War of last resort and the onset of a journey to new heights
By Orkhan Amashov
At a time in the recent past when disillusionment over the protracted and seemingly futile negotiations with Armenia within the OSCE Minsk Group format persisted disturbingly in Azerbaijan, with Armenia showing no indication of fulfilling its obligations under international law, and the international community ostensibly maintaining its apathy, President Ilham Aliyev had already been cogitating the exact contours of his last resort to end the illegal occupation of his country’s territories.
Aliyev’s sense of timing
Prior to the Second Karabakh War of 2020, Azerbaijan had repeatedly made it abundantly clear that, if the peace process with Yerevan was fruitless, a military solution would be inevitable. This fell on deaf ears, with the Armenian-skewed OSCE Minsk Group Co-chair countries incorrigibly voicing the need to adhere to their unworkable formula as the only way forward.
Unshakably confident of his own strategic sense of timing, President Aliyev knew that the critical mass of circumstances rendering a counter-attack operation both legitimate and successful beyond doubt had already been established. Firstly, the Yerevan-initiated interstate border clash in July 2020, which was inscribed in the annals of history as the Tovuz events, coupled with the Armenian government’s earlier-declared “the new war for new lands” doctrine, was clearly indicative of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s sheer obstinacy to move a millimetre towards striking a peaceful resolution.
Secondly, by 2020, all the possibilities of recourse to legal mechanisms had been exhausted, with the four UN Security Council resolutions of 1993 demanding the withdrawal of occupying Armenian forces from Azerbaijani lands and many other documents adopted by influential international bodies serving no practical purpose.
Thirdly, the Azerbaijani Army, through in-depth and large-scale reforms, assisted by active cooperation from Turkiye, Israel and Pakistan, had already bolstered its capabilities to the extent of enabling it to easily conduct the liberation of Karabakh in a technological conflict named ‘the future of warfare’.
On 27 September 2020, the world woke up to a new war between Azerbaijan and Armenia and began to realise that the simmering conflict’s destiny was about to change. Baku’s counter-offensive measures were robust and unflinching. During the course of the following 44 days, the world at large did not just see Azerbaijan’s resilience and unity of purpose, but also its leader’s acumen, manifesting itself in his unsurpassed ability to lead his steadfast nation throughout the war and communicate the realities and legal basis of the conflict effectively, both to the nation and the world at large.
Azerbaijan was just and right, but also needed to be seen as such, since for the uninitiated, this could have been seen as a territorial dispute wherein both sides could be regarded as equally right or wrong whereas, for the ill-informed, the assumption may have been that Baku was acting precipitately, with an exacerbated sense of untimely urgency, leaving no scope for peaceful routes.
In his numerous interviews during the war and thereafter, President Aliyev faced journalists from across the world with aplomb, dealing with questions of all sorts, some of which appeared to emanate from ulterior motives and preconceived biases, others from the lack of a grasp of the basics pertaining to the conflict, with a few unfortunate reports being products of misguided journalistic inquisitiveness, understandably aiming to adopt an incredulous disposition for the sake of sensation and a desire to satisfy preconceived notions.
It is with imperturbable composure, lucid clarity and absolute belief in his own righteousness that Aliyev not just propounded the legal, historic and political substance of the then-ongoing war, but also dealt with every misbegotten accusation levied against Azerbaijan. Never did he appear to have lost his calmness and characteristic resilience whilst responding to repeatedly-made inquiries about the phantom Syrian mercenaries allegedly fighting on the side of Azerbaijan. Neither did he remotely seem troubled when the questions about the Turkish F16 fighter jets left in Azerbaijan reached unbearable frequency, despite Aliyev’s clear replies explaining their functionality as having no bearing on the active military campaign and being relevant only as a deterrent against a possible third party intervention.
Artful calibration of geopolitical actors
For justice to be served, it is vital that a nation which seeks to reverse the consequences of a wrong does so in a fashion rendering undue external factors as ineffective and a cumulative import of foreign influences as plausible as possible. During the war, Aliyev’s sense of the world’s mood was unmistakably clear. At the time, the relations between Turkiye, Azerbaijan’s first-rate ally, and Russia, its neighbour with a huge influence over Armenia, were of sufficiently fertile nature to render the geopolitical theatre auspicious to Baku’s maneuverability. This was also partly due to President Aliyev’s active diplomacy, aimed at achieving such an equilibrium.
Iran was characteristically treacherous, perceived as being capable of unwarranted perfidiousness. Aliyev knew this. He was also certain that, under the circumstances, there were limits to Tehran’s pro-Armenian interventionist steps that would, in all probability, stop short of a tangible form of succour in view of the impracticality of espousing a losing side after reaching the point of no return.
France, the overtly biased member of the now-dead OSCE Minsk Group, was another nation in relation to which Baku must have made a through study and established that President Emmanuel Macron’s leverage over the situation would be limited to vocal utterances for Yerevan’s cause to placate the Franco-Armenian diaspora. Aliyev must have also thought of the nature and exigencies of the US administration in charge, calculating the degree of its attempts aimed at exerting influence on the theatre of confrontation.
The Second Karabakh War was not the preferred choice of Azerbaijan, conversely being its last resort and an act of inevitable necessity in the face of Armenia's unwillingness to act reasonably, exacerbated by its new provocation leading to the renewed hostilities. The same sense of military proportionality and necessity guided both Baku’s behaviour in the context of individual warfare episodes and in terms of its calculations for conducting the overall campaign itself within judicious limits.
Apogee and a new beginning
When asked during the war by journalists as to when Azerbaijan would agree to end the confrontation, President Aliyev’s answer was that this would happen when Yerevan officially pledged to withdraw from the occupied territories, providing a timetable. This was also of reiterating import from the perspective of Baku’s fundamental rationale: the war was a counter-offensive measure, a last resort and an act of peace-enforcement.
The circumstances pointed towards such a probability after the historic liberation of Shusha, the occupation of which in 1992 had been a source of constant vexation, preying heavily on the nation’s psyche, being seen as a sign of unbearable injustice and deeply felt loss for which there was no remedy or even justification when glanced upon from Baku’s predicament existing at the defeat during the First Karabakh War.
When, on 8 November 2020, Aliyev declared the news of the liberation of Shusha, that was not only the irreversible vestige of the Second Karabakh War proving the certainty of victory, but also a turning point in our national story, exemplifying a gigantic reversal of ingnominious injustice.
The glorious triumph was not an end in itself, but a bestowal of a new license upon Azerbaijan, akin to rebirth. On the momentous day, when Aliyev made the historic “Shusha, you are free” speech, in those words were concentrated the whole gist of Azerbaijan’s past, present and future, for those lines exemplified not just what had happened, but what would ensue.
Post-2020 Azerbaijan’s self-confidence steers clear of complacency and seeks the perpetuation of its triumph via incessant growth, for stagnation is for those convinced of their whole mission being fulfilled with no need for further consolidation. The future has much in store for those taking nothing for granted, seeing fresh challenges as an opportunity to scale new pinnacles.
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