On September 27, 2020, the decades-long conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan erupted once again into open violence.* From 1988-1994, the two countries fought a bloody war that took the lives of tens of thousands, and displaced well over a million people on both sides. The flashpoint of the conflict was (and still remains) the land of Nagorny-Karabakh, an area largely populated by ethnic Armenians. When the Soviet Union began to collapse, territorial/ethnic disputes largely repressed since the 1920s came back to the surface, and by the time Nagorny-Karabakh, otherwise known as the Republic of Artsakh, broke away from Azerbaijan in 1991, violence between Armenians and Azerbaijanis was well underway. Since a ceasefire was brokered by Russia and a consortium of European powers in 1994, the conflict has settled into a low-intensity war, marked by sporadic bursts like the so-called Four Day War in 2016. As of this writing, the latest battles in the region grow more vicious by the day, and hundreds of people, including many civilians, have already been killed. Ever quick to attack Armenians, Azerbaijan’s ally Turkey has escalated rather than calm tensions, reportedly shooting down an Armenian jet fighter and recruiting desperate Syrians to come fight someone else’s war.
As Communists, we understand that there are but two kinds of justified wars: wars of national liberation and the class war. Despite the reactionary-nationalist pretensions of warmongers on both sides, and the spineless cheerleading among the Azerbaijani socialist and communist parties, the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia does not fall under either of these two categories. It is a war that does not and cannot benefit the masses of Azerbaijani and Armenian people, because it is not waged by them or for their benefit. It is, in short, a capitalist and chauvinist war.
For this reason, Communists must call for an end to the fighting and the immediate resumption of peace talks, with the direct representation of the working classes and progressive forces in both Armenia and Azerbaijan. If there is to be war, it must be a people’s war against imperialist meddling. Furthermore, we must reiterate our opposition to the aggressive meddling of nearby powers like Turkey, which has only served to heighten and prolong the latest phase of the conflict, and may detonate a war between two small states into an even bloodier regional disaster. Russia has taken a diplomatic tack so far, but Moscow also has thousands of soldiers stationed within Armenia. When we consider that the Russian Federation has sold weapons to both countries for decades (and particularly Azerbaijan), this may seem like a bizarre contradiction, but we hardly have to look far to see how the arms trade is a major tool of and prop for global imperialism.** According to recent figures, both Armenia and Azerbaijan rank among the top ten militarized states in the world, bolstered by Russian, Israeli, and American weapons and training.***
Those of us who live in militarized states know firsthand what it’s like to live in a society where obscene amounts of wealth are wasted on tools of death and repression for the ruling class, rather than human need and progress. Like many post-Soviet states, Armenia and Azerbaijan are both ruled by a corrupt, oligarchical capitalist class that typically acts as middlemen for foreign imperialist powers. In both countries, the social-imperialism of the revisionist Soviet era has largely given way to waves of privatization, but the ruling classes still have their feet in both in the neoliberal camps. As recently as August, Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Ailyev called for the privatization of the state-owned oil and gas giant.**** The dictatorship of the bourgeoise is more openly repressive in Azerbaijan, but the stream of democracy does not run much deeper in Armenia, even with a more vibrant recent history of popular struggle.
Revolutionaries who live in the belly of the beast would be remiss not to assess the role of the United States. While the vulgar anti-imperialists may scour their tea leaves to find how the CIA or the State Department is at the center of every bad thing that happens in the world, the Amerikans do not appear to play a major role in this war thus far. The United States enjoys close political, economic, and military ties to both Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the Trump administration’s brief public statements reflect this, taking no hard position in favor of either party, and urging a return to the negotiating table. Regardless, it is incumbent on Communists and other revolutionaries within the U.S. to keep their eyes open, knowing that when imperialists seek peace, it is not for the sake of the masses, but for their own interests.
It is this writer’s hope that the working classes of Armenia and Azerbaijan, bolstered by their countryfolk and allies abroad, are able to bring lasting peace and progress to their nations through revolutionary struggle.**** Such a victory would benefit not only these two neighbors, but the entire region and the whole world. The most immediate, pressing problem is the reignition of the war over Nagorny-Karabakh, but even if the fighting stopped tomorrow, the roots of this poisonous plant would remain, and the forces that profit from it materially and politically would remain in power. This is a problem the exploited and oppressed people of the region must and can resolve, but they must have internationalist support.
*At this time, it is unclear who fired the first shots, although both sides predictably blame the other.
**Russian companies also exercise great influence within critical sectors of the Armenian economy, such as banking and energy, as do Iran and Europe (chiefly Germany). Truly, the poor nations of the Caucasus are embedded deep in the web of global imperialism!
***According to military spending per capita and as a percentage of GDP. See: https://www.bicc.de/publications/publicationpage/publication/global-militarisation-index-2019-933/.
*****While Azerbaijan has not seen significant protests against this latest phase of war yet, there is evidence that not all Azerbaijanis buy into the hyper-nationalist fever. https://www.criticatac.ro/lefteast/anti-war-statement-of-azerbaijani-leftist-youth/