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The Nagorno-Karabakh crisis is helping to shape US foreign policy

A view of the wreckage after Armenian army's alleged attacks with long-range missiles, in Azerbaijan on 5 October 2020 [Resul Rehimov/Anadolu Agency]
A view of the wreckage after Armenian army's alleged attacks with long-range missiles, in Azerbaijan on 5 October 2020 [Resul Rehimov/Anadolu Agency]

As the war gets fiercer between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, the mountainous region of just 150,000 people in the South Caucasus, Armenia has lost control of territories it regarded as the buffer zone between the land in question and Azerbaijan.

The decades-long conflict re-erupted on 27 September and has so far killed more than 700 people, including 13 civilians in an Armenian attack on the city of Ganja. This came only one week after another attack on the city which killed 10 civilians.

"Armenia still commits war crimes and massacres civilians," commented Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Twitter. Criticising global silence over the massacre, he said, "Silence against this atrocity equals sharing responsibility for these murders."

In a brief statement, the EU condemned the Armenian attack through its spokesman Peter Stano: "All targeting of civilians and civilian installations by either party must stop." Stano did not even mention the massacre and blamed both sides for the violence.

READ: Turkey will stand by Azerbaijan in 'righteous cause'

The most notable absent voice was America's, even though the US is supposed to be the guardian of human rights, democracy and freedom all over the world. My searches have revealed not a single comment on the incident. In fact, it seems that Washington has kept quiet on the whole Nagorno-Karabakh issue.

Carey Cavanaugh, the former US representative to the Minsk Group, a troika that has worked to end the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh since 1993, said after a call for a ceasefire by a number of world powers at the beginning of October, "The US wasn't coordinated into that discussion."

Speaking to the Guardian, Thomas de Waal, a senior fellow specialising in the Caucasus with Carnegie Europe, said that, "The Americans have withdrawn from this issue." When asked about this, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo commented: "Our view is that this has been a longstanding conflict between these two countries in this particular piece of real estate."

What is the reason for this US silence given that President Donald Trump's administration stated in its National Security Strategy for Central Asia that peace and prosperity should be achieved in the South Caucasus? Azerbaijan and Armenia are part of that region, and America noted that it would work towards this objective.

Farhad Mammadov answered this question in part when he wrote in National Interest that the strong Armenian lobby in the US has been exerting a lot of effort on shaping foreign policy to be pro-Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh. "The activities of the Armenian lobby are a well-known fact, and its influence over US foreign policy has always been tremendous," wrote Mammadov. "The Armenian diaspora has been lobbying in hopes to shape US foreign policy toward a pro-Armenian stance on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict."

READ: Armenia and Azerbaijan truce breaks down within hours

Mammadov gave an example of how the lobby succeeded in this. "One of the Armenian lobby's significant achievements was the adoption and maintenance of Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, which has frozen US aid to Azerbaijan" despite its "negative impact" for US national interests.

Another example is Washington's hosting of Bako Sahakyan, described by Modern Diplomacy as, "The self-proclaimed president of a fictional country known as 'Artsakh'." He has apparently "scheduled an event at the US Capitol to speak and receive an unidentified award." Modern Diplomacy noted that the "fictional" country of Artsakh refers to Nagorno-Karabakh, which all countries and international bodies around the world recognise as an Armenian-occupied part of Azerbaijan.

In 2019, the Armenian lobby in Washington pushed Congress to pass a resolution recognising the Armenian genocide allegedly committed by the Othman Empire during the First World War. It was passed after the resolution was blocked for a month by Senator Lindsey Graham, who believed that it harmed US foreign policy. Graham argued that senators should not "sugarcoat history or try to rewrite it."

Armenia/Azerbaijan fighting rages - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Armenia/Azerbaijan fighting rages – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

The other reason for America's silence is its interest in Azerbaijani hydrocarbon resources, which have made the region a new Middle East in terms of oil reserves. As a secular Muslim country, Azerbaijan is a "trustworthy" partner for the US, whose policy, is "broadly aimed to help construct market economies." Azerbaijan became "of military-strategic importance as a potential launch pad for US military forces en route to the Middle East or Afghanistan" in the wake of America's "War on Terror" launched after the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington DC.

The South Caucasus country, according to Mammadov, "has also emerged as a reliable platform for international negotiations, including for dialogue between Russian and American military chiefs."

READ: Azerbaijan downs another Armenian SU-25 fighter jet

In the mid-1990s and the "Caspian oil boom" Azerbaijan became an important source for the hydrocarbon energy needed to secure thirsty Western markets. Help is needed to stabilise regional governments which are major US allies so that they can reduce their dependence on Russian and Iranian oil.

The US played a major role in building the Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, the longest oil pipeline in the world, through which Azerbaijani exports flow. On the eve of the beginning of its construction in 2005, US President George W Bush saw it as a critical part of America's energy policy for the future. "Greater energy security through a more diverse supply of oil for global energy markets, these are the engines of global growth, and with this pipeline those engines can now run at high speed," he said.

In fact, successive US administrations have been showing interest in solving the Nagorno-Karabakh crisis since 1992 in their capacity as a member of the Minsk Group, but the conflict of interests makes it take a back seat on the issue. It does not want to infuriate oil-rich Azerbaijan but at the same time it is unable to put much pressure on Armenia due to the influence of the lobby in Washington.

On Monday, Anadolu news agency reported that the US is planning to host the Azerbaijani and Armenian foreign ministers in an attempt to find a solution for the conflict, but I do not expect any breakthrough. The US is caught between its interests in Azerbaijan and its fear that Russia's ally, Armenia, might throw itself into the arms of Iran.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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ArmeniaArticleAsia & AmericasAzerbaijanMiddle EastOpinionUS
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