The recent past of Armenia    

Carlo Schiavone

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union things have unfortunately been not so positive for Armenia, a destructive war with neighbor Azerbadjan has put the region under considerable pressure over the last three years.

This is one of the so many cases where ethnicities and cultures do not go together with those  "geographical adjustment" set by the planners and somehow totally irrespective of the set of values and traditions of each ethnicity.

Reading through articles and information on the Armenian case I found tremendous similarities that associate this war to the Serbo-Bosnian one: A religious "confrontation" between Christian Armenians and Muslim Azeris, the "mapping" that did not take in account the different identity of two ethnic-religious groups, and the expansionist purpose that the Azeris are pushing for; the real contention in this sense is about the Nogorno Karabakh an area historically known for his potential religious explosiveness. Karabakh was Armenian for centuries, as its monasteries and churches testify, its highland terrains enabled the people to retain their christianity when many of the lowlanders were converted by their islamic conquerors.

In the eighteen centuries the people formed themselves into principalities under the suzerainty of Persia, a spirit of independence and freedom lived on until the early years of this century.

First the Tsars, and then the Bolsheviks linked Karabakh with Abzerbadjan,not regarding the fact that the 90% Armenian presence in that region would have sooner or later caused some political and religious upheaval; the Azeris followed their radical attitude of non integration and for more than half a century development and social opportunities in the region had been confined to the Azeri minority and not to the Armenian majority. Roads, Education, public health and general infrastructure in the Karabakh region has therefore been allocated in the light of a discriminatory logic; this continuous abuse and overlook of human rights and democracy finally exploded with the insurrection of the region in 1988 and since than the Transcaucasia has been the scenario of desperation and war.

The Armenian majority claimed the annexation of Karabakh to Armenia in 1988, and at that time the Soviet Union was still existing, and Baku did not wait to intervene starting the slaughter of Armenia by military offensive and blockades; Moscow that was facing the simultaneous upheaval of Georgia did not really commit in any major attempt to halt the conflict.

Armenia also had to face the hard reality of being oil dependent from oil rich Abzarbadjan, and it did not take much intuition that Baku was going to take some advantage of such a dependence, the oil supply has been interrupted and the economy took the hit. Because of energy shortage only six of 400 factories are currently operating (1993), and early this year a fundamental gas pipeline that runs from Georgia to Armenia was blown up for the third time causing the energy crisis to take massive and desperate proportions.

Also the fact that Turkey is supporting the fellow country Abzerbadjan does not help any improvement of the situation: geographically Turkey is the place where wheat and other goods that Armenia imports go through, but its closeness to the Azeris ,which is a Turkic speaking population, drastically reduced the supply of wheat to Armenia and food prices as direct response to supply and demand forces shoot up, what little is available sells for twice the price of Moscow; two gallons of gasoline costs more than the average monthly salaries. 

In a desperate attempt to provide food and electricity to the population and finance the military expenditures of the conflict the state had to adopt the policy of cutting down many services: Schools are closed, hospitals do not have enough resources (in terms of equipment and doctors) to function sufficiently well, citizens cannot rely on more than one hour a day of heat in a region where winters are extremely cold.

International intervention so far has been very limited, in February this year senator Ted Kennedy has visited the country and found it the desperate need of urgent help, he is supporting a plan of aid that would have Turkey as a partner but again this is quite a complicated issue because Turkey has historically stood close to Baku and could be reluctant to take part in such a plane unless strong pressures are generated by the international community, however this is a plan that could possibly take its time to be implemented with some results and what Armenia needs is urgent action.

Boris Eltsin, whose sympathy for Armenia is well known, is himself in the middle of such a turmoil that leaves few chances to the resolution of the Transcaucasian case, Eltsin does also have to face the issue of not assuming a radical position against Abzerbadjan that could be interpreted as a sign of general hostility towards the muslim minority of what once was the Soviet Union (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhastan, Kirigistan), whose upheaval is so feared that Moscow would tried to avoid to take an action that could result in an even more confused and uncontrollable situation in a time of historical changes. The Azeris made clear several times their determination to keep the Karabakh in its entirety as a part of the Islamic world and have unfortunately not been open to any type of constructive negotiation that could result in a short run solution to the problem.

References taken from:

         the march 1993 edition of the Times

         the Boston globe, February 15 1993

         the London times April 1989 (this was available on microform)


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