Are Alliances in Armenian-Azeri Conflict Starting a Regional Cold War?

Written By Brian Huff, Posted on October 6, 2020

The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has been officially ongoing since the ending years of the Soviet empire, with only a ceasefire having kept things calm since 1994. But in some senses, the deepest roots of the conflict go back centuries. Often those who speak in favour of one side or the other do so not in wanting to back either the Armenians or the Azeris in particular, but simply to spite someone expressing support for the other side. Thankfully, this has not led to direct involvement of most of those expressing favour for one side or the other, and has mostly just been discussion in diplomatic circles. But should the two main power backers in the conflict decide to take a direct role, the supporters of the belligerents could find themselves contributing, at least in aid, to the conflict.

The Major Power backers, Turkey and Russia

Turkey has pledged absolute support for Azerbaijan. Though officially, this is only in terms of diplomatic measures and medical aid, several news sources have revealed Turkey may be contributing advisors and equipment to the Azeris. Armenia alleges Turkey is bringing in hardened foreign fighters from Syria to help the Azeris. Their entrance into this conflict risks provoking other major powers in the region to join in as well.


Russia by contrast, though officially neutral, is seen as the guarantor of Armenia’s sovereignty, and has long been an opponent of Turkish/Ottoman desires for conquest into Asia. Various pro-Russian breakaway movements in the former Soviet Republics no doubt view Nagorno-Karabakh’s struggle as similar to their own. The third Caucuses republic, Georgia, has declared complete neutrality, and prohibited the movement of arms to either of the warring factions, and has called for a ceasefire. This rules out the possibility of supplying arms to Armenia via land. The competing interest of the two regional players triggers a confusing alliance system that could risk them expanding the conflict if one sees the other going too far. Particularly if the Russians felt their base in Armenia, which they reinforced just last year, was suddenly under threat, like they felt with their bases in Crimea and Syria.

Those backing Armenia in opposition to Turkey

Greece, Cyprus, Serbia, and France all have had long standing reasons to oppose Turkish expansion in the region, have accused the Azeris and Turks of being the aggressors, and have gone to war with Turkey in the past century. Ranging from the First World War to the Greek/Turkish conflicts of the last century. It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine them contributing military support to Armenia. The Azeris allege the Serbs and Greeks already have.


Those backing Azerbaijan in opposition to Russia

Ukraine needless to say has a huge beef with Russia, as does Bosnia-Herzegovina after Russia has consistently backed Serbian separatists to this day. Both Ukraine and Bosnia-Herzegovina have expressed support for Azerbaijan’s plight, viewing their struggle to regain territory from a Russian backed separatist movement as similar to their own. Pakistan supporting the Azeris to oppose the Russians is not surprising either, considering they helped the US run the covert war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Allegedly, they are sponsoring a covert war again in this conflict. 

Italy has also favoured Azerbaijan’s case, insisting the Azeris are legally entitled to the land the Armenians occupy. But when one sees the trade relationship between Azerbaijan and Italy, particularly for oil from Azerbaijan, it’s more likely Italy siding with the Azeris is economic in truth, and they likely do not want Europe to be anymore dependent on Russian energy than it already is.


Perhaps most peculiar though is the quiet but significant support provided by Israel, which seems somewhat counter-intuitive. Given how the scale of the Armenian Genocide is comparable to the Holocaust itself, it leaves many to wonder why Israel would equip Armenia’s opponents. Though officially neutral and calling for a ceasefire, Israel has long tried to keep on Turkey’s good side so as not to have any more enemies in the Arab/Islamic world, even though Turkey has never quite returned the gesture in kind. But their support internationally could help with their struggle against their greatest adversary in the region, Iran.. This support for the Azeris however has been enough to convince Armenia to recall its ambassador to Israel, prompting Israel to reconsider its arms sales to Azerbaijan.

Those Who Back Armenia to spite Israel

And of course, Israel taking a side, even unofficially, is enough to cause much of the Islamic world to automatically take the side they are not on. In particular, Iran and the Assad regime in Syria, along with militant groups they back, have been accused of covertly backing Armenia. This would ironically impy these backers of Islamist terrorism would be sponsoring the side that is opposing Muslims. Which is part of why the mere rumour of such a covert campaign has sparked mass protests in Iran urging them to back the Azeris instead.

Where does this take us now?

These are just a few of the nations that have expressed statements in favour of one side or the other. More will likely join the calls to support one side or the other. But with several NATO members and allies believing one side is in the right while some believe the other side is in the right, there is understandably little talk of potential NATO involvement. Most NATO members simply want a general ceasefire. That leaves onlookers with several questions. Will the US or China try to push a ceasefire plan to end the conflict? Would Canada join in calls to support either side? After allegations that Canadian drones given to Turkey may have been used in targeting civilians, Canada has for now suspended arms imports to the region. And the biggest question of all, would Turkey or Russia risk expanding the war to get their way in the region?

Special thanks to @JagerDePato for research leads on this story.

Brian Huff

One response to “Are Alliances in Armenian-Azeri Conflict Starting a Regional Cold War?”

  1. Robert tomkinson says:

    Thanks for a very good summary. As always in the Middle East, it is complicated. You and the MSM however have glossed over a germaine, even critical point. Armenia is over 95% Christian, in fact the world’s oldest Christian church. Azerbaijan is over 95% Muslim with a large majority of Shia, which makes it a natural ally of Iran. It is my belief that this is the heart of the conflict, and that Iran will switch allegiances and use the conflict to expand their influence by proxy, as in Syria, and by terrorism, as in Yemen. The potential for a huge long-running regional war even drawing in Russia and US. NATO better get its shit together and soon.