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Nogorno-Karabakh 'Clashes', 19-20 September 2023
Before I get back to analysing the war in Ukraine, and in reaction to a number of related queries, here a ‘few words’ on the latest developments between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
One can discuss the ‘who started’ in regards of the Nogorno-Karabakh conflict as long as one wants: I doubt we are going to ever know exactly. However, the situation as of ‘nowadays’ – which would be ‘the last three years’ – appears ‘crystal clear’ to me.
The United Nations have decided that the Nagorno-Karabakh Region (NKR) is a part of Azerbaijan. If we’re respecting UN decisions – for example in regards of what is a war of aggression (like the one Russia is waging in Ukraine), or, another example, the UN decision to create the State of Israel (thus causing a war that is going on for 80 years) – then we’ve got to respect its other decisions, too.
Then, in spring 2020 – and probably encouraged by the French government – Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan’s government declared the Treaty of Sevres for something like ‘pillar of his government’s foreign politics’.
This ‘set all alarm bells on’ – especially so in Turkey, where President Erdogan decided to provide wholehearted support for Azberaijan, although, actually, at odds with Azerbaijani dictator Aliyev.
Treaty of Sevres, of 1920, was imposed by Great Britain, France, and the USA upon the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War. Along it, the empire was to be taken apart and its territories distributed between the French, Greeks, Italians, and Armenians. About a quarter, perhaps more, of what is nowadays Turkey was supposed to belong to Armenia. As should be known, Turkish nationalists then fiercely resisted such designs and - in the course of the Turkish War of Independence of 1920-1922 (known under different other designations in other of involved countries) - defeated all the invading forces, created the Turkish Republic, and forced the alliance facing them to sign the Treaty of Lausanne: this declared the Treaty of Sevres for null and void, and granted territorial sovereignty to the Turkish Republic.
Unsurprisingly, when, 100+ years later, ‘somebody there’ comes to the idea to start insisting on the Treaty of Sevres, then Turks are…. lets say ‘getting particularly nervous’.
Unsurprisingly, the result was the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War (fought September-November 2020). During this war, Azerbaijan defeated Armenia. Azerbaijani armed forces have liberated a lot of Azerbaijan surrounding the NKR, and then a little bit of the NKR before Russia mediated a cease-fire.
Azerbaijan agreed to this cease-fire on condition of Armenians promising to withdraw ALL of their armed forces from the NKR. Of course, Armenians claim they have no own troops there, and these are ‘Artsakh defence forces’ and whatever, but that famous itch in my small toes tells me that – just for example – all the T-72s, and self-propelled artillery pieces, and air defence systems, and few other things Armenia has deployed in the NKR did not grow on the local trees.
Who can say….
Now, in the wake of that defeat, Armenians living in parts of Azerbaijan surrounding the NKR fled in panic and that while these were not (yet) under Azerbaijani control. There was no ‘ethnic cleansing’, though: numerous TV-teams from around the world have ‘filmed’ Armenians packing their stuff, and taking everything away (they had enough time to cut all the trees they couldn’t take away) – with not a single Azerbaijani soldier anywhere within 15-20km range. And that irrespectively of multiple public promises from Azerbaijan that nothing is going to happen to any Armenian civilians in and around the NKR.
While Armenian civilians thus fled from parts of Azerbaijan Armenia was occupying (since its victory in the First Nagorno-Karabakh War, in 1994), both Armenian armed forces and Armenian civilians within what of the NKR was still under Armenian control at the time of that cease-fire did not do anything similar. On the contrary: they remained where they were.
To make sure Armenians were to respect this cease-fire agreement and their civilians in the NKR would be protected, and that Azerbaijanis would stop their military offensive, the Russians deployed about a brigade of their armed forces to the NKR. That’s what ended that war.
However, until 19 September 2023, Armenians were still refusing to withdraw their armed forces from the NKR. They were refusing to fulfil their own promises from November 2020 (and that in addition to refusing to demarcate their border to Azerbaijan, to normalise relations etc.). On the contrary: they were constantly trying to reinforce their troops in the NKR, planting additional minefields etc. …. and the Russians did nothing to force the Armenian armed forces to withdraw, or at least to curb their mining activities in the NKR.
On the contrary: ever since, in Armenia, the public focused on blaming Prime Minister Pashinyan for Armenian defeat of 2020, and his government narrowly survived several coup attempts. Indeed, Pashinyan had to promise he is going to build the ‘second strongest army on the World’ and fight for the NKR – all in attempt to quieten crazy chauvinism in his country at least a bit. That was not ‘just something for domestic consumption’: in attempt to motivate the (large and quite influential) Armenian diaspora to donate necessary money, Pashinyan repeatedly announced to the same that the Treaty of Sevres remains not only the principle of his foreign policy, but indeed: the basis of the Armenian state.
Indeed, the latest crisis - the one that appears to have prompted the Azeri decision to attackon 19 September - was caused by Armenians in the NKR preparing their ‘presidential elections’, and that after even Pashinyan requested them not to do so.
And so, on Tuesday, 19 September, Azerbaijan launched an ‘all-out’ attack on Armenian armed forces in the NKR. In something like 24 hours of fighting, and despite suffering around 70 casualties (nearly all of these to Armenian mines), it caused a loss of up to 1,000 Armenian troops (killed, wounded, captured), destroyed about 40 artillery pieces, some 40 mortars, two anti-aircraft systems, at least six electronic warfare systems, and a total of some 90 combat positions (primarily in north-west, but also east, and south-west of the NKR). As a result, Azerbaijani armed forces achieved numerous penetrations deep into the NKR: by the morning of 20 September, they were already in control over something like one quarter of it (below one of ‘approximate’ maps). As far as I can say, all the fighting in this operation took place inside Azerbaijan.
Additionally, Azerbaijanis seem to have have shot a vehicle and killed up to 8 Russian soldiers (official Baku apologised for these mistakes to Moscow). BTW, among the Russian troops killed on 19 and 20 September was Captain 1st Rank of the Russian Navy, Ivan Kovgan: ex-Deputy CO of the Submarine Forces of the Northern Fleet. That is how short on officers Moscow is meanwhile, due to losses it has suffered during its aggression on Ukraine…
Early on 20 September, Baku issued an ultimatum for remaining Armenian armed forces to withdraw from the NKR. They were given 24 hours.
Just like back in 2020, Pashinyan spent much of the day trying to call Putin – without much success. Eventually, he was forced into negotiations, during which Armenians ‘agreed’ to a cease-fire effective with 13.00hrs local time on 20 September, to withdraw all of their forces from the NKR, together with all of their heavy weaponry, and then to ‘disband’ them. Baku reacted with demands for all the Armenian regular and irregular forces in the NKR to lay down their arms, and surrender their ammunition and heavy equipment, pronto: Azerbaijan is insistent on full re-integration of the NKR.
Left without a choice, Armenians agreed to surrender and disarm (I’m certain: had they any other options, they would not).
In the course of further negotiations in Yevlakh, on 21 September, an agreement was reached for Armenians in the NKR to disband all of their authorities, and to become citizens of Azerbaijan and obey its laws (without any kind of special privileges). For those who do not want to remain in the country, a special corridor was arranged so they can leave safely: reportedly, the Russian ‘peacekeepers’ then began preventing many civilians from leaving, though….
Why such heavy losses of Armenians? Because of vast superiority of the Azerbaijani armed forces in UAVs/drones, artillery, and air power: essentially, Azerbaijanis were not sitting idle the last three years, celebrating their victory, but run constant reconnaissance of all of the NKR, and thus knew almost every single of Armenian positions. When they decided to strike, Armenian forces were hit almost everywhere they were, almost at the same time.
Meanwhile – and rather unsurprisingly considering the endemic corruption, incompetence, and preference for day-dreaming within its armed forces – the Armenian armed forces have failed to rebuild: even to recover from the defeat of 2020. That’s unlikely to change any time soon. Seems the top brass of Armenian armed forces was ‘too busy’ – whether with messing around into politics, with own chauvinism, or with diligently distributing medals for courage to whomever only wore a uniform in 2020….and to quite a few who didn’t…
Of course, different Western governments are ‘ah so very much concerned’, and have announced that ‘Azerbaijan must negotiate, this is the only way to lasting peace’; and are complaining about Baku violating its own promises to refrain from military action; and announcing that a military action would ‘worsen the humanitarian situation Karabakh’ etc – however, the Azeri operation was ‘portioned’ very carefully. From what I can say, Baku applied only enough violence to disable the Armenian forces in the NKR. To demonstrate them that they have no options but to surrender.
Moreover, this operation was so swift, it was concluded already before Washington, Brussel, Berlin, Paris, Moscow etc. have actually managed to formulate and issue any kind of related statements. And, when ‘High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs’ – Joseph Borrell – attempted to issue a ‘joint statement’ of the EU against Azerbaijan, this was blocked by Hungary…
Bottom line: the international community (foremost the UN) has decided that the NKR is a part of Azerbaijan. Sadly, next to nobody respected that decision: especially Western governments preferred to ‘freeze’ the conflict, or ignored it for much too long – and that, usually, for all sorts of ‘reasons’, the mass of which can be summarised with, ‘Armenians are brave Christians and Azeris are all crazed Islamists’. Sure, that is sometimes ‘working’, but at least as often: it does not. And whenever it does not, there is ‘continuation of politics by other means’. Read: war.
Now everybody has to hope Azerbaijanis are going to stick to their promises regarding safety of Armenians in the NKR.