Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Karabakh Military Build-Up

In recent months, observers of the south Caucasus have been concerned about rising tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan as negotiations over the status of the latter's breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh go nowhere. Most recently, Karabakh's top military commander has been advertising a build-up:
"The commander of Armenian-backed forces in the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh has said his military acquired significant amounts of new weapons this year and will continue its buildup, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

"Lieutenant-General Movses Hakobian estimated that the 'military potential' of his troops grew by 20 percent in the first half of 2011...

"Armenia, whose armed forces are closely connected with the Karabakh military, is likely to be the main source of the arms acquisitions Hakobian reported."

The context is this:
"Azerbaijani leaders regularly threaten forcibly to take back Karabakh and Armenian-controlled territories surrounding the disputed enclave if the long-running Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks yield no results acceptable to Baku. The Azerbaijani government plans to boost military spending to $3.3 billion this year, up from $2.15 billion a year ago and just $160 million in 2003."

Azerbaijan has become flush with energy wealth since its loss in the Karabakh War of the early 1990's, and throughout negotiations has seen time as on its side given that such wealth could be invested in its military. Karabakh represents about 15% of Azerbaijan's territory, and hundreds of thousands of refugees have been displaced from the region into the rest of Azerbaijan. It is a festering sore for Azerbaijan, but also a point of nationalist pride for Armenia, for Karabakh was, in fact, Armenian before the Soviets sought to suppress Armenian nationalism by giving some Armenian territory to Azerbaijan in the early days of the U.S.S.R. If Azerbaijan concludes that it can defeat Armenia in a rematch and that Armenia will not allow Karabakh to revert to Azerbaijani's sovereignty as part of a peace process, then there will eventually be war.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)

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