'Armenia lacks incentives to launch military action now, Azerbaijan moved in first' - Thomas de Waal

There is no reason for Armenia to kickstart another bout of conflict with Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, Thomas de Waal, British journalist and senior associate at the Carnegie Europe, told Ahval in an exclusive interview. 

Sunday morning saw a sudden escalation in the conflict, with what Karabakh officials called a “wholescale attack” by the Azerbaijani armed forces, which Azerbaijan maintains was provoked by Armenian military activity.

“Basically, Armenians won the war of the 1990s, they have all the territory they want,” de Waal said. “Their incentive is to normalize the status quo.”

“For various reasons, Azerbaijan calculates that military action will win it something,” he added.

Highlights from the interview are as follows:

  • July’s clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan at the border between the two countries were a warning sign for the current conflict, and since then both countries have escalated their rhetoric.
  • The change in leadership in Karabakh and the new administration’s actions has been perceived as provocation by the Azerbaijani side and thus contributed to the current situation, the Carnegie Europe senior associate said.
  • The global political context and the upcoming winter have also accelerated Azebaijan’s motivations. “They see that the United States is very disengaged from the region and preoccupied with the election.”
  • Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which was mediating the issue, is in a leadership crisis.
  • Turkey has always shown strong political support for Azerbaijan and called for a peaceful resolution, but never provided military support before. This seems  to be the new factor that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey is openly supporting the Azerbaijani military campaign. Every other country in the world is calling for a ceasefire and de-escalation.
  • With the exception of Turkey’s Kurds, who have been traditionally in favour of rapprochement with Armenia, the mainstream establishment in Turkey has been on the side of Azerbaijan, as part of a trend of a more aggressive and assertive Turkey.
  • It seems to me that Turkey has never had an interest in this conflict restarting, so the question is how much of this is driven purely by domestic politics and “waving the flag, supporting our brothers.”
  • Russia is in a difficult situation. It wants to resolve this conflict on Russian terms, or leave it unresolved but without any fighting. It has good relations with both countries, and stakes on both sides of the conflict. If Turkey gets more involved, Russia could get dragged further into the conflict unwillingly.
  • The war of the 1990s was a very low-tech affair, but since then, especially Azerbaijan has increased its technological capacity greatly. Due to a variety of factors on both sides, huge destruction could ensue.
  • Azerbaijan is in a big gamble. It could win a lot, but it could also lose a lot. Likewise on the Armenian side.

(Thomas de Waal has reported for BBC World, Moscow Times and The Times, among others. He was a Caucasus editor at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) in London, and is currently a senior associate in Carnegie Europe. He is the author of Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War.)