“The Karabakh conflict is one of the most complicated conflicts on the planet” — Ariel Cohen, one of the lead experts of The Heritage Foundation
“What Russia wants today is what great powers have always wanted: to maintain predominant influence in the regions that matter to them, and to exclude the influence of other great powers.” — Robert Kagan
“It is not enough for him [the intellectual] to have a political program, a social theory; he must find in this program and this theory a place for himself, his personality, his sentiments, and his conscience.” Vladimir C. Nahirny
“Nagorno-Karabakh is our land. This is the end. We showed them who we are. We are chasing them like dogs.” Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan
Last week, I took you down an obscure historical yellow-brick road to a part of the world that probably still remains a mystery for most of us. I concede that I may have been a bit ambitious in trying to bring everybody up to speed in one edition of “More than Meets the Eye,” and that it may have been too much material for one sitting.
You must admit, however, that most of you never knew where King Midas and King Gordius came from, or that Noah’s Ark probably landed in the lands which we discussed last week. In my opinion, those tidbits of information were worth the read.
This week we will address one more critical piece of information which will provide a context of how governmental policies can shape the history of nations and the destinies of peoples for generations. The Machiavellian policies of the Lenin-Stalin era in Eurasia set the stage for this violent struggle that is currently playing itself out in the South Caucasus today. These are not simply two tiny nations throwing hands at one another. There are giants in the wings. Russia, Iran, Turkey, the USA, and Europe are casually waiting for an opportunity to capitalize on the confusion and jump in as heroes to lay claim to the spoils of this mineral-rich region of the world. The Caucasus region has many economically important minerals and energy resources, such as alunite, gold, chromium, copper, iron ore, mercury, manganese, molybdenum, lead, tungsten, uranium, zinc, oil, natural gas, and coal.
Last week, in Part 1 of this series, I discussed the parties involved, their histories, national development, and linguistic make-up. These factors play key roles in causing chaos in the Caucasus region.
This week, in Part 2, we will take a look at a more contemporary history of the region as it was ruled by the Soviet Union. This will be a fascinating discussion. If you don’t understand this variable, it will be difficult to really grasp why these two nations are still fighting. We will discover that much of the problems as they exist today are the direct result of failed nationalistic policies under the leadership of Lenin and Stalin, and then later, Brezhnev.
In Part 3, we will look at the implications of the current progress and outcomes of this conflict. We will see how the failed policies were built on an even greater failed set of socio-economic theories, which will interestingly seem oddly familiar to us today. I am talking about Critical Theory, Social Justice Theory, and particularly Marxist-Leninist theory, which provides the theorist-ic back-bone to many of the ideologies which are erupting in the West today as nihilist and anarchist movements.
There is so much more than meets the eye, that it will be difficult to deal with this failed Soviet social experiment accurately in just one article. I will give it my best attempt.
When the Bolsheviks gained power in the October Revolution of 1917, they set themselves the task of building socialism in the vast landscape of the former Russian Empire, a territory populated by hundreds of different people groups belonging to a multitude of linguistic, religious, and ethnic groups, spanning across 11 time zones.
Before 1917, the Bolsheviks had called for the national self-determination of all peoples and had condemned as exploitative, all forms of colonization and imperialism. After coming to power, however, they began to express concern that it would not be possible for Soviet Russia to survive without the cotton of Turkestan and the oil of the Caucasus. In an effort to reconcile their anti-Imperialist position with their desire to hold onto as much territory as possible, the Bolsheviks integrated the national idea into the administrative-territorial structure of the new Soviet state. This great integration began the next phase of the creation of the “New Soviet Man.”
Up to this point, both Lenin’s and Stalin’s attempts at the creation of the “New Soviet Man” had failed miserably. As Lenin’s Bolshevik party seized control of Russia and its satellite states in 1917, their plan included initiating large scale social reforms throughout the numerous sectors of society, while ultimately instituting changes in the political, economic, and cultural realms; that would all work together to clearly define their newly founded United Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) for the next seventy years. These reforms were predominantly focused on the wide-spread cultivation and propagation of Marxist/Leninist ideology throughout every portion of the USSR’s social spectrum.
Beginning with Lenin’s philosophical basis, Marx’s and Engels’ The Communist Manifesto, the necessity of a population completely altered under an inclusive value became obvious as Marx and Engels characterized the state of the world’s social hierarchy as dismal and oppressive within the Bourgeoisie’s ruling-class system. Marx and Engels claimed that “the only way to extinguish this atrocious injustice was to overthrow all existing social constraints and replace them with a unifying social condition free of class antagonism and emancipated from existing social supremacies.”
Ultimately, the goal of both Lenin and Stalin was to take the hundreds of disparate people groups inhabiting all of the Russian homeland and its satellite states and to educate them and merge them into one people, a people they referred to as the “New Soviet Man”.
After failing miserably on two previous attempts to create this artificial homogeneous culture, Stalin finally settled on a strategy known as Sblizhenie (Сближение) and Sliianiye (Cлияние). They were Russian words which meant Rapprochement and Consolidation. This third plan was to create the existence of 15 Soviet Socialist Republics built around the larger titular people groups of a region and then after a generation or two, to consolidate those newly formed larger people groups into a national people group known as the Soviet Man.
Ultimately, the goal was to do the same thing with the Axis nations in Eastern Europe as well as Communist nations globally such as China and Cuba, then eventually with the entire world. Those Soviet Socialist Republics were— Armenia , Azerbaijan , Belorussia (see Belarus ), Estonia , Georgia , Kazakhstan , Kirghizia (see Kyrgyzstan ), Latvia , Lithuania , Moldavia (see Moldova ), Russia , Tadzhikistan (see Tajikistan ), Turkmenistan , Ukraine , and Uzbekistan.
The Communist Party of Russia saw this as a perfect solution to the consolidation of all peoples into one new people group. The only problem was that this “New Soviet Man” people group being foisted upon these seemingly small and insignificant peoples, spoke Russian, studied in Russian, had a Russian culture and had a distinctly Russian non-religion. You can see that there was something fishy going on. This reality was not lost on the general populace as well.
The final goal of the Communist party was to allow education to take place in the indigenous language and in Russian. The pinnacle of education in the Soviet Union was for all students to study only in Russian, think only in Russian and to exemplify the honorable character traits of what looked remarkably Russian.
As long as the Soviet Communist regime was able to contain and control the civic and social demands of the peoples of the various SSRs, no one questioned the underlying need for the Union. The policy of the Party leadership naturally sought to maintain a cohesive whole, whereas each national group tried to obtain the most advantages. To achieve its aims, the Party leadership used the various resources at its disposal, granting loans and allocating varying degrees of cultural autonomy. At the same time, it acted to repress ‘exaggerated nationalism’ if the central power loosened its grip. The national factor consequently encouraged the decentralization of power. However, the Kremlin was careful to ensure that the limits set by the central power were not exceeded.
I am postulating that it was these failed attempts at Rapprochement and Consolidation that created this dynamic hostile environment that exists in the South Caucasus today. Cultural identity is a difficult bond to break, especially in regard to language and traditional practices. I lived in Central Asia in the Post-Soviet Era and traveled there during the Soviet Era.
Even after 70 years of propaganda, cajoling, and offering considerable incentives, there was a widespread distrust and anxiety surrounding anything that attempted to mess with the socio-cultural status quo. It was met with a lot of anger and frustration. In as culturally diverse a region as the South Caucasus, tensions rise once again to meteoric levels of anger when anybody begins to mess with their socio-cultural homeland and foundation. This is the case in both the regions of Nagorno-Karabakh and Nakhichevan today.
If you add the natural antipathy that already exists between these people, who were once a part of the Soviet Union as well as sister states, to this recurring reculturalization in both enclaves and exclaves, it seems to only result in an on-going conflict that many experts agree will go on ad infinitum if an internationally mediated agreement is not implemented which considers the demands of both the Armenians and the Azerbaijanis. Both feel burned from the past. All they have experienced is lies and loss when compromises were made.
The idea of remaking people sprang directly from the Enlightenment. The main emphasis of the Enlightenment was the science of man—that is, finding what human nature is, how it is formed, and the mutual influences between it and society. Most Enlightenment thinkers held a materialistic world outlook and viewed the human mind as a mechanism determined by and responding to the environment.
The problems and stand-offs in contemporary South Caucasus reveal it as a miniature model of the world with all existing possible challenges, risks, and threats. It is difficult to find any positive signs for the end of this confrontation. The troubling question is, “What regional powers will find themselves engaged in support of either Armenia and Azerbaijan and how will this alter the balance of power in the region?”
Russia, Turkey, Iran, and the NATO nations are all interested, for exceedingly different reasons, in a resolution to this conflict. Each has something to gain as well as something to lose. Right now, they are waiting on the periphery, conducting secret meetings, negotiating machinations discussing possible interventions in order to see how the conflict will turn and who’s in favor of what.
The first person to blame for the current conflict is former Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin. In 1921, he gave Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan, only to turn it into an autonomous region two years later. That change would inevitably prove problematic, as Nagorno-Karabakh’s population was over 90 percent Armenian. This continuous miscalculation of the intrinsic nature of culture and language has led to a pattern of conflict that has lasted for over a century.
Only mutual respect for other cultures and languages makes mutual coexistence possible. When humans try to re-calibrate the culture of other humans, intense conflict is almost a certainty. The social experiment of the Soviet era for over 70 years, and then living with the consequences for another 30 years has left the South Caucasus region on edge and volatile. It leaves all of us where we are today; back at war, and nobody really knows why, except that someone tried to take away their humanity, as expressed in their culture, traditions, and language.
There is much that we can learn about mutual respect for other cultures. It is easy to disrespect another culture by thinking it inferior or backward. Instead, we must learn the richness found in other cultures, that we might grow ourselves and learn to perceive of life in a richer and deeper way.
I am not advocating that we should abandon our own culture. We too have a breadth of wealth that can add to the human mosaic of understanding. The key is to respect and regard. We ought always to respect other cultures and regard them as valuable and significant as we do our own.
Why Armenia and Azerbaijan are fighting, and why it could get uglier… https://www.cbsnews.com/news/armenia-azerbaijan-nagorno-karabakh-caucasus-lands-why-it-could-get-uglier/
A new weapon complicates an old war in Nagorno-Karabakh… https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-10-15/drones-complicates-war-armenia-azerbaijan-nagorno-karabakh
For your comments or questions about any of our digests please feel free to write to me at: [email protected]
Bekiarova, Natalia, South Caucasus as a Region of Strategic Importance (2019). IJASOS- International E-Journal of Advances in Social Sciences, Vol. V, Issue 14, August 2019, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3449954 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3449954
Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1992. Print.
Hirsch, Francine. (2014) Empire of Nations: Ethnographic Knowledge and the Making of the Soviet Union. Ithaca: Cornell University Press