By Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2875

Thousands of Armenian refugees forced to flee as imperialist rivalries ramp up

Armenia and Azerbaijan are at the centre of imperialist rivalries
Issue 2875
Map of the Caucasus  including Armenia and Azerbaji

Map of the Caucasus (Picture: Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

Over 65,000 Armenian refugees have fled Nagorno-Karabakh after Azerbaijani forces seized the breakaway republic last week.

Azerbaijan’s lightning offensive—backed by Turkey and approved by Russia—overwhelmed separatist forces who have ruled the republic since 1991. It forced out half the population of  Nagorno-Karabakh by Thursday.

It came after a ten-month long blockade brought people to the brink of starvation. Now, in fear of state assaults, hundreds of cars choke the one road from Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia.

On Thursday, the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh announced it would dissolve itself by January.

Azerbaijan president Ilham Aliyev warned that a previous offer of autonomy has “gone to hell” as he prepares to reintegrate the region.

Growing imperialist rivalry over the South Caucasus region, which straddles Europe, the Middle East and Asia (see map), lies behind the horror facing the refugees.

Armenia and Azerbaijan sit along a fault line of imperialist rivalries. It begins in northern Europe on the border between Russia and the Baltic states, tears through Ukraine, goes through the Caucasus and into central Asia.

Tensions have risen sharply along this faultline between the US, Russia, China and other regional powers since the war in Ukraine. This proxy war between US and Russian imperialism has driven a new alignment between Russia, Turkey and Azerbaijan in the Caucasus.

The Russian state now sees Azerbaijan—its main land route to the Middle East and Asia—as more strategically important than its traditional ally Armenia.

Turkey wants to impose a land corridor from Azerbaijan to Nakhchivan, a part of Azerbaijan that is separated from the country by Armenia.

This would open up a new transport route from China and central Asia to Turkey and the Mediterranean. This would weaken the importance of Georgia—aligned with Nato—as a transport and energy hub in the region.

By giving the nod to Azerbaijan’s operation, Russia hopes to keep a military presence in the country and act to police the corridor. It has maintained a “peace keeping” force in Nagorno-Karabakh since a previous clash between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in 2020 (see below).

This would provide Russian president Vladimir Putin with a much-needed win after humiliating setbacks in Ukraine.

Nagorno-Karabakh is another reminder that Ukraine marked a dangerous turning point. We’re now living, in the words of Nato planners, in a world of “great power competition” that threatens terrifying wars and nuclear annihilation.  

Supporting one imperialist camp or another in this clash only guarantees more war, more death, more people turned into refugees.

All those who cheer on Nato or Putin in Ukraine should own the horrors taking place in Nagorno-Karabakh.

A history of imperial rivalry

After the Soviet Union broke apart into 15 republics in 1991, Russia was a shadow of its former self. But it was determined to maintain control of its neighbouring states—what it calls its “near abroad”.

The energy rich Caucasus—made up of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia—was a key area. As one Russian minister, Kim Tsagalov, said, “Russia is participating in this confrontation between world powers in disadvantageous conditions. In spite of this, we must defend our position on the Caucasian bridgehead.”

In its weakened state, Russia relied on stirring up ethnic divisions, separatist conflicts and civil wars.

In 1991 separatist forces declared an independent Republic of Artsakh in the predominantly Armenian and Christian region.

In 1992 and 1993 Armenian forces—backed by Russia—fought for control of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Turkey, a member of the US-led warmongers’ alliance Nato, threatened to bomb the Armenian capital Yerevan. It feared the war would destabilise Azerbaijan, a potential bridgehead to energy resources in the Caspian Sea.

Meanwhile, the US worked to build ties with countries that had been part of the Soviet Union. It was determined to cement its hegemony as the world’s only superpower after the end of the Cold War.

The US found willing partners in sections of the old Stalinist ruling class in Azerbaijan. The former KGB secret policeman, Haydar Aliyev, reinvented himself as a democrat and local nationalist.

After becoming president in 1993, his authoritarian regime bound Azerbaijan closer to the West with a series of agreements with Nato, the EU and oil and gas companies. His son Ilham Aliyev—who took over as president in 2003—has deepened those ties.

In 2020 Armenian and Azerbaijani forces clashed over Nagorno-Karabakh, ending in a Russian and Turkish monitored ceasefire.

No imperialist power, whether Russia or the US, has any genuine care for the rights of people to self-determination or peace. They only care about furthering their own imperialist interests.

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