by: Lilit Gevorgyan

Global Insight
February 29, 2012

Vigils were held in Armenia, self-declared Nagorno-Karabakh Republic,
and in countries with large Armenian communities on 27-28 February
to commemorate the 24th anniversary of the pogroms of Armenians in
the Azerbaijani city of Sumgait in February 1988, and in January
1990 in the Azerbaijani capital Baku. The events were also marked
by United States House floor statements by a number of US Congress
Representatives. The anniversary of the twin tragedy that took place
under Soviet rule comes at a time when Armenia and Azerbaijan are
drifting further apart as a peace deal remains elusive.

Twenty-two years have passed since the outbreak of the conflict over
the decision by the mainly ethnic Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous
Region to leave the then Soviet Azerbaijan and join Armenia, another
Soviet republic. A war resulted in the deaths of 30,000 people and
the displacement over a 1.5 million people on both sides. Since the
1988-1994 war which ended with Azerbaijan's defeat the latter has
been growing in its military confidence and is seeking a military
solution to the problem. The ongoing revamping of the Azerbaijani army
thanks to energy export-generated income has alarmed international and
local observers. Perhaps most worryingly the anti-Armenian rhetoric
continues to increase in Azerbaijan--a trend noted and criticised by
EU bodies--which in turn lessens the chances of the Caspian country
to convince the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians to consider the option
of returning under Baku's control. The recent arms deal between
Israel and Azerbaijan worth USD1.6 billion and open statements by
Azerbaijan's president of potentially choosing the military solution
to the conflict add to growing concerns that the war could return to
the region in the near future.

Significance:Compared with the actual conflict the number of
Armenian victims of the pogroms in Sumgait and Baku are in the
hundreds. Yet these events stand out as the pogroms were carried
out by Azerbaijanis in the cities very far from the actual zone of
conflict and before the outbreak of the full-scale war in 1991 and
there is more evidence of collusion between the Kremlin and the local
Soviet authorities in the run up to the events. Lack of recognition
by current Azerbaijani authorities of the ethnic persecution is often
cited by the Nagorno-Karabakhi Armenians as a sign that not much has
changed in modern-day Azerbaijan in terms of ethnic tolerance, hence
return under Baku's control is not realistic and bears the threat
of more ethnic cleansing. Part of a peaceful solution of the current
dangerous stand-off between the parties is addressing the grievances
on both sides caused by the conflict but there are no signs of any
truth and reconciliation processes starting anytime soon.