Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and the Caucasian Chessboard

| Updated: 24 September, 2023 3:55 pm IST
Nagorno-Karabakh is a region located in the South Caucasus, covering the southeastern stretch of the Lesser Caucasus mountain range.

Though geopolitics and religion have historically remained fairly interlinked with each other, I had always thought that since the parties in conflict rarely bring it up officially, it would probably also be possible for me to explore, extract, and present only the hard political angles to such conflicts. However, these days it appears that omitting religious perspectives while presenting the different conflict scenarios is impossible across certain geographies; the Middle East for instance.

But when it comes to the ‘absolutely impossible’ on the list, it has to be Caucasus – the region between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.

Caucasus has been a bone of contention between different competing powers for a very long time. From being a battleground between the Persians and the Ottomans in the Middle Ages, to being the English proxy to bleed Imperial Russia during the Great Game, and even afterwards during the Cold War, Caucasus remains an incredibly complex region entangled in an extremely complicated mesh of religion, ethnicity, strategic imperatives, and politics – both old and new. In fact, it probably surpasses the Middle East in the ‘physical size versus complexities’ comparison.

The recent flare-up – there have been numerous in the last few decades – that is making the news is that of Azerbaijan using military force on the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh (NK, for our reference) in order to try to bring it under its state control. This ethno-territorial conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is an old one. To understand this better, here are a few basic features.

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LOCATION: NK is an enclave within the political boundaries of Azerbaijan, and is now internationally recognized to be a part of that country. This was a part of the erstwhile Soviet Union with a predominantly Armenian population, and territorial conflicts erupted between Armenia and Azerbaijan over NK at the time the USSR imploded.

Armenia won the first war and claimed NK. That later (during the 90s) settled down to NK declaring itself semi-autonomous – a solution that was accepted by both these warring nations. Then in 2020, there was a major military escalation (often called the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War) which Azerbaijan won. In victory, Azerbaijan claimed all the territory around the NK enclave and a portion of NK as well. But as is the nature of politics, the Azeri government, which initially assured a degree of autonomy to the local Armenian population of NK, rescinded its promise soon.

PEOPLE & RELIGION: Azerbaijan is a Shia Muslim country. In terms of sectarianism, that makes them closer to Iran. However, the story is slightly different in reality. The Azeri government has discovered geopolitical profit in associating itself with Turkey; and that is how the arrangement remains.

The Armenians – this is extremely important – are mostly Eastern Orthodox Christians, and that includes the NK Armenians (Armenian Apostolic Church) too. That would explain why their displacement, death, and destruction is of no concern to the Western world – much like the way the rape-murder and destruction of the Iraqi or Syrian Christians in the hands of ISIS had zero effect on them.

Middle Eastern and Caucasian Christians (whatever little is left of them anyway) mostly belong to the old Eastern tradition of Christianity. Form a religious perspective that makes them closer to Russian, eastern European, and the Balkan Christians.

I am certain readers can now draw parallels between the above-mentioned regions and the disproportionately large number of conflicts orchestrated there since the times of the two World Wars; conflicts that have caused millions of deaths. More recently, Bill Clinton carpet bombed the Balkans with abandon for months; Bush-Obama destroyed Iraq-Syria later, while going absolutely easy on the ISIS terrorists; and now, Joe Biden is pushing for a large-scale destruction of eastern Europe through a proxy war in Ukraine.

When it comes to the Eastern Orthodox Christians, there is absolutely none of the bad publicity that follows when, say, a few Western Christians get killed by a sundry Islamic terrorist, or when Boko Haram blows up a few churches in Nigeria. This would also explain the disproportionate amount of negative publicity that India gets whenever any Indian Christian individual or institution gets into trouble – legitimate or otherwise. Indian Christians – other than a miniscule population of Orthodox followers, are predominantly Western Christians.

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SUPPORT NETWORK: This disdain for Eastern Orthodox Christians is such that Armenians have had to look up to Iran for help. And within limits, Iran does support the small country to its best ability. After all, Iran is a sanctioned state – with low manoeuvrability in the international arena. There is also the fear of a West-orchestrated subversion within Iran; Iran’s population has about 25% Azeris among them. They can be a handy tool for a colour revolution. For Armenia, other than Iran there is Russia.

This has kind of shaped up an interesting network of alliances in this particular conflict. Azerbaijan – the Shia state, is being backed by Sunni Turkey and the Western financial institutions (the Global Nomads – if you have read my TNI essay on them) and Israel – who supply more than half of Azerbaijan’s weapons. Armenia – probably the oldest Christian community in the world is being supported by Shia Iran, and Orthodox Russia. The military hardware or ground support is limited for reasons provided in the next paragraphs; the main aim of these two states is to get the two parties on to a negotiation table in an effort to maintain NK status quo.

THE IRONY: That has to be the Armenian leader Nikol Pashinyan. He came to power riding a colour revolution and naturally, is a hardcore pro-West guy. Now with a West-orchestrated war in the Caucasus, Pashinyan – much like Zelensky – has no qualms about the Armenians’ lives being destroyed by Azeri shelling. The Armenians that made him their leader realize that now, and are organizing protest rallies regularly; the success of which remains dubious. A few conflict analysts suspect that Pashinyan is from the Soros camp; which explains why he has completely neglected NK during the past 3 years, actively working to weaken it.

To sum up – the way things are, it looks like the Pashinyan-led Armenian government is going the extra mile to hand over NK to Azerbaijan (probably under instructions from his handlers in the West), while limiting the involvement of Russia and Iran in this conflict. If that happens, then this could be a rare case of two warring leaders actually colluding under their handler’s instruction, to keep their territories out of the influence of a third country (Russia, in this case). And in the process one of them not only facilitating the rape-murder of thousands, but also willingly enabling his country’s territorial loss.

[Arindam Mukherjee is a geopolitical analyst and the author of JourneyDog Tales, The Puppeteer, and A Matter of Greed.]

Disclaimer: Views expressed are the author’s own.

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