Azerbaijan’s Saber Rattling Grows Louder

Ilham Aliyev (Shutterstock)Ilham Aliyev (Shutterstock)

by Joshua Kucera

Azerbaijan has sharpened its threats of war against Armenia in an apparent attempt to ratchet up tension over Nagorno-Karabakh, the territory that both sides claim.

Verbal threats toward Armenia are nothing new for Azerbaijan, a state for which the phrase “bellicose rhetoric” has become something of a journalistic cliché. But Baku’s rhetoric in the past has tended to couch military threats in the conditional tense, a last resort if diplomatic negotiations fail. Increasingly, however, the military option is being portrayed as the only one.

“The developments unfolding in the world confirm that the international law does not work,” Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev tweeted on June 28. “If it did, Azerbaijani lands would have been freed from the invaders long ago.”

On July 2, the Azerbaijani armed forces started large-scale exercises, the scenario of which, the Ministry of Defense said in a statement, will be “the liberation of the occupied territories,” as Azerbaijan refers to Nagorno-Karabakh.

And Azerbaijani state television has been airing a computer-simulated video of a potential victory in Nagorno-Karabakh, with artillery and tank attacks eventually leading to a prosperous redevelopment of the territory and a statue of Heydar Aliyev – the former president of Azerbaijan and Ilham’s father – in front of the government building.

“It is the first time that Baku has displayed a video announcing, and forcing, the state to defeat the enemy militarily,” the independent Azerbaijani news agency Turan wrote in a June 2 analysis. “It is the first time Azerbaijan doesn’t hide the exclusively military route to the resolution of the Karabakh problem.”

Azerbaijan’s heightened rhetoric over the past week follows on a heavy PR push to glorify a modest advance inside the no-man’s-land between Armenia and the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan. And on June 26, Azerbaijan held a military parade in Baku.

Talks between Azerbaijan and Armenia have stalled in recent years, and a diplomatic resolution of the Karabakh conflict seems farther away than ever. That may put Baku in the position of feeling as if war is its only option to regain what it considers its lost territory, from which hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis fled during the war in the early 1990s.

Azerbaijan’s government also, however, tends to use escalations – either in rhetoric or in actual fighting – as a means to force international mediators to put more effort into trying to resolve the conflict.

Armenian officials have played down the escalations. “The situation is under control. Regular activities are underway with no reasons to be concerned,” Armenia’s Chief of the General Staff Artak Davtyan told reporters. “There is no immediate threat of war, yet we should always be ready for developments as the threat of war has always existed. […] We proceed from the fact that a war may start at any time.”

Armenian reactions have tended to be determined by domestic politics, in particular the relationship to the new government led by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. “The pro-Nikol crowd says there is nothing to be afraid of, it’s not the first time this has been happening,” Yerevan-based political analyst Mikayel Zolyan told Eurasianet. “Anti-Nikol people are saying the threat of war is very big and Nikol is doing nothing about it.”

Armenians also have been concerned by the surprise appearance of several high-profile Russian figures at a conference in Azerbaijan titled “Azerbaijan – Russia’s Only Ally in the South Caucasus.” Armenia and Russia have a treaty relationship through the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a post-Soviet military alliance, and Armenia also is the only Caucasian member of the Russia-led economic bloc, the Eurasian Economic Union.

Nevertheless, the Russian participants – including members of the Russian Duma and Eurasianist ideologue Alexander Dugin – portrayed Azerbaijan as Russia’s true ally, particularly after the rise of Pashinyan. The new Armenian leader has taken pains to reassure Russia of Yerevan’s loyalty, but the Kremlin remains uneasy about the former opposition journalist with a history of pro-Western positions.

“Pashinyan’s rise to power and the arrest of the close circles of [former leader] Serzh Sargsyan has completely changed the shape of Armenian-Russian relations,” said pundit Maxim Shevchenko, speaking at the conference. “Now Russia is gradually being excluded […] and the Russian president does not like it when people act like that with him.”

Another participant, Duma member Dmitriy Savelyev, called on Armenia to return Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan without preconditions. This prompted a response from the Armenian embassy in Moscow: “The Russian deputy should understand that in our fragile world every word is a shot fired, which could double the risk of escalating the situation and threaten the peaceful resolution of the conflict,” the embassy said in a statement.

In Armenia, “there is a worry that the Russians may be trying to punish Armenia through Azerbaijan,” Zolyan said.

Azerbaijani political analyst and historian Altay Goyushov also said the recent escalation appeared to be tied to Pashinyan and Russia, but said it remained unclear whether it was Moscow or Baku driving events. One possibility, he said, was that Russian President Vladimir Putin “wants to put pressure on Pashinyan and urges Aliyev to assist”; and another is that “Aliyev thinks that in this situation he can obtain Putin’s approval for a military action against ‘disobedient’-to-Russia Pashinyan.” Goyushov said he believed, however, that Baku would not undertake serious military action without clear approval from the Kremlin.

But Baku also is satisfied with the way things are going in Yerevan and so will not want to start a war now, said Fuad Chiragov, a foreign policy analyst at the Azerbaijani government-run think tank Center for Strategic Studies. “Azerbaijan carefully, patiently, with satisfaction observes the wave of corruption scandals and arrests of former officials and warlords,” Chiragov told Eurasianet. “Azerbaijan is not interested in interrupting the deconstruction process of the old system.”

Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit. Reprinted, with permission, from Eurasianet.

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  1. Isn’t there an exchange of territory solution? Armenia apparently controls territory with a majority of Azeris that could be exchanged for Nagorno. Is anyone mediating?

  2. No areas that are controlled by Armenia have Azeris in it, its the opposite – under the old soviet union regime the management of historical Artsakh (Nargano-Karabakh) was moved to be managed out of Baku. The Area was and always has been majority ethnic Armenians, the Armenians & true Za Za (Azeris / Azaris not fake Turks) always got along. In fact, I know several families that inter-married and their children are half Armenian’/ half Za Za (Azeri) . This feud has been fueled by the NATO/CIA nasty land grabbers who want to control the worlds energy sources from Russia and China. In 1991 when the Soviet Union Fell the NATO/CIA used their gladio armies like the Gulen Movement to cause a rift in the former soviet states aka Turkic nations by loading them up with CIA backed Gulen Turkish Schools and with over 350 Mosques in an attempted to pull the population away from the strong influence of Orthodoxy. The concept of Operation Gladio is a powerful tool used by the criminal killers of NATO who will do anything to isolate every country from Russia & China, they did a great job in creating hatred of Russia by the Republic of Georgia and now they work internally with Armenia to create isolation of Russia and the 2 military bases (Gyumri and N-K) that Russia has. Killing an Armenian family by a Russian Soldier 2 years ago and other staged events has caused deep resentment internally with Russia – CIA/NATO are alive and well along with Soros “Open Society” in Armenia. If you think CIA/NATO cares if 3 million Armenian Christians are killed just to isolate Russia you are kidding yourselves. Everything is strategically planned to poise NATO/CIA as the occupiers of the worlds energy sources and commodities. Chechnens were trained and armed to be a thorne in the side of the Kremlin just as the Ughyurs of Xiaxing providence are the agitators of China. After the success of the Mulhajeen in Afghanistan vs. Russia – Graham Fuller stated that Muslims could be used to strategically bring down China and Russia. #OperationGladio #WhoIsGrahamFuller Same with the invasion of the Balkans/Serbia loading infiltrating it with Gladio militants to slice her up and later the same Gladios used to infiltrate Syria – many can be traced to the CIA worldwide schools of the Gulen Movement.

  3. Joshua Kucer, people expecting from normal reporter report about strict and true facts about the situation…. not your personal opinion.
    This situation is not about land dispute between two countries….
    Fact # 1
    Armenia occupied part of Azerbaijani territory….
    Fact# 2
    Armenia is ally of Russia with 2 big military bases , created against NATO.
    Fact# 3
    Economy of Armenia hundred percent depends on Russia .
    Fact# 4
    Azerbaijan is ready to give Independence to Armenians….to create Autonomous Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh in the Azerbaijan.
    Fact# 5
    Azerbaijan got right to fight back.
    Fact# 6
    Armenia is mono country….. which means in Armenia leaves only armenians …..
    Fact# 7
    Starting with 1987, Azerbaijan received from Armenia and Nogorno-Karabakh 1.2 million (azeri nationality) refugees ….
    Fact# 8
    In Armenia less than 3 million population (all together)…. 1987 it was more for million.
    Fact# 9
    Armenians trying to create new country – “Great Armenia” – which is going to include part of Turkey, part of Iran, part of Syria, part of Georgia and part of Azerbaijan……Azerbaijani part is already taken with Russia’s military help.
    …Would you like me to continue?…

  4. Go head and continue. Rasim…
    Armenians from around the world are willing to sacrifice both blood and treasure. Are you? I will sell one of my properties if you folks attack… and use the funds accordingly. Your talk is all talk go put you money and blood down as we will. I have friends who died in the 90’s dealing with your compatriots. We4 remember their sacrifice, and aim to keep N.K. You forgot to mention all the massacres over the years. People only deal with you folks because of oil. This will run out. Everyone knows about the Genocide, and frankly this gives us an incentive to fight. Your last sneak attack was stopped in its tracks. If you keep it u we will head for Baku.

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