Armenia / Nagorno Karabakh and the Ukraine War

UN Assembly vote results on resolution condemning Russian invasion of Ukraine, 2.2.2022. Source

On March 2nd 2022, in an emergency session of the UN’s general assembly, a resolution was put to vote that included condemnation “in the strongest terms the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine” and demands that “the Russian Federation immediately cease its use of force against Ukraine”. 141 of the 193 member states voted for the resolution, 35 abstained, and five voted against. Armenia was one of the abstentions — something that one may find peculiar or even dismay those who are following the plight of the Ukrainian people, but perhaps do not fully understand the geopolitical situations in play.

Armenia’s security is almost wholly dependent on Russia, and therefore cannot be seen to be wading away from its actions. However, an abstention is an indirect way of saying it does not really support the war without actually saying it. This is a change over the vote in 2014 regarding the previous Russian annexation of Crimea in which Armenia voted against condemnation. That earlier decision was most likely influenced by the intense tension that followed when Armenia was almost about to sign an EU Association Agreement, bringing it closer to the West, but its arm was twisted and it had to back out, instead joining the Russian-led and inferior Eurasian Economic Union. Notwithstanding it could instead have gone all out with its support this time again, much like Belarus, who has a union state with Russia and essentially is its client state, aiding the current invasion with votes and arms.

So coming back to the point, why is Armenia dependent on Russia? If you have seen me write before, you would know that it is largely due to the ongoing war between Armenia, Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan. Since a devastating war 2 years ago that resulted in huge capitulations for Armenia, Russia has kept a peacekeeping force of around 2,000 soldiers in what is left of the Nagorno Karabakh territory, an autonomous enclave surrounded by Azerbaijan. Armenia proper is also in danger; Azeri troops have been entering its borders in the last year, in flagrant violation of international law. It also cynically still keeps Armenian POWs as bargaining chips 1.5 years after the November 2020 ceasefire, despite repeated calls worldwide for Azerbaijan to obey the ceasefire agreements.

What is Azerbaijan’s position vis a vis Ukraine? If you look back at the image at the top you will see that they “vanished” during the vote. President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, the day before the invasion of Ukraine, signed an alliance with Putin further strengthening their strategic ties. But on the other hand, with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline being shut off, Baku is being given EUR 2 Billion by the EU to act as an alternative source of gas to Europe. So really they are playing a balancing act that has very much played in their hands, the EU trading one despot for another.

One war vs another

Though Russia is deeply involved in both the Ukraine war and Nagorno Karabakh war, the are borne out from very different contexts. Nagorno Karabakh is an ethnic feud that stems from the Soviet Union’s decision to not hand the historically ethnic Armenian region to Armenian SSR but instead to keep it as an autonomous oblast within Azerbaijan SSR (‘divide and conquer’). Since the Union’s collapse in the 90s, Karabakh has been fighting for separation from Azerbaijan, who’s leadership is obsessed with promoting hatred towards Armenians and would prefer to cleanse the region of its ethnic population and cultural heritage. The West is slow to condemn the aggressor (natural gas and bribes help pay people off), meaning that Armenia is essentially left to fight for itself or rely on the unreliable Russia.

Conversely, the Ukraine war is purportedly Putin’s reaction to the West deepening ties across a neighbourhood that was traditionally Russia-leaning, in order to overthrow a government hostile towards the kremlin. Additionally its objectives include to either realise the independence of the Russian-majority regions of Donetsk and Luhansk or some way integrate them with the mother state. Whilst there are some ethnic attributes to this conflict, it isn’t the focus of Russia’s information war to sway public opinion; instead vitriolic slings are flung accusing the Kyiv government of being “neo-Nazis and drug addicts”.

Despite the differences, the wars are playing out with a certain similarity so far. Both times a militarily superior country is invading the less powerful neighbour. The war is also occurring in civilian areas, hence in both cases the refugee numbers are high from people fleeing their homes and the damage to infrastructure and people’s homes is significant.

War is a terrible thing

“They seem so much like us. That is what makes it so shocking. Ukraine is a European country. Its people watch Netflix and have Instagram accounts, vote in free elections and read uncensored newspapers. War is no longer something visited upon impoverished and remote populations.” — Daniel Hannan, Telegraph, 26 Feb 2022

The quote above by a Telegraph journalist is a bigoted take on wars across the world today. It is a racist remark towards those who suffer in Nagorno Karabakh, but also in Syria, Yemen, Ethiopia and numerous other modern conflicts that have left thousands dead and many more displaced. It seems that the further away a war is from the west, the less it warrants our attention — at least according to the media. There was some coverage of the Nagorno Karabakh war but it was rarely pushed to the headlines, because it isn’t perceived as a money maker and most people wouldn’t know what it’s about - so why educate them? Western media outlets are also guilty time and again of promoting a “bothside-ism” narrative that attempts to ‘balance’ the arguments but in fact distorts the objective reality and sometimes encourage the aggressor of a conflict.

I will conclude with some advice I learnt following a war that should also be applied to the Ukraine crisis. Firstly, jerk-reaction disinformation is always rife long before the smoke clears: The Russians are losing the war”, “3,000 Ukrainian soldiers killed”, “Kyiv is surrounded” — you will hear so many conflicting tales that the highest level of scepticism is required regardless of where you heard the information. Secondly, war is always ugly. If you go searching for media to see what the military situation looks like you will encounter some horrible things that you wish you never saw. Finally, although we are lucky we are not the ones in the thick of it, it can be tough - often depressing - that there is a war out there and seemingly there is little that you can do to help. Perhaps a good place to begin is to donate towards the innocent civilians caught in the middle of this. If you wish to help people in Ukraine, you can donate to the British Red Cross appeal here.

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