The Presidents of the two warring countries – Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan – met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting in Samarqand on September 17-18. It was only after this that the two republics signed a peace agreement in Tajikistan on September 20. Now that the peace has been brought about to end a week-long hostility (September 14-20), the US got no opportunity to poke its nose, gathers Soroor Ahmed
Seven months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, four former republics of the then Soviet Union have got embroiled in bloody clashes among themselves. While Armenia and Azerbaijan had a long history of quarrel and in 2020 the two countries fought a one month and a half long battle over Nagorno-Karabakh, the conflict between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan is a relatively new one. They ended up after a peace deal was signed on September 20, 2022.
On the other hand, the Russian forces fought battles with Chechnya in 1994 and 1999-2000, Georgia in 2008 and annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. And since February 24, 2022 it is locked in a grim war of attrition with Ukraine which has left thousands of people dead on both sides.
While Armenians are Christians and Azeris are Muslims, the two other Central Asian Republics near the China border which are involved in struggle are both Muslim.
Though Azeris are mostly Shias yet the relationship of Azerbaijan with Iran is not cordial because of its proximity with Israel and the United States. In contrast, it has excellent relationship with Sunni-dominated Türkiye, which openly supported Azerbaijan in its war with Armenia in 2020.
Azerbaijan and Armenia became parts of Soviet Union after the Communist Revolution of 1917. Actually, the origin of the present crisis can be traced to the prolonged war of supremacy between Czarist Russia and Ottoman Empire in 18th and 19th centuries. The region in dispute, Nagorno-Karabakh, was handed over to Azerbaijan by the then Soviet Union before its dismemberment in 1991. This was so notwithstanding the fact that it was dominated by Armenians. The struggle between the two started even before they became independent republics. The fight continued till 1994. The Russian then brought about peace.
It was in 1988 when the then Soviet Union was still united under the rule of Mikhail Gorbachev, who died recently, that the first clash took place.
As the Parliament of Nagorno-Karabakh enclave voted in favour of Armenia in 1988 it was natural for Azerbaijan to reject this referendum because the region was a part of the latter throughout the years of Soviet Union.
The Armenians started expelling Azeris from their territory. The actual war between the two countries started in 1992, that is after the disintegration of Soviet Union, and lasted till 1994. But tension continued to prevail in the region with clashes taking place regularly.
However, a full-fledged war started again in September 2020. This time the equation had changed as oil-rich Azerbaijan got support from Türkiye, and thus had an upper hand in the 44-day long battle. Once again Russia brokered peace between the two warring countries. As per the 2020 truce the Armenians were asked to withdraw from the territory captured in 1994. Russian peacekeeping forces were deployed there.
But when clashes started again in September 2022, the Speaker of United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, flew to the region and lend support to Armenia. This was so notwithstanding the fact that the US has a good relationship with Azerbaijan too.
The US plan is clear. It wants to woo Armenia away from the influence of Russia, which is already locked in a bloody feud in Ukraine and is losing supports of several former Soviet Republics.
In the past the US, Russia and France would jointly make efforts to bring in peace in the region. But now the US wants to isolate Russia in its own backyard. However, the US move is fraught with risk as Azerbaijan is its close ally against Iran. Many strategists are of the view that if the US or Israel ever plans to invade Iran it would choose Azerbaijan as the launching pad.
Such border disputes are quite common throughout the world and are the result of transformation from empires to the nation-states.
When the Soviet Union was disintegrated after its humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan after a decade long war, it was feared that the five Muslim Central Asian Republics as well as Azerbaijan would create problem for it. But none of them posed any threat to the newly created Russian Federation. In fact, its relationship deteriorated with almost all the former Christian Republics such as Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, etc. Belarus is its only ally in the war against Ukraine. Though these countries were till December 1991 part of the Soviet Union, today most of them are willing to join the western military alliance, NATO.
Many of the 11 East European countries, which were Communist till three decades back, are now enemies of Russia.
The only challenge from Muslims came in the form of Chechnya, which is a part of Russia and wants to become independent. Apart from that Russia faced no problem with any former Muslim republic. In fact, it had signed a security agreement with the five Central Asian Republics. Russia freely sends its troops if trouble starts anywhere.
With Moscow now caught in a difficult position in Ukraine, it is unable to play a much bigger role in dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
The clashes between these two countries started following water dispute. Needless to say, the five Central Asian Republics face perennial water crisis.
Iran and two other Central Asian Republics – Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan – had initially offered to broker truce between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The Presidents of the two warring countries met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting in Samarqand on September 17-18. It was only after this that the two republics signed a peace agreement in Tajikistan on September 20.
The United States has a big stake in the Central Asia after the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan on August 15, 2021, yet it has not rushed here as besides Russia, China is in the vicinity.
Now that the peace has been brought about to end a week-long hostility (September 14-20), the US got no opportunity to poke its nose.