Armenia, Azerbaijan and another war at Europe's doorstep

Armenia, Azerbaijan and another war at Europe's doorstep
Baku's recent aggressions in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region will only escalate unless the EU and the international community take decisive action to curtail it and stop importing Azeri gas, writes Aidan Simardone.
6 min read
05 May, 2023
A Russian peacekeeper guards the Lachin corridor, the Armenian-populated breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region's only land link with Armenia, on 27 December 2022. [Getty]

War is at Europe’s periphery. An authoritarian country seeks the destruction of its democratic neighbour. Occupation moves forward, albeit slowly. The army murders civilians without remorse.

This could be Ukraine. But in this case, few Western countries have condemned the invasion. The targeted country receives little support. And the aggressor, rather than facing economic sanctions, is getting closer with the West. A century after the Armenian genocide, Armenians are again under threat, this time by Azerbaijan.

As the Soviet Union fell apart, war broke out in 1988 between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The majority Armenian region of Artsakh (formally called Nagorno-Karabakh), wanted independence from Azerbaijan. Armenia intervened, winning Artsakh’s independence in 1994 and occupying surrounding areas.

Buoyed by oil and gas revenue, Azerbaijan’s army grew over the next two decades. In 2020 it launched an offensive, capturing roughly half the land occupied by Armenia and Artsakh. Under a Russian negotiated ceasefire, Armenian-occupied land was given to Azerbaijan, while Russian peacekeepers would occupy the remaining area.

"This could be Ukraine. But in this case, few Western countries have condemned the invasion. The targeted country receives little support. And the aggressor, rather than facing economic sanctions, is getting closer with the West"

Yet even with this victory, Azerbaijan routinely violates the ceasefire. This includes blocking food and medical access to Artsakh, a deliberate attempt to cleanse its inhabitants. The International Court of Justice has ordered the blockade’s end, but Azerbaijan has not complied.

Despite its ruthlessness — such as beheading civilians — Azerbaijan restrained itself from attacking Armenia. Armenia is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a six country military alliance that includes Russia. Under the CSTO an attack on one is an attack on all. Azerbaijan could win a war against Armenia, but not against Russia.

In March 2021, Russia amassed its military near Ukraine. With Russia focused on Eastern Europe, Azerbaijan took the chance to invade Armenia, capturing several mountains and a lake in May. Armenia called for the CSTO’s help, but nothing was done.

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Ukraine launched a counteroffensive in August. With Russia’s attention to Ukraine, Azerbaijan again went into Armenia, capturing ten kilometres. Another two-and-a-half were seized two weeks ago. Each time, the CSTO did nothing. Each time, civilians were killed, people fled and towns destroyed.

When Russia invaded Ukraine, the EU swiftly denounced it. Russia was sanctioned and aid was provided to Ukraine. The EU insisted war crimes and the violation of sovereignty would not be tolerated. The EU would defend democracy against authoritarianism.

Or so we were told. Russia was Europe’s main source of gas. When sanctions kicked in, the EU turned to Azerbaijan to fill the gap. In July 2022, the EU signed a deal to double gas imports by 2027. Already, imports are up forty percent compared to the previous year.

In opposing Russia’s destruction of Ukraine, the EU is trading Armenian blood for Azeri gas. Azerbaijan has learned from its ally Israel: bomb your neighbour and take land one piece at a time until nothing is left.

Ceasefires are established, only to be broken, land stolen and the process repeated. And the EU has been happy to provide the cash to help. While most EU member states recognize the Armenian Genocide, a century after its anniversary the EU is bankrolling continued aggression against it.


Like with Israel, Western politicians have ignored Azerbaijan's one-sided aggression, instead portraying it as a conflict where both sides are responsible. The EU has demanded “all parties should show restraint”.

Three weeks ago, the EU stated “the forces of either side must be withdrawn to a safe distance”, ignoring it was only the Azeri military that crossed the border. Last February, the EU sent observers to Armenia, to monitor and report near the border. It will be futile as long as the EU ignores who the aggressor is and provides revenue to them.

Azerbaijan has faced no consequences for its actions. Its power has increased as its economic relations with Europe have grown. If the EU’s defence of democracy and opposition to invasion is to mean anything, it must stop importing Azeri gas.

After Russia invaded Ukraine, the EU reduced gas from Russia from forty percent to thirteen. Even under the current EU deal, Azeri gas would only make up five percent of gas imports. If the EU can cut Russian gas, it can cut Azeri gas. And unlike when sanctions were placed on Russia, Azerbaijan’s smaller share of the gas imports means consumers are unlikely to pay more for gas.

"Azerbaijan has faced no consequences for its actions. Its power has increased as its economic relations with Europe have grown"

One challenge will be Azerbaijan’s closest ally, Turkey. Nevertheless, the EU can use the results of the upcoming Turkish election to its advantage. If Recep Tayyip Erdogan is re-elected, he can cool down his jingoism without facing voters for another five years. As for opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, his criticism of Turkey’s intervention in Syria signals a more dovish foreign policy.

This is not to whitewash both candidates’ pro-Azeri and anti-Armenian racism. Rather, if the EU wants to minimise Turkish retaliation, they should act as soon as possible, rather than wait a few years. If they wait, Erdogan might be campaigning for the nationalist vote and Kilicdaroglu might be heading out of office.

The greatest challenge will be the EU itself. As much as the EU speaks fondly about democracy and human rights, its foreign policy is a continuation of European colonialism. One need only look at recent comments.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, stated Europe is like a garden, the rest of the world a jungle. Two weeks ago European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Israel “made the desert bloom”.

These statements symbolise Europe’s continued exploitation of Africa and its support for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Is it any surprise the EU cares little about Azerbaijan’s destruction of Armenia?

The EU will only stop supporting Azerbaijan if it is forced to. The most vocal force will be Armenians themselves, but they should be joined by others.

Environmentalists should pressure the EU to move away from gas. Given Azerbaijan’s close relationship with Israel, Palestinians should worry about Armenia being taken over by its neighbour. Kurds should likewise oppose the EU’s close relationship with an authoritarian Turkish ally.

The longer we wait, the harder it will be to save Armenia. Each day Azerbaijan grows its military and takes more land. When Ukraine was invaded, the EU showed it could stop importing gas from an authoritarian country that invaded its neighbour. To keep Armenia on the map, the EU should do it again, this time with Azerbaijan.

Aidan Simardone is a writer and immigration lawyer. His writings about the law, capitalism and state violence have appeared in CounterPunch, Ricochet and the Maple.

Follow him on Twitter: @AidanSimardone

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Opinions expressed here are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of her employer, or of The New Arab and its editorial board or staff.