Nagorno Karabakh

Today and tomorrow mark a very important meeting for the South Caucasus. Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia will discuss Nagorno Karabakh in Kazan, Russia. The significance is high because of recent pressure put on making progress in the Azeri-Armenian dispute by the international community.

I wrote briefly about NKR (Nagorno Karabakh Republic) in my list of worries. Basically, it is a disputed territory, still a part of Azerbaijan, but ethnically Armenian and basically under Armenian control.

Along with NKR, Armenia occupies 13% of Azeri territories. These territories act as a buffer between NKR and Azerbaijan. Since NKR is not directly connected to Armenia, the occupied territories serve as supply lines into NKR. One of these is right next to Vardenis, called Kelbajar. In fact, just this week I rode with a group of soldiers on their way to Kelbajar. It is almost a no-man’s land. They told me that of the 400 people in the whole territory, half are soldiers.

Anyway, Russia, France, and the US all highlighted the importance of tomorrow’s meeting when they met at the G-8 Summit in May. Violence along the line of contact has been fierce in recent years, with many Armenian and Azeri soldiers dying every year. And Azerbaijan is always quick to point out that they will turn to war to get back what is rightfully theirs.

The international powers don’t want to see a war here (neither do I obviously). Russia has really been trying to broker the situation. From Russia’s point of view, war could be pretty bad. They are closely linked with Armenia militarily, so if war breaks out, they will support Armenia and NKR. Turkey would likely aid Azerbaijan. And Iran, which holds 25 million Azeris and shares a common religion with them, could also hop in. It would be an international mess to say the least.

Common belief is that Azerbaijan, while touting a much larger military budget than Armenia, would not fare well at all in a war. In fact, a few things I’ve read have said that war would an opportunity for Russia and Armenia to wipe Azerbaijan off the face of the map once and for all. Something tells me Baku and its oil riches would go to Russia.

This poorly organized and random string of thoughts I’m sharing with you is basically me trying to say that I’m very excited/anxious to read about what happens tomorrow. Either these guys are going to agree to the “basic principles” and move slowly forward towards peace, or somebody will get pissed off and things could escalate.

While the international pressure for a good result is nice, I’m not sure it will help much. There have been predictions that the countries are already close to agreeing on the basic principles (the thinking goes that otherwise the big guys wouldn’t have put the pressure on them publicly to do so). However, the 2 sides are pretty far apart still.

Armenia wants NKR to have the right to self-determination. Like a Kosovo. They want the 100% Armenian population there to be able to vote for its independence and become an internationally recognized country. Boom. Done.

Azerbaijan wants its territories back. It also wants NKR to be, at best, an autonomous region within Azerbaijan.

Neither side will accept anything less, apparently.

So how do you reconcile those two? Each side will have to give something up, right? Maybe Armenia gives back the territories if Azerbaijan agrees NKR can self determine. But wait, that really won’t make anyone happy.

There is a lot of political pressure within Armenia for the president to not concede anything. From an Armenian viewpoint, they won the war and should not have to give anything up. Even the occupied territories are seen here as “liberated” Armenian lands that belong to this country. So it’s a very complicated situation.

I will watch eagerly and hope for the best.

But it’s hard not to think about the worst, too. War could break out if things go sour, and that could be the end of my service here. But more importantly, it would probably be a big setback for a place like Vardenis, if things escalate.

Consider the Azerbaijani army:

Soldiers? Or boy band dressed as soldiers?

And then think about the Armenians:

Soldier? Or resident of St. Louis?

Who do you want defending your country?

So, while I may be in the Peace Corps, I can’t help but think about war.


4 Responses to “Nagorno Karabakh”

  1. Peter Says:

    If recent events in Georgia and Chechnya are any indicator, I don’t think Russia will let an old territory get the best of its former motherland.

    Internet videos have taught me that Russians are crazy. You do something to piss them off and look the other way, you can expect a tornado kick waiting for your face when you look back.

    Seriously though – something like 4 out of 5 Nazi soldiers killed in WW2 was by the Soviet Union. They are not to be messed with…

  2. icenugget Says:

    Yes, Russia’s presence in the Caucasus is like a looming shadow. I think their military contract with Armenia is the one thing keeping the NKR situation in a semi-peaceful state. The Azeris don’t want to wake the hibernating bear in the corner.

  3. icenugget Says:

    Maybe I commented too soon:

  4. Peter Says:

    You gotta love that half the military equipment they’re parading is Russian-built. You sell them the weapons and they end up using them against you or your friends. Seems to happen so much lately. All the bad guys in Afghanistan for instance have Russian built RPG’s and AK47’s and so on.

    They’re our “ally” but we should always be skeptical of them. Robert Hanssen, recent spy ring, threats on missile defense and the black sea, etc. Keep your friends close..

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