I. Legacy of the Soviet Union
Southern Caucasus became a conflict formation with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Conflicts spill all over the region and Nagorno-Karabakh is especially a problematic issue. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, violence between two communities turned into a full-scale war and ended with a ceasefire in 1994. Still, from this point on, certain clashes happened between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces. Clashes resurfaced in 2020 and escalated to a full-scale war again. It ended with a treaty that ending most of the occupation in Nagorno-Karabakh, establishing a land connection between Azerbaijan proper and Nakhichevan under Russian control and deployment of Russian forces, and possibly Turkish forces, to Nagorno-Karabakh as peacekeeping forces. Numerous factors are contributing to the conflict and reproducing it constantly. This is why Nagorno-Karabakh is presenting unique importance for regional security. Understanding the historical dynamics of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict presenting a challenge; due to the unique features of the Southern Caucasus, but it is necessary if we are willing to discuss the possible peace in the region.
Disagreements and clashes over Nagorno-Karabakh begin with the dissolution of Tsarist Russia. During the interim period between Tsarist Russia and Soviet Russia; Nagorno-Karabakh was a region of the Republic of Azerbaijan. In this period, relative peace was achieved through the active cooperation of Azerbaijani forces and Turkish general Nuri Pasha; who was present in the region. In April 1920, the Sovietization of the Southern Caucasus begun and swiftly, Soviet rule over Azerbaijan has been declared.1 Saporov, Arsene, (2014), From Conflict to Autonomy in the Caucasus: The Soviet Union and the making of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno Karabakh, London: Routledge, s. 95 After one-month, Soviet rule over Nagorno-Karabakh also established. By December 1920, all of the Southern Caucasus was Sovietized. Due to the timely and successful actions of Azerbaijani leadership; Azerbaijan managed to hold its position over Nagorno-Karabakh during and after Sovietization.2 ibid, 109 Yet, Azerbaijani leadership was forced to grant some autonomy to Mountainous Karabakh; thus, dividing the historical Karabakh region.3 ibid, 115 Eventually an autonomous region was created in Karabakh within Azerbaijani SSR. Land claims of SSR’s formed on the bases of old administrative divisions and demography.4 ibid, 121 It should be noted that Turkic presence in the region never counted properly and always underestimated due to pastoral nomadism way of life among Turkic people there. Armenians made some appeals to attach Nagorno-Karabakh to the Armenian SSR during the 60s, 70s, and finally in the Gorbachev era; which concluded with a full-scale war. It is interesting that there are not any objections or complaints about grievances in Nagorno-Karabakh against Azerbaijani SSR rule, unlike South Ossetian or Abkhazian stance against Georgian SSR.5 ibid, 159 We should remember, in the Soviet Union, due to repression policies, many ethnic and national groups were using academic-cultural institutions to voice their political stance. Armenian SSR also turned its academic institutions into political voice and actively worked for attaching Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region to Armenian SSR; while Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region within Azerbaijani SSR stood silent in these matters and neglect its so-called relations with Armenian SSR. Armenian land-grabbing attempts successfully fend off by Azerbaijani leadership. In the 1960s, Armenian nationalism became more prominent in the Armenian SSR and mass demonstrations that call for annexation of some parts of Turkey and Nagorno-Karabakh have happened. This sort of blow-outs happened throughout all of Armenian SSR history; due to Armenian SSR’s radical politicization of history and academia. These provocations and constant propaganda of the Armenian SSR eventually led a tense situation between Azerbaijani leadership and Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh.6 ibid, 165
The latest Armenian attempt to attach Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region to Armenia turned violent. After Armenians took advantage of glasnost and began to mobilize to attach Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia; Azerbaijanis protested these attempts and walk from Agdam to Hankandi; a clash occurred and two Azerbaijani were killed. After a direct rule of Moscow over Nagorno-Karabakh; Gorbachev restored Azerbaijani rule over the region; Armenians failed to recognize the situation.7 ibid, 167
II. Conceptual background of the analysisç.
This analysis will use the regional security complex to make sense of the Southern Caucasus’ security climate. Thus, it is important to present a brief introduction to the concept. Buzan and Weaver8 Buzan, Barry and Weaver, Ole, (2003), Regions and Powers: The Structure of International Security, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, s. 3-4 argued that there is a different security level between system-level and sub-system level of local units and claiming there is another structure: regional security complexes. In other words, regional security complexes creating more depth for security studies; going beyond national and global levels of security. Regional Security Complex Theory uses a blended approach. While it is close to neo-realism by acknowledging the importance and role of the distribution of power and bounded territoriality; it also recognizing historical context; which is definitive in the formation of regional security climate.9 ibid, 4 It is also more welcoming while spotting the effects of geographical interaction and its effects of security sectors. While great powers can penetrate certain adjacent regions, small powers are locked into their own complex and superpowers have a global reach.10 ibid, 46 Through this rationale and simple balance-of-power logic, regional security complexes are affecting global security as well. The regional level is crucial for global security because while through balance-of-power notion, great powers are penetrating to the complex and projecting its own agenda; the regional security complex also shaping the behavior of great power; thus, reproducing global security. It is important to remember that regional security complex is an analytical term which is relying on a constructivist approach too. It is shaped by the actions of security actors in the region.11 Buzan, Barry and Weaver, Ole, (2003), Regions and Powers: The Structure of International Security, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, s. 41
According to Buzan and Weaver12 ibid, 53-54 ; there are insulator states, which are occupying weak interaction zones. They are facing more than one world, yet are not powerful enough to unify them; thus, facing the problem of many worlds. In this theory, an insulator means that a location that stands between more than one regional security complex. Such as Turkey; which is at the crossroads of Balkans, Caucasus, and the Middle East; in addition to its borders with the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. There are two views in the literature; while first is arguing that regional security complexes can overlap; the latter is claiming they are mutually exclusive. The first understanding will be employed in this analysis; due to challenges presented by the subjected region and to take advantage of balance-of-power dynamics too.
A regional security complex can be seen in three forms: conflict formation, security regime, and security community. A security regime means an environment that forces nations to strain their behavior because of the belief that other nations will reciprocate.13 Jervis, Robert, (1982), “Security Regimes”, International Organization, V. 36, N. 2, s. 357 If security interdependence between actors of the region is at the enmity level, actors are identifying each other negatively and actors in the region are securitizing each other; then we are talking about a conflict formation.14 Vural, Ebru, (2010), The Middle East As A Regional Security Complex: Continuities and Changes in Turkish Foreign Policy Under The JDP Rule, Yayınlanmamış Doktora Tezi, s. 21 Security community, on the other hand, is a position that is achieved when actor states are completed their de-securitization processes of each other and cannot think to use violence against each other to solve the problems. At that point, inter-state problems are perceiving as fully political issues rather than security issues, mostly connected to survival problems.
Southern Caucasus presenting an example of a regional security complex which includes Iran, Russia, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan notably. The securitizing process between Turkey and Azerbaijan is working differently than the process between Russia and Armenia; and Iran is acting in a different fashion also. Yet, Iran and Russian-Armenian block is acting quite similar when it comes to the Turkish-Azerbaijani block. It is possible to say that Southern Caucasus is a bipolar regional security complex by the securitization of the environment in the region. It is important to note that while Turkey and Azerbaijan completed the process of de-securitization of each other; situation is not the same for Iran, Russia and Armenia. Thus, we are talking about a standard but bipolar, because of the complex securitization processes, regional security complex. Moreover, the presence of a deterrent force in the region is questionable; as it is already obvious in the recent conflict. This situation is making it easier for us to qualify the region as conflict formation. In addition, due to the recent treaty that ending the occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian side begin to grow some kind of grudge against Russia; which is marginalizing the conflict in the region further.
Historical background in Southern Caucasus, as it is discussed, is the main reason of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and continuing hostility. Due to the Soviet Union’s legacy and Tsarist policy to provoke Armenians in the region against Turkic peoples; Armenian perception of Turkic peoples evolved to a position of a nemesis. As it is discussed earlier, Armenian SSR’s academic attempts to attach Nagorno-Karabakh itself is actually a deep securitizing effort. Since the formation of the Soviet Union, Armenian leadership is securitizing other actors in the region; most notably Turkey and Azerbaijan. These securitization efforts turned into demonization soon; especially during recent conflicts and in the 1990s. Eventually led to the ethnic cleansing of Azerbaijanis in Nagorno-Karabakh and the Khojaly Genocide. Armenia’s relations with Russia and Iran formed on a negative perception of Turkey and Azerbaijan and the securitization of these two actors. In other words, enmity relations between Turkey-Azerbaijan and Armenia-Russia-Iran blocks are the definitive notion in the region.
Iran, on the other hand, took a revisionist position in the international community after the revolution and the establishment of new regime. New regime notably took a position against Turkey and Azerbaijan; because of numerous reasons. Iran’s position against Azerbaijan mostly deriving from demographics in Southern Azerbaijan territory and early stance of Popular Front of Azerbaijan. Considerable Turkic population in Iran leads Iranian regime to securitize Turkey and Azerbaijan in the region; due to concerns over pan-Turkism.15 Iran fears spillover from Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict raises spectre of ‘pan-Turkism’ in Iran This led to a cooperation between Iran and Armenia in the region. Besides, Iran’s revisionist agenda mandates undermining the security of the NATO and its partners in the region. Thus, hurting Turkey and Azerbaijan by any mean is in accordance with Iran’s broader agenda and its revisionist position in international community. Moreover, it is a part of bigger competition; Iran is attempting to restrain Turkey, just like Turkey is attempting to restrain Iran in other regions as well. In national security sense, it is a spill-over of Iranian-Turkish competition in other regions and Iran’s suppression of so-called pan-Turkist sentiments in the region. In global sense, Iran is fending-off NATO’s presence in its western flank by using Armenia to block Turkish-Azerbaijan connection and presenting a constant threat through Armenia; thus, fortifying revisionist camp in the region. Iran is doing these by securitizing Turkic identity both domestically and internationally. Even though there are high-ranking Turkic officials within Iranian state; Turkic identity is under heavy repression and Iran is using sectarian policies as well to repress Turkic identity domestically. Iran’s position in the regional security complex driving region to being a conflict formation; instead of a security regime.
Russia, as another revisionist state, following an agenda like Iran; but with certain differences. Russia is paying specific attention to its former territories. During the Soviet era, thanks to the skillful maneuvers of Azerbaijani leadership, Moscow restrained Armenian efforts and claims over Nagorno-Karabakh. During the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russian intervention to Baku, leading January 20th Massacre, against the Popular Front of Azerbaijan created a positive environment for Armenians and encourage Armenian leadership to illegally take over Nagorno-Karabakh. Especially after Cold War, Russia attempted to restrain a possible Turkish influence in the region; thus, it takes a pro-Armenian side in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the 90s and provides material support and protection to Armenia through its base there. Same as Iran, Russia also aiming to block the Turkish-Azerbaijani connection that is allowing NATO to reach the Caspian Sea. In a national security sense, Russia is trying to control its former territories thus securing its southern flank and strategic Caucasian region. Furthermore, Russian “near abroad” understanding makes it necessary for Russia to intervene in former Soviet territory; whether through active intervention; like in Ukraine and the Black Sea Regional Security Complex or through passive intervention; like the last conflict in Karabakh. This national security concern of Russia creating an interventionist, sometimes even expansionist like in Crimea, the tendency in its foreign policy. This nature of Russian foreign policy triggering conflict in regional security complexes that it got involved. It is the main source of Russia’s conflict-producing effect on global security. In a global sense, the Russian attempt to control Caucasia is important for its revisionist position in the international community; due to Caucasia’s strategic importance. Much like in the Iranian example, it is also a spill-over of the Turkish-Russian conflict. Russia’s securitization attempts also focusing on Turkey and Azerbaijan, mostly on Turkey and fear of a pan-Turkism agenda is also widely used.16 Газета “Тюркский взгляд” поддержала Азербайджан: пантюркисты уже в России? Muslim and Turkic, especially Oghuz, identity is the main target of Russian securitization in the region. Unlike Iran, Russia taking steps of de-securitization of Armenia; through a shared Orthodox Christian identity. These steps also breeding enmity in the region and driving the region to being a conflict formation.
Turkish-Azerbaijani block on the other hand is differentiating from other actors in the region. Turkey and Azerbaijan completed their processes of de-securitization each other. This is actually a long-completed process. Nuri Pasha’s presence in Southern Caucasus to support new Republic of Azerbaijan in early 20th Century and Narimanov’s support to Turkish War of Independence is most notable examples of cooperation between those two countries. With the end of Cold War “two states, one nation” adopted as dominant discourse while defining the relation between those two states. In addition, even though times of dissociation between two states, problem never escalate to a security issue. For instance, when some elements in Turkish state supported an anti-Aliyev coup d’etat attempt in Azerbaijan; it was former President of Turkey who warned Haydar Aliyev about the issue. When Turkey attempted to develop its relations with Armenia, certain elements within Turkish states keep the warm relations with Azerbaijan and the perception of the issue never escalated to a betrayal level. At these lowest points of Turkish-Azerbaijani relations, problem was never perceived as a security issue. Shared Turkic identity and strong anti-Russian sentiment in late Ottoman era played an important role in de-securitization process. Even after Soviet Union, de-securitization process managed to protect itself. It is possible to say that; even though it isn’t projected to the whole region, Turkey and Azerbaijan may be qualified as a security community. In addition to those, Turkey and Azerbaijan’s commitment to the rule-based global order; may cause them to produce peace in the region by taming Armenia and neutralizing Russian and Iranian position in the region.
Alliance pattern in the region thus obvious. This pattern mainly shaped by states’ position in international community. While Turkish-Azerbaijani block consisting a pro-order block within the regional security complex; Russian-Iranian-Armenian block presenting a revisionist gravity point. Simple balance-of-power logic can be visible through Israeli-Azerbaijani relations and developing Chinese influence over revisionist block in the region. China is approaching to region by same securitization processes with Iran and Russia. Moreover, its revisionist agenda is urging China to penetrate the complex; while Israel is seeking to restrain Iran in the region.
As it is obvious, rivalry and conflict in the region have strong effects on global order and security. Being a strategic location, Southern Caucasus is a nestle for precious resources beside its position to reach Central Asia. Moreover, it is the location for revisionist states, Iran and Russia, to establish land-connection with each other. External Chinese influence in the region and investments to Armenia also consisted on similar geo-political interests. For revisionist block, Southern Caucasus is a too important region to be left to Turkish-Azerbaijani block. These geo-political interests are breeding conflict in the region and hindering even a security regime. On the other hand, Turkey and Azerbaijan by completing de-securitization processes of each other; increasing the amity level of the region. Besides, Turkish-Azerbaijani attitude in the region is quite unlike Armenians’, Iranians’ and Russians’ attitude. Rather than referencing long-history and doubtful events or demonizing the other; Turkey and Azerbaijan strongly referencing international law and rule-based international order and demanding an end to illegal occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh. Thus, Turkish-Azerbaijani cooperation is presenting a hope for peace in Southern Caucasus and possibly for world. Ending the occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh may solve the conflict in the Southern Caucasus for a time; but real problem is presence of revisionist states in the region and their behaviour to produce conflict. To solve this problem permanently; it is vital to limit revisionist states in the region. Part of solution, cutting the land-connection between two revisionist state is crucial. Since, it is not possible for Armenia to shift block as long as it keeps receiving support from those states; other options should be thought of. On the contrary of this, because of lack of external support, Russia managed to broke a deal between Azerbaijan and Armenia; which forces Armenia to leave certain parts of Nagorno-Karabakh immediately and other parts after a while. Moreover, according to this deal a joint Turkish-Russian peacekeeping force17 Turkey may send peacekeeping forces to Nagorno-Karabakh, talks continue is going to be deployed to the region and most importantly; there will be an open land connection between Nakhchivan and Azerbaijan-proper under Russian control. Strategic Lachin Corridor will be under Russian control too.18 Statement by President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia and President of the Russian Federation This agreement is a victory of Azerbaijan; since Azerbaijan managed to liberate its territories from Armenian occupation; yet it isn’t a sufficient framework for peace. As it is mentioned, the role of Russia and Iran is the reason of Southern Caucasus’ qualification as a conflict formation. Even though, it looks like Russian intervention turned the region into a security regime; it is actually an attempt to expand influence. Thus, it can never bring peace; just as in 90s, it can only freeze the conflict. Achieving peace in Southern Caucasus may be possible by a sovereign land connection between Nakchivan and Azerbaijan-proper; thus, connecting Mediterranean Sea and Caspian Sea, ensuring energy security in a more direct and secure fashion; also allowing to reach rule-based global order to Caspian Sea directly; thus, breaking revisionist states geo-political position.
To sum it all, Southern Caucasus regional security complex is a place where strong revisionist states are a member of the complex against the states; which are favouring rule-based global order. Presence of revisionist states are determining the quality of the complex; thus, making it a conflict formation; by constant securitizing other actors and breeding enmity within the region. This situation in the region is stiffen by the last peace agreement. Now, energy security is dependable to Russia more than ever. Still, there are certain gains. Land-connection between Nakchivan and Azerbaijan-proper is promising; even under Russian control. It is a hope for free passage in future. Moreover, most of the illegal Armenian occupation in Nagorno-Karabakh will end. Nonetheless, one should keep in mind, revisionist states are conflict bringers and presence of Russian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh will only hold a knife against Azerbaijan. Furthermore, Russia established its former influence in Armenia again. It should be recognized that Russia already begin to deny any agreement that including Turkish forces in the area; on the contrary of Aliyev’s statements. Discussions over Turkish presence in Karabakh is ongoing. If there is going to be any chance for peace in Southern Caucasus; it will be only possible a free land-connection between Nakchivan and Azerbaijan-proper, securing energy and dividing revisionist axis in the region, and a complete end of occupation in Nagorno-Karabakh; while excluding Russian armed presence in the region. Only then, it will be possible to tame Armenia and free it from Russian influence, bring it closer to rule-based global order and break revisionist connection in the region. Unless mentioned possibilities are realized, Southern Caucasus will remain a conflict formation, national securities of Turkey and Azerbaijan will always be at risk and revisionist axis will grow stronger; which is jeopardizing global security as a whole.