Several weeks ago I quoted Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the UK boasting about the size of his country’s military:
We categorically reject the allegations on the use of Syrian mercenaries. Azerbaijan’s armed forces are ranked 64 according to Global Firepower in terms of military strength and are perfectly capable of providing every protection Azerbaijan needs. Armenia, however, is ranked 111.
It appears his boast was not in vain. After 6 weeks of war, a ceasefire has been agreed, and Azerbaijan has retaken the disputed region it first lost in the 1990s (for more see my piece here). The NYT has reporting from the ground, full of photography and interviews. Some excerpts from an Azerbaijani interviewed:
“It is the end of longing and living bad times,” he said. “When you are a displaced person, and when you are longing for that place and you cannot visit it, that place becomes more than just a stone or mountain, it becomes like a beloved person. You want to kiss it, and lie down on it and feel the energy from the earth.”
And an Armenian:
Armenians appeared determined to make resettling the area as difficult as possible. They knocked down power lines and disassembled restaurants and gas stations. Men with chain saws fanned out across the roadside, stuffing freshly cut logs into vans and truck beds.
“Let them die from the cold,” said one man, who had arrived from Armenia, collecting the logs.
Russian peacekeepers will patrol the new border for at least five years, but it seems unlikely this will be the end of things. A few unfortunate things to keep in mind:
- When Azerbaijan lost the first war in the 1990s, millions were displaced and an entire generation grew up on stories of national humiliation and the need for revenge. It will now be Armenia’s turn. There have already been accusations of treason or betrayal against Armenia’s Prime Minister for his role in the ceasefire.
- Events will have illustrated to Azerbaijan’s dictator, Ilham Aliyev, who was under pressure before conflict broke out, the political benefits of fighting (and winning) wars.
- Russia, Turkey, and Iran border one or both countries and are engaged in a broader struggle for influence in the region. This means simmering hatreds could get caught up in larger regional currents.