Tuesday, February 12, 2008


The war between Armenia and Azerbaijan has been over, de facto, if not necessarily de jure, for upwards of fifteen years now. The demarcation lines between the forces of the two powers lies more or less where they were in 1993. With Armenian forces occupying large swaths of Azeri territory beyond Karabakh proper. With negotiations being pursued half-heartedly since 1994, it would appear that Armenian predominance over its Turkic-Muslim rival has been edged in stone. However changes which have accumulated in the past half dozen years, in Baku, under the Aliyev family dictatorship, have contributed to an appearance of a change in the balance between the two countries. Beginning in the mid-1990's, Baku has progressively grown wealthier (in nominal terms, if not necessarily in a widespread manner) due to its exploitation of its voluminous oil and gas reserves. This increase in wealth in the past few years has enabled Baku to fund a huge increase in its military budget. And, with this increase in military spending, Baku has more and more harped on its demand for the return of Karabakh, with its Armenian majority population to Azeri rule. Albeit with certain (no doubt worthless) 'guarantees' of 'autonomy' for the enclave. As the attached article from the Zurich based, online periodical, ISN makes clear, while Yerevan has no interest in restarting the war with Azerbajian, it also sees no need at this time to offer up unilateral concessions to Baku. The result being the same situation on the ground today as it has been for the last half dozen years: a stalemate. Sitting in the middle and on the sidelines of this pas de deux are Russia (allied with Christian Armenia), Persia (also allied with Armenia), Turkey and Georgia (allied with Baku). With the United States and the EU occupying the middle ground and hoping against hope that a suitable modus vivendi can be negotiated. At this juncture there seems to be slim hope that anything will be produced in the near future resembling a real and lasting peace.

What does the immediate future hold out for this section of the former Sovietskaya Vlast, and, how should the International Community react to this evolving situation? I for one, doubt very much that Baku will do more than rattle its saber. The Aliyev regime in Baku, stupid, corrupt, and inefficient, knows that if it were to 'roll the iron dice', by opening up hostilities with Armenia, failure on the battlefield, nay, lack of success on the battlefield would result in a 'regime crisis' and probably its quick overthrow. It seems to me, that any nominal 'patriotism' to be found in the upper reaches of the governing circles in Azerbajian, are of the 'hurrah patriotismus,' variety. Not the real coin. When faced with losing their ill gotten gains of oil & gas wealth, the Aliyev clique, will I strongly believe not fail to see that their continuation in power depends upon their keeping the peace. A situation which of course also suits Armenia as well. And, of course, it is probably the case, that Aliyev et. al., also realize that behind Yerevan stands Matushka Roissya, Armenia's Christian ally. And, further behind stands the worldwide Armenian diaspora of many millions in Western Europe and the United States. All of whom would immediately in the case of renewed hostilities see that the aggressors in Baku are suitably punished. Id est, UN, EU and American sanctions being the likely end result. A situation which would be for the latter two powers a veritable cauchemar. Indeed for all concerned it would truly be a nightmare. Hopefully it is one that will never occur.

Trouble anew for Nagorno-Karabakh Azerbaijan is up for a fight over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, but Armenia remains unbowed.
By Ahto Lobjakas for RFE/RL (12/02/08)

"EU officials touring the South Caucasus this week were confronted by heated words from President Ilham Aliyev, who told them Azerbaijan is ready to "wage war" with neighboring Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Azerbaijan's recent windfall of oil and gas revenues appears to have persuaded Aliyev that he could turn the tables on Armenia, which has long held the military upper hand in the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, a predominantly ethnic-Armenian territory located within Azerbaijan.

In talks on 4 February with Slovenian Foreign Minister Dmitrij Rupel, who was representing the current EU Presidency, Aliyev indicated Baku was contemplating waging war for control of the disputed territory, which together with a strip of adjacent Azerbaijani territory has been under Yerevan's control since a 1988-94 war between the two countries.

Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU's external relations commissioner, tells RFE/RL that Brussels firmly rejected Baku's "inflammatory" rhetoric. "I clearly said, not only to the authorities, but also at the press conference, that I think it is highly important that they avoid any inflammatory speech at the moment of presidential elections," she says.

Both countries are holding a presidential vote this year - Armenia on 19 February, and Azerbaijan in October. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has spent more than 15 years mediating talks between the two sides, has indicated an election year is not likely to see major progress on the issue.

Baku, however, appears impatient. The Azerbaijani leadership, Rupel said, appears to feel that "time is not on Armenia's side." Nor is money. Azerbaijan's defense budget this year will exceed US$1 billion; Armenia's is just one-third of that figure.

Azerbaijan has enjoyed spectacular economic growth over the past few years. The country's GDP grew by 25 percent in 2007, almost exclusively on the strength of oil and gas exports.

Azerbaijan's minister for economic development, Heydar Babayev, says he expects his government to generate upward of US$150 billion in oil and gas revenues by 2015.

Armenia, meanwhile, has no lucrative natural resources. It is landlocked, blockaded by neighbors Turkey and Azerbaijan, and - at Baku's behest - bypassed by oil and gas pipelines, as well as rail and road projects, which originate in Azerbaijan.

'Winning The Peace'
But, as Rupel notes, Armenia has "alliances that speak for it." This is a reference to Russian backing. Throughout the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Russia is rumored to have given Armenia military equipment worth US$1 billion. Russia provides for most of Armenia's energy needs and has bought up most of its energy infrastructure.

The Armenian government did not appeared cowed by Baku's fighting words. Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian tells RFE/RL that Armenia is confident of its military capability. "No matter how strong the Azeris will be in the next 15 years, even with this kind of spending, even [if it] doubled every year, to catch up with Armenia's commitment to defend itself and Karabakh, that will require [as a] minimum 15-20 years," he says.

Oskanian says that Armenia would not be intimidated in any event. More importantly, he adds, he does not believe there can be a military solution to Nagorno-Karabakh. "We fought twice with the Azeris, we prevailed, but we never claimed that we won the war," he says. "Unless we win the peace, we will never claim that we won the war."

Oskanian acknowledges, however, that the chances of "winning the peace" are receding and that Azerbaijan's positions in the OSCE-mediated peace talks have hardened.

Rupel - an old OSCE hand, having chaired the organization in 2005 - also fears the Minsk Group, which oversees the mediation efforts, may face increasing obstinacy from Baku.

Nagorno-Karabakh is a key issue in both countries' election campaigns, and establishment candidates are expected to win in both countries, meaning novel approaches to the problem are not likely to be forthcoming.

Taking a longer-term view, Rupel says the conflict is rooted in the region's Soviet past, when Josef Stalin arranged their borders in a way apparently designed to exacerbate ethnic strife.

Rupel says both Armenia and Azerbaijan need a "generational change." "You know, a new generation, younger people, [would] deal with problems like Nagorno-Karabakh in an easier way," he says. "I think we have to rely on a new generation of politicians on both sides. There has been some generational change in Azerbaijan, as you know. We'll see how it happens here [in Armenia]. Certainly, it is not a pleasant situation."

And what of the EU's role? Rupel says the EU's Neighborhood Policy is "as balanced as possible" between the two countries. The EU, he says, is "very careful not to upset one side or the other," with even its economic assistance being as "similar" as possible.

But money appears to be no object in this standoff. The EU has not been directly involved in the peace talks, and there appears to be little desire on either side for it to engage. As an ally in a conflict, meanwhile, the EU remains of little use".


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