Dr Peter Doran in conversation with Malik Ayub Sumbal.

Dr Peter Doran talks to Malik Ayub Sumbal, author of ‘Tovuz to Karabakh: a comprehensive analysis of war in the South-Caucasus’, about geopolitics, ‘frozen conflicts’ and energy in relation to the recent conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Malik Ayub Sumbal is author of: Tovuz to Karabakh: a comprehensive analysis of war in the South-Caucasus, 2021.

“The appropriation of land thus opens up a legal space as such, turns the earth into a location.” Byung-Chul Han, What is Power?, p.80)

For decades, during a civil conflict that engulfed Northern Ireland, we regularly featured in articles and book collections on so called “intractable conflicts.”

The world is littered with these “frozen conflicts” that seem to “flare up” and flash intermittently across our screens, seizing our attention momentarily when conflicting parties calculate that an escalation in violence can shift the balance of power and public opinion in their favour. In every case that I can call to mind, these conflicts are the unfinished business and geopolitical fractures created in the wake of a collapse or reconfiguration in wider regional imperial or other strategic interests. Consider Kashmir and Palestine to name but two other examples.

In the case of Nagorno-Karabakh, the fate of local populations and politics per se will turn, ultimately, on their continued utility in a regional balance of power shaped by Turkey and Russia, driven largely by a timeless and toxic deployment of energy politics and ethnic conflict.

Malik Ayub Sumbal, has taken on the complex task of combining his keen skills as a geopolitical analyst and commentator to bring us a fresh account of the “frozen conflict” involving Armenia and Azerbaijan.  While Armenia won control over the Nagorno-Karabakh territory in the 1988-1994 war, its population has remained largely hostage to Azerbaijan’s refusal to accept the new status quo. This account is an invaluable and heartfelt series of insights based on Malik’s first-hand knowledge of the region, not least the border areas where previous hostilities have left their tragic mark on civilian populations. His sense of history and geopolitics is weaved together with granular accounts of the characters and detail that is also a hallmark of Malik’s journalism.

When conflicts become “frozen” and beset with intermittent low-level – even routinized skirmishes – we rely on writers such as Malik Ayub Sumbal to provide a reliable up-to-date account when all-out war flares up and our attention is drawn once again to the region. Not only has he provided a fresh account of the background to and fall-out from the 2020 war, the writer and analyst has demonstrated an unerring ability to foresee the significance of vital developments that led to war in 2020, for example the Tovuz incident in July. This is just one of the events documented in some detail, events that led to a new “hot war”, with Armenia delivering on its promise to embark on a high-stakes attempt to leverage new influence by targeting vital Azeri oil and gas infrastructure, compelling regional powers with interests in the new trans-Eurasian east-west corridor, to engage in a new round of Russian-sponsored diplomacy designed to trade territorial concessions in return for the restoration of corridors linking Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia.

War is always an exchange. In exchanges over energy and geopolitical advantage, the regional powers learn all too often that the relatively powerless lives and futures of civilians can be taken hostage time and time again.

Malik Ayub Sumbal provides an invaluable, timely and incisive account from a conflict that will not be allowed to die, just yet.


Byung-Chul, Han, 2019, What is Power?, Polity Press, Cambridge.

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