Friday, 16 June 2017 00:00

Central Asia: All Together Now


Central Asia: All Together Now

Bilahari Kausikan, S. Frederick Starr and Yang Cheng

The American Interest, June 16, 2017

central asia

Published in Staff Publications

Recent terrorist attacks in Istanbul, St. Petersburg, Stockholm, and New York City have been committed by perpetrators with an origin in Central Asia. The CACI-SRSP Joint Center has collected resources from its publication on the topics of terrorism and Islamic radicalism in Central Asia on this page.

For press inquiries: the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute is part of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington DC (202-543-1006); the Silk Road Studies Program is part of the Institute for Security and Development Policy in Stockholm.(+46-734-150065) Please click here for further contact information.



List of Analytic Resources

Svante E. Cornell and Michael Jonsson, eds. Conflict, Crime, and the State in Postcommunist Eurasia. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014. (Includes chapters on Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and the North Caucasus)

Svante E. Cornell, “Russia: an Enabler of Jihad?Op-Ed, Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, January 16, 2017

Jeffry W. Hartman “The May 2005 Andijan Uprising: What We Know” Silk Road Paper, May, 2016, pp. 68

John C.K. Daly “Rush to Judgment: Western Media and the 2005 Andijan Violence” Silk Road Paper, May, 2016, pp. 85

Shirin Akiner “Kyrgyzstan 2010: Conflict and ContextSilk Road Paper, July, 2016, pp. 146

S. Frederick Starr, ”Moderate Islam: Look to Central AsiaNew York Times, 26 February 2014.

Peter Sinnott, “Peeling the Waziristan Onion: Central Asians in Armed Islamist Movements in Afghanistan and Pakistan” China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, Volume 7, No. 4 (2009) pp. 33-53

Didier Chaudet, “When the Bear Confronts the Crescent: Russia and the Jihadist Issue” China & Eurasia Forum Quarterly. Vol. 7 Issue 2, 2009, pp.37-58.

Svante E. Cornell, Narcotics, Radicalism, and Armed Conflict in Central Asia: The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Terrorism and Political Violence, 17:4, 2007, 619-639, 2007

Galina M. Yemelianova “The Rise of Islam in Muslim Eurasia: Internal Determinants and Potential Consequences.” China & Eurasia Forum Quarterly. 2007, Vol. 5 Issue 2, pp 73-91.

Svante E. Cornell, Narcotics and Armed Conflict: Interaction and Implications, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 30:3 ,2007, 207-227, DOI: 10.1080/10576100601148449

Michael Scheuer “Central Asia in Al-Qaeda's Vision of the Anti-American Jihad, 1979-2006” The China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly: Terrorism, Volume 4, No. 2,2006, pp. 5-10

Saule Mukhametrakhimova “Perception and Treatment of the "Extremist" Islamic Group Hizb ut-Tahrir by Central Asian Governments” The China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly: Terrorism, Volume 4, No. 2,2006, pp. 49-54

Svante E. Cornell & Regine A. Spector, Central Asia: More than Islamic extremists, The Washington Quarterly, 25:1, 2002, 193-206, 2002



CACI Analyst Articles, 2014-2017, on Islamism, Central Asia and Syria

Emil Souleimanov “Attacks in Chechnya Suggest Opposition to Kadyrov is Far from EradicatedThe CACI Analyst,  March 24, 2017

At the turn of 2016 and 2017, events took place in parts of Chechnya that again challenged the triumphant statements of local pro-Moscow and federal authorities that the jihadist-inspired insurgency in this North Caucasian republic was eradicated. Aside from illustrating the latent character of armed conflict in the region in general and in Chechnya in particular, the recent upsurge of violence in Chechnya contains particularities that may have far-reaching consequences. Sporadic attacks against the Kadyrov regime will likely recur in the years to come and intensify should the regime’s grip on power weaken

Stephen Blank “Central Asia: An Opportunity for the Trump Administration” The CACI Analyst, March 22, 2017

Central Asia has never ranked high on U.S. priorities. That is unlikely to change under the Trump Administration. Yet recent developments in Central Asia, particularly in Uzbekistan, do offer an opportunity to advance U.S. interests through a greater economic-political presence in the region, whilst also countering growing Chinese economic dominance and Russian efforts at military hegemony at a relatively low cost. The two key countries in this possible opportunity for the U.S. are Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

Fuad Shahbazov “China’s Long March into Central Asia: How Beijing Expands Military Influence in Tajikistan” The CACI Analyst, February 21, 2017

China's gradually increasing economic role in Central Asia since the early 2000s is unsurprising considering the region's geographic proximity to China's dynamic economy. In this context, Beijing has carefully shaped a military strategy in the region, particularly in neighboring Tajikistan. In September 2016, Beijing offered to finance and build several outposts and other military facilities (in addition to the Gulhan post, which was opened in 2012) to beef up Tajikistan's defense capabilities along its border with Afghanistan, whereas China's and Tajikistan's militaries performed a large counter-terrorism exercise in October 2016. These unexpected actions have raised concerns in Russia over rising Chinese influence in Tajikistan.

Huseyn Aliyev “Islamic State-inspired attacks continue in ChechnyaThe CACI Analyst,  February 7, 2017

On December 17, 2016, a shootout in central Grozny between members of the terrorist organization known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and local security forces claimed the lives of three militants and one police officer. On December 18, a counter-terrorist operation (CTO) launched in the aftermath resulted in the death of four more insurgents, whereas four remaining members of a militant cell were arrested. Three police officers were killed and one injured. While the confrontation between militants and police in Grozny was only the fourth conflict-related incident in the republic during 2016, it demonstrates that ISIS still has the capacity to target Chechen security forces.

Jacob Zenn “Abu Zar and Al Qaeda’s presence in Central AsiaThe CACI Analyst, January 16, 2017

Abu Zar al-Burmi was one of the most prominent Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) muftis and a close associate of the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda. Despite pledging loyalty to the terrorist organization known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2015, he has recently renounced his support of ISIS and is preaching under the banner of the Imam Bukhari Brigade (IBB), which is a Syria-based IMU offshoot that is loyal to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The case of Abu Zar shows how, since the rise of ISIS in 2014, al-Qaeda has defended its stake in Central Asian jihadism.

Stephen Blank “New signs of Chinese military interest in Central AsiaThe CACI Analyst , January 16th, 2017

Recent evidence shows a gradual increase in Chinese military activity in Central Asia, particularly with Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, although China has for years denied any military interest in the region. In October, PLA and Tajik forces jointly participated in counterterrorism exercises in Tajikistan near the border with Afghanistan, following earlier activity in 2016. Whereas Tajikistan was then silent, this time it publicized the exercises, which aroused a visible anxiety in the Russian media although the Russian government has hitherto been unwilling to comment on this issue. China’s initiative could imply a major new development in Chinese policy and in Central Asia’s overall security, with lasting implications for the region.

Farkhod Tolipov “Uzbekistan between a new president and the same nation: is it perestroika?The CACI Analyst, January 10, 2017

On December 4, 2016, three months after the death of Uzbekistan’s first President Islam Karimov, the country held new presidential elections. The Prime Minister and acting Interim President Shavkat Mirziyoev became president-elect by defeating three competitors in a highly asymmetric campaign characterized by the utilization of so-called administrative resources. Yet Mirziyoev’s campaign was also an explicit demonstration of new domestic and foreign political trends in post-Karimov Uzbekistan towards more liberal reforms. The campaign also revealed rising new expectations on the part of the Uzbek nation after a quarter-century of one-person rule.

Farkhod Tolipov “Uzbekistan-Tajikistan: game over, but what is the score?” The CACI Analyst, December 15th, 2016,

Uzbekistan’s and Tajikistan’s independence in 1991 raised the Shakespearean “To be or not to be?” question concerning the ambitious construction of a dam on the mountainous Vakhsh river in Tajikistan, which would embody the Rogun Hydro Power Station. Uzbekistan – a downstream country – has permanently and vigorously rejected and resisted the project referring to numerous risks associated with Rogun for all downstream countries. Uzbekistan’s president has been the principal political antagonist of this project. Two months after his death in September 2016, Tajikistan’s president has decided to move on with the project.

Stephen Blank “Russian intervention in Syria and the CaucasusThe CACI Analyst,  November 27, 2016

Few people think about trends in the Caucasus with reference to or in the context of Russia’s Syrian intervention. But Moscow does not make this mistake. From the beginning, Moscow has highlighted its access to the Caucasus through overflight rights and deployment of its forces in regard to Syria, e.g. sending Kalibr cruise missiles from ships stationed in the Caspian Sea to bomb Syria. Therefore we should emulate Russia’s example and seriously assess military trends in the Caucasus in that Syrian context.

Edward Lemon “Signs of improving relations between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan but tensions remainThe CACI Analyst,  October 19, 2016

Since the death of Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov in early September, signs have emerged of a thaw in relations between Uzbekistan and its neighbor Tajikistan. In the years since independence, bilateral relations have been plagued by mistrust, disputes over water resources and outright hostility. Both sides have adopted a series of punitive measures against each other. Although acting President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has expressed interest in “resetting” relations with Tajikistan, any improvement will be tempered by the ongoing conflict over Tajikistan’s planned hydropower plants.

Huseyn Aliyev “Revival of Islamist insurgency in the North Caucasus?” The CACI Analyst, October 14, 2016

The last week of August 2016 saw two large-scale Counter-Terrorist Operations (CTOs) in the North Caucasus republics of Kabardino-Balkaria and Dagestan, followed by another CTO conducted in the second week of September. This relatively low-scale increase in military confrontations between militants and security forces in the region nonetheless indicates a steady recovery of non-ISIS Islamist cells, which have been in decline since the emergence of ISIS in the region. While these recent developments may not indicate a revival of the local Islamist insurgency, they indicate that local insurgent jama’ats are still present and active in the region.

Dmitry Shlapentokh “Prospects of Turkmenistan-Iran gas cooperationThe CACI Analyst, October 12th, 2016

On June 8, 2016, FSU Oil & Gas Monitor quoted former UK Energy Minister Charles Hendry as saying that gas from Turkmenistan could reach European markets by various different means, including “overland routes through Iran.” It is unlikely that Hendry would make such an announcement without having received encouraging signals from both Tehran and Ashkhabad. The prospect of gas deliveries from Turkmenistan to European markets is disconcerting for Moscow, which regards the monopolization of gas supply to Europe as one of its major geopolitical and geoeconomic goals.

Emil Aslan Souleimanov “The North Caucasus insurgency: weakened but not eradicated” The CACI Analyst, October 6 th,  2016

The North Caucasus insurgency has weakened dramatically in recent years. While Chechnya-based jihadist groups now number a few dozen fighters, jamaats operating in Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay have been nearly wrecked. In Ingushetia, a few insurgent groups remain numbering a couple of dozen members. In Dagestan, the epicenter of the regional insurgents, several jamaats have survived and number around a hundred active members. Indicative of the unprecedented weakening of the North Caucasus insurgency is the jihadists’ inability to elect an amir of the Caucasus Emirate: since the liquidation of the last amir Magomed Suleimanov in mid-August 2015, the jihadist resistance has been beheaded as it lacks a formal leadership. Yet has the regional insurgency indeed been defeated?

Franz J. Marty “The phantom menace of ISIS in Northern AfghanistanThe CACI Analyst, September 8th, 2016

 Many accounts allege that the terrorist organization known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has expanded to northern Afghanistan and intends to infiltrate Central Asia from there. Taking a closer look, however, it becomes apparent that virtually all such claims lack a sound foundation and that the remaining, more specific hints like reported sightings of black flags also stand on shaky ground. Consequentially, and contrary to the eastern parts of Afghanistan, there is no compelling evidence of a presence of the self-styled Caliphate in northern Afghanistan and, hence, also no immediate threat to Central Asia.

Farkhod Tolipov “The Tashkent summit and the expanded SCO” The CACI Analyst, July 27th, 2016

50 years ago, Uzbekistan’s capital Tashkent hosted a summit ending the India-Pakistan war of 1965, resulting in the Tashkent Declaration. It was, so to speak, a Soviet “Camp David” aimed at bringing two antagonists – India and Pakistan – to peace. The SCO summit of June 2016 was, symbolically speaking, a second – multilateral – platform created in the same place, Tashkent, for the same two states to restore peace. Yet this summit did not appear to be a second Tashkent “Camp David,” but rather a challenge for the SCO itself.

Emil Souleimanov “Chechen authorities raise pressure on human rights organizations” The CACI Analyst, July 23rd, 2016

Recent months have seen increased attacks on journalists and human rights activists in Chechnya. Such attacks have long become characteristic of the Moscow-backed Chechen authorities’ attitude to any form of dissent, both within and outside the North Caucasus republic. While most human rights organizations and journalists were pushed out of Chechnya in the 2000s, the recent wave of violence has been particularly aggressive and threaten to remove the last resort for complaints on human rights violations as well as the only remaining sources of data on such violations in the republic.

Rafis Abazov  “Fixing the Aral Sea disaster: towards environmental cooperation in Central Asia?The CACI Analyst,  June 28th, 2016

Kazakh experts have recently begun to call water the “liquid gold of the 21st century,” as all states in the Central Asian region face greater demand for water concurrent with a significant decline in water supply. The Aral Sea – which became a symbol of environmental mismanagement and environmental catastrophe at the end of the 20th century – shows that sustainable development policies can help to deal with even the most difficult water issues. Conversely, however, mismanagement and border conflicts over water might worsen the situation, leading to further political and economic tensions. The current question is whether Kazakhstan can collaborate with other Central Asian states in saving and perhaps reviving the Aral Sea.

John C.K. Daly “The death of Mullah Mansour and the future of the Taliban” The CACI Analyst, June 7th, 2016

On May 21, a U.S. drone attack killed Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour and taxi driver Mohammad Azam near Nushki in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province. Mansour was returning from Taftan, Iran, where he had gone for medical treatment, to his residence near the provincial capital Quetta, a 370-mile journey. Mansour and his driver had completed roughly two-thirds of the nine-hour trip. A Pakistani passport and a Computer National Identity Card (CNIC) identifying Mansur as “Wali Muhammad” were found near the wreckage. Mansour’s death, coming nine months after his contested election as “Amir al-Mu'minin” by the Taliban’s Rahbari Shura, has added additional volatility to Afghanistan’s complex political landscape, effectively sidelining any possibility of renewing peace negotiations with the Afghan government as Mansour’s successor seeks to consolidate his position.

Farkhod Tolipov “Ad-hoc peace or ad-hoc war: micro-geopolitics of Central Asia and the Caucasus” The CACI Analyst, June 2nd, 2016

A few weeks before the April 2-5 fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh between Azerbaijan and Armenia, a border crisis occurred between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan on March 18-26. Some observers connected these two events as links in the same chain. Indeed, both cases revolve around so-called frozen conflicts in the post-Soviet space; where one of the conflicting sides is a CSTO member and the other is not; and where speculations proliferate of a hidden Russian hand in both the instigation and mediation of the clashes. The two conflicts can be seen as a by-product of the same process – the continuing divergence of the former single Soviet space.

Dmitry Shlapentokh “Kazakhstan's history as a geopolitical battlefield” The CACI Analyst, May 27th, 2016

Throughout 2015, Kazakhstan celebrated the 450th anniversary of what it regards as the beginning of its statehood as a major national event. This extraordinary interest in a seemingly academic subject had clear political undertones: Kazakhstan is not an “artificial” state, as sometimes proclaimed by representatives of the Kremlin. The country’s continuous process of distancing itself from Russia has been coupled with repression against suspected proponents of separatism in Northern Kazakhstan, populated by considerable numbers of ethnic Russians or Russian-speakers. Despite the existence of clearly pro-Russian attitudes in this region, Moscow has not supported them out of fear that it could raise extremist forms of nationalism in Russia, which would be highly problematic for the Kremlin.

Jacob Zenn “The IMU is extinct: what next for Central Asia's jihadis?The CACI Analyst,  May 3rd, 2016

For more than a decade after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the U.S., the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) was the “bogeyman” of Central Asian militancy. It was the most well-known militant group in Central Asia and abroad, even though it was in exile in Afghanistan and Pakistan under the protection of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Years of drone strikes and counter-insurgency operations failed to eliminate the IMU. Ironically, however, it was neither the U.S. nor coalition forces that destroyed the IMU. Rather, it was the Taliban who liquidated the IMU in late 2015 as punishment for its “betrayal” of the Taliban (and al-Qaeda) by pledging loyalty to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, leader of the terrorist organization calling itself the Islamic State (ISIS). This will change the nature of the militant threat to Central Asia and force a reconsideration of Uzbekistan’s counter-extremism measures.

Roger N. McDermott “Russia-Tajikistan antiterrorist exercises: strategic messagingThe CACI Analyst, March 28th, 2016

Russia’s and Tajikistan’s joint antiterrorist exercise on March 15-20 involved five Tajik training ranges, and showcased bilateral security cooperation. The exercise seemed routine, consistent with each country’s national security concerns; however a number of factors coalesced on Moscow’s planning and deployment side to make it both unique and potentially revealing. Buoyed by its recent experience of military conflict in Ukraine and Syria, Russia’s Armed Forces display increased confidence in supporting a more pro-active Russian foreign policy posture. The elements it deployed in Tajikistan for the exercise contain strategic messages for the benefit of other actors and Russia’s potential adversaries in Central Asia: for regional governments, the message is one of reassurance and renewed confidence.

Richard Weitz “Moscow's agenda in Central Asia and the Caucasus: it is officialThe CACI Analyst, March 18th, 2016

The states of Central Asia and the South Caucasus are in for a rough ride if recent Russian national security documents and speeches genuinely represent the Kremlin’s worldview. Not only do these texts veto their membership in NATO, but they exclude mutually profitable partnerships for these countries with the European Union and other Western institutions, constrain their domestic development, and encourage the suppression of civil liberties by warning of fictitious Western plots to change their regimes under the guise of democracy promotion and human rights.

Roger N. McDermott “Russia recalibrates 201st base in Tajikistan” The CACI Analyst February 25th, 2016

Moscow has stated that among its defense and security priorities for 2016, Central Asia and the South Caucasus will top its agenda. Kavkaz 2016, the main strategic military exercise of the year, will take place in the Southern Military District (MD), while Tsentr 2015 occurred in Central MD with among its vignettes a rehearsal of intervention in Central Asia. Surprisingly in this context, the Defense Ministry plans to restructure the 201st Base in Tajikistan from divisional to brigade status. This initiative is driven by Moscow’s growing concerns about the future of Central Asian security as it faces multiple potential threats stemming from Afghanistan and Islamic State (ISIS). But paradoxically, Moscow’s latest moves to strengthen the basing of its forces in Tajikistan serves as an indicator of official perceptions that the region could suffer a serious security challenge.

Emil Aslan Souleimanov “Azerbaijan, islamism, and unrest in NardaranThe CACI Analyst, December 27th, 2015

On November 25-26, Azerbaijani law enforcement carried out a special operation in Nardaran, a township on the northern edge of the Absheron peninsula located 25 kilometers northeast of the capital’s center. The purpose of the special operation was to break the backbone of the Muslim Unity group, a purportedly militant Shiite organization. The context and implications of the Nardaran events have received little attention in Western media, despite the concerns raised both within and outside the region about Azerbaijan finding itself on the brink of religiously inspired civil unrest.

Richard Weitz  “Building on Kerry's Central Asian tourThe CACI Analyst, December 22nd, 2015

In early November, John Kerry made a long overdue trip to Central Asia, becoming the first Secretary of State to visit all five Central Asian countries in one diplomatic tour. His agenda focused on reassuring the regional governments that the United States cares about their concerns, specifically Afghanistan and religious extremism. Kerry also highlighted U.S. support for region-wide economic integration, ecological protection, and cultural and humanitarian cooperation. He further developed bilateral cooperation with each Central Asian government. However, there were no major agreements or blockbuster initiatives announced during Kerry’s visit. It will require sustained follow-through by the current and next U.S. administrations to achieve enduringly positive results.

S. Frederick Starr and Svante E. Cornell “The EU and Central Asia: Developing Transport and TradeThe CACI Analyst December 10th, 2015

A number of initiatives have combined to make the development of continental transport and trade across the heartland of Eurasia a reality rather than a mere vision. Some of these have been external, while many have been internal to the region. Yet Europe, which launched the visionary TRACECA program in the early 1990s, is largely absent from the scene today. Yet if Europe works with Central Asian states, it stands to benefit greatly from this process. This would involve work to make the transport corridors more attuned to market logic; to promote the development of soft infrastructure; to pay attention to the geopolitics of transport and support the Caucasus and Caspian corridor; and not least, to look ahead to the potential of linking Europe through Central Asia not just to China, but also to the Indian subcontinent.

Huseyn Aliyev, Emil A. Souleimanov “Russia's missile launches and the militarization of the Caspian SeaThe CACI Analyst, November 23rd, 2015

In early October, Russia's Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu announced that Russian navy warships based in the Caspian Sea had fired a total of 26 missiles at the positions of the terrorist organization calling itself the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria. The minister claimed that all the 11 targets, located around 1,500 kilometers from the warships, were destroyed over two days. Russian authorities and pro-regime media have considered the strikes a big success. While information soon resurfaced that some cruise missiles had landed on Iranian soil, the fact that the October strike is definite proof of the failed attempts to turn the landlocked water basin into a demilitarized zone has received less attention.

Farkhod Tolipov “Pluses and minuses of the C5+1 formatThe CACI Analyst, November 13th, 2015

During the UN General Assembly on September 27, 2015 in New York, Secretary of State John Kerry met with Kazakhstan’s, Kyrgyzstan’s, Tajikistan’s, Turkmenistan’s and Uzbekistan’s Ministers of Foreign Affairs to set up the new C5+1 format for dialogue between the U.S. and Central Asian states. As a first manifestation of this dialogue platform, Kerry made a Central Asian tour in early November. The C5+1 meeting in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, took place in the context of global geopolitical turbulence that has raised Central Asia’s profile in U.S. global strategy

Dmitry Shlapentokh “The ISIS threat and Moscow's influence in Central Asia and the Middle EastThe CACI Analyst, November 6, 2015

Moscow has recently undertaken several actions aiming to increase Russia’s influence in the Middle East and Central Asia. On August 23-28, 2015, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which includes several members from Central Asia, undertook military exercises in Russia. Russian authorities stated that the maneuvers aimed to help CSTO members develop means to effectively move airborne forces and other troops to conflict zones, including in Central Asia. The exercises partly served to address a real concern on the part of Russia as well as other CSTO members over the rise of the terrorist organization calling itself the Islamic State (ISIS). However, Russia sees ISIS not only as a threat but also as an opportunity for both increasing Russia’s influence in Central Asia and providing a pretext for its venture in the Middle East.

Avinoam Idan “Russia in Syria and Putin's geopolitical strategy” The CACI Analyst, October 22nd, 2015

The deepening of Russia’s military presence in Syria and its direct involvement in aiding the Assad regime during the Syrian crisis is a game changing step in the geostrategic context of the Middle East. This is Russia’s third move during the last eight years to change the strategic status quo in the greater Middle East by means of military force. Russia’s new step in Syria aims to influence the geopolitical makeup of the Middle East following the collapse of the Sykes-Picot order. Russia aims to establish itself as a key player from the Caspian Basin in the east, via the Black Sea, to the Eastern Mediterranean.

Erica Marat “Kyrgyzstan: beyond democratic elections” The CACI Analyst, October 12th, 2015

On October 4, Kyrgyzstan held parliamentary elections marked by significant improvements in the country’s democratic development.  The elections have demonstrated the viability of Kyrgyzstan’s 2010 constitution, which delegates more powers to the parliament and aims to prevent the emergence of autocratic political center. Fourteen political parties competed, and six were able to pass the national and regional thresholds to win seats.

Emil Aslan Souleimanov “Russia's Syria initiative and the exaggerated ISIS threat to Central Asia” The CACI Analyst, September 25th, 2015

Russia’s recent military engagement in Syria and calls for the establishment of an international coalition against the terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State (ISIS) has produced renewed interest in Moscow’s policies toward the jihadist quasi-state. Against this background, while many have speculated about Moscow’s true intentions in the Middle East, relatively little attention has been paid to Moscow’s interests in Central Asia and the Caucasus in the context of its increasingly vocal rhetoric of fighting ISIS. Moscow is actively utilizing the risks and threats stemming from the ISIS to boost its clout in the near and far abroad.

Edward Lemon “Violence in Tajikistan emerges from within the state” The CACI Analyst, September 23rd, 2015

Rather than resulting from external factors, as the regime has argued, the recent violence in Tajikistan erupted from within the state itself. Elites within the Tajik state continually compete for political influence and economic gain. These struggles occasionally break out into violence. Ironically, such conflicts are actually useful for the regime. They allow it to legitimize a purge of potentially disloyal members and a crackdown on other opponents. By blaming the latest conflict on the country’s leading opposition party, the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT), the regime legitimized its move to ban the party and arrest its leading members.

Emil Aslan Souleimanov “A weakened insurgency precludes IS inroads to the North Caucasus” 09/02/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst

Recent months have seen North Caucasian amirs pledging allegiance to the terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State (ISIS). Many have pointed to this process as a sign of the changing paradigm of the regional resistance, which is being transformed into – or absorbed by – the global jihadist insurgency. But these assumptions can be challenged by a look at the internal dynamics, the distance from key hotbeds of jihadist violence, and the limits of the North Caucasian insurgency. While ISIS may have some impact on the North Caucasian jamaats, it is likely to be rather limited and indirect.

Farkhod Tolipov “Uzbekistan concerned over SCO expansion” 05/08/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) held its annual summit on June 9-10, 2015, in the Russian town of Ufa, which was an historical turning point in the organization’s evolution. It adopted a Development Strategy towards 2025 and admitted India and Pakistan as full members. Uzbekistan has taken over the Chairmanship of the SCO from Russia for the next one year period. During the summit, Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov expressed concerns revealing Tashkent’s reluctant acknowledgement of the fact that from now on the SCO will be more than just a Central Asia-focused structure.

George Voloshin “The Uzbek-Tajik détente: can it last?” 08/07/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst

On June 22-24, Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent, hosted a third meeting of the Uzbek-Tajik intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation. Unlike the two previous sessions, which were organized in Dushanbe in August 2002 and February 2009, this year’s bilateral trade talks took place against the backdrop of an emerging détente between the two Central Asian neighbors. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are currently confronted with a host of shared challenges ranging from the threat of radical Islam to socioeconomic instability, while their bilateral relationship is still constrained by unsettled disputes from the past.

Charlie Smith “Islamic State in Central Asia: threat or opportunity” 08/07/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst

Central Asia is a key region that many believe has fallen into the crosshairs of the terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State (ISIS). Local governments are gravely concerned about returning fighters and possible ISIS infiltration in the region, and foreign powers, especially neighboring Russia and China, have expressed their deep concerns. This grim picture, however, obscures a more complex, and perhaps more accurate, story. Might the specter of ISIS have less to do with its on-the-ground ability to destabilize the region and more to do with the geopolitical concerns of those who are stating these threats?

Kevin Daniel Leahy “Existing Paradigms for Resistance in the North Caucasus Challenged by Kadyrov, ISIS” 06/24/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst

With the recent death of its leader and the decisions by numerous field commanders in Dagestan and Chechnya to disassociate themselves with the organization, analysts are wondering if the Caucasus Emirate can endure. The terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State (ISIS) has emerged as the latest paradigm for resistance to Russian rule in the Caucasus. It is, however, only the latest in a long line of such paradigms to take root in the region, competing with the Caucasus Emirate, Chechen nationalism and other forms of ethnic separatism. What is the outlook for ISIS as a paradigm for resistance in the North Caucasus?

Nurzhan Zhambekov “Russia’s Regulation of Labor Migration Set to Hurt Central Asian Economies” 04/29/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst

The slowing Russian economy suffered a triple shock in the form of Western economic sanctions, falling oil prices, and the plummeting Russian ruble in 2014, resulting in a negative impact on Central Asian states. In addition, tighter migration regulations in Russia, in force since early 2015, are having an effect on the flow of migration from Central Asia, particularly from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. These three countries rely heavily on remittances from their migrant workers in Russia. The drop in remittances could increase socioeconomic disaffection in parts of Central Asia that are dependent on labor migrants’ earnings. 

Emil Aslan Souleimanov “Caucasus Emirate Faces Further Decline after the Death of Its Leader” 04/29/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst

On April 19, 2015, the Caucasus Emirate’s leader Aliaskhab Kebekov, nom de guerre Ali Abu Mukhammad, was killed in a special operation carried out by Russian elite forces in Dagestan’s Buynaksk district. His death came at a time of profound decline of the North Caucasian jihadists, coupled with the ongoing split in their ranks as an increasing number of fighters and insurgent leaders turn to the Islamic State (IS). Upcoming months will show whether the North Caucasus insurgency, and particularly its Dagestani branch, will become dominated by IS sympathizers and ink up with the global jihad, or remain a largely local endeavor.

Emil Souleimanov “Dagestan’s Insurgents Split over Loyalties to Caucasus Emirate and IS” 04/15/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst

Recent months have been hectic for Dagestani jihadists. Since mid-2014, this hotbed of the North Caucasian insurgency has witnessed a gradual split, with numerous Dagestan-based jihadist commanders pledging oath (bayat) to the leader of the Islamic State, Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi. In response, the Caucasus Emirate’s formal leader, Aliaskhab Kebekov, himself a Dagestani, criticized the disloyal commanders for splitting the ranks of the local insurgency. In mid-February, the newly appointed amir of the Dagestani Vilayat, Kamil Saidov, joined Kebekov in his condemnation of those submitting to Baghdadi’s authority. Given the North Caucasian and Dagestani jamaats' weakening capacity, the ongoing developments in Dagestan could break the unity in this last bastion of the regional insurgency.

Huseyn Aliyev “Conflict-related Violence Decreases in the North Caucasus as Fighters go to Syria” 04/01/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst

The end of 2014 and early 2015 have witnessed a notable reduction in conflict-related violence across the North Caucasus. With the continuous departure of Islamist volunteers from that Russian region to the Middle East, in 2014 the number of casualties, among both militants and security forces, have decreased by more than half, compared to the previous year. While observers associate the current de-escalation of violence with the outflow of large numbers of North Caucasian youth to join Islamic State (IS) and with internal conflicts within the North Caucasus Islamist underground (Caucasus Emirate), reasons behind the recent decline of insurgency-related activities are likely to be more complex. 

Emil Souleimanov “Dagestan’s Jihadists and Haram Targeting” 02/18/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst

The recent attacks in Paris against the studio of satirical journal Charlie Hebdo, known for its caricatures of Muhammad, have sparked heated debates in Dagestan. While Dagestanis have primarily focused on evaluating the implications of this single case of lethal violence, their debates have unfolded against the background of increasingly frequent attacks carried out by members of local jihadi groups – jamaats – against targets deemed anti-Islamic according to Salafi dogma.


Published in News
Monday, 03 April 2017 16:00

Is Something Stirring in Central Asia?

20170228 central asia

   Is Something Stirring in Central Asia?
Co-Hosted by the Atlantic Council and Central Asia-Caucasus Institute

Monday, April 3, 2017
4:00 p.m. 

Since the death of Uzekistan’s President Islam Karimov in September of 2016, the stability  that characterized key developments and overall dynamics in Uzbekistan as well as in the Central Asia region as a whole, has been undergoing a noticeable shift. Initiatives of the newly installed President Mirziyoyev in Uzbekistan and proposals regarding reforms by President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan suggest that something may be stirring in Central Asia. This first joint forum of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and the Atlantic Council will present these developments, ask if they represent a real shift, and consider the implications of such changes for the Central Asia region as a whole and for its place in the world.


Ambassador John Herbst
Director, Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center
Atlantic Council
Ambassador Richard Hoagland
Interim Co-chair 
OSCE Minsk Group
Mr. Daniel Rosenblum
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Central Asia, 
Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
US Department of State
Dr. Martha Olcott
Visiting Professor
Michigan State University

Moderated By:

Dr. S. Frederick Starr
Chairman, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute
American Foreign Policy Council




Atlantic Council
12th Floor (West Tower Elevators)
1030 15th Street NW
Washington, DC


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Published in Forums & Events

safoyev1The Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and 
the Embassy of the Republic of Uzbekistan invite you:

Update from Tashkent: A Conversation
with Senator Sodiq Safoev, Сhairman of the Committee for Foreign Relations of the Senate of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan


Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016, from noon to 1:30 p.m. 


Important developments are under way in Uzbekistan. With national elections impending on December 4, and fresh initiatives already taken in areas as diverse as policy reforms, business, and international relations, Uzbekistan has entered a vital new phase.

Senator Safoev served as Ambassador to Washington from 1996 to 2001, where he was warmly received, and subsequently was Minister of Foreign Affairs and Rector of the University of World Economy and Diplomacy in Tashkent. He was elected to the Senate in 2010. Additionally, he worked as the First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs; as Special Representative of the President of Uzbekistan in Afghanistan; as Ambassador of Uzbekistan to Germany; and as Chief Consultant and Head of the Department of International Economic Relations under the presidential administration.

Moderated by Svante Cornell, Director, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute

Lunch (Uzbek cuisine) will be served.


Please note the special location and time of this event – noon on Thursday, 20 October: 
The Embassy of the Republic of Uzbekistan
1746 Massachusetts Ave., NW
Washington, DC  20036

Registration is REQUIRED for this event:  

Click here to RSVP and register


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  • New Article Series on Changing Geopolitics of Central Asia and the Caucasus
    Wednesday, 24 November 2021 11:53


  • The Armenia-Azerbaijan Crisis - Svante Cornell at Westminster Institute
    Friday, 13 November 2020 14:17

    The Armenian-Azerbaijani Crisis
    (Svante E. Cornell, October 30, 2020)

    Transcript available below




    About the speaker

    Svante E. Cornell is Director of the American Foreign Policy Council’s Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, and a co-founder of the Institute for Security and Development Policy in Stockholm. His main areas of expertise are security issues, state-building, and transnational crime in Southwest and Central Asia, with a specific focus on the Caucasus and Turkey. He is the Editor of the Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, the Joint Center’s bi-weekly publication, and of the Joint Center’s Silk Road Papers series of occasional papers.

    Dr. Cornell is the author of four books, including Small Nations and Great Powers, the first comprehensive study of the post-Soviet conflicts in the Caucasus. His articles have appeared in numerous leading academic and journals such as World Politics, the Washington Quarterly, Current History, Journal of Democracy, Europe-Asia Studies, etc. His commentaries and op-eds appear occasionally in the U.S., European, and regional press.

    Cornell is Associate Professor (Docent) in Government at Uppsala University and Associate Research Professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. Dr. Cornell holds a Ph.D. in Peace and Conflict Studies from Uppsala University, a B.Sc. with High Honor in International Relations from the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey, and an honorary doctoral degree from the Behmenyar Institute of Law and Philosophy of the National Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan. He is a member of the Swedish Royal Academy of Military Science.

    Listen to the podcast of Dr. Svante Cornell’s Westminster lecture on Apple iTunes.


    Robert R. Reilly:


    Hello, I am Bob Reilly, the director of the Westminster Institute. Thank you for joining us for another one of our Zoom lectures during this curious time to which we are all living. We are particularly pleased to have a scholar speaking to us from Sweden today on the subject of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. He is Dr. Svante Cornell, who joined the American Foreign Policy Council as Senior Fellow for Eurasia in January 2017. He also serves as director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Silk Road Studies program and he is a co-founder of the Institute for Security and Development Policy Stockholm. His main areas of expertise are security issues, state building, and transnational crime in Southwest and Central Asia with a specific focus on the Caucasus and Turkey.

    He is the editor of the Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, the Joint Center’s bi-weekly publication and of the Joint Center’s Silk Road Papers, a series of occasional papers. Dr. Cornell is the author of four books, including Small Nations and Great Powers, the first comprehensive study of the post-Soviet conflicts in the Caucasus and Azerbaijan since independence.

    Dr. Cornell is an associate research professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. He was educated at the Middle East Technical University. He received his Ph.D. in Peace and Conflict Studies from Uppsala University. He is a member of the Swedish Royal Academy of Military Science and a Research Associate with the W. Martens Center for European Studies in Brussels. Formerly, Dr. Cornell served as Associate Professor of Government at Uppsala University, so I thank you so much, Dr. Cornell, for joining us to discuss this very difficult subject of what seems to be an intractable conflict. Thank you.

    Dr. Svante E. Cornell:


    Well, thank you very much for having me. It is a pleasure. This is an issue that I have worked on for over twenty years and I will begin by saying that the fact that this conflict is now again in a phase of very hot military confrontation is really not very surprising. It is something that I wish to say I was the lone person predicting, unfortunately there were many more who predicted that this was a conflict that would eventually rekindle the way it has, and I think in order to understand this, I will just quickly go through a little bit of the background of this conflict and what what the issues are that are really at stake, how this conflict has evolved in the past three decades, especially focusing on what changed in the very recent past to get us to the point where we are today. We can also then, of course, talk about the implications of this current episode.

    Historical Background

    I guess I would start by saying that this is a conflict that really existed on several different levels and that is one of the reasons it has been very difficult to resolve. It started, of course, as a conflict that really was between the Azerbaijani Soviet government and the autonomous province of Nagorno-Karabakh, which was majority Armenian-populated and therefore also run by ethnic Armenians. Very soon it acquired a second level, which was that of a level between the two republics, Azerbaijan and Armenia, and obviously as soon as the Soviet Union collapsed, it became an interstate war between these two republics, newly independent states, with an Armenian military in intervention inside Azerbaijan’s territory in support of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh.

    The third level of this conflict is the global or rather international geopolitical level I would like to call it because it started off very quickly with the Russian leadership in the Soviet era, manipulating this conflict to its own advantages, which meant in the beginning, during the Soviet era, supporting the Azerbaijani side because they were status quo-oriented, but then as soon as independence hit, Armenia flipped and became pro-Russian whereas Azerbaijan had a nationalist president and therefore the Russian side started supporting Armenia instead. And what we have seen since is that it has attracted the interest of great powers from Turkey to Iran, to western powers, Pakistan, Israel. Many powers have one way or another been involved in this conflict because of the strategic location of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

    Strategic Value of Nagorno-Karabakh

    And particularly the strategic location of Azerbaijan, I would say, because if you look at a map, you will find that this is the only country that borders both Russia and Iran, and therefore is the key Western conduit to Central Asia as the United States found out after September 11 when the airspace of Georgia and Azerbaijan became the air corridor that connected NATO territory to the military operations in Afghanistan and the U.S bases that were located in Uzbekistan and in Kyrgyzstan. So again, it is a conflict of three levels, which means it is increasingly hard to resolve because you have the ability for external powers to, so to speak sabotage any effort at resolving the conflict that is very significant.

    And obviously, as we talk of external powers, until very recently the main power that we had in mind was always Russia, which played both sides as I will get into in a minute, and with the sole purpose of maximizing the Russian influence over the south Caucasus and preventing an expansion of Western influence in this region. Now, in talking more about the background of the conflict I think one very important aspect of this conflict is the imbalance if you will between the two parties.

    Why Azerbaijan Lost in the 1990s

    Now, as I already mentioned, Azerbaijan is a country with a very geostrategic location. It also has large natural resources, primarily oil and gas, as well as a population that is three times larger than Armenia’s. In spite of all this, Azerbaijan lost the war in the early 1990s, which it really did because of two main reasons. One was the one I already mentioned, namely the Russian support for the Armenian side as soon as independence happened, and the second one was that the Azerbaijani side was basically in the first couple of years of independence busy bickering among each other for power in Baku, and that meant that there was a demoralized Azerbaijani military.

    And the Armenians, who were very well organized with Russian support, were able basically not only to gain control over Nagorno-Karabakh, but also over seven adjoining districts surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh to the south on the Iranian border as well as to the west and east of this enclave, which was really an enclave because it was an Armenian territory separated from the rest of Armenia by Azerbaijani territory. And then when I say ‘Armenian enclave’, I mean, of course, it was an autonomous region, it had an autonomous status in the Soviet hierarchy of federalism.

    What Happened After the War

    Now, this imbalance is important because as the years went by from especially the late 1990s onward, I would say two things happened. The first was because of the amount of territory the Armenians had seized, they also ended up in a position where first, the Azerbaijanis could never accept this situation. Azerbaijan was for a while the country in the world with the highest percentage of internally displaced people, one in ten people in the country were internally displaced refugees, basically from this conflict zone that had been ethnically cleansed by the Armenian advancing armies.

    At the same time, Azerbaijan was getting gradually richer because of the investments in oil and gas extraction in the Caspian Sea and the U.S supported construction of pipelines to carry this oil and gas to Western markets without transiting either Russian or Iranian territory, which was a (I would argue) a very major achievement of U.S. policy in this part of the world in the late 1990s and early 2000s. So this became like if you will the ‘rubber band’ that if you pull it too much, eventually it breaks, and I think that is exactly what we have seen over the past month, is that the imbalance between the countries I think it is best illustrated by the fact that for a while, when oil prices were at their highest, Azerbaijan was spending as much on defense as Armenia’s entire state budget, which meant that the imbalance between the two countries became untenable, and this is not something that Armenians, some Armenians, did not see.

    How the International Community Viewed the Conflict

    In fact, the first President of Armenia, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, already three years after the military victory of Armenia in 1997, decided to accept a peace plan developed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which basically foresaw that Nagorno-Karabakh would have a high level of autonomy within Azerbaijan with very important security guarantees, and returned the occupied territories back to Azerbaijan. And he did so very much with the argument that, ‘Look, this is the best deal we are going to get because the year before in 1996 as well as previously, both the United Nations and the OSCE had passed resolutions that essentially made it clear that the international community had not accepted Armenia’s territorial grab.’

    There was a consensus within the international community that these territories were Azerbaijani territories, that yes, the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh may have some level of self-determination, but that the fact that this was an Armenian-populated territory would not amount to a right to secession, a right to create an independent state, so the Armenian leadership in the late 1990s understood this.

    Unfortunately, this led to a palace coup in which the leadership of essentially people from Nagorno-Karabakh took over the state of Armenia. President Robert Kocharyan, who succeeded Ter-Petrosyan, as well as his successor, Serzh Sargsyan, who was in power until two years ago, were all from Karabakh. Their inner circle if you will was very much dominated by people who were either from Nagorno-Karabakh or had made their careers through the war in the 1990s, which meant that there was if you will the ‘Karabakh clan’ as they were called sometimes. They were in charge in Armenia and they were quite skilled statesmen.

    Armenia’s Relationship with Russia

    They also knew very well how to maintain their relationship with Russia, but they were not very much interested in making concessions that would lead to a peace deal. In fact, I think it is very clear that on the Armenian side there was for a very long time (and continued to be until last month basically) a sense that, ‘We can just ride this out. We can maintain control over these territories and if we cannot get international, judicial acceptance for the situation, we can at least get the world to accept that this is a reality and not do much about it.’

    And I think they very much believed that the relationship Armenia has with Russia would end up being sufficient in order to deter any Azerbaijani effort to restore integrity by military means. As we know now, this was not the case. And I think that gets us to to the question, which is what changed and what really brought us to a position where we have a new war.

    Weakened International Norms

    And I think there are at least four or five factors that have changed, and as we all know, this is a world that is rather unsettled. The Eurasian continent particularly is rather unsettled. There are rapid changes in geopolitical alignments. There are deeper changes in the global structure of the international system as well as within the two countries, and all of these have combined. That goes back to what I mentioned earlier about a conflict that existed on several different levels.

    Now, if you go from from the global to the local if you will, I think one main shift over the past several years that affected this conflict has been the weakening of the international institutions in the law and norms-based international order if you will. We see this, of course, mainly by Russia’s actions; the war in Georgia, the invasion of of Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea. We see it in Iran, of course, with the Iranian building of a sphere of influence, ranging from Lebanon to Yemen by the use of paramilitary forces, totally ignoring state boundaries and the sovereignty of the various countries be it Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and so on. We see it in Turkish actions in Syria and in Libya. We see it by the way the Chinese behave. We see it in many countries. You could say that there is an evolution of at least on the Eurasian continent of a situation where great powers do what they are able to do, not necessarily being restrained as they perhaps were ten to fifteen years ago by certain norms of behavior.

    Kosovo and Crimea

    Now, I think what is interesting in this that the two powers interpreted as very differently in the two countries that we are talking about. Armenia interpreted this as a positive sign that would enable them to maintain their territorial occupation of Azerbaijani territory and extended into the future, and I think they were particularly buried by two factors. The first was Kosovo and the second was Crimea.


    Kosovo was important because Kosovo was an anomaly if you will in the sense that you had two Albanian states created in the Balkans. Traditionally, the principle of self-determination has always held that a people has a right to a state, not that a certain people may have a right to several different states, which is why a national minority was not traditionally accorded the right to self-determination reaching up to the level of independent statehood.

    The international recognition of Kosovo did create in fact a certain precedent that you could not have only one, but you could have two Albanian states, and the Armenians felt that, ‘Hey, this is very good. This is a precedent for us. We can have two Armenian states in the Caucasus’, because the Armenians always very nicely played the niceties of international law by never recognizing the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh.

    Armenia’s Miscalculations

    Now, there are Armenian parliamentary resolutions, dating back to the Soviet era, which incorporate Nagorno-Karabakh into Armenia. There are Armenian soldiers in Karabakh and there are Karabakh parliamentarians in the Armenian parliament, but Armenia always said that this is not annexation. ‘This is a separate state and we just support them morally. We support them politically, but this is not annexation.’ And I think they figured that there would be a precedent for creating a second Armenian state.

    I think there was a big miscalculation on the side of Armenia, and this is going to be a recurrent theme in my in my comments here, that I think they miscalculated many things, but a very important one was the implications of the weakening of international norms and institutions because what it really meant was also that Azerbaijan was held back from applying a military solution to the conflict precisely because of these international institutions and norms. And the moment they weakened, it also meant that the deterrence on Azerbaijan of applying a military solution also weakened. So that is on the global level.

    On the second level, on the regional level, I think there were several mistakes made by, again, the Armenian side, and I am saying mistakes because as we can see on the ground, they are losing territory and they have lost most of the territories they conquered back in the ‘90s, and the military losses on both sides (but particularly the Armenian side) are fairly significant. And I think this relates to both the rule of Turkey and Russia.

    How Armenia Misunderstood Turkey

    The most obvious mistake, miscalculation, was the misunderstanding of Turkey’s position. Now, Turkey has always been pro-Azerbaijan, partly for ethnic and cultural reasons. Azerbaijani is a very closely related language. I was educated in Turkey as you mentioned, which enables me to understand Azerbaijani without even having studied the language. With a little bit of study, you can have very easy access to the language. This cultural linguistic proximity always made the Turkish public very pro-Azerbaijan. Mr. Erdoğan, the Turkish president, his government back ten years ago tried to develop a rapprochement with Armenia. The protocols as they were called would have opened the border and created diplomatic relations, which they have not had, and pro-Azerbaijani public opinion essentially killed that deal about ten years ago.

    The Treaty of Sèvres

    What changed is that Turkey now is much more unchained from the NATO alliance and the restrictions they might have put on Turkey by that. [Turkey] decided to very overtly take the Azerbaijani side and provide very significant military support to Azerbaijan. And I think there are elements of this that Armenia unwittingly contributed to. Anybody who is familiar with Turkish history will be familiar with the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920, which ended the First World War. It was the corollary of the Treaty of Versailles with Germany. The Ottoman Empire had the Treaty of Sèvres in Paris in 1920, which would divide present-day Turkey into various sectors, including an Armenian state. And therefore, the Treaty of Sèvres has always been a red flag for Turkish nationalists. It is something that gets Turks animated if you will. If you want to start a dinner conversation and create a ruckus in Turkey, start talking about the Treaty of Sèvres.

    Now, I mentioned this because this is the 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Sèvres and it happened in August. And in August the Armenian leadership, both the president and the prime minister, made very important proclamations about the Treaty of Sèvres, saying that this treaty was never ratified. It was never implemented, but it remains on paper. Essentially, as the first Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s National Security Advisor, Gerard Libaridian, wrote in an article at the time, this amounts to a declaration of diplomatic war on Turkey. And I think this was a very important factor in leading Turkey to transition from a from a support to Azerbaijan to an active military support of an Azerbaijani effort to restore territorial integrity.

    Misunderstanding Turkey’s Domestic Politics

    And I think it to a certain point boils down to a misunderstanding of Turkish domestic politics. This is an issue I could go into in great detail, but I will not. I will just mention that in the past five years Mr. Erdoğan has been increasingly dependent on the nationalist forces within the Turkish state as well as on the nationalist party in Turkey to remain in power as his own domestic standing has weakened, and that has meant that whereas he was previously as an Islamist not particularly interested in the post-Soviet Muslims, which a real Islamist in Turkey consider the post-Soviet Muslims as rather iffy Muslims if you will. They drink vodka. They might even eat pork. You cannot really trust them. The traditional, Turkish, Islamist position has been much more interested in the Arabs of the Middle East, which they feel are real Muslims compared to those Soviet people, whereas the Turkish nationalists put much more priority on the Turkic, linguistic, ethnic element and therefore are much more pro-Azerbaijani.

    So there are some of us who have been identifying for a while that Turkey has been shifting from an Islamist to a more nationalist position, but I think the Armenian side clearly did not see this coming and did not understand the implications of trying to raise issues that were very important to the Turkish nationalist forces.

    The Russia Factor

    Then there is a Russia factor and the Russia factor is very important because of the role Russia has played in this conflict, especially because the Armenian side has for at least twenty-eight years built their position on a very simple Faustian bargain you could say, and the bargain really has to do with the bargain between independence and control over Karabakh. And the Russians have basically put it to both Armenians and Azerbaijanis: you cannot really have both. You can have Karabakh, but then you will be under Russian tutelage and follow Russian foreign policy priorities or you can be independent and not have Karabakh.

    And because the Armenians won the war it was easy for them to choose to remain, to retain control over Karabakh and compromise on the issue of their independence, which we can see, for example, through the positions they have taken on international affairs, voting with Russia in the most controversial U.N. Security Council and U.N. General Assembly resolutions, where only countries like Nicaragua, Venezuela, North Korea, maybe Belarus vote with Russia.

    Armenia usually does because that has been part of their foreign policy bargain. Now, part of the reason for that is that Armenia, of course, has a very, very difficult history to say the least. And if you talk to Armenians, they view the victory in the 1990s as the first military victory in a thousand years. This is a theme that will keep coming up, which makes it very difficult for them to so to speak back down on it.

    Azerbaijan, because they lost the war it was also easier in a way to conceptualize it differently and to say independence is more important. We will focus on maintaining our independence, and even though the Russians sometimes come to them and say, what if you join the Eurasian Economic Union? If you change your foreign policy, we may make sure to resolve the Karabakh conflict in a way that would be acceptable to you. These are the type of things that Russian high-level politicians come to Baku and say, and the Azerbaijanis have always said well, that sounds very nice, but why don’t we resolve the conflict first and then we might talk about all these wonderful initiatives that you are mentioning, like the Eurasian Union and so on?

    What Changed: Russia and Azerbaijan

    And I would say that what has changed (and this was a situation for a very long time) what really changed is I think the Russian perspective on the two countries, where it seems to me that they began to take the Armenian side for granted because of the level of economic control over Armenia, Russian ownership of the gas transmission lines in Armenia, ownership of the nuclear power plant, and so on and so forth, and the fact that Armenia is rather isolated. Russians felt increasingly that, you know what, we can broaden out and, again, coming back to the point I made earlier about looking at a map and which country is the most significant geo-strategically, it is clearly Azerbaijan. It is larger, it has resources, it is the only one that controls the east-west corridor across from the Black Sea to the Caspian, and it has been very clear that Mr. Putin has felt that he can also begin to draw Azerbaijan into Russian institutions.

    Particularly because of its rather authoritarian political system, Azerbaijan has had problems in its relationship with the United States and Europe because of allegations over its human rights situation and so on. This was particularly a problem during the Obama administration and this meant that Russia actually started selling weapons to Azerbaijan as well as Armenia. This should have I think been an alarm bell started ringing in for the Armenians.

    Now, the Armenians mainly got their weapons for more or less for free and the Azerbaijanis had to pay world market prices, which they did because they had oil and they they could get basically the same type of armaments the Armenians had, plus they could acquire high-level technologically sophisticated weaponry from Israel and from Turkey.

    And in 2016, we had a brief episode of a flare-up of this conflict, which was the first time that Azerbaijan actually retook some of the occupied territories, and Russia really did not do much about it. Russians looked at it and said, ‘Okay, this is interesting,’ and within five days they basically sent a signal to both parties, saying, ‘Okay, it is enough, stop it,’ and the Azerbaijans obliged. There was a renewed ceasefire, but to me this also showed that, again, alarm bells should have started ringing in Armenia very loudly, that this reliance on Russia for their security, and actually not just for their security, but for their military conquest, was no longer a tenable proposition.

    Russia Has Not Reacted

    But instead, and this is when we go back down to the local level, the real thing that changed in this conflict – and what I mean to say by this (I forgot to mention) is that we see perhaps the most surprising element of what has happened in recent weeks is how Russia has really not reacted. Vladimir Putin has been very clear that as long as the fighting is going on on territory that is internationally-recognized as Azerbaijani territory, Russia will not intervene. Only if the [fighting] spreads into the officially-recognized territory of Armenia does Russia have a treaty obligation by the Collective Security Treaty to intervene in the conflict ,which basically means telling the Armenians, ‘You have bet on us for twenty-eight years and we are going to leave you to hang out to dry.’ And that is essentially what happened.

    Russia is a Retreating Power

    And my personal opinion, understanding of this is that Russia is a retreating power, and a retreating power in a territory where there are some states that remain weak states, like Armenia, like Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, that are in need of outside support. Meanwhile there are several countries that are beginning to become real states, that have influence on their own. You can call them regional middle-sized powers.

    Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan fall into this category of states that have resources, that have an ability to build international opinion. Azerbaijan has done this very effectively through membership in the Non-Aligned Movement, which we all thought was dead but apparently is not, and this has meant that I think the Russians really understand that if they want to maintain influence over Azerbaijan, they cannot just use sticks, they have to use carrots as well, which means that they cannot just play the Armenian card in the Caucasus, it is not enough.

    Azerbaijan’s Recent History

    So that gets us to the final level of analysis if you will, which is the local level, which is the two countries, and I think this is where two major things happen. The Azerbaijani situation is that of a president that, as many of you would know, took power in an election after his father had been president. Heydar Aliyev was, of course, a Soviet Azerbaijani leader. He was then out of grace in the Gorbachev era. He came back to power after the military defeats in the early 1990s and rebuilt the modern state of Azerbaijan.

    Ilham Aliyev came to power if you will close to oligarchs and a coterie of his father’s former allies, and it took him ten to fifteen years to basically come into his own, purge all of these oligarchs and take control over the country. And as he did this I think this also freed him from the restraints that these oligarchs had placed on him, and made him much more willing and able to use the military option in Karabakh.

    What Changed on the Armenian Side

    More importantly than that is what changed on the Armenian side. As is well known, in 2018 there was a Velvet Revolution in Armenia, which brought Mr. Pashinyan, Nikol Pashinyan, into power, who is the current leader of Armenia. And what I find interesting and cannot fully explain is a shift that Mr. Pashinyan went through when he first came to power.

    It is interesting that Azerbaijan could have taken advantage of the internal turmoil in Armenia to make a military push. After all it was just two years after the 2016 ‘Four Day-War’ as it is called. The Azerbaijanis decided not to do this and thought that, ‘This is the first time that a non-Karabakhi person is taking power in Armenia in twenty years, and we should try to build a relationship,’ and I think there was initially an an appreciation of this on the Armenian side.

    And then there was a summit in Dushanbe, I think of the Commonwealth of Independent States, where the two leaders met. They had a fruitful interaction. There seemed to be a road towards peace, What happened then I cannot fully explain, but I can say what happened, not why, and by 2019, the Armenian leadership went in a very assertive, even an aggressive direction rather than try to sue for peace if you will.

    Armenian Missteps

    The Armenian side took a number of steps that I think brought us to where we are today. And the first of these was to reject the Madrid Principles of negotiations that had been in force since 2011 if not before, to demand that the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians be represented separately from Armenia at the peace talks. And simultaneously, Mr. Pashinyan went to Karabakh and uttered his now famous words, “Karabakh is Armenia, period.” And now, on the one hand he is saying Karabakh is Armenia, on the other hand he is saying they should be separately represented ar the peace talks. Nobody really understood what he meant by all this, but what is clear is that they raised the stakes in the conflict.

    Armenia’s defense minister, Mr Tonoyan, in a speech to Armenian expatriates in New York also in 2019, stated that Armenia had given up the defense, the previous strategy of which was essentially a land for peace strategy whereby Armenia would surrender the occupied territories around Karabakh in exchange for some form of agreement on what status Nagorno-Karabakh would have. He said that the new formula would be new wars for new territories.

    There were many other things, like Mr. Pashinyan sending his son to volunteer as a fighter in the occupied territories. His wife, who in 2018 had started a movement called Women for Peace, suddenly this year dressed up in military fatigues, wearing Kalashnikov or carrying a Kalashnikov, and participating in military training for women. The Karabakh Armenians decided to move their parliament to the city of Shusha, which is the historically-Azerbaijani city in Nagorno-Karabakh. All these things were major provocations that led the Azeri side to understand that or to conclude that negotiations were fruitless, the Armenians were not interested in negotiations, and the only way that they could change the situation on the ground was by military force.

    The U.S. Side of the Problem

    The U.S. Did Not Pay Attention

    And unfortunately, here is where we get to the U.S side of the problem, which is twofold. Number one that the U.S. government did not pay attention to this. And now our institute and myself we have written quite significantly about the Trump administration’s Central Asia strategy. There is a wonderful and very, very well developed new U.S. strategy for Central Asia that the National Security Council has put out. The problem is that how do you get to Central Asia? The way for the United States to have a presence in Central Asia depends on the Caucasus character. Otherwise this territory is surrounded by the likes of China, Russia, and Pakistan and Iran, which makes it not a very accessible route for the US to have influence.

    The influence for the U.S. has always been from the West in from the Black Sea, from NATO territory through the Caucasus, and mysteriously there has been almost no attention to this region by this administration. When Mr. Bolton was National Security Adviser, that was an exception. He traveled to the region. He tried to develop policy, but of course, he did not stay long enough to make it happen.

    The 2020 Election

    And the other part of this is that I think passively if you know there is a strong Armenian lobby in the United States, but it is almost exclusively influential within the Democratic Party, and I think this had an effect on the timing of this war because I think when the flare-ups happened this summer, and we can discuss the length, but I do not think we can even conclude who started it. It does not really matter who started it, but the Azerbaijanis at some point I think drew the conclusion that either we act now or there might be an eight-year Biden administration in which the Armenian lobby will be very strong and then we will have to wait another decade, not 30 years but 40 years before we can do something about this conflict because the implications of making a military move during a Biden administration would have been stronger.

    Now, this is just pure speculation on my part, but knowing how the Azerbaijanis are aware of the role of the Armenian lobby in the United States, I think this must have played a role. So all taken together I think in my final analysis I have said for a long time that this conflict resembles the Israeli-Arab conflict or the Indian-Pakistani conflict in the sense of a conflict that just does not get resolved. It goes on for decade after decade. There are periods of cold peace. There are periods of hot war. They get interspersed. You have smaller episodes. What happened in 2016 I compared with the Kargil operation on the Indian-Pakistani border in Kashmir in 1998, a smaller military operation. Then you have major wars, like the 1965 war in India-Pakistan, the 1971 war, or in the case of Israel and the Arabs, 1967 or ‘73.


    So I think what we have right now is a major war. This is comparable to the 1967 or ‘73 wars for Israel and the Arabs. and I think the real question now is will this episode of warfare lead to a final solution of the conflict or will we just have a refreeze that will lead to it again being rekindled at some point in the future, and that is obviously dependent on the way the U.S. and the European Union react. And I think at this point the odds that there will be a strong effort to bring about a lasting peace I would say is relatively remote given the fact that it is still a relatively contained conflict.

    If you do not do anything about it, it might not be a disaster. We have enough to deal with at home with our polarization and election in the United States, the pandemic in europe, and so forth, so I would I would submit that it is very likely that we are going to see a refreeze at some point with a major advance on the part of Azerbaijan, but it will not finally resolve the conflict. I think I should probably stop here. I think I probably talked for too long, but I will be glad to entertain any questions you might have.


    How Armenians View Azerbaijani Objectives

    Robert R. Reilly:

    No, not at all, Dr. Cornell, thank you very much. That background was very illuminating. You closed by saying that this might lead to a final solution, which is a rather chilling phrase that the Armenian Karabakh side would interpret as their elimination. I know you did not mean that, I am just thinking of how the Armenians in either Armenia or Karabakh understand the Azerbaijani objectives. How do they understand those objectives and might it include the very dangers about which the Armenians would worry with the terrible history of a genocide that has affected them, particularly if I might just add, recent statements, saying that Turkey and Azerbaijan are two states but one nation?

    Svante E. Cornell:

    Right, well, that statement, by the way, has an interesting history. It goes back to 1995, but you are absolutely right and I think interestingly, about five days before this conflict re-erupted (obviously, there had been skirmishes back in July) we had we organized a virtual round-table like we are talking now, but a round table where we had an Armenian and Azerbaijani speakers. We endeavored to try to find sensible people on both sides, which we did and I think the major takeaway was how the rhetoric on the two sides was being misunderstood by the other side, which is, of course, a classic issue in this type of conflict.

    The Legacy of the Armenian Genocide

    But to your to your point I think this entire conflict cannot be dissociated from the tragic history of the Armenian nation and, in fact, of course, of the genocide back over 100 years ago, which if you think about it for the Armenians, it is in a way understandable that they view the conflict with Azerbaijan in lenses colored by the experience of genocide, but at the same time the fact is that the genocide had nothing to do with the Caucasus. It all happened in present-day Turkey, and for Azerbaijan the answer is wait a minute, we were not involved in that. Why am I being punished and my people ethnically cleansed because you had a problem somewhere else? So there is a cognitive dissonance if you will by the way the Azerbaijanis perceive history and the way the Armenians perceive history.

    But to your question about how the Armenians perceive history, I think you are absolutely correct. The Armenians are now painting this first of all in a civilizational light, and they are also talking about it in directly referring to the history of genocide. Now, the civilizational issue I very much think to some extent they believe it, to some extent this is a diplomatic ploy because they know it is one of the arguments that works in the West, but I think it is very clear that this conflict has very little if anything to do with with with religion. I wrote an article I think back in 1998 or something like that about religion and and the conflicts in the Caucasus, where I basically argued that this is the big, you could call it a refutation or you could call it the exception, to the Huntingtonian thesis of a clash of civilizations.

    Geopolitical Alignments

    If you look at how different powers align, you find, for example, that Iran has always supported Armenia. This is a country that is supposed to support Muslims abroad, and this is even written in its constitution, but because there are more Azerbaijanis living in Iran than in the republic of Azerbaijan, the Iranians have always wanted to keep down Azerbaijan and have therefore supported Armenia. Israel has supported Azerbaijan on the other hand because it is a secular, Shia-majority state right on the Iranian doorstep, and also for the Israelis it is an access point to Central Asia, and it has been an important role.

    All these former Soviet Muslim countries have been important in the Israeli ambition to establish functioning relations with non-Arab states, which has always been an important part of Israeli foreign policy and the fact that there is this trio of countries that always supported Azerbaijan from day one, which are Turkey, Pakistan, and Israel. This is a very unlikely combination of countries that for their own reasons have done this, so whereas obviously, on the Armenian side you have the Syrian government, Bashar al-Assad, who has been one of Armenia’s strongest supporters throughout the past thirty years, so you cannot really read this conflict in a civilizational way.

    Armenians’ Broad Settlement Patterns

    Now, that might be the opinion of an outside observer, it might even be true, but from the Armenian position, I can sit here and analyze this as I have done, as essentially an Armenian overreach over the past twenty years over alliance and Russia misunderstanding of their counterparts, misunderstanding of the geopolitics and so forth, but from the Armenian position, very much they are seeing this as them being wiped out again in a historical land that they feel they are entitled to.

    And we can go back and look at the size of Armenia, and the traditional size of the Armenian settlements does not add up. And I think the sad history of the past hundred years is that the way settlement patterns were in this part of the world was extremely poorly developed in order to create functioning nation states it is like a micro Bosnia, where Serbs and Croats and Bosnians were living all over the place, and you could not really develop three different states very easily without ethnic cleansing.

    Similarly, if you look at eastern Anatolia all the way over to to the Caspian Sea, you see this broad settlement patterns where Armenians and Azerbaijanis are intermixed, and where if you look at the year 1900, probably the largest concentrations of Armenians were in places like Tbilisi and Baku. Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, had an Armenian majority in 1800, actually not in 1900, but still it shows how the Armenian nation was one of the more unlucky ones to live in a world where suddenly the world was divided into coherent geographic nation states because that is not the way Armenians lived. They lived spread out over a large territory, but for them this is very real and I take your point that from the Armenian perspective this is viewed in existential terms.

    Robert R. Reilly:

    If I just might interact with with one note or at least historical claim because you mentioned a large Armenian population in Baku in the early part of the 20th century, there are allegations that 20,000 of them were massacred in 1918.

    Dr. Svante E. Cornell:

    There were massacres on both sides, actually. I do not know about the numbers. I would have to go back and look, but essentially there at every point of weakening of Russian power in the twentieth century, there has been an upsurge in Armenian-Azerbaijani violence; 1905, 1918, 1989, all three, and in 1918 there was first an attempt by the so-called Baku Commune, which was the sequel to the Paris Commune in which the Bolsheviks with a very strong Armenian ethnic presence basically ethnically cleansed part of Baku, and set up this idealist, communist government. Then the Ottoman forces moved in a couple of months later and that led to a revenge ethnic cleansing of Armenians from Baku, so those things went both ways, absolutely.

    What really changed I think happened in the 1950s. Actually, just like Istanbul was not traditionally a very Turkish city, it had Greeks, it had Armenians, it had Kurds, it had Turks. It was not a homogeneous Turkish city. [In the] same way Baku, if you go back in history, was was not very much an Azerbaijani city. It was a Russian colonial city in many ways with large Russian and Armenian and also immigrant Iranian populations that fed the oil boom of the 1870s. And it was really only in the middle of the twentieth century that ,just as happened in Turkey also in Azerbaijan, there was this migration from the rural areas outside in the provinces into the capital and that really turned Baku into a very heavily Azerbaijani city.

    Now, it is interesting, I have met some Baku Armenians, and Baku Armenians largely were forced to flee back in 1989. And they fled to Russia rather than to Armenia, predominantly, some to the United States just as Azerbaijanis were forced to flee their settlements in mainly southern and eastern Armenia back also at the same period, so there was this mutual expulsion of peoples very much like the Greeks and the Turks back in the 1920s and ‘30s.

    Among the Baku Armenians there is this unstated or understated anger at the Karabakh Armenians because if you imagine that there had not been a conflict, who would have been the people who would have benefited most from the oil boom in Baku? And whatever we said in the past twenty years, it would likely have been the most educated, the Armenians, who were the most educated. They held the professional positions. They spoke languages and so on. They did not get to experience that, unfortunately, and they were removed, and they now live elsewhere, but so this is a tragic history, of course, in so many ways.

    How Far Will Azerbaijan Go?

    Robert R. Reilly:

    As we know there have been three ceasefires arranged, two by Vladimir Putin and one brokered by the United States, all of them broken within hours of of their supposedly going into effect. You mentioned that this looks like an intractable conflict. Now it seems though that Azerbaijan has the military wherewithal through its expenditure of large amounts of its oil and gas revenue on updating its military, the supply of state-of-the-art drones from Turkey and Israel that they may go go for broke because there is nothing inhibiting them other than Russia, which is saying if you go into Armenia, that might present a problem for us.

    There are allegations that a a good number of Turkish troops that were in Azerbaijan for summer training did not leave, including drone operators. One observes the highly sophisticated coordination between military, intelligence, drones, artillery fire, etc. on the Azeri side against the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians, which has led to the substantial losses. You have mentioned that the Turkish military presence, according to your sources. Do you also see that at the present moment?

    Dr. Svante E. Cornell:

    There are really no inhibiting factors other than the Armenian military forces in Karabakh keeping the Azeris from rolling this thing up. Very good questions. I think on the first one the Turkish-Azerbaijani military relationship has always been extremely opaque. You can see signs of it everywhere. You can look, for example, at where senior Azerbaijani officials have trained and so forth. Beyond that it is really a black box. I think it is safe to assume that there is a strong Turkish advisory element in this. How far it goes, if it goes to the extent of operating drones or just having trained the people who operate drones, I do not know, but I think what is clear is that the Turkish Vice President just last week made a statement that, ‘Well, we have not received any request from Azerbaijan for having our forces step in, but if that request came, we would be glad just to to do so,’ and that is completely different from what we have had in the past.


    You allude to the F-16s. What I mentioned earlier about the Armenian enthusiasm for the commemoration of the Sèvres Treaty in August or in July led to a Turkish send off of planes and troops for military exercises in Azerbaijan. I think President Aliyev, I just watched him talk about this in a France TV interview just last week where he very clearly mentioned that, ‘Yes, we have these troops, these F-16s here in Ganja, and they are on the ground. They are not in the air,’ but I think it is a form of insurance policy that Azerbaijan has acquired, which is directed, of course, both at Armenia and against Russia in many ways.

    Russian Surprise

    And I think the Russians have to a certain extent been taken by surprise here. I do not think they foresaw this level of Turkish intervention, and I think nobody really has so far, but we saw it in Libya earlier this year, how the Turkish drones are apparently in terms of technology sophisticated to such an extent that they can they can hit the Russian air defense systems in a way that we did not expect. I am sure there are military analysts who expected this, but we have seen this now in several places, so that is part of the answer regarding whether there is anything that inhibits Azerbaijan.

    I think there still is and I think there still are many things and you can even hear it today in the Azerbaijani rhetoric of President Aliyev. Obviously, in the first couple of weeks of the conflict he was talking a lot, he was venting a lot. I think his very real frustration for having been hemmed in for the past twenty-five years and now finally being able to restore territorial integrity, and here is where you get to the question even in the Azerbaijani mind of what the difference is between the occupied territories on one hand and Nagorno-Karabakh on the other. And the Azerbaijani official position has always been that they are willing to give the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh a high level of autonomy.

    What Inhibits Azerbaijan

    Now, your question if I understand you correctly raises the question, well, why shouldn’t they just go for broke and just take the whole territory and let the Armenians that live there go wherever they want? And I think there are several factors that inhibit this, and I could be wrong, but I think that speak against this. And that is number one that we know that there is an official Russian red line on territory, on going into Armenian territory. There may be a Russian red line that has to do with Nagorno-Karabakh itself.

    Russia’s Abkhazia Model

    And we have seen in the past how Russia has really also wanted to play Nagorno-Karabakh both against Armenia and Azerbaijan. Just last year a gentleman by the name of Modest Kolerov, who is head of the Regnum News Agency and a former advisor to Vladimir Putin, went down to Karabakh and offered to the Karabakh, he said, ‘You know you have a right to a dignified state existence,’ [that] is the term he used. ‘You should not really be with either Azerbaijan or with Armenia, but you could have a dignified state existence under Russian control,’ basically the Abkhazia model if you will.

    And I think that was a very shrewd play by the Russians at a time when, of course, the Karabakh leadership is very much supporting the former Armenian leadership of Mr. Kocharyan and Mr. Sarkissian and not at all in very good terms with Mr. Pashinyan because after all the Karabakhs were controlling Armenia until two years ago and now they are not. And I think the Russians have played this so I think the Russians looking forward are still looking to play. I mean they might ditch Armenia, to put it very bluntly, but that does not mean they will ditch Karabakh. They might actually see this as an opportunity to strengthen Russian influence over Karabakh itself as this little enclave in the middle of the Caucasus through which they can influence both Armenia and Azerbaijan.

    International Respectability

    So that is one factor. The other factor, frankly, is international respectability, and this is something that the Azerbaijanis still care about. A total ethnic cleansing of the Armenians of Karabakh I think would be very bad. It would look very bad and I know that there are definitely people in Azerbaijan who would love to do it, do not get me wrong, because there is this feeling of revenge, that the Armenians did this to us thirty years ago, now it is time for us to do it. At the very top level of the leadership I still think that there are inhibitions against this. Azerbaijan has always wanted to be an accepted and, well, an appreciated member of the international community. I do not think that global geopolitics have deteriorated to such an extent that they do not care about this anymore.


    And here we come to the third very real factor, which is if you look very closely at a map, you will see that Azerbaijan is divided in two. There is a little part of territory which is called Nakhchivan, which is locked in between Armenia and Iran with this five-mile border with Turkey. A part of all peace negotiations in this conflict has been that with whatever status Azerbaijan is willing to grant to Nagorno-Karabakh, they want the same type of access to Nakhchivan and that access would be over Armenian territory. Actually, Karabakh is separated from Armenia on the maps and the territory between them by the Lachin corridor, which by the way, apparently, the Azerbaijanis are threatening at this very moment. Whatever status Karabakh gets, Armenia would depend on transit through that territory in order to have its linkage between Armenia and Karabakh.

    The Azerbaijanis if they just take over Karabakh, they would lose their their chance at the linkage through Armenia in some form or another, which matters very much to them, especially because the ruling elite itself is from Nakhchivan, so I think there are several factors here that mean that there are inhibiting factors on the Azerbaijani government. This could play out in very many ways. but if you were an American mediator, there is definitely a lot you could work with in order to arrive at some form of a solution.

    And I think to me for many many years the tragic irony of this has been that the solution to this conflict is very much on the table. It has been negotiated. It has been discussed year after year after year and it really has to do with some form of interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh, but at some point it has to start with the return of the occupied territories. I mean I think the biggest earlier mistake of the Armenian side, which is understandable from a purely military strategic point of view, was that when Azerbaijan was weak in 1993, they went in and took over all these territories and it is like biting off more than you could chew. They never this changed the whole international perspective on Armenia from being the victim to being the perpetrator in this conflict, and they have never even ever been able to recover from it.

    And I think the Armenians in many ways have argued or have convinced themselves that they have a right to do this because they have a right to guarantee the security of the Armenians of Karabakh, but here we are and the Azerbaijanis can point to chapter and verse here every country you have signed this you have signed these documents that said that these are Azerbaijani territories.

    And what the Azerbaijani argument is right now is there are four UN Security Council resolutions that say that Armenian troops have to vacate these territories immediately and unconditionally. We are just fulfilling the terms of the UN Security Council because nobody has been able to do it for us and then you see that, well, Europeans and Americans are grumbling and are thinking, well, this is not very nice, but at the end of the day nobody is willing to do anything because, again, for thirty years the Azerbaijanis were collecting all these documents that guaranteed their rights to this territory.

    And I think that is where the Armenians made a mistake. I think this episode has made it clear if it was not before that more than anything it is in Armenia’s interest to sue for peace and to get a a serious peace deal that salvages some type of status for Nagorno-Karabakh in exchange for the return of these occupied territories. The big problem is security guarantees. The Armenians for twenty-eight years trusted the Russians. Turns out that was a bad bet. Who are you going to trust? Who are you going to trust to guarantee your security? Is it going to be the West? Is it going to be the EU or the United States?

    At this point if I was in Armenia I would look around and I said there is nobody that I really would be willing to place my trust in and I think that is the problem right now. How do you achieve a deal and who guarantees that the Russians will be happy to step in and guarantee a deal? But neither the Azerbaijanis nor the Armenians trust them and I do not think anybody else is willing to step in. That is the problem.

    A Major War

    Robert R. Reilly:

    Do you think there is potential for this conflict to get bigger? It certainly does not seem in Russia’s interest for it to grow larger other than in the ways in which you describe because it would increase its influence in say Nagorno-Karabakh, but President Erdoğan has exhibited a kind of recklessness, his behavior in Libya, his claims in the Mediterranean for expansive gas and drilling rights, his pressure on Greece, and the claim that President Macron of France made, that Turkey has sent Syrian jihadists into this conflict. First of all, it has either Syrian fighters there, mercenaries or jihadists provided by Turkey, which seems to be a big concern to President Macron and to others, and second of all, if Turkey is indeed doing these things, might its recklessness lead to that larger conflict about which people are warning?

    Dr. Svante E. Cornell:

    Syrian Jihadists

    Well, there are two parts of your question. The question on the Syrian fighters is a very interesting one. This is one that I have tried to look into, We are going to try to do it in a more systematic way. I see the same reports that you have. I just do not make any sense of it for several reasons. The first is that Azerbaijan is a Shia-majority country. Now, if you are a Shia-majority country, bringing in a couple of hundred Syrian jihadis is not a very smart thing to do because the moment they realize that they are in a Shia country you are going to have a problem on your hands. It also goes completely against the Azerbaijani claim for twenty-five years of being this secular Muslim nation on Iran’s doorstep. It would actually also create unnecessary problems in their relations with the Iranians and it would destroy their international reputation.

    Now, on the one hand I think so far what is clear is that there are Syrian jihadis who have left Syria and it appears that there are reports that they were heading towards Azerbaijan. They were sighted in Gaziantep. Now, for many of these reports the credibility of the report is questionable. There are very sophisticated information warfare aspects to this as well that I do not even begin to understand. So far as far as I can see there have been no confirmed sightings of them by either video or photographic evidence in the conflict zone. They apparently left Syria but did not get to Azerbaijan is what I can tell. I may be wrong. They may be there. The only way that I see them being there is if the Turkish role in this conflict involves some of the Turkish private military corporations like Sadat, which may have used them in a way that the Azerbaijani government may have not appreciated. but grudgingly was forced to accept.

    On the other hand, I do not either see what military use they could be for the Azerbaijani side because this is a war that has mainly being fought with drones and high technology. Yes, of course, you send an infantry, but how could you use Syrian troops that do not speak the same languages as you and that you are not coordinated with? So this is truly a mystery to me. I am not saying they are not there, I just do not see them there. I do not see the logic by which they would be there.

    And now do not get me wrong, I think for Erdoğan it makes perfect sense. He has done it in Libya. He has this expendable column of forces that he feels he can use wherever he likes. I think he would be glad to use them in Azerbaijan. I could actually foresee a scenario in which the Turks started moving these troops out of Syria and the Azerbaijanis suddenly said, ‘Stop, we do not want them,’ which means that they might be somewhere else right now. I do not know. It just does not make any sense to me. I hope that eventually we will understand what this was all about.

    A Regional Conflagration

    Now, the other part of your question was whether this could get out of hand in a bigger, regional conflagration. Yes, of course, this is a conflict that in many ways resembles the situation that led to the First World War with somebody getting shot in Sarajevo, and then one power gets involved, the other power gets involved, and at this point you could already go back to what happened in 2015 when Turkey shot down a Russian fighter over the Syrian-Turkish border. It led to a very sharp deterioration of Russian-Turkish relations.

    This could easily happen again. A Turkish drone could target something in Armenia that includes Russian soldiers because there are joint Russian military units with Armenia. You could see the fighting down on the Iranian border spilling into Iranian territory, getting the Iranians to move in, which could get both the Russians and Turks involved. At this point it seems to me that this would be unlikely, but again, I think there are many ways in which this could happen.

    Turkish-Russian Confrontation

    Now, the broader question I think going on here if you move a little west also is that there is a broader and much more serious Turkish-Russian confrontation happening, that started in Syria, that expanded in Libya, that is now developing in Nagorno-Karabakh, but especially I think right now surrounding Ukraine because of the way Erdoğan has moved and not only expressed great the greatest level of support for Ukraine, but also talked about supplying Ukraine with drones and even manufacturing Turkish drones in Ukraine.

    I think there are suppliers of naval ships from Turkey to Ukraine as well, which totally shifts the balance of forces in the Black Sea. This was completely unforeseen and it puts American planners in a very difficult situation because on the one hand, as you alluded to you have Erdoğan behaving in completely unconstructive ways in the eastern Mediterranean, in the Middle East, his anti-Israeli, anti-Semitic policies, frankly, on one hand, and then on the other hand, totally uncoordinated with the West, you have Erdoğan and Turkey, stepping up as the main supporters of Ukraine against Russia in the region, which really is completely congruent with Western interests. And how do you deal with this country? I think this is a very big problem for any administration that we will see emerging on Tuesday. If we do, hopefully we do well.

    How Will Israel Respond?

    Robert R. Reilly:

    Dr. Cornell, speaking of drones, Canada has announced that it is going to embargo its drone technology to Turkey because of Turkish drones being used in this conflict. As you said, Israel is a military supplier to Azerbaijan. Very sophisticated drones are being used there as well as cluster munitions. Do you think Israel will have any second thoughts? I mean Israel in reaction to this has said that its military supplies to Azerbaijan were purely defensive. What do you think Israel is going to do as a response to this?

    Dr. Svante E. Cornell:

    So that depends on your definition of defensive. In many ways Azerbaijan is fighting on Azerbaijani territory and I think you could easily get away with calling that defensive. No, I think on the Israeli side the Israelis have been very pragmatic. They have understood from the beginning that if they are selling drones to the Azerbaijanis, these drones are going to be used one day. I do not think that there is any surprise on the Israeli side about this.

    I think the Israelis have taken their position. They took a position on this conflict over 25 years ago and that is unlikely to change now. I will say that there is and there has always been in Israel a faction that sees more of a commonality because of historical experiences with the Armenian side, but overall Israel has a real political perspective to this.

    They view Azerbaijan as one of their most important allies in the Muslim world. I would say we are all making a lot out of Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain having diplomatic relations now with Israel. Azerbaijan has had it for from the beginning. I think one of the biggest Israelis embassies in any Muslim country is in Baku. The intelligence sharing that they are having on issues with regard to Iran is probably much more significant than than we can imagine. This is a relationship that is very deep and very strategic for the Israeli side.

    Yes, there will be people in Israel who will raise questions about this, but overall I think we can see also during this conflict if you look at the statements of the Israeli ambassador in Baku, if you look at the role played by Israelis in sending emergency supplies and help to Azerbaijan, in terms of getting support for people who are in the civilian areas in Azerbaijan that have been bombed by the Armenian side, this has strengthened and not weakened the relationship between Israel and Azerbaijan.

    I would say furthermore that for the Israeli side, President Aliyev is a very useful and very important vehicle for them to try to manage and possibly restore their relationship with Turkey at some point in the future. In many ways the Israeli-Azerbaijani relationship was born out of the trilateral Turkish, Israeli, and then Azerbaijani relationship of the late 1990s when Turkey and Israel were the best of friends. And I think there are many people in the United States, particularly in the pro-Israeli forces which I work with very frequently, that view Turkey as basically being lost.

    And I think the difference is that in Israel they have not drawn that conclusion. They are still holding out hope that there is a way to restore some form of relationship with Turkey either because there are other forces than Erdoğan in Turkey or either just holding out for the post-Erdoğan period in Turkey, and for any kind of effort to reach out to Turkey because it is such an important country, such a key country in the region.

    I think that is also something that makes Azerbaijan so important to Turkey, because of the influence Azerbaijan has in Turkey, so I think for all of these reasons there will be grumblings, there will be people who question the strategy that has been put in place, but overall I really do not see the absence of major shifts in developments on the ground, I do not see any serious change in the Israeli position.

    Cluster Munitions

    I think at least if as is claimed, it is their cluster munitions that are being used on civilian areas in Nagorno-Karabakh, that is going to, well, that at least is a public relations problem for them. I think that is true and I think that is we have seen that on both sides, cluster munitions.

    That for me is reminiscent of the war in Georgia in 2008, which I covered very closely, where we had exactly the same purportedly Israeli-supported cluster munitions used by the Georgians. The Russians also used them, and we are seeing in this conflict both the Armenian and Azerbaijani side allegedly using these munitions, so I think you are right, this is going to be a public relations issue.

    But again, this is a world in which we are living that has gotten harsher. And I think the Israeli leadership is very much an extremely pragmatic one that sees the world in very existential and very difficult terms and that now feels that they are building a significant group of allies of Israel in the Muslim world that include a bunch of Arab states, very influential ones as well as non-Arab states, where Azerbaijan plays a key role. And at the end of the day, it seems to me that that is going to carry the day in Israel. I could be wrong, but I really think that that is likely to be the case.

    What about the United States?

    Robert R. Reilly:

    Well, if we can close with this question, what about the United States? Where does it leave the United States and its relationship with Azerbaijan, particularly the military? Well, no, partnership is too strong in term, but there are military aid training programs and so forth, so if history is any guide, there has always been this dichotomy in the U.S. government where Congress has always been pro-Armenian and the executive has always been leaning in the Azerbaijani direction, and that has been irrespective. I mean the gap has been shorter or smaller, depending on times, but it has always been more or less that type of divide.

    Dr. Svante E. Cornell:

    I think it really depends on what type of administration we get. Obviously, a Democratic administration will have a much stronger Armenian influence. The Republican administration will not. That said, even Secretary of State Pompeo’s comments indicate a certain sympathy towards the Armenian side. I think overall the U.S. reaction unfortunately to this conflict has been one of absence. It is the absence of a U.S. response to this situation that has been the most significant and that is in a certain way understandable. And that was probably by design if you will on the part of the belligerents or at least one of the belligerents, that this was done when it was done, in the middle of a very polarized U.S. election campaign in the times of a pandemic.

    I frankly do not see overall the U.S. policy changing very much because the bigger story in all of this is the national defense strategy and the national security strategy laid out two years ago, which is the issue of strategic competition being the new leitmotif if you will of U.S. foreign defense policies. And what is the strategic competition, the great powers that we are talking about, Eurasian powers we are talking about? Russia. We are talking about China. We are talking about Iran, and that is also what brought us such a sophisticated Central Asia strategy because all these states in Central Asia are in the middle between all of these great powers. And by this virtue they are important to the broader U.S. foreign security and defense strategies.

    And I think although it has not been an outspoken addition because the strategy did not include the Caucasus, the same logic applies here. The logic is the heart of Eurasia, the land that is encircled by all of these great powers that is involved in strategic competition will be important to U.S. policy, and smaller mid-sized states. Rather, not the smallest one, but the mid-sized states that have an independent ability to choose their own foreign policy will remain important to U.S. strategy in this region. And these are mainly three states. It is Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Azerbaijan. I think there will be the continued appreciation for the role that these countries can play in the broader U.S. strategic objectives in regards to Iran, in regards to Russia, in regards to Turkey, in regards to China, and I think that will is going very likely to carry the day.

    Now, there might be grumblings. There might be congressional resolutions, and there is very definitely going to be a lot of think tank and civil society outrage on the whole. I go back to this point, I am probably making it too often, but if the Armenians had stayed at taking Nagorno-Karabakh, they would not have had this problem, but because they took all these occupied territories, now if Azerbaijan does not try to retake the whole of Karabakh, if they just stay at having taken back the occupied territories that everybody in the world considers to be Azerbaijani, from which 700,000 Azerbaijanis were ethnically cleansed twenty-five, thirty years ago, I think, frankly, the world and American opinion will recover very quickly. If there is a major disaster in Karabakh itself or if the war spreads to Armenian territory, then the situation would be different. But the way I understand the Azerbaijani war aims, I would be surprised if it goes that far.

    The issue for the United States will be how to to maintain relevance. I think everybody now in the region, the Azerbaijanis, the Armenians, the Georgians nearby, I have looked at this and said, well, all of this is going on and where is the United States of America? That to me is the most worrying situation right now because it means that people will care about what Erdoğan says, what Putin says, maybe what the Iranians say, what the Israelis say, but if America is missing in action, what will be America’s leverage in order to obtain national security objectives in this region in the future if the United States is basically absent when this is happening. I think that is that is one of the big big issues going forward as far as I can see.

    Concluding Remarks

    Robert R. Reilly:

    Dr. Cornell, thank you very much for that illuminating lecture. I greatly appreciate it and I would like to invite our Westminster audience not only to share this video, but to visit our YouTube channel and see what else we have on offer, recent talks on Russia and China. Thank you very much for joining us, hope to see you again soon. Thank you very much.

    Dr. Svante E. Cornell:

    Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

  • Basic Principles for the Rehabilitation of Azerbaijan's Post-Conflict Territories
    Wednesday, 07 October 2020 09:01

    Rehab-coverIn 2010, the CACI-SRSP Joint Center cooperated with Eldar Ismailov and Nazim Muzaffarli of the Institute for Strategic Studies of the Caucasus to produce a study of the methodology and process for the rehabilitation of the occupied territories in Azerbaijan. The study was written in the hope that it would prove useful in the aftermath of a negotiated solution to the conflict.

    Such a resolution nevertheless did not materialize. At present, however, it appears that some of these territories are returning to Azerbaijani control as a result of the military conflict that began in late September, 2020. While it is regrettable that this did not come to pass as a result of negotiations, it is clear that the challenge of rehabilitating territories is as pressing today as it would be in the event of a peaceful resolution - if not more, given the likelihood that such a solution would have included a time-table and provided the Government of Azerbaijan and international institutions time for planning.

    It is clear that the study is a product of a different time, as much has changed since 2010. We fully expcect many updates and revisions to be needed should the recommendations in this study be implemented today. That said, we believe the methodoloy of the study and its conclusions remain relevant and would therefore like to call attention to this important study, published in English, Russian and Azerbaijani versions.

    Click to download:



  • Resources on the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict
    Monday, 05 October 2020 08:19

    Resources on the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict


    The Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program have a long track record of covering the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict. This page presents the key resources and most recent analysis. 

    In 2017, Palgrave published the first book-length study of the International Politics of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict, edited by Svante Cornell. The book concluded by arguing that if international efforts to resolve the conflict are not stepped up, “the ‘four-day’ war of April 2016 will appear a minor skirmish compared to what is sure to follow”.

    In 2015, CACI & SRSP released the Silk Road Paper  “A Western Strategy for the South Caucasus”, which included a full page of recommendations for the U.S. and EU on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. These are reproduced below:


    Develop a substantial and prolonged Western initiative on the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.

    o This initiative must be led by the United States, in close consultation with its European partners – primarily the EU Commission and External Action Service, and France. Barring some process to reinvigorate the Minsk Process – a doubtful proposition given Western-Russian relations in the foreseeable future – Western leaders must be prepared to bypass that process, utilizing it where appropriate but focusing their initiative on developing direct negotiations between the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders.

    o The U.S. and its European partners must abandon the practice of relying solely on the Minsk Group co-chairs to resolve the Karabakh conflict. These diplomats have contributed greatly to formulating a workable framework agreement. However, strong and sustained U.S. Government leadership from the top level is needed to complement or, failing that, to replace the Minsk Process. In practice, this means the expressed support of the President, involvement of the White House, and leadership manifested in the appointment of a distinguished citizen as Special Envoy for the resolution of the conflict.

    o The EU must take a more clearly defined and substantial role in the process, by integrating to the highest degree possible the French co-chairmanship of the Minsk Group with EU institutions. While Washington will need to take the lead on the political side, it would be natural for the EU to take the lead in organizing an international development program for the currently occupied Azerbaijani provinces and Karabakh itself. That effort, too, would need to be led by a senior EU figure.


    In 2011, CACI & SRSP helped launch an extensive study of the steps needed for the post-conflict rehabilitation of Azerbaijan's occupied territories, in cooperation with Eldar Ismailov and Nazim Muzaffarli of the Institute for Strategic Studies of the Caucasus. The monograph "Basic Principles for the Rehabilitation of Azerbaijan's Post-Conflict Territories" can be accessed here


    More background resources:

    Svante E. Cornell, "Can America Stop a Wider War Between Armenia and Azerbaijan?", The National Interest, October 2020

    Brenda Shaffer and Svante E. Cornell, Occupied Elsewhere: Selective Policies on Occupation, Foundation For Defense of Democracies, January 2020. 

    Brenda Shaffer and Svante E. Cornell, "The U.S. Needs to Declare War on Proxies", Foreign Policy, January 27, 2020

    Svante E. Cornell, “The Raucous Caucasus”, American Interest, May 2017

    Svante E. Cornell, Small Nations and Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus, RoutledgeCurzon, 2001.

    Svante E. Cornell, The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict, Uppsala University, 1999

    More recent analysis:

    Turkey Seeks to Counter Russia in the Black Sea-Caucasus Region,” Turkey Analyst, 10/5/20, Emil Avdaliani

    Turkey’s Commitment to Azerbaijan’s Defense Shows the Limits of Ankara’s Tilt to Moscow,” Turkey Analyst, 9/25/20, Turan Suleymanov & Bahruz Babayev

     “Cross-Border Escalation between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 9/25/20, Natalia Konarzewska

    Russia and Turkey: Behind the Armenia-Azerbaijan Clashes?”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 8/31/20, Avinoam Idan

    Armenia and the U.S.: Time for New Thinking?”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 10/2/19, Eduard Abrahamyan.

    Why Washington Must Re-Engage the CaucasusCentral Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 7/8/19, Stephen Blank

    Azerbaijan’s Defense Industry Reform”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 5/7/19, Tamerlan Vahabov.

    Military Procurements on Armenia's and Azerbaijan's Defense Agendas”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 3/27/19, Ilgar Gurbanov

    Armenia's New Government Struggles with Domestic and External Opposition,” Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 3/20/19, Armen Grigorian.

    Bolton's Caucasian Tour and Russia's Reaction”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 12/17/18, Eduard Abrahamyan.