Conflict in Nagorno-Karaback: chaos and war follow war and chaos!

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Situated in the heights of the Caucusus between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh is a zone of intense conflict between two neighbouring states and the larger imperialist powers that support them. The barbarity and war confronted by the populations of this unstable region are not new but, for the last six months, tensions have risen and violence has become generalised. Since the end of December, fighting has already led to thousands of deaths, involving hundreds of civilian victims. The Russian president has said that there are close to 5000 victims.

The two camps have not hesitated to hit civilians by attacking enemy towns: "Sunday morning (November 1st), the separatist capital of Stepanakert (55,000 inhabitants) has been the target of intense bombardments of heavy artillery from the Azerbaijan army from around 0930. Baku (Azerbaijan's capital city) indicated that these rocket attacks were responding to those of the Armenian forces on the town (...). Azerbaijan's second-largest town, Ganja, has been ‘under fire’ from Armenian forces according to a statement on Sunday from Azerbaijan's ministery of defence"[1]. In this bloody escalation, the use of cluster bombs and particularly phosphorus against civilians amplifies the horror of the situation. The belligerents have implemented a real policy of hatred and terror. The chaos and devastation has pushed more than 90,000 people to leave their homes in order to find refuge in Armenian territory. Those remaining are condemned to live in cellars to protect themselves from artillery strikes. If the cease-fire has given them a period of respite, the bellicose announcements offer no illusions about what awaits the populations of this unstable region: still more violence, terror and chaos!

Today, the fragile cease-fire coming from the "accords" between the parties involved also supports no illusions about a "peaceful settlement" of the conflict. It is the product of a situation which can only sanction a precarious "order" and a relation of forces imposed by both Russia and Turkey. It settles nothing. On the contrary it represents another stage in the exacerbation of military tensions and feeds the chaos in this imperialist fault-line which risks reigniting the flames of war later on.

It's clear that Russia, which is posing as an arbitrator in this conflict, is aiming to turn the situation to its advantage. The conflict allows it to take a grip on the direction of the operations which had tended to escape it previously and to re-install occupation troops under cover of the protection and maintenance of the cease-fire agreement (2,000 soldiers along with a clause to renew this force of occupation every five years). It has thus been able to re-establish a permanent military control that it lost 30 years ago.

The recuperation of a major part of this territory by Azerbaijan seals the military victory and the striking supremacy of the Azeri forces. This is evident in the taking of the town of Choucha (Shushi for Armenia) leaving Armenia only a narrow corridor still linking it to the capital Stepanakert. That opens the way for the Azeri government to annexe seven districts from which it was expelled following the war of 1991-94.

Behind and on the back of the military victory of Azerbaijan, its firm supporter Turkey is strengthening its influence in the Caucusus by making a display of its aggression. This is another illustration of its new imperialist ambitions of expansion (its "New Ottoman Empire"), carving itself a place among the big gangsters of the region; this is along with its offensive in the eastern Mediterranean faced with Greece and its active role in Libya and Syria.

In fact these developments announce a more intense fight and a more direct confrontation than that already engaged in by Russia and Turkey, heightening the level of tensions and rivalry between the two protaganists. However the situation does give Turkey some supplementary assets in order to strengthen its pressure and exert a permanent blackmail within the framework of NATO. The situation is much more complex and difficult to manage on the international situation than President-elect Biden promised in his first speeches about "re-activating" NATO, which can only arouse irritation and concern within the Kremlin.

But this agreement clearly represents a striking defeat for Armenia which has totally lost the control of territory while the great majority of Armenians and their western "supporters", in particular France and the United States, have been completely marginalised and reduced to impotence, thus confirming their growing loss of influence and control.

This also opens up a crisis and a destabilisation of the Armenian government which has had to resign itself to sign the agreement under the threat of a more crushing military rout. It's also opened up a division between a Prime Minister accused of treason and other factions demanding his departure and openly trying to wind up the Armenian population to rebellion and patriotic mobilisation.

So the situation expresses no step at all to peace and stabilisation but on the contrary, a sinking into decomposition and chaotic warfare.

The situation in Nagorno-Karabakh is a dismal illustration of the historic impasse into which capitalism is dragging the whole of humanity. Such chaos finds its roots in the consequences of the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in the 1990's: "Frontiers have been set up within the USSR, defended by armed nationalist militias. Lithuania has set up frontier posts, and its frontier guards have clashed several times with Moscow police, resulting in several deaths. The conflict between Armenian and Azerbaijani militias has not diminished in the least since the intervention of the ‘Red’ Army. Pogroms, war and repression in Baku have caused hundreds of deaths. The ‘Red’ Army has got bogged down, without being able to impose a solution on the conflict. In Georgia, recent clashes between Georgians and Ossetians are growing now that a new area of tension has opened. Ethnic conflicts are proliferating at the farthest confines of Russia."[2] The years that followed were a terrible confirmation of what we wrote in 1991. Between 1991-1994 armed confrontations between Azerbaijan and Armenia resulted in nearly 30,000 deaths and provoked an exodus of more than a million refugees. In May 1994, the attachement of the Nargono-Karabakh enclave to Armenia fed a strong feeling of revenge within the Azerbaijani state (which had lost almost a third of ex-Soviet territory). Subsequently the conflict has become what some experts describe as "frozen", but tensions and provocations increased, with numerous "incidents" on the frontier.

The military campaign undertaken by Azerbaijan to re-conquer this small, automous territory is an expression of the disintegration of the situation and its growing instability. For Russia, the historic and dominant power in the region, although it is linked to Armenia by a mutual defence pact (as is the EU and Iran), the situation is far from simple: "If Russia is maintaining a privileged relationship with Yerevan (Armemia's capital), it nevertheless has a economic partnership with Azerbaijan, including in the armements domain with its undeniably superior army compared materially to that of Armenia”.[3] Russia cannot allow itself to openly take a position supporting one camp or the other. Turkey has exploited this situation by actively supporting Azerbaijan in its military offensive. In this strategy, it is easy for Turkey to base its position on the Muslim culture of a very large section of the Azeri population (more than 90%), echoing the recent declarations of Erdogan claiming to be the real "defender of Islam". It's clear that successive pushes of Turkish imperialism, which are being followed very closely by Moscow, will incite Russia to intervene in one way or another. [4] With the conquest of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan aims to extend its territory towards the frontier bordering its Turkish ally. Ankara hasn't hesitated in sending jihadist fighters and Syrian mercenaries to support the offensive: "In fact, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), at least 64 Syrian fighters have been killed in the territory since the beginning of the fighting. It also affirms that 1,200 Syrians have been sent by Turkey to fight alongside Azeri forces against the separatists of Nagorno-Karabakh”.[5]

The new cease-fire has given rise to demonstrations in Armenia. These mobilisations, in which Prime Minister Pacharan is accused of being a traitor, are nothing other than a settling of accounts between different factions of the Armenian bourgeoisie to which the population is hostage. Here as elsewhere, we must defend the idea that the global proletariat has no country, no territory to defend, nor imperialist war to get involved in. Choosing one camp against another is always a trap which divides us and which diverts us from the only perspective which can bring humanity out of capitalist barbarity: class struggle for the world revolution!


Marius, November 10 2020


[1] "New strikes, rocket attacks: the war spreads in Nargono-Karabakh", Mediapart, (November 4 2020).

[2] "The USSR in pieces", International review no. 66

[3]  From the same article from Mediapart above. We can also note that the pro-European positions of Armenia do not favour a rapprochement with its Russian "ally".

[4]  For example, one of the major projects of the exportation of hydrocarbons from the Caspian Sea to European markets is aimed to reduce energy dependence of Europe on Russia - to the profit of Azerbaijan and Turkey.

[5]  Mediapart, above.


Imperialist conflicts