Genocide as Conflict Resolution? Nagorno Karabakh's Uncertain Future

The Institute for the Study of Genocide has published (Summer 2017 bulletin) Christoph H. Benedikter’s paper pertaining the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. The author suggests that the success of the Karabakh army in the April war of 2016 makes a total defeat unlikely in the near future. Nevertheless, the situation for Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh in the medium to long-term appears quite dangerous.

On the night of April 1, 2016 Azerbaijani troops attacked Nagorno Karabakh positions along the Line of Contact (LoC). The subsequent “FourDay War” brought the South Caucasus and the “frozen” conflict around Nagorno Karabakh to the attention of the international world for a short while. Due to pressure emanating from Russia and, in particular, from the US, the bloodshed was quickly brought to an end; however, the roots of the conflict remain unchanged. A new escalation, more comprehensive than a previous one, is therefore likely to happen. If the wellequipped armed forces of Azerbaijan succeed in winning a decisive victory, this could mean the end of Armenian life and Armenian culture in Nagorno Karabakh. Azerbaijan’s foreign and security policy and the increasingly clear statements of its president and other dignitaries suggest that genocide is at least accepted, if not already planned.

Although the conflict around Nagorno Karabakh already began its formative phase in the 19th century, the short-term consideration here focuses on the sequence of events from the 1980s onwards. The conflicting parties are the two internationally recognised republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as the unrecognised Republic of Nagorno Karabakh. The two states emerged from the Armenian and Azerbaijani Soviet [Socialist] Republic (SSR) in 1991. The de facto state of Nagorno Karabakh, also known as the Free Republic of Artsakh, originated from the territory of the Soviet Azerbaijani Autonomous Region of Nagorno Karabakh.

The Soviet Legacy

The Autonomous Region formed a geographic enclave within the Azerbaijani SSR, close to the Armenian SSR. According to the last Soviet census, about 189,000 people were living there, of whom 76.9 percent were Armenians and 21.5 percent were Azerbaijani.1 In spite of the clear Armenian majority, Nagorno Karabakh has been an autonomous region within the Azerbaijani SSR since 1921/23. This was based on a decision made by the Caucasus office of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. It was the clear will of Joseph Stalin, the representative of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Russia, which was tasked with this decision. At this time, the Armenians made up about 95 percent of the population of Nagorno Karabakh. During the entire existence of the Soviet Union, the Armenian nation did not accept the situation. From 1960s there had been repeated initiatives and petitions submitted to the Moscow headquarters to transfer Nagorno Karabakh from the Azerbaijani to the Armenian SSR. The Communist Party Central Committee had consistently rejected or suppressed such requests in order not to create a precedent for similar constellations in the multiethnic empire.

Under the conditions of “Glasnost” and “Perestroika,” the Armenians of the USSR renewed their demands for Nagorno Karabakh. In February 1988, the Nagorno Karabakh region’s Soviet (Regional Parliament) decided to transfer the territory from the continuance of the Azerbaijani SSR to the Armenian SSR. This was due to the Azerbaijani Republic’s economic and cultural discrimination against Nagorno Karabakh and its Armenian inhabitants. The transfer decision was accompanied and supported by mass demonstrations in Yerevan and Stepanakert (Karabakh´s capital), which were mirrored by counter-events in Baku and other Azerbaijani cities. On both sides the national mobilisation took place very quickly.

After a demonstration by Azerbaijanis, who marched on Stepanakert, was stopped by security forces and Armenian villagers at Askeran, and two young Azerbaijani men were killed, the spiral of violence and counter-violence began to move rapidly. At the end of February 1988 seemingly spontaneous violence against Armenian citizens broke out in the Azerbaijani cities of Sumgait and Kirovabad (today Ganja) and some villages of Nagorno Karabakh. Remarkably, the local security forces did not intervene for days. On the contrary, some reports suggest that there might have been assistance from the authorities. In Sumgait, the focal point of violence, the mob even had firefighting trucks available to force people out of their barricaded homes and then slaughter them.3 Only troops from the Moscow headquarters, or more precisely of the Caspian Soviet Fleet, put an end to the pogrom of Sumgait. The official sources spoke about 32 dead. Other sources at the time, in the majority Armenian, spoke of considerably larger number of killed and wounded.4

After Sumgait, the interethnic tensions have become irreversible. In both Soviet republics powerful national movements were formed, and the communist leadership became politically driven. What made the situation particularly explosive was the fact that there were large minorities of the other ethnic groups living in each SSR. While the Soviet central leadership lost control, Armenia and Azerbaijan, both theoretically committed to internationalism in “brother republics”, accepted a population exchange. Up until 1991 between 350,000 and 500,000 ethnic Armenians and 250,000 ethnic Azerbaijanis left their former “homelands, some under violent circumstances. As a result, these two Soviet republics were now ethnically homogenous entities (at least with regard to the hostile ethnic group); only in the contentious Nagorno Karabakh did Armenians and Azerbaijanis still exist side by side — and bloody clashes were the order of the day.

The War of Nagorno Karabakh 1991/92 – 1994

In spring of 1991, the last year of the Soviet Union, the unruly autonomous region was to be forcibly returned to Azerbaijani administration. Soviet troops and units of the Azerbaijani Ministry of the Interior took action against Armenian villages in Nagorno Karabakh. The coup against Mikhail Gorbachev, the last President of the Soviet Union, ended the campaign in summer 1991. Shortly after, Azerbaijan and Armenia declared their independence. Nagorno Karabakh answered the Azerbaijani Declaration of Independence with the proclamation of the Republic of NagornoKarabakh, which, according to the Soviet law, was already legal at that time. A referendum, in which 82 percent of the electorate voted (with boycott by Azerbaijani residents), ended with more than 99 per cent approval. On 21 December 1991, the Alma-Ata declaration sealed the end of the Soviet Union and the establishment of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

As a result, Armenia and Azerbaijan were recognised as sovereign states under international law, while Nagorno Karabakh was denied international recognition. The international community of states here followed the usual practice of recognising, in the event of the state collapse, those territorial units which had formed the disintegrated state. The aim of this approach is generally to avoid further fragmentation of the successor states. Faced with the tremendous potential for destabilisation that resulted from the collapse of the Soviet Union, this was not an entirely unwise approach. Such an approach was meant to prevent various republics and their subcategories (such as autonomous regions, etc.) from overlapping each other with territorial demands. However, the fact that many of the internal Soviet borders were controversial and doubtful had not been taken into account. In the case of Nagorno Karabakh, it was a demarcation line established by Stalin, that in 1991/92 has turned into an internationally recognised state border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, while NagornoKarabakh in theory become a part of Azerbaijan.

As an independent republic, Azerbaijan continued its Karabakh policy exactly on the course that the Soviet Azerbaijani leadership had taken. Namely, Nagorno Karabakh should be “recovered”, “liberating” Azerbaijani settlements still existing in the former autonomous region. If the skirmishes were initially carried out with an improvised device, from the hunting rifle to the self-made handgrenade, it quickly became professional. Soon, both sides used heavy weapons from the stocks of the disintegrating Soviet army, and the operating teams were often taken over too. The weakened Yeltsin’s Russia pursued an ambiguous course at the beginning, which was also due to the fact that there were competing or not fully controllable structures in the crumbling state apparatus. When the new Azerbaijani President, Eltchibey, representative of the Nationalist and Pan-Turanism People’s Front, forced the withdrawal of the Russian troops still deployed in the country, Moscow projected a more pro-Armenian course. The supply of Karabakh and Armenia with war materials intensified. In parallel, Russia used its leading role as a peace mediator in the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to put Baku under pressure. The return of Russian (peace) troops was the strategic goal; this, however, has yet to be achieved.

On the battlefield the Armenian side had already accomplished many facts before the Russian swing. The Karabakh defence army, reinforced by volunteers from the Diaspora, and the Army of the Republic of Armenia fought effectively and were highly motivated, while Azerbaijan was unable to convert its superiority in human resources and materiel into victories. The activities of Turkish military advisers and volunteers on the side of Azerbaijan took place in a non-decisive dimension. Power struggles within the elites, partly incompetent military leadership, corruption and, as a result, the often low operational readiness of the troops made Azerbaijan play a losing game. When, in 1993-94, the winter offensive of the next president, Haidar Aliyev, also failed, the exhausted war parties under Russian leadership agreed on a ceasefire. Between 9 May and 11 May 1994 the ministers of defence of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabakh signed the ceasefire. Azerbaijan agreed on the deployment of 1,800 Russian soldiers on the ceasefire line, but managed to prevent the implementation of this measure later.

In the end, about 25,000 people were dead or missing on all three sides.8 Azerbaijan had not only failed to regain Nagorno Karabakh, but had lost another seven districts around Karabakh. The over 40,000 Azerbaijanis of Nagorno Karabakh and at least 500,000 inhabitants of the lost districts had been expelled. Including the now de facto State of Karabakh, Azerbaijan had lost 13.4 per cent (11,722 square km) of its territory.9 While the fighting continued, the OSCE had launched a mediation initiative of several states, which as an OSCE Minsk Group is still trying to reach a conflict settlement. France, Russia and the USA are the cochairs of the Minsk Group.

The Burden of the Lost War

Since the 1994 ceasefire, Azerbaijan’s foreign and security policy priority has been the full revision of the results of the Karabakh war. As a result, Azerbaijan pursues a four-pronged strategy:

1. Direct negotiations: Under the institutional umbrella of the OSCE, Azerbaijan is leading direct talks with Armenia at the highest level. NagornoKarabakh, still recognised as a war party and cosigner of the ceasefire in 1994, has not been accepted by Baku as a negotiating partner since the end of the 1990s. After phases in which an agreement on the future of Nagorno Karabakh appeared possible, the ever-less frequent meetings of the Presidents Yilham Aliyev and Serzh Sargsyan have not progressed in recent years. In essence, the conflict solution failed on exactly the same point as the war had been kindled 25 years ago: the question about the status of Nagorno Karabakh. Azerbaijan demands the return of Karabakh under the control of Azerbaijan, which is not an option for Armenia and Karabakh. What they offer under the principle “Land against Peace” is the return of a large part of the seven districts around Karabakh with the simultaneous recognition of Nagorno Karabakh by Azerbaijan. Baku’s announcements to grant a “returned” Karabakh a far-reaching autonomy is distrusted in Yerevan and Stepanakert. In view of the way in which the authoritarian Aliyev regime treats its own people, and in the mirror of the anti-Armenian rhetoric of this regime, the lack of confidence on the part of the Armenian side is understandable.

2. International pressure: At the international level, for example within the framework of the UN and the OSCE, as well as in its bilateral relations, Baku seeks to build up pressure on Armenia and Karabakh through diplomatic means and through lobbying. Azerbaijan argues persistently with the principle of territorial integrity, which from the perspective of already existing states practically always has priority over all other principles of international law, such as the right for selfdetermination. At the UN General Assembly, Azerbaijan reached a conviction of Armenia in 2008, which was called upon to withdraw its troops from the occupied areas of Azerbaijan and not to assist in the occupation of Azerbaijani territory. The latter referred to the close alliance of Armenia with Nagorno Karabakh, which is not recognised as a state internationally, which therefore does not exist in the formalist logic of the international law and which is consequently not mentioned in the resolution. The notion that the sole existence of Nagorno Karabakh would constitute an occupation of Azerbaijani territory is, however, not shared by the majority of the UN member states in such an undifferentiated way as the decision seems to testify. 100 states abstained, 7 states, including the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, voted against, 46 UN members did not participate and only 39 voted for the resolution. The European Union (EU) also decided to share the position of the Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group. Since this and other similar victories (for example, in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference) do not immediately bring Azerbaijan forward, more rigorous means are being worked on the recovery of Nagorno Karabakh.

3. Armament and war threats: Azerbaijan has consistently built up its military capabilities since the 2000s, based on the abundant revenues from oil and gas production. Since 2007, Baku reported military budgets that were higher than the total budgets of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh combined. For 2014, expenditures amount to about US$3.6 billion, further increases were planned, but could not be realised to the extent expected in 2015/16 due to low oil and gas prices.

Nevertheless, the defence spending of Armenia, excluding Nagorno Karabakh, stands currently at between US$600 and US$800 million, and as such has been clearly exceeded by Azerbaijan.

For a long time observers estimated the fighting power of Azerbaijani forces as less than those of their Armenian adversaries. A further complication for the Azerbaijani side is that in the combat case the Karabakh Armenian and Armenian forces act along the “Line of Contact” from a very favourable defensive position. For this reason it appeared unlikely for more than two decades that Azerbaijan would take at risk to launch a large-scale attack. And indeed, Azerbaijan limited itself to sniper fire and smaller commando actions, which nevertheless cost a dozen of deaths on both sides every year. The less progress that was made at the negotiating table, the more frequently the skirmishes occurred. As of 2013/14, Baku was becoming more and more unconcerned with solving the issue of Karabakh by military means. The various war threats are meant for the world community in addition to Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh, as well as for here the powers represented in the Minsk Group. In order to prevent a war around Karabakh, these powers are meant to put pressure on Armenia and Karabakh to yield to the demands of Baku in essential points.

In fact, a war in the South Caucasus would be a worrying scenario: A Russian intervention, overt or covert, is to be expected, although it is not clear how far Russia would go to support Armenia. Azerbaijan may also be under pressure to accept Russian (peace) troops on its territory. This would again be difficult for Turkey, Azerbaijan’s strategic partner, to accept. Turkish counter-actions could also call Iran into the theatre of war. How the US would react in the event of a possible escalation remains a subject of many speculations. In the case of a full-fledged war for Nagorno Karabakh, the imponderables would be great. The Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group powers and the other regional powers have every interest in avoiding such developments because they are tied to the local wars in Syria, Iraq and so forth at the moment.

After Azerbaijan’s threats of war were not taken seriously, it rattled its sabres even louder. In the summer of 2015 the intensity of combat on the LoC reached a new climax. For the first time, Armenian territory also fell under artillery fire. At the beginning of April 2016 Azerbaijan finally launched a limited Blitzkrieg against NagornoKarabakh. For the first time it was about the permanent occupation of positions, whereby an Azerbaijani operational plan, which fell into the hands of the Karabakh side, led to the conclusion that the offensive was originally aimed at the conquest of Stepanakert. Although the Karabakh Defence Forces were surprised by the well planned and effectively implemented operations, the Azerbaijanis were largely repulsed by a NagornoKarabakh counter-attack during the second and the third day of the war. However, two strategically important positions remained in Azerbaijani hands. In particular Russian and US pressure on the war parties stopped the fighting on the fourth day, while, according to informed sources, it was especially at the urging of the US, that no Russian (peace) troops were advancing to the LoC. The losses of Azerbaijani are estimated to be between 400 and 500, while those of the Karabakh army, whose soldiers fought in a self-sacrificing manner, are estimated to be about 150.

4. Mental mobilisation and fabrication of history: For about 10 years, the Azerbaijani regime has been preparing its own population more and more for the possibility of a military solution to the Karabakh conflict. To this end, the nation was formally committed to the fact that Nagorno Karabakh would be one of the “historic Azerbaijani lands”19 or the “native lands,”20 so that a moral right of Azerbaijanis to Nagorno Karabakh would derive, as it were, from history. Of course, such statements ignore with some aplomb a variety of obvious historical facts: for instance, today’s Nagorno Karabakh, when it fell to Azerbaijan in 1921, had a 95 per cent Armenian population, and Nagorno Karabakh is covered with medieval Armenian churches and monasteries and their remains.

But present-day Azerbaijan may not even be satisfied with Nagorno Karabakh: Again and again, the current Azerbaijani head of state raises claims to the parts or the whole territory of the Republic of Armenia. This can then sound like the following:

“… once again I want to note that in the future Azerbaijanis should return all the historic land. Our historical lands are not limited to Nagorno Karabakh and the surrounding regions. If we look at the statistics” of the “XIX century, we can see that the area populated by the Azerbaijanis are very extensive. Present Armenia is, in fact, the historical land of Azerbaijan. Therefore, in the future we will return to our historic land. Let young people and children know it. We must live, we live, and we will live with this idea.”21 Or like this: “The territorial integrity of Azerbaijan must be restored in full, the state flag of Azerbaijan must be raised in Shusha and Khankandi (Stepanakert — the capital of Nagorno Karabakh) and in the future Azerbaijanis must live on all of their historical lands. Our historical lands are the Iravan (=Yerevan) khanate, Goycha, Zangezur mahals. One day we will also live there. I believe in it and I am sure of it. In order to reach this, each of us must take efforts, each of us must make this holy day closer with his deeds.”22 Here, history is used as a sort of stone quarry, from which individual factual fragments are selected and combined into a fictitious building.

Of course, such notions of “historical lands” have not sprung from the President’s imagination, but have been produced for decades at the historical faculties of the Azerbaijani universities and at the Academy of Sciences. Every individual who has been in the territory of present-day Azerbaijan — and parts of today’s Armenia — in the last 1,000 years, whether Oghuz Turk, Turkmen, Azeri, Persian or Mongol, is declared retrospectively to be Azerbaijani. Naturally all these people could not know about their Azerbaijani identity, because the idea of the existence of an Azerbaijani nation appeared first at the end of the 19th century. The project of the construction of a national history, which occurred in Europe in the 19th century, is occurring in the South Caucasus in the 21st century — and in its extremist form. With no understanding of irony, the Azerbaijani side frequently calls its Armenian adversaries “fascists”.

Let us briefly get to the historical facts: In today’s Armenia, including Karabakh, an Armenian settlement was already established in pre-Christian era. This can be proven by archaeological and historiographical evidence. Before the end of the 16th century, the Armenians who lived there constituted the majority of the population, although Turkic tribes and others penetrated their settlements from the Middle Ages onwards and also settled there. The eventual Ottoman and the Persian supremacy in the region favoured this process. After up to 250,000 Armenians were deported under Shah Abbas at the beginning of 17th century, Persians, Turkic people (Azeris) and Kurds formed the majority of population. The gradual Russian conquest of the South Caucasus from about 1800 onwards brought about a reversal of the demographic situation. The establishment of a Christian-Armenian majority population was a strategic goal of Russian policy in the first half of the 19th century. Incentives for immigration from the Ottoman Empire and from Persia were created and in fact attracted many Armenians who had been discriminated against in those empires. On the eve of the First World War the ethnic Armenians had a slight majority in the territory of today’s Armenia, while the Azeris (today Azerbaijani) constituted a similar majority in the territory of the current Azerbaijan. There were many mixed settlements, which were then fiercely contested when the Russian Empire collapsed in 1917. For many regions in present-day Armenia and Azerbaijan these mixed settlements remained intact until the large population exchange of 1988, which had been triggered by the Karabakh conflict.

The focal point of the Azerbaijani falsification of history is to consider only that comparatively short phase in the 17th and 18th century, when the Muslim population, as a result of violent decimation and deportation of the Armenians, was more numerous than the remaining Armenians. A second fiction is the so-called “Albanian thesis,” which — so to speak, to be sure — denies the Armenians, especially Karabakh-Armenians, to be Armenians. According to the thesis, they are, in truth, the Caucasus Albanians, an ethnic group that had partly merged with the invading Turk population and was partly absorbed by the Armenians. From this perspective Nagorno Karabakh would not be an old Armenian settlement area, but at best Albanian, which is less tragic because the Albanians were declared one of the forefathers of the modern Azerbaijani nation. This idea, however, still did not prevent the Azerbaijani military forces from trying to destroy all allegedly even Albanian churches and monasteries in Karabakh when the possibility was offered.

As absurd and artificial as Azerbaijani historiography may appear to a Western viewer, in Azerbaijan it becomes an historical fact and the legitimisation of all claims against NagornoKarabakh and Armenia. The population is now convinced of the historical and moral legitimacy of their own demands. Surveys regularly show that an overwhelming majority sees the recovery of Karabakh as the most important national goal. Moreover, these surveys show that a majority of Azeris believe that after Azerbaijan regains the territory, the Armenians of Karabakh should not be given any autonomy,27 since their entire existence in Karabakh has been proved “in truth,” and also “scientifically”, to be illegitimate.

Precisely here the point is reached where the Azerbaijani regime has already become a prisoner of its own propaganda success. After the population was so intensely fixated on the complete recovery of Nagorno Karabakh, it is almost impossible for Aliyev and his elites to compromise with Armenia and Karabakh, even if they wish to do so. The recovery of “only” the districts around Karabakh would be viewed as a defeat by the Azeri population, which could even lead to the beginning of the end of the regime. After all, two presidents had been overthrown during the Karabakh war for lack of military success. Aliyev, on the other hand, remains in power as a result of repression, the distribution of oil and gas money, and antiArmenian mobilisation. Nevertheless, according to political observers, at the outbreak of the Arab Spring Aliyev was the only ruler in the post-Soviet area who was endangered, because the conditions in Azerbaijan seemed similar to those in Tunisia.

The Burden of Victory

Armenia and Karabakh are confronting the threat posed by Azerbaijan with mirroring measures, “though they have not engaged in the creation of the same adventurous theories of history. Thus Armenia modernized the armed forces as far as possible, so that the country’s military expenditure in 2014 amounted to up to 19 per cent of the de facto common budget. On an international level, the Republic of Armenia argues in favour of NagornoKarabakh with reference to the international law of self-determination, which, in the case of Karabakh, is much stronger than even the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Through its attack on Karabakh in 1991/92 and its current attitude, Baku had forfeited the claim to the inviolability of borders. Karabakh itself, as a state that is not recognised under international law, hardly is present on an international level, but paradoxically it is the entity with the highest democratic standards in the region. In order to balance the Azerbaijani threat, Armenia was forced to move more and more into Russia’s orbit. Co-operation within the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) has been intensified, the service agreement on the Russian military base in Gyumri has been extended until 2044, the Association Agreement with the EU has not been signed and instead Armenia joined the Eurasian Economic Union. The Armenian elites are bitterly aware of the creeping loss of sovereignty, but they have no alternative.

Outlook: Genocide or Compromise?

The success of the Karabakh army in the four day war makes a total defeat unlikely in the near future. Nevertheless, the situation for Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh in the medium to long-term appears quite dangerous. Armenia suffers from low birth rates and a steady out-migration, because large sections of the population are tired of rampant corruption and lack of economic prospects. The real population of the Republic of Armenia is estimated to be only 2 million and that of Nagorno Karabakh at about 120,000. Azerbaijan, on the other hand, has about 9.4 million inhabitants. There are close political and military ties to the Russian military, but it is not certain whether Russian troops would be active in Karabakh, and if so, with what purpose. It is not entirely to be ruled out that in the future Russia could make a deal with Azerbaijan on the Karabakh issue, where Russia agrees to stay neutral in case of an Azerbaijani conquest and in return Azerbaijan accepts Russian troops on its territory. Likewise, a sudden, if only briefly effective, collapse of the Russian position in the South Caucasus is not entirely improbable. In the 20th century this was the case in 1917 and again in 1990/91.

What then would be the consequence of a successful Azerbaijani Blitzkrieg? A look at the practice since 1988/89 leads to a disturbing conclusion. The minority, the subordinate group had been completely expelled. Ethnically pure entities had emerged. Apart from the victims (from both sides) of the population exchange between 1988 and 1990, in Azerbaijan there are over 500,000 people who were displaced as a result of the Armenian victories from the districts around Karabakh. Part of this refugee population, and in particular their descendants, are the bearers of revenge fantasies in Azerbaijani society. If one continues to consider the comprehensive anti-Armenian propaganda throughout Azerbaijan, then it is possible to say that a decisive military defeat of the Armenian side is likely to result in the extinction of Armenian culture and Armenian life in Nagorno Karabakh. Enough statements from the Azerbaijani state leaders suggest this more or less directly. At the same time, the political action of the Aliyev regime leaves no room for a compromise solution, which could in principle provide for the return of several occupied Azerbaijani districts in exchange for the independence of a possibly smaller Karabakh state. In any case, it would be a good thing if the Karabakh Army were not the only factor that stands between the precarious situation and an imminent genocide.

It would be beyond the scope of this article to point out the strategic options of the USA regarding the Karabakh issue in all their necessary details. But generally it should be stated that Washington lost much of its influence in the South Caucasus under the Obama presidency. As a result Baku has orientated its policy towards Ankara and Moscow; for Armenia and Karabakh, the Kremlin is the one and only place where relevant decisions are made.

To reconstruct its former importance Washington will have to step into the conflict settlement process much more actively. A combination of pressure and incentives (diplomatic, political, economic) should be exerted on the conflicting parties. At the same time the interests of Russia, Turkey and Iran have to be taken into consideration. The aim of US engagement could be a negotiated agreement based on compromise, which brings back to Azerbaijan the districts around Nagorno Karabakh (or at least most of them) and ensures the independence of Nagorno Karabakh. A settlement like this can only be negotiated and implemented in a long term perspective; in the short and medium term the positions of the parties involved in the conflict are too contradictory. Moreover, Russia is interested in the preservation of the conflict, albeit in its “frozen” version, because this keeps Armenia, and also Azerbaijan, in a dependent relationship with Moscow. Until a true resolution of the conflict is achievable, it is important to preserve the status quo, which should be the basis for a gradual detente and a transformation of the conflict´s central incongruity. Therefore the US should be prepared to impede a further military escalation by all means and this preparedness should also be demonstrated towards the parties involved.

Christoph H. Benedikter studied history and ethnology in Vienna. He is a research assistant at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for War Research in Graz-Vienna-Raabs as well as a freelance exhibition curator.