTACT/ARMENIA AND AZERBAIJAN SLIDE INTO WAR
Chapters
BACK STORY with DANA LEWIS
LINE OF CONTACT/ARMENIA AND AZERBAIJAN SLIDE INTO WAR
Sep 30, 2020 Season 2 Episode 10
Dana Lewis

The dispute goes back decades. Azerbaijan and Armenia are fighting over a disputed region called Nagorno-Karabakh and the conflict now threatens to pit Russia against Turkey.

America has ceded some of its influence as a super power under the Trump Administration. 

And the vacuum is sure to be filled with conflict.  France has now accused Turkey of stirring war.  

And it's not the only place there is tension between Russia and Turkey including Syria and in Libya.   Could a larger conflict be starting?

Host of Back Story, Dana Lewis talks to guests Laurence Broers and Joshua Kucera, both experts on the area we know as The Caucasus. 

Show Notes Transcript

The dispute goes back decades. Azerbaijan and Armenia are fighting over a disputed region called Nagorno-Karabakh and the conflict now threatens to pit Russia against Turkey.

America has ceded some of its influence as a super power under the Trump Administration. 

And the vacuum is sure to be filled with conflict.  France has now accused Turkey of stirring war.  

And it's not the only place there is tension between Russia and Turkey including Syria and in Libya.   Could a larger conflict be starting?

Host of Back Story, Dana Lewis talks to guests Laurence Broers and Joshua Kucera, both experts on the area we know as The Caucasus. 

Speaker 1:

Usually contained as four or five day Wars between Armenian forces and that's by John in the morning and in the area of the international border between two States. But I think this could spill over into a longer,

Speaker 2:

Hi everyone, and welcome to another edition of backstory. I'm Dana Lewis. One of Europe's frozen conflicts as erupted again, fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over an area called Nagorno-Karabakh. If you live in America or Canada or elsewhere, it's really hard to worry about it or to care about it. But listen, we ought to Russia is supporting Armenia. Turkey is behind Azerbaijan and experts say this could develop into something that could be a much wider conflict . And by the way, it's potentially, and we'll ask our guests who I'm about to introduce you to, is it a product of a wider conflict like Syria where Russia and Turkey

Speaker 1:

You're on opposite sides or Libya where Russian supports one war , Lord , and Turkey and other . So let's talk to the people who understand this and can explain it better than I can. First of all, Lawrence brewers is the caucuses programs, director of the London based peace building organization, conciliation resources. He has more than 20 years of experience as a researcher in conflicts in the South caucuses. And he is a practitioner of peace building initiatives in the region. Hi Lawrence . Hi, good to be here. And Joshua Kuchera is in Tbilisi, Georgia and the caucuses editor of Eurasia net. Hi, Josh. Thanks for having me. Alright . I said it, but I didn't quite understand it. Europe's frozen conflicts . What does that mean when we're talking about this area? Do you want to take the first one judge? Sure. Well, when you say frozen conflict, it refers to, there were a whole series of the conflicts in the former Soviet union , uh , as the Soviet union collapsed. Um, cause you had Southwest Sedia in Georgia. There's Transnistria in Moldova and Nagorno-Karabakh in , um, in , uh, uh, Azerbaijan. Uh, this is , uh , it's a bit of a misnomer to say frozen conflicts at this point. I think the others, you can safely call fairly frozen, but Karbach has been throwing and throwing and throwing and now it's, you know , practically on fire. So frozen.

Speaker 2:

I was just going to say Lawrence, I mean, this seems like a,

Speaker 1:

It's not frozen in any way. I mean, there's a , this is kinetics. This is fighting that that started pretty well a week ago. Yeah, absolutely. I avoid the term frozen conflict. Uh, when talking about this particular conflict , I agree with Josh , uh, you know, you can say that perhaps for Transnistria and for [inaudible] , but since 2014 in particular, we have seen periodic escalations usually contained as four or five day Wars , uh , between Armenian forces and that's by John morning and in the area of national border between two States. But I think this could spill over into a longer conflict

Speaker 3:

Reading some of the things both of you have written about this and Lawrence you in particular, I mean at a very interesting line where you said this is like world war II ,

Speaker 1:

One trench warfare that is still to this day being fought in Europe. Yeah. I mean, one of the things that I'm often asked is why should people in Europe care about this conflict? Uh, the relevance of the compact is often framed in terms of , uh, energy , uh, oil and gas transit from the Caspian to European markets. And of course that that is significant, but I think much more important are these two other factors. First of all, the potential for this conflicts to bring in , uh , to become , uh , an object of policy by external powers are looking to protect , influence. And then simply the fact that more than a hundred years after the end of the first world war, we see trench warfare in some places Armenian and as a by Gianni soldiers are so close that they can hear one another very reminiscent of those parallels of the tragedy of trench warfare in world war one.

Speaker 3:

Well , what is Nagorno-Karabakh and why does anybody want

Speaker 1:

The fight over it? Uh, well, so Nagorno-Karabakh how to , where to start. Um, it's a , an internationally recognized part of , uh, Azerbaijan during the Soviet union. It was , um, uh, populated by a majority ethnic Armenian , uh, population , uh, during , uh , the , the collapse of the Soviet union. Uh, there were, there was an Armenian movement to , uh, sort of remove , uh, um, Karbach from Soviet Azerbaijan, enjoyed it to Soviet Armenia, this , uh, you know, escalated. And , uh, during this point , uh, the Soviet union collapsed Armenia and Azerbaijan became independent States and this became an interstate war , um, than , uh , it had been that that war ended, quote unquote in 1994 with a ceasefire with Armenians controlling , uh, both Nagorno-Karabakh the former, what was, what was under the Soviet union , uh, called an autonomous , uh , Oh , blast of Nagorno-Karabakh , uh, as well as , um, a large part of , uh , other Azerbaijani territory that had not been part of Nagano Carbox that , um , was at that point populated almost entirely by , uh , ethnic Azerbaijanis. So since 1994 Armenia has , uh, controlled that territory. Uh, and since that time, as well as John has been trying to get it back , um, either by there've been long peace negotiations , uh, over the past few years, the peace negotiations seem to have , um , lost much hope for success is their golden Hills. Is there injustice that Azerbaijanis feel like this been stolen from them by force? Secondly, there are 600,000 , uh , Azerbaijani people who still Harbor hopes of being able to return to their, to their homes in that territory

Speaker 3:

In Lawrence. I mean, this is, I think the Joshua was trying to do his best to edit long history there, but I mean, before that the Persians were involved and before that, you know, constantly ,

Speaker 1:

Uh , ha had a stranglehold over the area. Yeah. I mean the South Caucasus or TransCore Kasia is it used to be known as always been a, kind of a field of forum , uh , where surrounding great powers and empires , um, have , have tried to exert their influence, but it's always been at the very edge of their power and that's allowed local potentates to , uh , to a considerable degree of , of independence. And I think, you know, to come back to the question of why this is so important for Armenians , um, Nevada Karbach was one place where a degree of autonomy was preserved long after the medieval kingdoms had disappeared. Um, and in the context of 20th century genocide , uh, Nagorno-Karabakh has seen as one place where an indigenous Armenian population survived. And so it seemed very much in existential terms where Azerbaijan , uh, Nagorno-Karabakh is seen as the cradle of culture. Uh , there are poets musicians and composers who came from the territory. And perhaps beyond that , um, the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan is what defines , uh , as a vagina , as a nation. And you have very large numbers of Azerbaijanis living in Iran in Georgia. Uh , so does the state is the territory of the state , uh , that defines that identity more clearly than in any other parameter. And there's a huge sense of grievance as Josh was underlining amongst , uh , the internally displaced population, who do you still hope to return to home? So , uh , it's really , uh , you know, so much has been invested in terms of domestic politics into this very hard step .

Speaker 3:

One of you can take this, but I mean, is there part of an unclosed chapter in the Armenian genocide of which, you know, Turkey has been accused of killing a million and a half people?

Speaker 1:

Yeah. I mean, I think that consciousness very much frames , uh, the Armenian , uh , prison , uh, the vision of Namony Karbach Nicole Patheon has framed what's happening at the moment as existential. Um, and so I think, you know, the fear of renewed , uh, ethnic cleansing and genocide of Armenians , uh, it does drive this conflict. Um, and you know what we've seen across the divide in the early 19 nine , jeez , uh, mass displacement on both sides, they used to be vibrant communities of Armenians in various cities that are no longer there. Uh , likewise , uh , substantial numbers of Azerbaijanis living in Armenia , uh , all trace of them practically is gone. So the shadow of ethnic cleansing definitely informs the perceptions of fear today. Joshua you're nodding your head. I mean, Lauren said that far more eloquently than I could have , but I sign on to everything that he said,

Speaker 3:

One of the most militarized borders in the world. Is that , is that correct?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, either one. Absolutely. I mean, there's, there's a, I don't know how many places are there are in the world where there's really absolutely no way to cross this border. Uh , there's not a single , um, crossing , um, uh , at all it's, it's frontlines from top to bottom. Yeah .

Speaker 3:

It's a proxy war between Russia and Turkey because , uh , you know, Russia has supplied weapons to Armenia. They have a base in Armenia. I saw, you know, in the initial fighting in the last week that there was some [inaudible]

Speaker 1:

Two tanks destroyed, then there was a report of a Sukhoi down , you know, these are all Russian aircraft and , and armor, but at the same time, Russia reportedly supplies the Armenian side as well. It's, it's a great place to sell weapons for Russia. Yeah . Russia, arms, both sides , um, Armenia almost entirely. Uh, Azerbaijan has a few other alternative sources of weaponry, but still the large majority of its weapons also come from Russia. Um , but I think it's important to not think of this as a proxy war. It could become a proxy war. I mean, that's , that is, that is a real danger right now, especially with Turkey's kind of newly assertive posture in the region. Um, but I think that , uh, to say that it's a proxy war in general is , is overstated. I mean, the, the dynamics that are driving it are a hundred percent , uh , internal , uh, and like you said, Turkey does back Azerbaijan, Russia has a treaty obligation to defend , uh, Armenia, if it's invaded, we don't know whether that's going to be activated or not. Uh, but, but still to , at this point, look at external factors for the conflict , uh , would be, would be to misunderstand it.

Speaker 3:

Would you buy into that? I mean, there's a lot of tension between Russia and Turkey in different places. As we mentioned before, and in Syria, Libya ,

Speaker 1:

Um, Turkey really rolled out , uh, the press, the national press on this when the fighting started , uh , accusing Armenia of being entirely sympathetic

Speaker 3:

The other side. I mean, do , do you see it as internal or do you see some external pulling of the strings?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I absolutely agree with Joshua that we should not see this as intrinsically a proxy conflict. Um, the drivers of it are domestic or local at the national level. Um, but I think what we're seeing is , uh, impacts and of a prolonged crisis in multilateral diplomacy. Uh, the men's group, which mediates in this conflict of the OSC do organizational security incorporation in Europe that was founded in the nineties in the unipolar moment in a U S led global order for the last 15 years. That order has been seeding ground , uh , to a new kind of multipolarity. And I think what we might be seeing , uh, is the shift multinational diplomacy to , uh , kind of what you might call a multi-polar opportunism Turkey, seeing an opportunity here , uh, it's engaged , uh , it's had a lot of battle experience , uh , in Syria and Libya and so on in recent years , um, it has a very active defense industry looking for new markets , uh , to demonstrate its goods and , uh, supporting us by downplay as well , uh , for domestic legitimacy. And it may be that what we're seeing is the emergence or the embedding of this conflict into one of a number of regional theaters , uh , where Russia and Turkey will be confronting one another, regulating their relations at bargaining and negotiating trade offs . A key implication of that is that Armenia and Azerbaijan themselves will have less influence over outcomes than they used to have potentially under the OCE multilateral diplomatic model. Now you could argue if you were Azerbaijani that that model hasn't delivered anything that's , uh , and that's true from an Azerbaijani perspective. So, you know , I think there's conflict is now suspended between these different models , uh, of diplomacy and multipolarity , uh , with very uncertain outcomes.

Speaker 3:

Well, so, so that's worrisome because I mean, you're building a bridge towards saying that America as a world leader has, has

Speaker 1:

Kind of like

Speaker 3:

I left the neighborhood. Uh, and then now you have regional powers that suddenly see opportunity and gaps that they can, they can fill. And this is geopolitical, just not in that area, but, you know, throughout the caucuses and elsewhere.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. I mean, I think we are seeing a new phase of geo for the digitization of this conflict. Uh, you know, I, I argued in my book that one of the interesting things about this conflict is that the parties have not been able to really , uh, frame their agendas in ways that would resonate with outside powers. I think that that may be changing , uh , and they may become , um , more like proxies than they have been , uh, to date. Um, U S interests have always been , uh, inconsistent, I would say , uh , over the last 15, 20 years, the last time that the U S really injected some political capital into this peace process was , uh , in 2000 2001. Um, so , uh , yes, I think it's going to be very difficult to , uh, to bring the parties back to the table. Uh , there was a UN security council meeting last night that affirmed , uh , the Mintz group of the, as the key EDA tree body, but so much depends, I think, on the battlefield outcomes at the next few days and weeks,

Speaker 3:

Is this a religious conflict as well? I mean, we're, we're, you know, Muslims and Azerbaijan and against the Orthodox

Speaker 1:

Christians in Armenia. No, not at all. Um, you know, Armenians and Azerbaijan is have far more in common with each other than they do with almost any other people in the world, I would say. Uh, and while there's, there's occasional after it's , I think among an international audience to kind of , um , add a religious element to it, you know, in the U S Armenian lobby groups will present this as kind of a , another group of persecuted Christians in the middle East , uh , Azerbaijan will occasionally promote this in, in , uh, the, the organization with the Islamic conference or , or, or groups like that as you know , to try to get some Muslim solidarity, but , but that's really for an external audience internally. Um, it's really not , uh, uh , very salient. I mean, it should be emphasized here that these people live together for many centuries , uh , without any problems. Uh, the, the conflict between Armenians and Azerbaijanis is a relatively recent , um , development in their many centuries of, of living together. So , uh, the , the religious elements should not, should not be overemphasized

Speaker 3:

Stoking this and does Iran,

Speaker 1:

No Iran is almost surprisingly passive in this given what a big country it is, and that both of these countries are on its border. Uh , it basically tries to keep a good relations with both countries , um, with Azerbaijan, its relations are a little bit more tense because of, as Lawrence mentioned, the , the large , uh , ethnic Azerbaijani minority , uh, in Iran , um , uh, uh, but , uh, but basically Iran tries to stay out of it for the most part. And they do,

Speaker 3:

If I can just kind of wrap this up, where do you see this heading? Because I mean, there have been clashes in , in the last week. Uh, there are people trying to mediate. Putin is

Speaker 1:

Cold for calm and Turkey has called for calm. I don't know how soon say are sincere. Some of those calls are, where does it go now, Lawrence , do you want to take this? I mean, I, I I'd say that , uh , I mean, we're on the , the hinge now we're beyond a kind of a four , a four day conflict. Um, it's been very difficult to get a sense of how the battle is going on the ground. Uh, if that would be kind of rapid military success, either through the recapture of significance or the successful repulsion of as a binary operations by Armenian forces. Uh , I think you could then have the scope for , uh, Russia to step in and perhaps force a ceasefire. But if it, if it becomes more protracted than I think Moscow and Danker will be faced with difficult choices about when and how, and to what degree to come in and support that process . So to speak, as I mentioned, I think it's going to be very difficult at this particular moment , uh, to , uh, to concentrate sufficient, sufficient international attention on a diplomatic effort. So I think, I think it's wide open. What could happen Joshua last word to , you know , I absolutely, I mean, we're kind of in uncharted territory and you know, this is, this is the most serious fighting that has happened since the early nineties. And , um, you know, we don't know Joshua

Speaker 2:

Jera and Tbilisi, Georgia, and Lauren's brewers , both , uh , you know , great to have your insight and to bring us up to speed on this. And thank you so much.

Speaker 1:

Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.

Speaker 2:

And that's this edition , the backstory, please subscribe to the podcast. I think it's the best international news podcast . There is in terms of content and high caliber guests. I'm Dana Lewis. I'm a former correspondent in Jerusalem in Moscow. I've covered half a dozen different war zones reported out of some 55 countries support backstory, and we'll keep bringing you stories that matter. Thanks for listening. And I'll talk to you again soon.

Speaker 1:

[inaudible] .