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Political economy of a “Soviet Legacy” conflict: Retrospective overview of Nagorno-Karabakh war


During the 1980s, Soviet rulers acknowledged that there is a strong necessity for the significant transformation of the system. The fundamental methodological approach manifested as making communism operate more efficiently to better meet the needs and wants of Soviet citizens by adopting some elements of economic liberalism. In 1985, as the new general secretary, Mikhail Gorbachev publicly proclaimed the general orientation of his proposals to reform the Soviet Union. His plans were encapsulated in two policies: perestroika and glasnost. Albeit, perestroika was heavily related to economic reform, glasnost granted some freedom to Soviet citizens to express thoughts about the system and its rulers. However, Gorbachev’s embarkment on an ambiguous program of reforms with his incompetent management only catalyzed the natural process of collapse of the USSR by creating shortages, political, social, and economic tensions within the union. Nonetheless, it is a prevalent opinion among the prominent scholars that it was almost impossible to reorganize the Soviet Union, which was suffering from longstanding and sophisticated political and economic structural problems.

Gorbachev’s contradictory reform attempts that accompanied by his personal managerial failure and subsequently, the emergence or re-emergence of 15 sovereign states from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics following its dissolution in 1991, triggered the resurgence of historical grievances that had been inaccurately kept down during the Soviet rule by utilization of numerous ideological instruments and administrative resources. Within 12 years, between 1988 and 2000 a plethora of minor and major armed conflicts took place in former member states due to the dramatic rise in separatist or expansionist inclinations, which can be categorized as “Soviet legacy”. The noteworthy martial issues that changed the destiny of the post-soviet region are Georgian Civil War (1991-1993), Tajikistani Civil War (1992-1997), First and Second Chechen Wars (1994-1996, 1999-2000), War in Abkhazia (1992–1993), Nagorno Karabakh War (1988-1994), and Transnistria War (1992).

From the aspect of geopolitical importance and for its consequences, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict requires a distinct comprehensive analysis among the above-mentioned conflicts. The seeds of a century-old controversy are assumed to be sprouted during the rule of Russian Empire with the migration of Armenians (a community with belligerent attitude to Turkic ethnicity) to South Caucasus from Persia with Treaty of Turkmenchay (1828) and from Ottoman Empire with Treaty of Adrianople (1829). Till the first armed conflict between the first Republic of Armenia and the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, Armenian armed militias already committed ethnic cleansing in specific regions of Azerbaijan. For instance, only in March Genocide (1918), 12,000 Azerbaijanis were massacred in Baku by radical Armenians and Bolshevik troops. With the Sovietization of both countries, the Caucasus Bureau (successor of Transcaucasian SFSR) left the region within the Azerbaijan SSR. Although some attempts were made to resurge the issue, with the intervention of Soviet authorities the extent of topicality diminished substantially, until Gorbachev’s inefficient reforms.

In 1987, the dispute shifted into a new phase by an assault on Azerbaijanis in the Gafan district of Armenia. Subsequently, in 1988, the mass deportation of Azerbaijanis from Armenia oriented the flow of processes to an uncertain direction. Rather than managing the crisis, Gorbachev had chosen a martial option. So that the escalation culminated with the Soviet military’s violent crackdown on a civilian population of Baku in January 1990. This attempt caused the emergence of counterproductive effects and created a rational basis for the independence of Azerbaijan.

Since the proclamation of independence by Azerbaijan and Armenia in the autumn of 1991, Nagorno-Karabakh dispute transformed into a war accompanied by intense combats. In 3 years, 20% of Azerbaijani territory (Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent 7 districts) has fallen under Armenian occupation, more than 1 million Azerbaijanis were displaced including those from both Armenia and Karabakh, and Azerbaijani civilians had been subjected to ethnic cleansing in Khojaly, Aghdaban, and Garadaghly by Armenian armed forces. The conflict entered to the passive phase with the Bishkek protocol of ceasefire in 1994. From the economic dimension, during the war about 900 Azerbaijani villages were looted. Armenian aggression led to the formation of high-risk levels for regional economic security. In the light of devastating outcomes of the war, in 1994 inflation rose to 1,800% and during 1989-1994, the total GDP decreased by about 60%. The reduction of GDP in agriculture was about 43 percent and in the industry about 60%. According to the United Nations, the overall damage to Azerbaijani economy is estimated to be around $53.5 billion.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, the change of government by Heydar Aliyev’s election as the president of the country played a pivotal role in this process. Namely, Azerbaijan was able to formulate the statehood traditions with progressive ideas and new vision. This factor embodied in the effective strategy for the use of oil resources to reconstruct the economy. As a result, Azerbaijan demonstrated remarkable growth figures in economy. For instance, in 2006 Azerbaijan was the country with the highest GDP growth of 34.6% in the world. Between 2004 and 2010, the economy has grown 6 times, GDP per capita increased 5 times in contrast to previous years. Furthermore, the EU became Azerbaijan’s main trade partner due to oil contracts. All these commendable developments made post-war Azerbaijan the leader country of the South Caucasus region.

Meanwhile, Armenia was the country that faced the worst social and economic challenges afterward the occupation. As of 1993, the country grapples with economic crises. In the same period, the GDP of Armenia sharply fell by 47%, the inflation rose to 5000% in 1994, and impoverishment had significantly increased to 55% in 1996. As a result of conflict, the closure of the borders by Azerbaijan and Turkey made Georgia only export route for Armenia. This factor made the Armenian economy vulnerable to exogenous and endogenous effects. Consequently, today’s Armenian economy is not sustainable due to its exclusion from regional and global megaprojects. Indisputably, Armenia is one of the barriers in China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative. It can be clearly seen that the fascist state ideology of Armenia not only hinders its own socio-economic development but also constitutes a major threat to the global economic system.

The attitude of the international community towards this conflict is unambiguous. The United Nations Security Council adopted four resolutions regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that confirms the occupation of Azerbaijani territories by Armenian armed forces. It is apparent that the international principles and the resolutions of international organizations are in favor of Azerbaijan. Alongside the attempts of peaceful resolution of the conflict, the current state of the Azerbaijani army, which differs substantially than it was in the early 90s, shall be taken into account by the Armenian side. Thus, Armenian society shall acknowledge that the clock is ticking for global changes and in the new world order Azerbaijan will be one of the key players. Still, there is a limited time to rethink for the Armenian side to correct past mistakes.

Nijat Muradzada

Bachelor Student of Istanbul University

About Fidan Abdullayeva