One of the world’s oldest and least known conflicts has re-erupted in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. With tensions intensifying, fear of the conflict being complicated by geopolitics grows, particularly with involvement by Russia and Turkey. Russia is allied with Armenia – although it does have a good relationship with Azerbaijan too. By contrast, Turkey is a staunch ally of Azerbaijan and does not have any official relationship with Armenia.
CONFLICT ROOTED IN HISTORY
In 1923, Stalin handed Nagorno-Karabakh over to Azerbaijan as part of a divide and rule policy. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, a war broke out between Azerbaijan and the Azeris (a turkic ethic group residing in Azerbaijan). Eventually, a ceasefire was agreed upon in 1994.
Presently, Nagorno-Karabakh is officially recognised as belonging to Azerbaijan. However, the region has been under de facto Armenian control since the war.
Over the years, various peace talks mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group – a body chaired by France, Russia and the United States, have been held. However, a peace treaty has not been signed. Instead, violent clashes have continued and recently have intensified.
SIGNIFICANCE OF NAGORNO-KARABAKH
Armenians lay claim to Nagorno-Karabakh on the basis that the region is the historical province of Artsakh belonging to the ancient Kingdom of Armenia.
In recent years, analysts have observed the conflict evolving into a matter of secular nationalistic pride for both countries. Armenia sees losing the region akin to annihilation of Armenia. Azerbaijan argues that the region encapsulates what it means to be Azerbaijani.
The fight over Nagorno-Karabakh rages on despite two failed attempts at a truce so far. This fresh wave of violence is the worst since the war over Nagorno-Karabakh in 1991-1994, that killed an estimated 30,000 people. Prior to the first attempt at a ceasefire, more than 500 people have already been killed. This continuation of violence has forced many people to flee their homes, coupled with the current pandemic, could result in a humanitarian crisis in the region.
The recent intensification could be attributed to domestic considerations and geopolitics. Armenia’s prime minister has been forced by domestic political developments to take a tougher stance against Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan faces growing unrest as falling oil prices have weakened the country’s economy. Regaining control over Nagorno-Karabakh is an opportunity for the Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to restore public confidence in his governance. Analysts also believe that Turkey’s Erdogan had emboldened President Aliyev to take a stronger stance over Nagorno-Karabakh – escalating the tensions.
As the world, including people living in Nagorno-Karabakh, grapples with COVID-19, we can only hope that this spat ends soon, so that they have less to worry about.