Artsakh and President Aliyev’s Dilemma Revisited

Azeri incursions along the Line of Contact (LoC) during the past several weeks have escalated significantly in frequency and intensity. As would be expected, the Artsakh defenders have been more than able to protect their homeland against these blatant violations of the ceasefire agreement. The escalation occurring just prior to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s meeting with Armenian President Serge Sarkisian and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, seemed counterproductive.

Border violations or not, no worthwhile result for Artsakh and Armenia could be expected to come out of the Sochi meeting or any subsequent meetings for obvious reasons. Sarkisian is concerned with the de jure recognition of Artsakh’s independence while Aliyev, ignoring Artsakh’s de facto independence, is determined to brand Armenia as an aggressor illegally occupying Azeri territory. How can negotiations produce any meaningful results when there is no agreement on the conflict that must be resolved? For too long we have allowed Azerbaijan to frame the issue in its favor. Unfortunately for us, the European Union and the United States have bought into this fiction, to the detriment of Armenia and Artsakh. The impossibility of reconciling the Azeri claim of territorial integrity with Artsakh’s rightful claim to independence based on the principle of self-determination should be obvious. It must be one or the other (see “Artsakh: A Zero Sum Solution Weighted in Favor of Azerbaijan“).

Russia, as the third member of the Minsk Group (with the United States and the European Union) charged with monitoring the negotiations, is pleased with the present impasse, which facilitates Putin’s policy of playing both sides against the middle. How bizarre, even in the Machiavellian world of international politics, to have your treaty ally selling up-to-date military hardware to your enemy. Unfortunately we must suffer an ally who enjoys playing the alternating role of good friend-bad friend at our expense. And with respect to Armenia’s less than voluntary agreement to join the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), President Putin allowed Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev to support Aliyev’s claim against Armenia by chiding Sarkisian that Armenia’s accession to the EEU must be based on its officially recognized borders.

Given the sophisticated intelligence-gathering technology available, the need for these cross-border violations by Azerbaijan with its loss of life are unnecessary. By now each side should be well aware of the number, type, disposition, and preparedness of the troops manning the LoC. If these cross-border incursions by Azerbaijan are meant to weaken the morale not only of our soldiers but the civilian population, most of whom live in rather close proximity to the LoC, they have failed. It should be apparent to Azerbaijan that these flagrant violations of the ceasefire agreement have only increased the preparedness and determination of the Artsakh Armenians to protect their rightful claim to independence.

stopaliyevThe second objective that these constant violations seek is to project Aliyev as being in control of a situation that seems to escape a successful conclusion. Aliyev is a victim of his own making. He has not hesitated to proclaim that his military appropriations continually exceed Armenia’s annual national budget. That his purchase of military equipment has created the largest military force in the south Caucasus more than capable of retaking Artsakh should negotiations fail. Conveniently overlooked is the fact that he is squandering the nation’s wealth on these military acquisitions and the self-aggrandizement of a favored few to the detriment of a socioeconomically impovished population. How much longer can his bellicose statements ring true when rhetoric fails to match results? A dictator that is perceived as a toothless tiger should begin to worry about his ability to remain in power.

No doubt Aliyev is fully cognizant of this dilemma as well as the constraints on his oft-repeated threat to use military force, if necessary, to retake Artsakh if negotiations fail. Whether or not there is support by the three co-chairs of the Minsk Group for Armenia and Artsakh’s independence, all nations (with the questionable exception of Turkey) that have an interest in the south Caucasus abhor the thought of renewed hostilities. Russia, Iran, the European Union, the United States, Georgia, and the United Nations would immediately pressure Azerbaijan to enter into renewed negotiations or mediation at the first sign that it was preparing for a resumption of hostilities. International economic interests would raise cautionary flags. Any disruption in the flow of energy resources would have global ramifications. However, the more worrisome development would be the range of unintended political consequences that might unfold.

Can it be anticipated what the response by Russia and Iran might be if Ankara decided to augment its forces along the Armenian frontier or to a friendly occupation of Nakhitchevan on behalf of Azerbaijan? Or just as ominous are the possible repercussions if worried Georgian officials decided to refuse, restrict, or delay the urgent need by Russia to increase its garrison in Gyumri. Russia cannot afford to lose its only anchor in the south Caucasus or be unprepared to respond to any likely Turkish provocation against Armenia. Any weakening of this vital foothold would not only push historic Russian interests back to the northern slopes of the Caucasus, but likely reawaken anti-Russian movements within the region’s already restive Muslim population. It would facilitate Turkish economic and political domination of the south Caucasus and its long-sought expansion across the Caspian Sea that would compete with Russian interests in Central Asia. Multi-ethnic Shi’ite Iran neither needs nor wants a strong Sunni Turkish-Azeri alliance along its northern and northwestern borders that would accompany a weakened Armenia if it lost Artsakh.

We do have our limitations. However, when we factor in our strategic location (Armenia-Artsakh) that politically benefits Russian interests and economically benefits Iranian interests, we are not without some leverage. We do play an important role in limiting Turkish expansion in the southern Caucasus. Knowing this, we cannot allow our efforts to be circumscribed either by the uncertainty of success or the possibility of failure.

The unthinkable loss of Artsakh would be a catastrophic blow not only to Armenia, but to Hai Tahd and the morale of those of the younger generation who must continue to seek the justice that has eluded those of the passing generations. Recep Tayyip Erdogan has just won a convincing victory as president of Turkey that should keep him in power for another five years. Facing a weakened Armenia will only stiffen his resistance to genocide recognition and a host of other issues that have remained dormant for the past century. The likelihood of Ankara bowing to either domestic or international pressure is highly questionable for the foreseeable future. Can it be expected that a weakened Armenia will encourage the xenophobic leaders of Georgia to implement much-needed and promised programs and policies to improve the onerous political, economic, and cultural environments within which the Javakhahayer must live? And of greater significance is the fate of our brothers and sisters in Artsakh, whose sacrifices to live on our historic lands as free and independent Armenians would have been in vain.

The continuation of the status quo for Artsakh is reasonably certain, especially when the interests of the European Union and the United States do not coincide with Russia’s. However, passive reliance on this fact alone cannot guarantee ultimate victory. It is vital that we implement a well-thought-out plan properly funded to accelerate a constant annual increase in Artsakh’s population as well as its strategic distribution. Land without people has seldom been a winning combination. To facilitate this need for a significant increase in population, economic development must also be accelerated not only to attract repatriates, but to develop a positive attitude that Artsakh is permanently ours. It is not an easy task, but it is a vital task that cannot be delayed or sold short. The future of Armenia and Artsakh is inextricably linked, as is the creditability of Hai Tahd which hangs in the balance.


Michael Mensoian

Michael Mensoian, J.D./Ph.D, is professor emeritus in Middle East and political geography at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and a retired major in the U.S. army. He writes regularly for the Armenian Weekly.


  1. Good article by Mensoian, as always.

    Aside from the military issue, there MUST be a shift in international opinion toward the right of Artsakh to be independent from Azeri rule.

    Without this, Azerbaijan will feel empowered to continue its aggression, which may eventually overwhelm Armenian forces, and, additionally, the Minsk Group countries will continue to be allegedly neutral.

    This is easier said than done.

  2. Financially depleted, war weary and weakened Russia, militarily superior Azerbaijan and stronger than ever Turkey. And there is little, poor armenia. I see Turkey and Azerbaijan are bordered physically in the future…

    • Sir
      Turks/Azeries generally enjoy the use the word POOR….whenever any Armenian issue is being discussed .
      This attitude is in total contradiction to normal human behavior and respect.
      If?…the word POOR is being used in regards to Armenia’s population it has nothing to do with the military strength of Turkey and Azerbaijan.
      Confidently glorifying the strength of Turkish military when it means the destruction Armenia should be a difficult statement to make…the last example you need to remember is Kazim Karabekir pasha’s warfare against Armenia he was forcibly pushed back to the line of what seems to be Armenian Turkish border…
      During the Artsakh (gharabagh)war a Turkish mechanized division stationed in Gebrail (territory of Azerbaijan) was destroyed in a single air raid by couple of Mig 29 fighters bombers…By your poor Armenians…
      Armenians do not wish to fight wars with any of their neighbors,however the respect towards each other has to be mutual having in mind the undeniable rights of Armenians to their homeland…that homeland has to be discussed mutually having justice in mind….
      Turkey’s financial status from poverty to well being was only saved by heavy financial input of the west….Their last contribution was only about 30+ years ago…. Turkey made her best effort to make things happen towards economic success….

    • “Financially depleted and weakened Russia”? Really? So financially depleted and weakened that your artificial, criminal state of Turkey is asking Mr Putin to admit her to the Russia-led Eurasian Union? Are you a dumbhead not seeing that Russia is rising to the level of might that will surpass the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union? And don’t forget that Russia never ceased to consider Constantinople (Tsargrad, as Russians call it), which you, Turks, captured from Byzantine in 1453, as the centre of Christiandom.

  3. Right to the point
    Armenia should take this seriously & work towards straightening Armenia & Artsakh

  4. An informative article no doubt.Thanks to Major Mensoian!
    One thing that strikes in this post is the NAKHIJEVAN factor.Fact is this is the first time ever that anyone has dared -even in hypothetic format-to mention same being occupied even ¨in a friendly manner¨and that not by friendly Iran(this part part is my hint..) but rather by an eternal enemy of our Armenian nation,people,now a state/nation. This is indeed rather an issue of preoccupation by him/us all Armenians.You see, all we hear is NK(Arftsakh) himnaharts(basic question) …
    Whereas I have always brought to attn of all that this is not so.Rather than Artsakh,our main issue ie Kaars Ardahan van Bitlis Moush and the Armenian Genocide recognition b y ..especially the Genocide State(great Turkey9 than any other nation…
    This is where the thick or the problem BASIC-Question is…not NK
    best hasgcoghin

  5. Adedendum,
    Forgot to mention that the Artsakh,NK issue is very INTENTIONALLY made to appear as the ONLY ISSUE ARMENIANS HAVE WITH TURKBEIJANIS, in in order to overshadow the Kars,Ardahan Van Bitlis moush Erzeroum…ones.Also the enormous qty of restitution ,rather *in my bible-, the FOREMOST B L O O D M O N E Y that great Turkey will have to consider payment of,like the Jews from Democratic Germany-heir to Nazi Germany…
    NK Artsakh is a ¨fait a complit¨,WHICH IS CONSTANTLY MADE TO APPEAR ( FRO THE NON aRMENIANS AND tURKS,, SAY THE dUCTHC, fINNS OR PARAGUAYANS AS THE ONLY ISSUE ARMENIANS PURSUE WITH GREAT TURKEY. Latter has failed in its attempts to penetrate into the ARAB FABRICS so to say.Then also in thrusting its nose into N.West Iranian area… that the good major hints at…which is a very delicate matter for IRAN.NO Turkish or Azerbeijanas presence is agreeable to Iran,say in Nakhijevan…
    Armenians like the good major writes should bear in mind what the ever uneasy Truk Diplomacy is ¨¨tramando¨spanish ,means conjuring up or similar…..
    Thence preparedness not only in Homeland/Motherland but also in Diaspora should be PRIORITY for Armenians at large.
    best hasgcoghin

  6. (Ahmet // August 30, 2014 at 8:53 pm //)

    {“… militarily superior azerbaijan”}

    During several recent incursions into Armenian lands (Jul 28 – Aug 4) turkabaijani ‘superior’ nomadic special forces, most of them trained in turkey, were cut down by mostly Armenian conscripts. Armenian special forces didn’t even bother showing up, because there was nothing for them to do.
    Armenians sadly lost 6 of our precious young men KIA; 9 WIA.
    Most WIA have left hospitals, eager to return to duty, ready to meet the next batch of uninvited guests.
    ‘Superior’ invadonomads lost at least 25 KIA and 30 WIA.
    One unofficial Armenian source connected to Armenian military intelligence claims far more than 25 turkbaijanis were sent to eternal rest.
    One of those ‘superior’ WIA invadonomads recuperating in a turkish hospital* (!) and interviewed by turkish TV was crying like a little girl when describing the reception they got from the Armenian natives.

    {“… stronger than ever turkey”}

    The artificial 80 year Kemalist ‘honeymoon’ between the West and Turkey has ended.
    Radical Islam has taken root and is rising in Turkey (MÜMTAZER TÜRKÖNE @TZ).
    Islamist Turkey is a danger to the West: it will be contained and cut down to size.
    Surging inflation, unemployment, polarization of Turkish society, surging abortions, surging household debt….
    Problems with every neighbor.
    War weary turks, after trying for 30 years, are now forced to sit down and negotiate peace with people whom they dismissed as ‘Mountain turks’(Kurds), then as terrorists.
    How humiliating for the allegedly ‘proud’, ‘stronger than ever’ turks.

    Stronger than ever turkey ?
    Read [Why The Worst Is Still Ahead For turkey’s Bubble Economy] (Forbes, by Jesse Colombo, 3/05/2014)
    turkey’s economic ‘miracle’ is built on hot air: party is over.

    {“…. Financially depleted, war weary and weakened Russia,”}

    Russia’s foreign debt as percent of GDP: 23%
    turkey: 48%
    Foreign Exchange reserves: Russia $500 billion; turkey $130 billion.
    Russian military is being modernized: new submarines, new missiles, new 5th gen fighter jets, new everything.
    Russia’s demographic status has stabilized and is gradually returning to normal.
    Russia has more natural wealth than any other country in the world.
    Its known hydrocarbon reserves will last at least 300 years at present consumption rate.
    Desperate turkey – rejected by EU – is even making noises about being ‘interested’ in Russian-led Eurasian Union.


    I see the gas station by the stolen name ‘Azarbaijan’ fractured into its natural constituent parts: Baku Khanate, independent Talishstan, independent Lezgistan, stateletes of Tats, Avars,……and a statelet for the ‘Caucasian’ turks.
    I see the unnatural State of turkey broken up into several pieces: Kurdistan, Sunni turkistan, Shia/Alevi turkistan, Kemalistan: just like the unnatural state of Iraq, turks will be fighting and killing each other for decades.

    I see Armenian boys and girls walking from their back yards to the Kur river, to swim and fish in historic Armenian waters.
    I see Armenian republics bordering physically the Caspian Sea in the near future…..
    I see Armenian republics bordering physically the Black Sea in the near future…..

    The highly advanced and military superior gas station cannot even take care of its own wounded invadonomads in Baku.

    • Avery, the positive vision you paint for the future of Armenia is so needed. Keep it up! We have a severe shortage of optimistic leadership and morale boosting; we hear too often from the glut of self-flagellating Armenia bashers. I like and support your hopeful image.

  7. Dozens of turkish diplomatic personnel are taken hostage in Iraq, and ‘stronger than ever turkey’ is too scared and weak to do anything about it, other than negotiate with terrorists for their release.

    Iraqi Turkmens (Shia), who are ethnic kin of nomadic turkic tribes, have been begging turkey to save them: ‘stronger than ever turkey’ is too scared and weak to do anything about it.
    It took Iraqi Kurds (with a little help form US bombers) to lift the ISIL siege of a Turkmen town recently: where is the ‘stronger than ever turkey’ hiding ?

  8. Ahmad oghloo,
    A day will come when Sultan Aliyev body will be ended up in water sewer as unknown dead person, like Mummer Qaddafi…unlike their corrupted military generals and officers and ministers, who consider themselves as rich upper class citizens of the land of fire, the rest of population living standard is so bad, that even Central Asian Turkic herds feel sorry for them.. Do you know about 800.000 poor Axeri people annually going Iran’s Azarbaijan, for medical help and treatments…can you imagine that even with all US and European sanctions against Iran, those poor Axeri people needs help from Iran??? I wonder why rich Turkey can’t be able to help those poor Axerbaijanis beside their military adventurism and exercises!

    • That’s an interesting site, GB: great find.
      Very surprised that 800K go to Iran for medical treatment.
      The article says ‘by conservative estimates’, so the real number is probably higher than 800K.
      I knew things were bad in the gas station, but didn’t know that bad.

      What is even more amazing is that Iran is under massive embargo by the (Neocon) West, including medical supplies, pharmaceuticals, vaccines, etc.
      The fact that Iranians/Persians are able to provide superior medical services under those conditions compared to the gas station – which btw is a darling of the Neocons and can import anything – testifies to the greatness of Persians: an ancient, sedentary, creative, peaceful, indigenous civilization.
      Like us.

      Turkbaijanis on the other hand……once an invadonomad, always an invadonomad.

    • Issac
      Politics is the dirtiest game of our world…if you have been following news of our region close enough,you would have read many articles and OFFICIAL statements made by our government as to when and how will Armenia recognize and or join Artsakh to the homeland …it is not a matter why?…. not yet or if will.

  9. [Ahmet]:”I see Turkey and Azerbaijan are bordered physically in the future…”

    You’re welcomed to try, in which case I see Armenia and Russia bordered instead. And that would finally put a much needed end to your Turanist wet-dream.

    Something that should have happened decades ago.

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