What’s at Stake in the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict

Alexandre Del Valle, an internationally renowned geopolitician, explains that Azerbaijan and its ethnic ally Turkey want to eradicate Armenia — and its Christian identity — from the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Arthur Sahakyan, 63, prays inside the damaged Ghazanchetsots (Holy Saviour) Cathedral in the historic city of Shusha, some 15 kilometers from the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh province's capital Stepanakert, that was hit by a bomb during the fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the breakaway region, on October 13, 2020.
Arthur Sahakyan, 63, prays inside the damaged Ghazanchetsots (Holy Saviour) Cathedral in the historic city of Shusha, some 15 kilometers from the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh province's capital Stepanakert, that was hit by a bomb during the fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the breakaway region, on October 13, 2020. (photo: Aris Messinis / AFP/Getty)

The disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan has been the scene of bloody clashes since Sept. 27, following several months of rising tensions. 

It is the latest escalation of an old and unresolved conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over this region of the South Caucasus with an Armenian ethnic majority. The recent clashes between the Armenian and Azerbaijani armed forces have already caused the death of thousands of servicemen and dozens of civilians on both sides. 

To gain better insight into the geopolitical stakes and the various dynamics of this conflict, the Register sought the expertise of Alexandre Del Valle, a French-Italian political commentator and international consultant. The author of numerous essays and a columnist for many media outlets, he is particularly known for his works on the Middle East, Turkey, Islamic totalitarianism and Christianophobia.  

According to Del Valle, Azerbaijan is currently leading a neo-colonial war — with the full support of Turkey — against Armenia, which is now engaged in a struggle for survival. This birthplace of Christianity, whose population was already victim of a genocide a century ago, is being fiercely defended by soldiers ready to give their lifeto protect the Christian identity of their land. 


What are the reasons for the escalation of violence in recent weeks in Nagorno-Karabakh? 

The roots of this conflict are not new. At the time of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which started at the end of the 1980s and concluded with the end of the Soviet Empire, several republics belonged to Russia, even if they were very different from Russians ethnically and were formally independent. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the populations of Caucasus, Central Asia and Eastern Europe asked for their self-determination and it was accepted for most of them, with a few exceptions like Chechnya. 

Azerbaijan, which was part of the Soviet Union, also claimed its independence. In this context, Armenian populations of Nagorno-Karabakh, a province that had historically been 98% Armenian for two millennia but that was given by Stalin to Azerbaijan in 1921, wanted to have their province back. Azerbaijanis, however, refused the legitimate independence of Nagorno-Karabakh, in the name of another argument which also makes sense, that is the inviolability of borders as they were designed by the Soviet power. This is how a war started between the two countries, in the 1990s. 

Armenians won the war at that time, also thanks to a certain complicity from the Russians, Iranians and the Armenian diaspora, who helped them get weapons. They could also count on the volunteers of the diaspora. So, there was a cease-fire in 1994, and Armenia even managed to take a part of Azerbaijan by enlarging the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh to its historical borders, but that part included some Azerbaijani populations. 

Therefore, now, Azerbaijan is determined to take revenge and reconquer definitively Nagorno-Karabakh with the help of Turkey, which is throwing oil on fire as its current president Recep Erdogan has always been willing to restart this conflict. The Azerbaijanis have been preparing themselves for the past 15 years for that, we knew it was imminent, there were already clashes in 2016, and then also last summer. 


Why is Turkey so involved in this conflict? 

One reason that most media never mention, unfortunately, is that Azerbaijanis are Turks’ cousins: they speak a very similar language and they share a mutual old enmity for the Armenian people, which dates back to the Ottoman Empire. 

During the Greek, Assyro-Chaldean and Armenian genocide, the true goal of the genocidal government in power between 1908 and World War I, called the Young Turks, supported Pan-Turk ultranationalism, which was the Turkish counterpart of pre-Nazi Pan-Germanism, with a very racialist vision. This Pan-Turk movement, very close to German Emperor Wilhelm II at that time, wanted to gather all the Turkic-speaking countries with the conviction they were all brothers but there was one natural and disturbing obstacle separating the Azerbaijanis from their Turk brothers:  Armenia. So, they would like to create a territorial continuity between Turkey and Azerbaijan through the Nagorno-Karabakh province and the Nakhchivan, which is a landlocked exclave of Azerbaijan located in the western part of Armenia. 

Just like during the genocide, the ideology that moves the supporters of the destruction of Armenians today is the desire to create a territorial continuity. 

The problem is also Erdogan, who is throwing a lot of oil on the fire. Indeed, he was humiliated in Syria because his plan to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad in order to put the Muslim Brotherhood in power failed and he had to submit to Russia’s will to maintain the Syrian regime. He would like to compensate his strategic failure in Syria with a success in Armenia, which would flatter the Turk national pride in Azerbaijan. So, Erdogan will not give up easily. 


What is the religious dimension of such conflict? Isn’t there a will to purely eradicate the remains of the Christian presence in this Muslim region? 

For sure, if Armenian people in Anatolia and Caucasia were eliminated, there would no longer be any Christian people left to represent a civilizational obstacle to the unification of Turkish brothers. 

It is actually a threefold conflict. It is first of all religious, indeed. Because Christians are necessarily outside of the Turkish identity, which is closely connected to Islam, even if Turkey used to be a secular state. A Christian in Turkey, even if he is Turkish, will always be considered a foreigner. While Erdogan actually increased the religious dimension, there is perhaps more of an identitarian approach on the part of the Azerbaijanis. There definitely is a religious dimension but the Azerbaijani people are not radical Muslims, and they are mostly Shiite while the Turks are mostly Sunni. 

The second dimension is ethnic, because the Turks have a sense of racial superiority, even with respect to other Muslim countries. This tendency is strong both among ethnic nationalists and those nostalgic for the Ottoman Empire. 

There is then a geographical and territorial dimension, because Armenia stands between two Muslim countries and is a natural obstacle to a unification of the Turks. There are projects of oil pipelines which could cross Georgia and Armenia, and an elimination of these populations would be very convenient from that perspective, too. 

All of this explains why Azerbaijan and Turkey are the only two countries in the world to radically deny the Armenian genocide. The genocide was decided for civilizational, historical, ethnical and territorial reasons, within the framework of the union of Turkey. 

I have been analyzing their press and political life lately, and I’ve heard a lot of speeches which non only deny the Armenian genocide, but that would also like to continue it. There is a true continuity between the motivations for the elimination of the Armenians in 1915 and the revanchism against their country today. Another proof of that is that Turkey hasn’t just been targeting Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh; the Turks have been targeting the whole country through an embargo that has been in effect since the 1990s. Their goal is to get rid of the Armenians religiously, politically, economically, sociologically. 


The West has remained relatively passive in the face of the conflict lately. How do you explain that?

Unfortunately for Armenia, it also stands between two sides. The Western American-Israeli side, which rather stands by the Azerbaijani side, since Azerbaijan is one of the only Muslim countries to have a very good relationship with Israel. It would be counterproductive for Israel to lose on of its rare allies in the region. 

Armenians haven’t really been helped by the West so far, because Armenia is the only place in the Caucasus where there is a Russian military base. So, Armenia is sandwiched between two Turkic countries, and between two opposite sides, the American-Israeli bloc and Russia. The West doesn’t support it because they consider it an ally of the Russians. 

Moreover, Azerbaijan is a very rich country. They have all the oil of Caspian Sea in Caucasia, and they buy a lot of people. In Italy for instance, most of the press are heavily supportive of Azeris. I have been investigating with some Italian journalists and we have evidence that many Italian and other western opinion leaders are funded by the Azerbaijanis. By contrast, Armenians, even if they are a very educated people, don’t have the means to buy public opinion.


How is Russia reacting to the conflict, given its historic relationship with Armenia?

The Russians are in a very difficult position, too. They cannot but help Armenia, which is also a kind of Jerusalem for Orthodox faithful. It is very important to them. But even as a protector of Armenians, Russia will not react too violently to defend them because they actually sold weapons to Azerbaijan, just like Israel. 

But still, Armenia can only rely on the Russians, who would dream about a status quo to maintain good relationships with both countries. But this situation may quickly become untenable for President Vladimir Putin, especially if Armenia loses the war, which is becoming a real possibility. In this case, it is very likely that Azerbaijan will try to extend its territory from Nagorno-Karabakh to Nakhchivan in order to get a territorial continuity. We can’t think that Azerbaijan wouldn’t take advantage of their victory to do that. And of course, Erdogan would encourage that. 

In this case, the Russians would have to make a move, and if they didn’t, they could possibly lose their military base in Armenia.  


Is it true that Syrian mercenaries in the pay of Turkey are now deployed in the Karabakh in support of Azerbaijan, as Armenia is claiming? 

It is absolutely true. Again, in Europe and in the U.S., people are being paid a lot of money to spread the news that it is not true. At the same time, French and Russian secret services, the French and the Armenian governments have confirmed this information. Syria has been attesting to the departure of many jihadis as well, while Libya has been observing some back and forth movement of Syrian jihadis. We know that there are at least a thousand very well-trained jihadis. 


In spite of strong appeals from Moscow and the West, the ceasefire negotiated with Moscow and supposedly in force since Oct.10, has been constantly violated since then. What are the possible scenarios for the coming weeks?

One possible scenario is that Azerbaijanis accept — under huge international pressure, especially Russian — a cease-fire, in exchange for all or at least a part of Nagorno-Karabakh. But they would be frustrated and they probably won’t accept a cease-fire before they have a clear advantage. 

If the Azerbaijanis achieve success on the ground, they may want to take the most strategic part of Nagorno-Karabakh and attempt to take a small part of Armenian territory as well to bridge up to Turkey through Nakhchivan. In this case, their war objective would almost be completed. 

It is anyway very unlikely that Azerbaijanis and Turks will simply accept renouncing their project for a while due to the ongoing international negotiations, as they’ve already been expecting this moment for such a long time. They bought a lot of weapons and they are ready to go all the way.