Strategic Aims Behind The War On Armenia
September 29, 2020
On Sunday Ilham Aliyev, the longtime dictator of Azerbaijan, launched a war on the Armenian held Nagorno-Karabakh area. That he dared to do this now, 27 years after a ceasefire ended a war over the area, is a sign that the larger strategic picture has changed.
When the Soviet Union fell apart the Nagorno-Karabakh area had a mixed population of Azerbaijani (also called Azeri) Shia Muslims and Armenian Christians. As in other former Soviet republics ethnic diversity became problematic when the new states evolved. The mixed areas were fought over and Armenia won the Nagorno-Karabakh area. There have since been several border skirmishes and small wars between the two opponents but the intensity of the fighting is now much higher than before.
In 2006 Yasha Levine wrote about his visit to Nagorno-Karabakh for The Exile. He described the uneven opponents:
“In 1994 the Armenians won and forced Azerbaijan to a ceasefire. In the meantime Nagorno-Karabakh organized itself into a sovereign country [called Artsakh] with its own army, elected officials and parliament. But it still hasn’t been recognized by any country other than Armenia and is still classified as one of the “frozen conflicts” in the region, along with the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia.
But this “frozen conflict” may soon heat up, if you believe what Azerbaijan’s playboy/gambling addict/president, Ilham Aliyev, says. Not that Azerbaijanis should get too excited about another war: If Armenians are still the fighters they were ten years ago, then statistically, it’s the Azeris who’ll do most of the dying. While matched evenly in soldiers, the Azeris had double the amount of heavy artillery, armored vehicles, and tanks than the Armenians; but when it was over, the Azeri body count was three times higher then that of the Armenians. Azeri casualties stood at 17,000. The Armenians only lost 6,000. And that’s not even counting the remaining Azeri civilians the Armenians ethnically cleansed.
Since the strategically-important Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline opened up, pumping Caspian Sea oil to the West via Turkey, the Azeri president has been making open threats about reclaiming Nagorno-Karabakh by force. The $10 billion in oil revenues he expects to earn per year once the pipeline is fully operational is going to his head. $10 billion might not seem that much — but for Azerbaijan it constitutes a 30% spike in GDP. In every single interview, Aliyev can’t even mention the pipeline project without veering onto the subject of “resolving” the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Aliyev started spending the oil cash even before the oil started flowing and announced an immediate doubling of military spending. A little later he announced the doubling of all military salaries. Aliyev’s generals aren’t squeamish about bragging that by next year their military budget will be $1.2 billion, or about Armenia’s entire federal budget.”