The landlocked mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh is the subject of an unresolved dispute between Azerbaijan, in which it lies, and its ethnic Armenian majority, backed by neighbouring Armenia. This conflict is ethnic-based and may well serve as a warning to many countries of the developing world that too confront frequent ethnic issues. In this context, it must be mentioned that a survey of the ethnic politics is conducted with a view to comprehend the issue better.
It must be borne in mind that politics essentially deals with finding an amiable way to facilitate the processes pertaining to human wants and needs. It is a simple question of who gets what without disturbing the status quo. In this context it refers to groups with a shared interest in getting a particular need fulfilled. Applying this perception to ethnic conflict the conclusion drawn is that ethnic groups are simply another sort of interest group competing with each other for economic and political goods just as other groups do. Mostly people organise as an ethnic group when it seems the most practical way to get what they want and they organise on different lines when that seems more likely to work.
Ethnic grouping is a term usually applied to stereotypes that arouse feelings of hostility inherent in their very nature but this is how ethnic symbolism works often giving rise to deep-seated dislikes that usually are the outcome of preexisting historical myths. It is however a tragic reminder of the relevance of such perceptions that ethnic beliefs are renewed in each generation by mythologies that are typically modern revisions of older stories with quite different messages. In the current world ethnic symbols are also attributed to economic woes that motivate the aggrieved ethnic group. The idea of ethnic symbolism is quite relevant because it combines the logic of the ancient distrust, manipulative tactics and economic rivalry. Ethnic symbols have the potential of being effectively used by manipulative groups but they only work when there is some real or perceived conflict of interest at work.
Ethnic rivalries are sustained by the fact that without perceived conflicts of interest it is cumbersome to motivate people and mobilise them into action. Moreover, it is also realised by manipulators that without emotional commitment based on hostile feelings, they lack sufficient impetus to do so. It is therefore witnessed that vibrant, emotionally laden ethnic politics are ubiquitous in multiethnic areas that also include Pakistan. The ethnic perpetrators ensure that prejudiced symbolic politics and insecurity feed each other and the result invariably is that ethnic prejudice and hostility make people more likely to see the other group as threatening; while feelings of threat and insecurity contribute to the success of efforts by ethnic leadership to stir up trouble.
The main ingredients of ethnicity, myths and fears, are played upon by the ethnic perpetrators ensuring that on any available opportunity they will be able to exploit them politically. The ethnic conflicts occur when the politics of ethnic symbolism goes to extremes, provoking hostile actions and leading to a security dilemma. In some cases, the transformation toward extremism is led by ethnic leaders but in most cases it is the outcome of the enraged emotions provoked by propaganda by ethnic leaders. It is however a case where conflicts emerge due to a process in which extremist politics and insecurity mutually re-inforce each other in provocative spiral.
Viewed in this backdrop the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over what the Soviets called Nagorno-Karabakh has purported to have historical roots which include both genuine precedents going back about a century and more dubious interpretations of much earlier history. The complexity of the conflict is implied even in the name of the region as it is the curious combination of Turkish, Persian and Russian words. Historically, these areas have remained a bone of contention between Ottoman, Persian and Russian empires for many centuries. These areas were accordingly inhabited by both Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims along with people following Russian Orthodox Church. The late 18th century witnessed the look-east policy of Russian empress Catherine the Great whose favourite courtier Potemkin was primarily instrumental in annexing many areas of the Persian empire such as Georgia and the Russian empire expanded east for the next century and a half. Russian enmity with Ottoman Empire continued till the extinction of both the empires.
The impact of these influences is reflected in the name Nogorno Karabakh in which Nogorno is Russian for mountainous region, Kara is the Turkish for black and Bakh or Bagh is Persian for garden. The modem history of the conflict is attributed to 1813 Treaty of Gulistan which resulted in Persia’s cession of most of the contemporary Republic of Azerbaijan, including Karabakh, to Russia. From that time on, Azerbaijan, the area west and southwest of the Caspian Sea mostly inhabited by Turkic-speaking Shi’ite Muslims, was divided in two: the northern portion under Russian rule and a southern section which remained under Persian rule.
The 1828 Russian annexation of the Nakhjivan and Erevan areas impelled further changes, sparking a century-long process of Armenian migration from Persia and the Ottoman Empire to Russian-held territory. The result was to change the ethnic composition of regions comprising most of modern Armenia and Mountainous Karabakh from predominantly Muslim to majority-Armenian areas. The first upsurge of Armenian nationalism in the 1880s caused both the Ottoman and the Russian Empires to be increasingly suspicious of the loyalty of their Armenian subjects. Ottoman Empire retaliated to Armenian uprising in 1894 in the old Armenian heartland of eastern Anatolia by quelling the disturbances.
The ethnic complexity of the situation kept on exacerbating taking the worst shape in 1915-17 when the Ottoman government exiled over a million Armenian civilians who found themselves exposed to further horrors as Russian authority in the South Caucasus evaporated in early 1918. Soon the Armenians and Azerbaijanis began committing a series of atrocities against each other all across Armenia and Azerbaijan. Karabakh fell under Azerbaijani authority but the Armenians of the region repeatedly rebelled. With most of the Azerbaijani army concentrated against Armenia, Soviet Russian troops marched into Baku and Azerbaijan was annexed with Armenia following suit. Stalin eventually decided to award the first two areas to Azerbaijan and the third to Armenia but Karabakh’s status remained an issue.
The issue remained unsolved though it remained an extremely contentious one with war erupting in 1988 when the Karabakh Armenians demanded that Karabakh be transferred from Soviet Azerbaijan to Soviet Armenia. The conflict escalated into a full-scale war in the early 1990s between Armenia and Azerbaijan after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. A ceasefire was signed in 1994 providing for two decades of relative stability that significantly deteriorated along with Azerbaijan’s increasing frustration with the status quo, at odds with Armenian efforts to cement it. A four day escalation in 2016 became the deadliest ceasefire violation until the recent 2020 conflict. The fighting stopped with a ceasefire agreement in November 2020, by which most of the territories lost by Azerbaijan were returned to Azerbaijan. The area is sill rated to be a powder-keg open to exploitation by proxy forces willing to ignite further conflict. TW