Dr  Mordechai Kedar
Dr  Mordechai KedarIsrael National News

The Soviet Union was comprised of fifteen republics until the end of 1991 when it splintered into fifteen ethnic states, each based on one main ethnic unit. In the old Soviet Union, each republic was made up of one main ethnic group although there were some enclaves of different groups. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, some of these ethnic enclaves started a separatist struggle to separate from their new states.

For the most part these were areas populated by ethnic Russians. The most prominent examples of this phenomenon are the Russian areas in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, but there is also the case of the Karabakh enclave in Azerbaijan, the majority of whose inhabitants are Armenians. The war over this enclave broke out immediately with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and its Armenian inhabitants expelled the Azerbaijanis by force. This enclave became a separatist region whose independence was not recognized by any country in the world, including Armenia itself. However, Armenia maintained military forces in the territory of Karabach, the Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan, for 30 years.

In the war that broke out in 2020, the Azerbaijani army expelled the Armenian army units from Karabakh thanks to the aid and weapons it received from Turkey and Israel. The agreement that ended the war returned this territory to the sovereignty of Azerbaijan since it is within its borders, but Armenian separatists remained resisting the Azerbaijani soveregnty. According to the agreement at the end of that war, a Russian military force of "peacekeepers" was stationed in the area, to monitor the security of the separatists. It was decided that the Russians would be the only armed force to protect the rights of the Armenian minority in Karabach.

For the last three years, a local Armenian militia formed in the region numbering about five thousand fighters with heavy weapons (APCs, tanks, artillery, a Russian anti-aircraft system worth tens of millions of dollars) carried out actions against the Azerbaijani army and civilians, mainly using mines which hit vehicles and killed people. In order to put a stop to this terrorist activity, Azerbaijan imposed a siege on the separatist zone in early 2023. This significantly weakened the population's support for the fighters, who continued their struggle against the state forces.

This month, the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, decided to put an end to this violence and in a short but determined operation on Tuesday and Wednesday, September 19-20, 2023, the Azerbaijani army subdued the separatists. The agreement which was signed required the removal of all Armenian militants and soldiers who fought against Azerbaijan from the area.

Armenia did not intervene and its leaders declared that the fight was taking place on the territory belonging to Azerbaijan. It was agreed that the Armenian region remains under Russian security protection, but Azerbaijan can fully exercise its sovereignty over all the entire country. The meaning of the agreement is that the Karabakh problem may have been finally resolved with the region being subject only to Azerbaijani sovereignty.

The beneficiaries of this victory are the countries that helped Azerbaijan over the years, mainly Turkey and Israel, while the losers are Armenia, which definitively lost the Armenian enclave inside Azerbaijan and with it the countries that helped it: Iran and Russia. Russia does not see this as such a great loss since Armenia has tried in recent years to get closer to the West, which prefers Azerbaijan.

Iran, on the other hand, received a heavy blow, since Azerbaijan's victory will strengthen - among other issues - Baku's position to build the Zangzor Pass, a land crossing that passes through Armenian territory and connects Azerbaijan to the east of Armenia with the Azerbaijani Nakhchivan region to the west of Armenia and further to Turkey. The Zangzor crossing is tangent to the border between Armenia and Iran, and Tehran fears that the Azerbaijani crossing will be under Azerbaijan's sovereignty and thus will physically cut Iran off from Armenia and Russia.

The victory of the Azerbaijanis can also affect the Azerbaijani minority in Iran, which resides in the northern part of the country, since this might increase national sentiment among them and push them to demand even more equal rights and even independence from Iran. This demand has been raised in the last two years by the South Azerbaijanis in Iran and separatist activity of this minority - estimated to be around 30 million people - may lead to the disintegration of Iran into ethnic states similar to what happened to the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia.

Azerbaijan's victory will also give a boost to the idea of establishing a highway and railway connecting China to Europe through the Caucasus countries, which will make Azerbaijan a key player on the international level. Taking Azerbaijan's position into account in the energy market and its location north of Iran, the strategic importance of this country is clear. The recent victory over the Armenian separatists in Karabakh only serves to emphasize this more.

There are people for whom the victory over the Christian Armenians in Karabakh raises concerns about their rights, freedoms and well-being under the direct rule of Muslim Azerbaijan. This concern is unfounded, since Azerbaijan's record of minority treatment is excellent and this is evidenced by the state's treatment of the Jewish minority living there and enjoying equality and prosperity without discrimination of any kind. It is likely that the treatment of Christian Armenians living in Karabakh will not be any different as long as they do not act against their country.

In conclusion, we can say that this month probably ended one ethnic-territorial conflict and even if not everyone is happy with it, the current situation is better than continuous bloodshed and human suffering.