Behind US Policy in the South Caucasus

The long-time dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno Karabakh region recently erupted once again and involves larger powers as well such as Turkey and Russia. 

Meanwhile the US, France, and Russia have all called for a ceasefire to end the hostilities. However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed Washington’s effort to uphold a truce given that the US, France, and Russia had ignored the conflict for over 30 years, as Reuters cited.

Brief History of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict

 Nagorno-Karabakh is a 4,400-meter square mountainous area that’s legally considered to be part of Azerbaijan. The region is rich in oil resources, a fact which has attracted the attention of outside powers such as Turkey and Russia.

The former Soviet Union integrated the predominantly Armenian-inhabited region into Azerbaijan in 1921. After the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Armenian separatists took over Nagorno Karabakh in fighting backed by the Armenian Government that claimed 30,000 lives on both sides.

In 1994, Russia, the US and France mediated a truce. However, conflict continued to sporadically break out between Armenia and Azerbaijan, with 110 killed in heavy clashes in 2016.

Foreign Interests in Nagorno Karabakh

Russia is considered a close ally of Armenia, given that the latter hosts a Russian military base. However, Russia also supplies arms to both sides and is one of the Minsk Group co-chairs that mediates the conflict.

Turkey traditionally supports Azerbaijan. Erdogan has called on Azerbaijan Muslims to continue their fighting to seize the land which they lost in the early 1990s.

Iran-which borders with Armenia and Azerbaijan—worries that the conflict will spill into the borders given that Turkey is now involved in the fighting and Russia may also intervene.  

Washington’s Policy on Armenia-Azerbaijan

The US does not seem to show an interest in actively participating In the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. There are several key reasons for this.

“Several factors have been linked with the US’ passive approach to the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. The US seems to refrain from intervening in the conflict as Washington has its calculations in case it steps in the region. Also, the US has no interest in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. Additionally, the US under Donald Trump is busy in dealing with the pandemic (that has infected several in the White House, including Trump and his wife, Melania) as the election is approaching,” international affairs expert Yusran told InsideOver.

The US’ standard call for a truce shows that Washington is avoiding being involved in the conflict deeply as the Trump administration has been busy focusing on its role in the Middle East, the lecturer at Budi Luhur University added.

Iran Should be Included in the Peace Process

Elmar Mamedov, a political advisor to the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats in the European Parliament, wrote in the American Conservative that America’s anti-Iran policy could undermine Armenia’s peace process with Azerbaijan.

Iran does not side with Armenia or Azerbaijan (while Turkey supports Azerbaijan). Tehran even worries the conflict in South Caucasus will impact the border with Armenia and Azerbaijan.

However, Iran was not included in the Minsk Group, assigned by the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to further conflict resolution.

Washington’s anti-Iran policy will not solve the conflict in Armenia and Azerbaijan, given that the South Caucasus is different from the Middle East and Iran is a potentially important partner in working out a peaceful solution to the conflict. 

Status of Nagorno-Karabakh

There has been no special mandate from the UN regarding the independence of Nagorno Karabakh, making the situation even more complicated.

Yusran stated that the collaboration between the US, Russia, and France in the Minsk Group has not effectively resolved the dispute.

In addition, Russia’s status as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and subsequent veto power along with the US and France is a dilemma the UN faces when it comes to resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.