Azerbaijan recently held a military victory parade in Baku attended by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Azerbaijan celebrated its defeat of Armenia with the parade, precisely one month after the negotiated end of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. Turkey was key in making Azerbaijan’s victory possible, to Russia’s dismay.
Aliyev’s Revenge for the ‘Disgrace’ of 1994
It was a display of a personal win for authoritarian Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. For years he had consistently invested significant money from the lucrative oil and gas business into modernization of his nation’s armed forces.
He never concealed the fact that he considered a military decision in the dispute with Armenia to be worthwhile. The “disgrace” of 1994, when Baku had to surrender Karabakh to Armenian troops and cede seven districts around the former Soviet autonomous region of Nagorno-Karabakh to Yerevan’s control has weighed heavily on Azerbaijan ever since.
Several hundred thousand Azerbaijanis had to flee at that time. Many of them are still living in precarious conditions, pending their return. The retaking of the occupied territories over the past six weeks had been the culmination of, in effect, Azerbaijan’s raison d’etre for almost three decades.
United by War
The timing was also perfect from Baku’s perspective. Azerbaijani society moved closer together. The economy, which had been ailing for a long time due to the fall in raw material prices – and the population worn down by the coronavirus and strict measures against it – have rallied behind Aliyev and his strongman image. Even political dissidents and opposition journalists bullied by the regime have extolled their President’s war rhetoric.
Azerbaijan’s victory had a high cost, nonetheless. According to the figures now published, at least around 2,400 Azerbaijani military personnel lost their lives.
Although he praised the role of his “brother” Erdogan, Aliyev only spoke of “political and moral support,” which was very important from the start. It was left to the Turkish President to thank the Turkish soldiers and the role they played. Around 2,700 Turkish troops marched in the parade and indirectly made it clear that Ankara was militarily and strategically involved in the war.
Erdogan Praises Architect of Armenian Genocide
Erdogan said that Armenia would also benefit from the South Caucasus’s new reality if it learns its lesson. At the same time, he expressed his respect to one of the organizers of the Armenians’ 1915 genocide which occurred during the collapse of the Turkish-run Ottoman Empire.
The Victory Parade may mark the height of Aliyev’s popularity. However, it has raised great expectations and represents the victory as a new start for Azerbaijan. This requires enormous efforts and investments, especially in the regained areas and that in economically challenging times.
The Fight isn’t Over Yet for Azerbaijan
It should also be no coincidence that Aliyev emphasized that the war was also a political success. The November 10th agreement brokered by Russian President Putin to end the war disappointed many in Azerbaijan. They saw themselves thereby deprived of the conquest of the whole of Nagorno-Karabakh, which with the capture of the city of Shusha was within reach. For them, the occupation of Azerbaijani land is not over yet, as the recent breaking of the ceasefire on Dec. 12 attests. The stationing of Russian peacekeeping troops on Azerbaijani territory under international law also meets with displeasure in Azerbaijan.
Meanwhile, relations with Moscow remain complicated. These days, this has manifested in the surprising import ban on, among other things, Azerbaijani tomatoes, an important export product. Moreover, some voices consider in this decision the Russian displeasure with the Azerbaijani-Turkish trump card and particularly the presentation of the Armenian spoils from Russian arms production presented the previous Thursday.
However, the boycott also displays how fragile the ceasefire remains. The final resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict still looks far away – premature victory parade notwithstanding.