More on Karabakh, Much More

Not too long ago, Doug Muir wrote about why Nagorno-Karabakh may be coming soon to a front page near you. Back in the mid-1990s, I wrote something much longer on the conflict there. (PDF, ca. 500K) Money quote:

Two of the least useful questions for consideration of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh are “Who’s right?” and “When did it start?” Both parties have legitimate claims, and both have legitimate grievances.

The 1994 cease-fire, which was relatively new when I wrote the piece, has held up ever since, at least at the macro scale. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the Minsk Group, which was also relatively new when I wrote the piece, hasn’t solved the conflict. There’s a reason the piece is titled “Intractable Problems.” Actually, there are several. (The analysis is also a bit OSCE-centric. The organization is obviously not the only lens one could choose to look at Karabakh, but I chose it because it was useful for getting at overall questions of European order and transition.) The potentially worse news is what Doug wrote about: Azerbaijan has heaps of oil money and is putting significant chunks of it into rearmament. That may or may not tip the strategic balance, but it certainly raises the chances of renewed conflict. The sequel to the piece linked here was always going to be titled “Just Add Oil and Money.” Maybe it’s time to dust off the sources.

8 thoughts on “More on Karabakh, Much More

  1. Two other changes besides the oil.

    1) Replacement of Aliyev _pere_ by Aliyev _fils_.

    Dad was an evil bastard, but also intelligent, pragmatic, and cautious. He had no interest in rolling strategic dice on a second war. Sonny is a very different breed of cat.

    It’s not that he’s more aggressive. I don’t think he is. But he’s not as bright as Dad was, and he’s much less secure. Stuff like the brutal crackdowns on opposition parties, free media and NGOs? Aliyev Senior didn’t do much of that, because he was confident of his ability to stay in power. Aliyev Junior is acting much more worried.

    He’s also trying out elements of a “cult of personality” of the sort seen in a couple of Central Asian Republics, most notably Turkmenistan. But Azerbaijan is very different from the Stans — politically more sophisticated (um, relatively) and with a population less ready to fall in line. So I’m inclined to doubt this will work, and it may backfire.

    So, from Aliyev’s POV, starting a war could make a lot of sense.

    2) Ascension of the Karabakhtsy to rule Armenia. This could have been good or bad; after all, nobody’s more aware of the danger than a Karabakh native. Heck, it could still be good or bad. But so far, mostly bad: Kocharian has been pretty stubborn, and Sarkisian is likely to be worse.

    (I can’t think of a close analogy to the situation in Armenia today. Has there been an Israeli government dominated by settlers from the West Bank?)

    Anyway. These leadership issues are secondary — without the oil, they wouldn’t matter. But with the oil, they’re making the situation that much more dangerous.

    Doug M.

  2. Indeed on both. But surely you read only the blog post and not the whole darn paper already?

  3. Thanks, Richard. Black Garden is on the wish list, not yet in the ‘to read’ pile. May eventually get reviewed here. Lotta negative-ish reviews on the Amazon page written by people with Armenian-sounding names. Things that make you go hm.

  4. It’s good. Well worth your time. Pretty balanced, which of course annoys both sides.

    The Azeris don’t like it either, but the English-speaking Internet-using Azeri world is smaller.

    Doug M.

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