Armen Kaprelian is a 26-year-old Armenian national who having completed a Master’s in Economics has returned to his native home Armenia. Armen is currently working as a Research assistant for the Ministry of the Economy for the Republic of Armenia. He is based in Yerevan, Armenia. He joined me via Skype for an interview to discuss the ongoing Armenia-Azerbaijan war, which continues to escalate regarding the Republic of Artsakh.
Armen, the Western Media has picked up this conflict in its radar and has subsequently started to publish articles regarding the conflict, as Azerbaijan has the support of NATO member Turkey. Some outlets, and even Google denotes that Artsakh is ‘Internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan’. Please elaborate on why this conflict has arisen, and is Armenia the aggressor in this conflict?
Thanks so much for having me Michael. You are correct, certain elements of Western Media have thankfully begun to gain interest in this conflict. About a month has passed since the ceasefire was broken in Nagorno-Karabakh (historical Armenian name: Artsakh) on September 27th, and as someone who is following these matters closely, there has been a recent uptick in articles.
The history of Karabakh is long, with evidence of ethnic Armenians settled in the region since before Christ. As for the recent portion of its history which contributes to the conflict, following the 1915 Genocide, wherein Ottoman Turks killed 1.5 million Armenians along with many other minorities, many regions of Western Armenia were lost and regions like Karabakh were left in peril. Armenia and the newly formed Azerbaijan were absorbed as members of the USSR, following which the Soviet government saw fit to give Karabakh to Azerbaijan as leverage for Azeri (and thereby also their close ally Turkey) loyalty.
Multiple clashes resulted (Sumgait & Baku pogroms, 1990’s Karabakh War), wherein native Armenians managed to retain hold on their homeland. After a tense ceasefire for 30 years, war broke out once more, with each side blaming the other. Strategically, it would not make sense for Armenia to have initiated this, considering the land was already maintained and populated by them. In addition, Armenia knows that their own military budget sits at 634 million USD, with Azerbaijan at roughly 2.3 billion USD, so the status quo serves defensiveness (2020 figures). Lastly, intercepted military radio recordings were recently released by the Armenian National Security Service where we clearly hear Azeri military officials ordering the beginning of a large offensive.
Given the evidence of Turkish influence on the side of Azerbaijan, what does Turkey stand to gain over this disputed region?
Turkey and Azerbaijan have been longtime allies, with strong ethnic, diplomatic, military, and economic ties. Turkey, especially with Ergodan at the helm, has not hidden its desire for radical Islamic ‘Pan-Turkism’ from Istanbul to Baku to Ashgabat and beyond. Only Christian Orthodox Armenia stands in its way, with the Karabakh region critical for Armenian national security. Azerbaijan military strikes have now also extended into Armenia proper.
In addition, Turkey has recently been ramping up the aggressive anti-European and Russian rhetoric, while also sending military aid to Azerbaijan. This is especially worrying given the context of their NATO membership. It appears Ergodan sees strengthening Azeri territorial claims, as well as bold ultra-nationalist politics, as a path to evolve from European ally to regional superpower.
International Observers such as Genocide Watch have raised concerns about Azerbaijan’s actions, going so far as to rate Azerbaijan as Level 8: Persecution against Armenia. Why do you think the International Community is yet to heed this call, and how far is a comparison to the Armenian Genocide of 1915 applicable?
Genocide Watch recently upgraded the Azerbaijan invasion of Karabakh to stage 9 (extermination) and stage 10 (denial). Armenians worldwide have had to swallow a tough pill recently: the fact that despite suffering near extermination in 1915, the world is willing to watch the same happen again now with folded arms. I know many Armenians who have as a result become cynical to nations and NGOs touting “Humanitarianism” or “peace-keeping”. I strongly believe that if swift actions are not taken in the form of OSCE Minsk Group peace enforcement or hefty sanctions against Azerbaijan and Turkey, the result will be de-legitimization of Europe and the US as worthy of trust from auxiliary nations.
The explanation for inaction thus far is complex. The two most obvious factors are as follows: first, the UK via BP has strong economic ties to Azerbaijan oil production (a multi-billion dollar market); second, Turkey’s NATO status makes navigating the region’s military affairs complicated and high-stakes. Additionally, despite some movement in recent years toward European markets, Armenia remains largely reliant on Russia for economy and military. This gives the potential for European aid to Armenia to be viewed as aid to the Russian sphere of influence. It has also been plausibly argued that the reason for Russia’s own inaction is in part to punish the aforementioned Armenian shift Westward.
How do you view the situation at present? And what are news outlets missing from their coverage?
It has been inspiring for me to see videos of worldwide Armenian diaspora protesting for defense of Karabakh (Google search “#PeaceForArmenians”). ArmeniaFund alone has collected nearly 160 million USD, most of that from the diaspora. We have seen some promising steps with resolutions in the US House of Representatives to condemn and take actions against Azerbaijan’s aggression.
On the battlefield, there will naturally be land taken and given. I have stated prior Azerbaijan’s greater access to resources, with thousands of mercenaries pouring in from Turkey, Pakistan, Syria, and elsewhere. In addition, they have been sold state of the art military equipment like drones from Israel and Turkey for years, with the recent breaking news of white phosphorous use in Karabakh (an extremely dangerous chemical weapon).
Armenians will fight tooth and nail for their homeland, as they have been forced to do for millennia. I can tell you the spirit of the people here is very patriotic. Everyone is putting their personal needs aside and finding ways to contribute to the war effort. Donors, supply centers, military volunteers, and medical professionals are all eagerly at work. The nation is under martial law with government agencies working 24/7 on extended shifts. The phrase on everyone’s lips here is the motto “Hakhtelu Enk”, “We Will Win”. We Will Win because we must win. The alternative is the genocide of Armenians in Artsakh, and it would be a mistake to think the ambitions of Pan-Turkism stop there. President Aliyev of Azerbaijan himself stated “Armenia is not even a colony, it is not even worthy of being a servant”.
Are there any international actors who are supporting Armenia in this conflict, and if so, why the support?
The phrase “actions speak louder than words” has never been truer. I and many Armenians like me grow weary of hearing NGOs or politicians denounce “violence on both sides” and then fail to actionably follow up. A de-facto war of attrition is a potential time bomb for genocide for the people of Karabakh. Surely, I am grateful for the steps many cities and nations have taken in recognizing the situation in Karabakh. However, this battle will ultimately be won through concrete diplomatic and military action and aid. Presently, Armenia has no direct foreign military ally. Following the radical Islamic murders this past week in France, Macron has directed pressure against Turkey. Russia until recently was selling weapons to both Armenia and Azerbaijan. Armenians domestically and abroad will continue to pressure nations to put their money where their mouth is and cut aid to our opponents who target civilians and to enforce peace in Karabakh.
There was recent news of a ceasefire that was recently broken, who broke the ceasefire, and how can this war come to an end?
Thus far, there have been three ceasefires breached by Azerbaijan. Two have been negotiated by Russia and one by the US. The most recent breach of ceasefire (brokered by the US) was the most egregious. Several hours prior to the agreed upon ceasefire, the Azerbaijan Ministry of Defense tweeted that “Armenian armed forces again grossly violated the agreement”, only to then quickly delete the evidence, demonstrating they never intended to uphold their end (can still be verified from multiple sources with a Google search). At the time of speaking to you, talks with OSCE Minsk Group in Geneva to negotiate a ceasefire have just failed to reach an accord.
What could the International do better in light of this conflict?
I think Europe especially is beginning to accept the problems which have come with their decades long support of Turkey, a nation which is now making their discordant objectives more obvious. I hope that nations like France, Greece, and Germany move decisively to defend their own interests and those of a Western-friendly Armenia.
Western nations should also internalize that if they want the notion of Humanitarianism to be more than a slogan, they should act in accordance and against the Azeri-led aggression in Karabakh. Otherwise, the global status-quo regresses toward “winner-take-all” foreign policy. Take what you can, at whatever cost, and deal with the relatively mild consequences after. That is not what we want.
Is there anything further you wish to add?
Yes, just one point to add. Azerbaijan is forbidding most foreign journalists from entering their country and those who do enter are placed under strict supervision of the State. Unsurprising given their track record for human rights and Press Freedom Index of 168 (North Korea is the lowest at a nearby 180).
I encourage everyone listening to please go research this conflict yourself. The American Conservative has recently published a great article on “How Azerbaijan Is Lobbying Washington To Sanitize Its War”, and there are independent journalists on the ground who have published some quality pieces like Vice News and WarGonzo. I see many of my understandably unfamiliar and skeptical friends in the US taking the stance of “both sides are messy” or “they need to give and take”. Much of the confusion and information overload around this conflict is precisely the objective of Azerbaijan’s millions of dollars of spending in influencing certain press outlets. Remember that Turkey, Azerbaijan, and arms supplier Israel have all failed to recognize the Armenian genocide, with the former two denying it outright and attempting to repeat it.
Հաղթելու ենք – Thank you,
Peace for Armenians