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Azerbaijan’s Deadly Attack on Armenia Inflames Decades-Long Conflict in South Caucasus

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An attack by Azerbaijan on Armenia left more than 200 people dead before a ceasefire was called last Wednesday. It was the latest round of fighting between the two neighbors in the South Caucasus, which have fought a series of wars over territory. For more, we speak with Armenia-based reporter Roubina Margossian, who has reported from the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh that is at the center of the conflict.

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StoryOct 22, 2020Nagorno-Karabakh: What’s at Stake in the Conflict Between Armenia & Azerbaijan?
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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, as we turn to look at the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Two hundred troops died earlier this month after Azerbaijan attacked Armenia in the latest round of violence between the two neighbors in the South Caucasus region. The violence appears to have stopped for now, after the two sides agreed to a truce.

Earlier this week, Secretary of State Tony Blinken met with the foreign ministers of both countries on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. Over the weekend, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Armenia and accused Azerbaijan of initiating the latest round of violence.

We’re joined now in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, by Roubina Margossian, who reported from the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is at the center of the conflict, a writer and photojournalist for EVN Report.

Roubina, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you explain what happened and whether you think this truce will hold, for a global audience that may not be focused on this conflict right now?

ROUBINA MARGOSSIAN: Thank you for having me. And unfortunately, I’m back again. I would say that.

Well, what happened is it escalated the situation, and it turned into what it is now, the conflict on the night of the 13th. Well, of course, to explain this, you need to go back and explain what happened in 2020, and then also explain what happened in the last 30 years and before that, when Nagorno-Karabakh was basically handed over to Azerbaijan because Stalin decided to do so.

So, there is definitely territorial conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and that’s the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. And Nagorno-Karabakh was part of Azerbaijan during the Soviet Union, as I said, just because Stalin decided to give it away, and then they voted to join Armenia at the last years of the Soviet Union, which was not accepted by the Soviet Union. And, of course, the Soviet Union collapsed, and war broke out, which Armenia won.

Since then, since 2004, we have basically had a ceasefire, but not a resolution to the conflict. Well, in 2020, Azerbaijan attacked Nagorno-Karabakh proper, including the seven territories that were around Nagorno-Karabakh that were under Armenian control. So, what we had in the last two years was the November 9 ceasefire — statement that was brokered by Russia, and it was more or less holding. And we saw the deployment of Russian peacekeepers in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

So, this is not Armenia proper, and Nagorno-Karabakh, again, just to emphasize, is not Armenia proper or the Republic of Armenia. What we’re seeing now is an attack on the sovereign territory of Armenia. This is three regions of Armenia. That’s the Gegharkunik region, the Syunik region and the Vayots Dzor region. And on Armenian settlements, well, it can be explained by many that’s saying Azerbaijan is not very happy with the outcome of its victory, so Azerbaijan feels there should be more gifts.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Roubina, could you explain why you think Azerbaijan carried out this massive artillery bombardment within Armenia now? Talk about the significance of this happening now.

ROUBINA MARGOSSIAN: Well, the significance of this happening now is, as you know, Armenia and Azerbaijan are discussing a peace deal. And because both Armenia and Azerbaijan were a part of the Soviet Union, the borders between the country — the two countries have not been delimited or there demarked. So, of course, this creates a problem. However, both — we’ve been recognized internationally as sovereign states, so there are borders. There definitely are borders. They are just not demarked, which is a normal situation among a lot of countries, right? So, now Armenia and Azerbaijan are talking about a peace deal. Armenia and Azerbaijan are discussing a five-point proposal that Azerbaijan made. Armenia said OK, but also added a couple of subpoints, from what we understand.

And also, in the November 9th agreement, statement, there is talk of opening communication links between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the region, and also between Azerbaijan and its enclave, Nakhchivan, that would be very well connected to Armenia otherwise. So, what Azerbaijan has since tried to interpret the November 9th statement is as Armenia has promised a sovereign corridor to Azerbaijan, which there’s no such wording in the statement, which I’ve read over and over again, and everyone has read. But as statements go, they are open to interpretation. So, Azerbaijan, the general understanding is, is Azerbaijan is trying, through military means, to pressure Armenia into granting Azerbaijan a corridor. That would be very devastating for Armenia because it would just sever half of the country, and a whole region, the Syunik region, would be cut in half. And technically, Armenia wouldn’t have access to that region, which would also technically, given where this road might pass — and Armenia has like adamantly said there will be no such thing as a corridor — it would also jeopardize Armenia’s only border, tiny border, with Iran.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Roubina, explain what the regional situation is, the fact that Azerbaijan receives massive support from Turkey, both economic as well as military, whereas Armenia was historically a key strategic ally of Russia. How is this playing out? And the fact that when Pelosi was there, she likened the situation that Armenia is in now to that of Taiwan and Ukraine, do you agree with that?

ROUBINA MARGOSSIAN: Well, definitely, I agree in case of Ukraine, and I don’t know that — the thing is that because of Ukraine, the armed conflict in Armenia got recognized. If this had happened prior to Ukraine or Ukraine hadn’t happened, there would be very little to no attention to what’s happening here. And the bothsidesism that we’ve experienced historically from the international community would continue more.

What we see now is a little bit more vocal support for Armenia. And that’s not for Armenia because of the, you know, country; it’s because of the democracy. Armenia is one of the few, if not only, developing democracies. Of course, we have Georgia, but seems like Georgia has stagnated in this sense. And Armenia, despite everything, despite the war two years ago, despite the political situation in the country, is continuing to move forward toward democracy. So, I think this is the one thing that has changed, where Armenia was recognized and valued as a democratic country in this region, that really is in need, dire need, of more democracies. Well, it’s a basically autocratic region, more or less.

AMY GOODMAN: And the fact that Peskov has now weighed in, Roubina, that he rebuked Nancy Pelosi, saying that her “loud announcements” aren’t helpful, the Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, saying that a “quiet and businesslike approach” to the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict will bear fruit — where you think this is headed right now?

ROUBINA MARGOSSIAN: Well, similar comments from Moscow are — very cynical comments come from both Peskov and also Zakharova very often when situations like this arise. However, it has to be noted that since 2018, since the regime change in Armenia, Armenia has more of a balanced relationship between east — west and Russia. So, yes, it’s very kind of — people perceive Armenia as more Russian-oriented or Russia as the security guarantor of Armenia. But we’ve seen that that’s not true, and — because this is not the first attack on Armenia’s sovereign territory. There was a similar situation, but not sure to this extent, in Tavush two years ago, and Armenia did apply to the CSTO and to the agreement, friendship agreement and collaboration agreement it had with Russia since the '90s to send military help or help. And we've had a — the response was not what CSTO is about. The response is not what is expected, because in the CSTO charter, it says an attack against one member state is an attack against all member states, while what CSTO did back then didn’t respond much, a couple of years ago. This time they said, “We’re sending a fact-finding mission.”

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And finally, Roubina, we just have a minute. If you could comment on that question of Turkey’s support for Azerbaijan, effectively against Armenia, and, of course, the history of Turkey and Armenia deeply associated, of course, with the genocide of the Armenian people during World War I?

ROUBINA MARGOSSIAN: Well, Turkey’s support for Azerbaijan is nothing new. In fact, during the first war in the '90s for Nagorno-Karabakh, Turkey, it closed off borders with Armenia in support of Azerbaijan. So, as such, it's not new. It’s always been there. It’s always been very demonstrative, and it’s been very vocal. So, this also, unfortunately, falls in line with this pan-Turkic narrative that Turkey has, especially in recent years, been pushing forward: Azerbaijan and Turkey are two sister countries, brother countries, one nation, two countries. And if you look at the map, Armenia is right in the middle. So, I know this is an exaggeration, and it’s not necessarily kind of what’s happening right now, but if Armenia didn’t exist or Armenia was a weaker state, it would be very easier for Azerbaijan and Turkey to kind of expand their brotherhood.

AMY GOODMAN: Roubina Margossian, I want to thank you for being with us, writer and a photojournalist who writes for EVN Report in Armenia, speaking to us from Yerevan.

Coming up, Cuba’s Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernández de Cossío. Stay with us.

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