News / Europe

Conflict With Armenia Could Be Reignited During Azeri Election

Conflict With Armenia Could Be Reignited During Azeri Electioni
June 13, 2013 6:34 PM
Almost two decades ago, the big guns fell silent in the ethnic war between Armenians and Azeris over a mountainous corner of Azerbaijan called Nagorno-Karabakh. Two decades later, the 1994 ceasefire trench lines remain frozen in place. Azerbaijan holds presidential elections in October, though, and some fear this frozen conflict could be reignited. VOA's James Brooke reports on the situation from Nagorno-Karabakh.
Conflict With Armenia Could Be Reignited During Azeri Election
James Brooke
Almost two decades ago, the big guns fell silent in the war between Armenians and Azeris over a mountainous corner of Azerbaijan called Nagorno-Karabakh.
Today, the 1994 ceasefire trench lines remain frozen in place. But Azerbaijan holds presidential elections in October. Now, some fear this frozen conflict could reignite over Nagorno-Karabakh, a self-proclaimed republic that is not recognized by any foreign countries.
​The half-ruined mountaintop town of Shushi illustrates this ethnic divide. At the local music school, VOA chanced on a party - the songs, dances, food and cognac were all Armenian. Indeed, ethnic Armenians control Shushi, as they do all of Nagorno-Karabakh.
But nearby, two abandoned mosques, were reminders that this city - and all of Nagorno-Karabakh - is claimed by Azerbaijan, a Muslim majority nation.
On the mountain road to Shushi, a war memorial stands guard: an Armenian battle tank painted with a white Christian cross.
Across Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenians are rebuilding as if construction could solve the ownership dispute.
Ashot Ghoulian, chair of the National Assembly of Nagorno-Karabakh, said aid flows here from Armenians around the world.
“The Diaspora has a huge significance for the social economic development of Karabakh,” he said in the offices of the parliament of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. “What our compatriots are sending from America, from European countries, from Russia, and the former Soviet states - all of this allows us to complete very serious economic projects.”
  • Shrouded in mists, Nagorno-Karabakh, or mountainous Karabakh, is a breakaway region of Azerbaijan, controlled for the last 20 years by ethnic Armenians. (U. Filimonova/VOA)
  • The new terminal for what is to be Karabakh's first airport is fully functional, but stands unused. Azeri authorities have threatened to shoot down planes using the air strip outside of Stepanakert. (U. Filimonova/VOA)
  • Donations from overseas Armenians built Karabakh's lone lifeline to Aremenia -- a winding road through the high mountains. (U. Filimonova/VOA)
  • A city view in Nagorno. (U. Filimonova/VOA)
  • Men playing cards on a back street of sleepy Stepanakert. (U. Filimonova/VOA)
  • Fruits of the land -- agriculture remains the backbone of Nagorno-Karabakh economy. (U. Filimonova/VOA)
  • Halo Trust, a British based group, clears land mines and cluster bombs, left over from the 1992-1994 war of secession. (U. Filimonova/VOA)
  • Halo Trust workers plot the locations of unexploded ordinance -- still deadly after 20 years. (U. Filimonova/VOA)
  • At Stepanakert's Griboedova Middle School No. 3 an honor roll shows the photos of school alumni killed in the 1992-1994 war with Azerbaijan. (U. Filimonova/VOA)
  • Boys at school know that obligatory military service faces them at age 18. (U. Filimonova/VOA)
  • Goats graze outside the monastery at Gandzasar. Dating back to the 10th century, Gandzasar, or 'hilltop treasure' is the seat of the Armenian archbishop of Nagorno-Karabakh. (U. Filimonova/VOA)

Diaspora aid paved Karabakh’s lifeline to the outside world - a curving mountain road to neighboring Armenia. To further cut Karabakh’s isolation, a new airport has been completed for Stepanakert, the region’s capital.
But it remains unused: Azerbaijan threatens to shoot down planes landing here. And Azeri President Ilham Aliyev has repeated vows to retake Nagorno-Karabakh, by force if necessary.
His military budget of $4 billion is almost the size of Armenia’s gross national product. This worries Ashot Ghoulian.
He said: “What’s happening with Azerbaijan, anti-Armenian hysteria, the arms race, and Armenophobia - I think all of this is postponing resolution of the Karabakh problem.”
At the front lines, cross border sniper fire kills about one soldier a month.
Richard Giragosian, director of the Regional Studies Center, a Yerevan think tank, warns that passionate election campaign rhetoric could spark real fighting on the ground.
“There’s little likelihood in the near future of any breakthrough diplomatically or politically,” Giragosian said in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital. “There is an increasing risk of war, however. But interestingly, the danger is a war by accident, based on miscalculation, where skirmishes could spiral out of control.”
But Aleksandr Iskandaryan, the Director of the Caucasus Institute in Yerevan, predicts Azerbaijan will not risk a full-fledged military attack on Nagorno-Karabakh.
“These fortifications are very well built and well equipped,” he said, looking at a map of the ceasefire lines. “To go through with a front tank attack, it’s very serious. It will lose a lot of people. It’s quite serious.”
Children in Nagorno-Karabakh's capital of Stepanakert grow up knowing that war is never distant.
At Middle School No. 3, newly rebuilt with diaspora donation, there is an honor roll of alumni killed two decades ago.  It is a reminder of the danger that this frozen conflict could suddenly burn hot - and claim another generation of young men.

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Comment Sorting
by: FI264 from: USA
June 16, 2013 7:58 PM
Armenian comments are very much telling why Armenian nation can’t find a peace with its neighbors. Victim of its own military aggression policy against Azerbaijan and void claims against Turkey and even Georgia, Armenia has been silently heading to its self demolition with its ailing economy and ever decreasing population.

by: Mk from: Vancouver
June 14, 2013 7:33 PM
I love how each time more or less balanced article appears talking about the NK conflict, bunch of angry people start accusing the author about everything! Poor journalist was blamed so much just because he included several FACTS that goes against propaganda portrayed by Armenian diaspora in USA!!! There are facts! Truth will prevail eventually! And the truth is Armenia has occupied NK and ethnically cleaned 800,000 Azerbaijanis from there. Nobody can argue against their rights to return back to Karabakh!
In Response

by: Jim Brooke from: Moscow
June 16, 2013 2:37 AM
Greetings to one and all from Jim Brooke in Moscow.
The purpose of the article was to visit Nagorno Karabakh, report on what I saw.
It is clear that, almost two decades after the ceasefire, Armenians and Azeris are very, very far apart on the issue. Frankly, I do not see how -- in the short, medium term -- they can ever share the same real estate again.
Last month, I was in Derbent, Russia. It was eye-opening to see how, only 40 kilometers north of the Azeri border, Armenians and Azeris still live together, as of old, under Moscow's enforced 'peace'. At least the violence in Dagestan is not between Azeris and Armenians.

by: Amir from: New York
June 14, 2013 9:40 AM
I am surprised that these commenters are hard on the author, as if he is biased in favor of Azerbaijan. It is quite the opposite … He fails to mention a very important fact. There are 1 million Azeri refugees who have been kicked out places like Shusha. And yes, the war is not over yet. And given that Armenia is a dying economy, kept up with sorry hand-outs from Russia and US diaspora, is a great sign for Azerbaijan. Soon, Armenia will be a semi-empty land, and we will walk back into our ancestral land. Armenians were moved to Caucasus by Russians in 1800s after the Iran-Russia war, to be a buffer. According to the Russian empire census statistics, the capital of Armenia itself (Yerevan) was still nearly 80% Azeri in early 1900s.

In Response

by: minas from: Chicago
June 14, 2013 7:19 PM
I am afraid the Azeri economy will die much faster. The economy of Azerbaijan is in shambles, the oil export is going down year after year and the government is using the oil fund money which was meant to keep the oil revenue for future generations to save the economy from sinking into negative territory. In a few years, when the oil revenue drops significantly the shortage of hard currency will lead to astronomical inflation and then Ilham and Mehriban will leave that fiasco behind and move to their Mayfair penthouse in keep dreaming about your "ancestral" lands my Azeri friend.
In Response

by: Big from: NYC
June 14, 2013 3:46 PM
this is one of the most ridiculous comments i have ever read. if you believe that the Azeris are right in this conflict, thats fine, youre entitiled to an opinion. but stating blatantly wrong facts in this manner.. Armenia recognizes Christianity in 400 ad...its history goes far beyond that. What was Azerbaijan then? Look at any research and you will see your claims have no basis. I swear, when I read these comments I think its just workers paid by the Azeri government to spread this propaganda, but even then they can't be that idiotic to spread this drivel. read a book or something.
In Response

by: Lands End from: The West
June 14, 2013 1:22 PM
I'm sure in your country you would receive the 'historian of the year' award, but in the real world I'm sure those 2000 year old maps found in major European universities showing Armenia extending from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean would prove quite problematic for your "research".

by: Lands End from: The West
June 13, 2013 8:09 PM
I do recall reading the Azeris threatening to down any plane that operates out of the NK airport, claiming "it is their right" to which the President of Armenia stated he will be the first to fly to NK using the new airport. Now barring terrorists, can anyone name any country in the world that threatens to destroy their neighbors' civilian planes? If I am not mistaken I don't think any country has ever engaged in this kind of belligerent rhetoric. Threatening war is one thing, but threatening to kill civilians as if at a carnival is entirely bizarre and unacceptable and not part of the modern civilized world. Something is terribly wrong with this country of Azerbaijan. It is no wonder peace talks are getting nowhere. I am assuming the USA and Europe are keeping silent so as not to disrupt the oil flow.

by: Robert from: Honolulu, HI
June 13, 2013 6:05 PM
The collapse of the Soviet block in early 90-s triggered multiple independence movements (former USSR, Yugoslavia, Czechs & Slovaks etc.) - Karabakh is one of them. While each conflict has its peculiarities - the general theme is the same - long-opressed minorities seeking to break-away from the power dominating during the soviet period. Many of such conflicts also run deep into the history. The remedies for them are well-known - start with confidence building measures, get security guarantees, possible recognition and/or future reunification under different conditions (e.g. Chroatia and Serbia will become part of the same EU structure). For Karabakh it's hardly different - with the only exception of one of the sides (oil-producing Azerbaijan) having a perception of growing financially and militarily stronger and consistently torpedoing even basic confidence building measures (e.g. withdrawal of snipers from the contact line) with the Karabakh Armenian majority. This is sad, but taking into account the roots of the regime somewhat explainable. The most amazing part however is how the West is ready to sell its principles for a couple of drops of oil - and this article which conveniently circumventing the state-sponsored Armenophobia of Aliyev's corrupt regime, doesn't mention some really ugly facts of glorifying an axe-killer and public book-burning of a writer who dared to speak the truth, which even takes the rebuilding effort of Karabakh people in a negative light (" if construction could solve the ownership dispute") - is a subtle illustration of this sickening phenomena. Very depressing, VOA, you were the beacon of western principles for us, but not anymore...

by: Ara from: USA
June 13, 2013 12:05 PM
Hey James Brooke, I realize you are somehow on the payroll of the Baku gas station and acting as a mouthpiece for a ridiculous terrorist-minded dictator named Aliyev, but have you considered that you've also taken the wrong side of history? I realize that people who get bought don't feel any shame, but this piece of propaganda you put out is equivalent to supporting extremist terrorists like alqaeda, and you even admitted it in your article:.

"Azerbaijan threatens to shoot down [civilian] planes". "Karabakh, is a breakaway region of Azerbaijan, controlled for the last 20 years by ethnic Armenians" - LOL yeah OK. Meanwhile, we can also say all of Azerbaijan should not exist because it is an artificial country founded 100 years ago and never existing in history nor its race and in its entirety is a breakaway region of historic Armenia in addition to eastern Turkey, and these terrorist countries came into existence through a genocide and only through the criminal spilling of Armenian blood.
In Response

by: Hagop from: Los Angeles, Calif.
June 16, 2013 1:02 AM
Don't forget Russia, Sean. Armenia is the only country in the Caucasus (if we're not counting Abkhazia) with a Russian military base, much to the West's chagrin.
In Response

by: Sean from: North Carolina
June 13, 2013 8:42 PM
Don't be so hard on James. He wouldn't have his job if he knew any history. Armenia and Iran will have to carve up Azerbaijan between them or be annihilated by it. Of course, Turkey will attack from the west. This conflict has the potential to start WW3. I wish Armenia the best of luck.

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