The extension of Turkey’s sphere of influence and the weakening of Russia in the South Caucasus were possibly the most significant global consequences of the warlike outcome of the Upper Karabakh conflict in November 2020.
At the time of the Soviet Union, that mountainous region was an autonomy belonging to Azerbaijan, but in 1988 the Armenian community of Upper Karabakh, the majority, rebelled against the Azerbaijani rule of Baku and wanted to incorporate its territory into Armenia. The peaceful coexistence between Armenians and Azerbaijanis was replaced by violence, exodus and ethnic cleansing. The result of the confrontation was tens of thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of refugees on both sides.
In 1994, Russia arbitrated a ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan for Upper Karabakh. With some eventual disruption, that arrangement kept the conflict frozen until 2020.
With the help of Turkey, on September 27 Azerbaijan launched an offensive during which it managed to reconquer a good part of Upper Karabakh, including the former capital Shusha (Shushi for Armenians), and regain the vast adjacent territory that the Armenians held as a belt. security around the old autonomy. Under the agreement signed on November 9 by the Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinian; The President of Azerbaijan, Iljam Aliev, and the Head of State of Russia, Vladimir Putin, Moscow has sent a contingent of almost 2,000 peacekeepers to Upper Karabakh to ensure the safety of the Armenians in the territory that Baku failed to recover . Russian soldiers will also control the corridor that links Stepanakert (capital of Nagorno Karabakh) with the State of Armenia. Azerbaijan, in turn, has obtained a corridor (via Armenia) that allows it to directly access its enclave of Nakhichevan and from there to Turkey. The hopes of self-determination of the Armenians of Upper Karabakh are now being dashed after the substantial cut-back of the territory under their control. From Baku’s perspective, even autonomy doesn’t seem like a possibility for them.
Russia is an ally of Armenia, where it has a military base, but it also maintains good relations with Azerbaijan and sells war equipment to the two countries. While Armenia is a poor state, isolated and dependent on Moscow, Azerbaijan, enriched thanks to hydrocarbons, is key in the supply routes to Turkey and Europe.
In its successful war offensive, Azerbaijan has used weapons acquired in Turkey and also in Israel, especially drones. The Azerbaijani Army, trained in Turkish academies and advised by Turkish military advisers, has proven superior to the Armenian, more outdated in its equipment and combat techniques.
The “six-week war” for domination of Upper Karabakh has cost thousands of lives (Baku estimates its military casualties at 2,783 and Erivan at 2,425). As an ally of Baku, Ankara has claimed a place for itself in monitoring the agreement arbitrated by Russia and will maintain a contingent of observers on the ground in Upper Karabakh. Turkey thus returns to a zone of confluence of ancient empires, where Russia believed it had secured a privileged role.