Op-ed: What would life be like in Azerbaijan and the region without the Karabakh conflict
When I was young and impressionable, I heard a woman on TV singing a sad song called “If there were no war”. Even now, when my sensitivity has significantly dulled, this song still seems very sad to me. It is about how the life of a girl and her (apparently deceased) lover could have turned out if the Second World War had not happened.
What if the Karabakh war never happened? Neither the first nor the second. What would life be like now in Azerbaijan and throughout the South Caucasus?
Imagine that after the collapse of the USSR, Armenia and Azerbaijan took up their internal affairs, mutual grievances did not surface a century ago, Karabakh remained an autonomous region within Azerbaijan, the Armenians living there received Azerbaijani citizenship.
For clarity, I will sort my fantasies from serious to “philistine”.
So, if the Karabakh conflict had not happened, then:
1. It is unclear what political regime Azerbaijan would have now. After all, the political fate of the country after gaining independence was 90% shaped precisely under the influence of the Karabakh conflict. It was the Karabakh issue that became a trump card for those who wanted to come to power, and it also put an end to the career of several politicians.
It’s like in a fairy tale: there is a monster that needs to be killed, put to sleep, or agreed with – do something to make it stop burning the villages and the locals eat breakfast. The one who succeeds, receives the kingdom.
It is still unclear what would become the main national idea and the main object of official aspirations, which has always been the liberation of Karabakh. The only option that comes to mind is that Azerbaijan would strive to get into the EU and NATO, as Georgia is doing right now. Or maybe it would have done carried on without any overarching ideaal, like, for example, Kazakhstan.
2. It can be assumed that Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and Turkey could create an alliance. Armenia benefits from direct land transport links with Turkey, Azerbaijan benefits from a short route to Nakhichevan, Turkey benefits from making money in the region. In short, everyone would have won in one way or another. And this alliance could oust Russia from the South Caucasus, which would have no leverage on Armenia and Azerbaijan. And Turkey’s influence on Azerbaijan, perhaps, would not be so great, as there would be no need for its protection and support.
3. 50,000 people would have survived. These figures are very, very approximate – it is almost impossible to calculate the exact number of losses on both sides during the entire period of the conflict. But let it be 50. Or even 40. This is more than the population of Liechtenstein or Monaco. Of course, not all of them would have survived to this day – they would have died of illness, in accidents, or simply of old age. But they would not have been shot or blown up by strangers with whom they never had any personal accounts. And by the way, a few thousand more people would not have killed anyone.
4. Another couple of million people (as well as their children and grandchildren who were not yet born at that time) would not have been cut off from their natural habitat, social and cultural roots, they would not have to start life from scratch in Baku and other cities. And this is not only about the fact that they would keep their homes and avoid psychological trauma (although this, of course, is very important). Let’s put it this way: the second generation of internally displaced persons, if they were born and raised in their traditional environment, would most likely be different people.
5. Azerbaijan would save a lot of money, which, for all these 30 years have been spent on armaments and on support for internally displaced persons. It does not mean that all this money would have been spent on something useful, but still, the economic picture would have probably been more positive. At a minimum, economic (and other) problems would not be justified by the fact that “we are living in a midst of war”.
6. Many people would be out of work. Including myself. Over these three decades, a whole army of “narrow specialists” – journalists, peacekeepers, experts – has been formed and it activities are in one way or another connected with the Karabakh conflict. Some of them never did anything else at all. So, if there were no conflict, they (we) would have to master some other sphere.
7. Budget tourism would have one more additional direction. Now the very concept of “budget tourism” for Baku residents is limited to the formula “suitcase-station-Tbilisi”. Otherwise, there would have been an alternative option “suitcase-station-Yerevan”. One could go there for a weekend, go to the Sergei Paradzhanov Museum, take three hundred selfies in which our happy faces almost completely obscure the Church of St. Jakob, eat some dolma but of course, think that tasty as it is, “ours is still better” and grab a bottle or two of “Ararat” cognac on the way back home.
8. If you have a son, then surely there would be an Armenian kirva. Do you know what a kirva is? А man who holds the boy in his arms during the circumcision. Something like a godfather. I don’t know by what logic it was customary to invite an Armenian Christian to perform the Muslim rite. But this tradition existed, and the kirva was considered almost a relative.
The list is, of course, quite subjective and far from complete. Making a complete list is unrealistic. Because in general, everything would be completely different if there were no war.
Trajectories is a media project that tells stories of people whose lives have been impacted by conflicts in the South Caucasus. We work with authors and editors from across the South Caucasus and do not support any one side in any conflict. The publications on this page are solely the responsibility of the authors. In the majority of cases, toponyms are those used in the author’s society. The project is implemented by GoGroup Media and International Alert and is funded by the European Union