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Why the United States Should Remain Pro-Armenia Amidst the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

The Caucasus states Azerbaijan and Armenia are currently in the midst of the “Nagorno-Karabakh” conflict. This conflict, which was named after the region it is being waged over, is located in the middle of Azerbaijan. It has been long-going and initially started in 1992 after the Soviet Union’s collapse, which led to both Armenia and Azerbaijan militarizing and fighting over control of the region. On top of this, most people that live in Nagorno-Karabakh are ethnic Armenians who desire autonomy from Azerbaijan. Although there have been efforts to extinguish the prolonged bloodshed, they were ultimately futile. In 1994, a ceasefire between Azerbaijan and Armenia effectively softened tensions between the two for nearly 20 years. However, mutual hostility has once again risen to intolerable levels, causing the agreement to be terminated in November 2020 due to multiple ceasefire violations. Currently, Azerbaijan holds the upper-hand due to its larger military and stout backing from Turkey. Although the conflict is nowhere near to being resolved, global powers such as the United States and Russia have the ability to potentially turn the tide of the war in either contestant’s favor.


British journalist Thomas de Waal theorizes that Russia is officially neutral and tries to act as a moderator, but favors Armenia slightly. This is evident because Russia has supplied Armenia with weapons and other wartime materials. While Russia does not officially claim a side, its subtle bias is existent. If Russia were to ever fully engage in support of Armenia, then it would turn the tides of the conflict on its head. However, Russia has stayed publicly neutral throughout the entirety of the conflict, and nothing indicates a drastic change in the near future.


The US has flip-flopped throughout the issue. In prior years, the US leaned more towards Armenia. In 1992, aid to Azerbaijan was banned by Congress with the Restrictions of Azerbaijan Act. However, more recently under the Trump Administration, the US gave around $100 million to Azerbaijan in aid. Under the current Biden Administration, the US is once again pro-Armenia and is very vocal about its support. The Biden Administration has also been adamant on initiating meetings between Armenian and Azerbaijani officials in an attempt to decrease tensions. However, despite the US’ seemingly paradoxical behavior, it has remained consistent in the extent of its interventionist involvement, as it is perpetually financially or politically supporting either side.


Turkey has served as Azerbaijan’s main ally during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict by supplying Azerbaijan with weapons and military assistance throughout the entirety of the war. This is likely due to Turkey’s complicated history and spotty relationship with Armenia. To this day, Turkey denies the Armenian genocide (which Armenia claims was committed by the Ottoman Empire – the predecessor to the Independent Republic of Turkey) and does not want Armenia’s power to increase. In an attempt to put aside each other’s differences, Turkey and Armenia had a diplomatic reconciliation attempt in 2008. Nevertheless, this never came to fruition, resulting in Turkish-Azerbaijani relations to grow even further.


The potential of the US becoming a permanent supporter of Armenia has Turkey feeling restless. If the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict continues to intensify, Turkey’s relationship with the US could become muddy. In this context, not only would the US and Turkey fall – albeit indirectly – on opposing sides, but the US would fall on the same side as Russia. The US and Turkey are both key components of North Atlantic Trade Organization (NATO), and opposing interests to this degree could further strain relationships within NATO, threatening the organization’s stability. The US has used Turkey as an important ally against Russia in the past. For example, since the Cold War, Turkey has housed US nuclear weapons in order for the US to have defenses in close proximity to Russia. However, if the US were to provide aid to Armenia, the act of siding with Russia could be seen as a grand form of betrayal.


This sticky situation leaves many wondering what the US should do in this scenario. Due to the acts of the Biden Administration, the US seems to be adamantly pro-Armenia for the time being. The obvious caveat of remaining pro-Armenia is the threat of a deteriorating relationship with Turkey. The US has gotten valuable utility from being a Turkish ally since Turkey joined NATO in 1952. However, the US cannot afford to show hesitation in its foreign affairs. There are many other nations in NATO that would allow it to keep fulfilling its purpose; if Turkey were to leave the organization, it is unlikely that NATO would experience any significant hindrance.


There are several reasons why the US should stay pro-Armenia. First, the US’ values align more closely with Armenia’s rather than Turkey’s, so there is less room for potential disagreement. Staying pro-Armenia will also preserve the US’ reputation as the face of democracy within the world as well as its assertive international posture. On May 4, 2022, The US Department of State declared that it plans to “advance American interests by helping Armenia succeed as a secure, prosperous and democratic country,” and following through with this statement will prove that the US is still capable of spreading democracy and bring additional credibility to the US’ voice. Armenia is also a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), both of which include Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan; being on good terms with these members could be very helpful for intelligence and may yield more trade partners. Furthermore, involvement in Armenia has the potential to lower Russia’s influence in Armenia and in surrounding countries. The US’s antipathy with Russia is at a strenuous point right now due to the war in Ukraine and the less power Russia has over any country, the better. Asian allies are especially useful considering that many of the US’ prime adversaries such as China, Russia, and Iran are located in the continent. Relations with Turkey may get muddier in the process, but it is implausible to make everyone happy. Therefore, the US should remain pro-Armenia and not back down to Azerbaijan’s aggressiveness.


The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict holds great significance to the global stage since it has the capacity to initiate a butterfly effect that could rope other nations into it and cause a domino-effect similar to the events leading up to World War I, blowing up the conflict up to more catastrophic levels. Regardless of the US’ hand, if this war is not put to an end soon, there could be much greater consequences for everyone involved.

References

Gould, Joe. “Democrats Urge Halt to Security Aid to Azerbaijan in Armenia Conflict.” Defense News, Defense News, 21 Aug. 2022, https://www.defensenews.com/congress/2020/10/06/democrats-urge-halt-to-security-aid-to-azerbaijan-in-armenia-conflict/.

Keddie, Patrick. “What's Turkey's Role in the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict?” Features | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 30 Oct. 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2020/10/30/whats-turkeys-role-in-the-nagorno-karabakh-conflict.

Maghakyan, Simon, and Maghakyan. “The U.S. Is Taking a Side in the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict.” Time, Time, 6 Oct. 2022, https://time.com/6219263/armenia-azerbaijan-us-involvement/.

Sassounian, Harut. “US Publicizes Its Strategy on Armenia Based Obviously on America's Interests.” The Armenian Weekly, 8 Aug. 2022, https://armenianweekly.com/2022/08/08/us-publicizes-its-strategy-on-armenia-based-obviously-on-americas-interests/.

United States Congress. “S.2167 - Restrictions on Azerbaijan Act.” Congress.gov, https://www.congress.gov/bill/102nd-congress/senate-bill/2167?s=1&r=77.

United States Department of State. (2022, May 4). Integrated Country Strategy Armenia. Retrieved November 9, 2022, from https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/ICS_EUR_Armenia_Public.pdf

Waal, Thomas De. Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War. New York University Press, 2013.


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