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Armenia and Azerbaijan, two former Soviet Caucasian republics, have held each other in stubborn hatred for decades over territorial conflict. Spotlight on two neighbors that everything opposes and who still clash since Sunday in deadly fights.
TheArmenia and Azerbaijan the region of the Nagorno-Karabakh for almost a hundred years. At the heart of the deleterious relations between Yerevan and Baku, this mostly Armenian enclave, attached in 1921 to Azerbaijan by the Soviet authorities, unilaterally proclaimed its independence in 1991, with the support of Armenia.
A war ensued which left 30,000 dead and hundreds of thousands of refugees. Despite a cease-fire signed in 1994 and Russian-American-French mediation known as the Minsk Group, armed clashes remain frequent there.
Before the clashes that began on Sunday September 27, killing at least 40 people in 24 hours, the most important recent fighting dates back to April 2016. Nearly 110 people were killed during the resurgence of this conflict.
Two political systems that everything opposes
Armenia, a Christian country since the IVe century, has lived a tumultuous history since its independence in 1991. This poor and landlocked State has known a lot of revolts and murderous repressions, as well as highly contested polls, against a backdrop of patronage and authoritarian drifts by its various leaders.
In the spring of 2018, a peaceful revolution brought current Prime Minister Nikol Pachinian to power. The latter is leading widely hailed reforms to democratize institutions and root out corruption.
>> To (re) see: Nagorno-Karabakh, a powder keg at the gates of Europe
Azerbaijan, meanwhile, is a Shiite land, located on the shores of the Caspian Sea. The country has been under the control of one family since 1993. Heydar Aliev, a former Soviet KGB general, ruled the state with an iron fist until October 2003, handing over power to his son Ilham, a few weeks ago. before dying.
Like his father, Ilham Aliev did not allow any opposition to emerge. In 2017, he made his wife Mehriban the country’s first vice-president.
When Russia and Turkey get involved
Turkey, which has geostrategic ambitions in the ex-Soviet Caucasus and Central Asia, has made Azerbaijan, a Turkish-speaking country rich in hydrocarbons, its main ally in the region. This friendship is largely fueled by their common aversion to Armenia. Logically, Ankara supports Baku in its desire to take back Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Armenians also maintain a now secular hostility towards Turkey due to the genocide of some 1.5 million of their own by the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. Turkey rejects this term and continues to speak of “reciprocal massacres”.
The major regional power, however, remains Russia, which has closer relations with Armenia than with Azerbaijan but sells arms to both. Yerevan is an ally: the country has joined political, economic and military alliances dominated by Moscow, notably the Collective Security Treaty Organization.
Armenia needs a big Russian brother all the more because its Azerbaijani enemy is much richer, and has increased its military spending.
Kim Kardashian or Baku Oil: A War of Influence
Azerbaijan, thanks to its oil manna, has undertaken in recent years to make itself known in the world, in the West in particular, beyond its reputation for authoritarianism and nepotism.
Baku has invested in sponsorship, in particular in football and for Euro-2020, which has since been postponed due to the coronavirus epidemic. The country is also trying to establish itself in Europe as an alternative to Russian hydrocarbons.
Armenia has, as an asset for its notoriety, a vast and influential diaspora, heirs of the refugees from the Ottoman repressions. The world star of reality TV Kim Kardashian, singer Charles Aznavour, singer and actress Cher or the French world football champion Youri Djorkaeff. All have Armenian origins in common.
Some have become unofficial ambassadors of Yerevan, such as Kim Kardashian on the genocide, or Charles Aznavour who raised funds to help Armenia after the devastating earthquake of 1988.