Sophie Claudet: Valerie, what is so important about Nagorno-Karabakh that is worth fighting over? Is about natural resources? Is it a long-standing conflict of influence between say Christian Armenia and Turkic Muslim Azerbaijan?
Valerie Gauriat: Well there are natural resources in Nagorno-Karabakh like gold for instance, but not in sufficient quantities to justify any conflict – this has never been the issue. Nor is it considered a religious conflict, I mean Muslim Azeris and Christian Armenians have coexisted for centuries in the region. Why should anybody care about this small territory is that if the conflict really degenerates, it could affect not only the region but the whole of Caucasius and potentially destabilise the whole of Europe and beyond.
SC: Russia has historic ties with Azerbaijan yet backs Armenia in some ways, while Turkey is on the side of Azerbaijan, is there a war of proxy at play here?
VG: Well, that’s where the bigger picture comes in. Russia has indeed been supporting Armenia, it’s its main arms supplier; it has two military bases there, one is bordering Turkey. It has a defence treaty with Armenia which calls on it to support and protect Armenia in case of a conflict. On the other hand, Russia is also very close to Azerbaijan and it’s also its main arms provider and that means significant money for the Russian budget. It’s also a way to ensure its influence over the region. Again, Turkey also wants to develop its influence in the area, in the Caucasus, so yes it has been a war of proxy, not quite a war, but a war of power.
SC: You said Valerie, that Russia provides weapons to both Armenia and Azerbaijan, which is in itself interesting. What is Turkey’s role beyond just a show of support?
VG: There are a lot of economic links as well as interconnections; there’s also Turkey’s will to control the energy routes. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there’s Erdogan’s will to show that he is supporting all Turkic Muslim minorities throughout the world and this is a very important component in the stand of Ankara.
SC: So, in closing we’re likely to see this conflict frozen for the time-being, no prospect for peace, no prospect for a huge flare-up in violence?
VG: Well it could be the scenario and again it’s not so much a frozen conflict as a simmering one. There have been casualties for over 20-years and there will be if it’s not solved.
SC: There might be a deterrent considering the regional implications of a conflict flaring up…with all the powers at play?
VG: Indeed, if Turkey is involved, if Iran is involved, which is another neighbouring country; if Georgia is involved – it could lead to a very, very serious and dramatic situation for the whole region for the whole of Europe and beyond that. One unknown factor which could play a role in the evolution of the situation is the personalities of the leaders’ involved: Aliyev in Azerbaijan, Sargsyan in Armenia and also Erdogan in Turkey and Putin of course.
SC: So we’ll see. You’ll be reporting back to us.