Karabakh: the causes and outcome of April 2016's escalation
One year ago, on 2 April 2016, a ‘four-day war’ began in Karabakh. Here’s an article JAMnews published on 11 April 2016 – just after the ceasefire was achieved.
I would like to ask the readers to take everything written here as the author’s vile insinuation. Let me warn you in advance: I have no proof; I have jumped to all my conclusions through pure reasoning. In soviet times, there was a wonderful column in “The Pravda” (The Truth) newspaper entitled ‘Ugolok Starogo Vorchuna’ (A Grumpy Old Man’s Corner). Now, I would like to work as that grumpy old man for a while.
Azerbaijan is in a euphoria. Finally, it has happened. After 22 years, our army has managed to liberate our small land that we call home. Thanks for a job well done! Glory to the heroes, who shed their blood for the right cause. There are grassroot-level (it is questionable whether it can be called such) youth demonstrations. Cars in the streets of Baku have been decorated with flags. People are congratulating each other. This is all good. A popular TV channel is broadcasting a song calling for jihad. That’s not so good.
But I still have some questions that I cannot find the answers to. I will dwell on them.
1. Why now?
May 5 will mark the 22nd anniversary since the signing of the ceasefire in Bishkek. During this time, the situation at the battle front had never been so tense. Of course, there were some incidents from time to time, some of which were large-scale ones. According to the data provided by “Khazar” Institute of Military Studies (Caspian Defense Studies Institute), about two thousand citizens of Azerbaijan have been killed since the ceasefire. However, there has never been a serious incident. Even the downing of an Armenian military helicopter on 20 November, 2014 and an Armenian subversive group’s raid in August of the same year did not stir up the conflicting parties.
So, what has changed? Let’s recall everything step by step:
- Russia annexed Crimea and encroached upon Eastern Ukraine.
- Oil prices plummeted. ‘Our revenues have been drastically reduced,’ as Ilham Aliev put it.
- Azerbaijan’s national currency has become devalued twice this year and its value has also decreased twice.
- Russia withdrew its troops from Syria and is looking for a pretext to deploy them somewhere else.
- Regional protest rallies expressing the protesters social demands were held in Azerbaijan.
Each of these reasons taken separately is hardly a precondition for war. However, taken together they managed to create a resonance-like effect, so political strategists believe that it is best to distract the public from these pressing problems for a while. As the Minister of Internal Affairs of the Russian Empire, Vyacheslav von Pléhve put it: ‘What this country needs is a brief triumphant war (SVW) to stem the tide of revolution.” Russia failed in that endeavor (Russian-Japanese war), just as it is now in its new venture in Syria.
For Azerbaijan, the “SVW” was a small victory, though it paid a high price for it. According to official data, over 30 soldiers and civilians were killed, whereas the opposition media reported that more than 90 had been killed (with even their names being provided).
According to the estimates of Jasur Sumerinli, a military expert, the material losses we sustained within four days of fighting amounted to about AZN 25 million. Armenian commentators believe that that figure has obviously been fudged.
Has the set goal been reached? It depends what the goal was. The Azerbaijani army has actually showed that with modern military hardware it is as easy as winking to break Armenian defenses, which the Armenian side had bragged about. The Armenian population of Karabakh was deeply concerned and, despite their false bravado, it obviously does not want to go through a similar experience. The population of Azerbaijan has gained a sliver of hope; it has become consolidated. From this point of view the goal can be considered as having been achieved.
Let’s address the second question.
2. What’s next?
This is where the optimistic part of the article ends and the horrors begin. Let’s recall the recent developments once again: rapprochement (reconciliation) with Russia; the arrests of pro-Western activists, the closure of independent media and NGOs, anti-Western programs on national TV etc.
Russia has long been fantasizing of attracting Azerbaijan to its new imperial projects. Armenia has been for a long time involved in them, and now it is more interested in Azerbaijan. What’s the best lever? Karabakh. Could this be the reason why there are provocations at the front from time to time? After all, Armenians do not need a new war, as they already control a seventh of their neighboring country. With the help of its Armenian satellites, Russia could have used such provocations to understand Azerbaijan’s intentions. And suddenly Aliyev’s visit to the USA and a curtsy to the West came in handy.
Another version of the events: Russia wants to deploy ‘peacekeeping’ troops. Of course, it has been willing to do that since 1994, but our authorities (thank God) are aware that deployment of Russian troops means the final loss of Karabakh. Our society is not ready for such a concession. Now it seems to me (I made the sign of the cross as best I could), that Russia’s mediatory mission is on the agenda. Returning five occupied districts to Azerbaijan in exchange for granting an interim status to Nagorno-Karabakh and deployment of Russian troops into the territory. However, it is necessary to prepare the public not only in Azerbaijan but in Armenia as well, as it will be a bitter pill for them too. Therefore, maybe the secondary goal is to teach Armenia a small lesson.
Let’s refresh our memory. Those who have never shown particular affection towards Azerbaijan, namely Zhirinovsky, Rogozin and Kiselev, have all visited Baku recently. And all of them praised our tolerance in unison (that we, Armenians and even Georgians are lacking). There was a planned visit by Lavrov and an unplanned visit by Medvedev, and due to these events, we stopped an attack. On the one hand, it’s certainly good that people will not die. I hate Marshal Zhukov for one of his statements, ‘Women will just continue to give birth.’ We should follow Israel’s suit-they value their soldiers’ lives. On the other hand, another question arises: What have these guys died for? Has this victory been worth such a sacrifice? I doubt it.
There was a Greek general named Pyrrhus. He engaged in a brief and triumphant war with the Romans; he fought three days and won. However, when he counted the death toll, he said, ‘If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined”. In this case, our losses are certainly less than theirs were…but then again, it seems to me that this victory has become a Pyrrhic one for Azerbaijan.