Nagorno-Karabakh: the mountains between two nations
The reignition of violence within a mountainous area of the South Caucuses has the international community concerned about the outbreak of regional conflict. So what is this area of the world and why is it giving global powers anxiety?
Nagorno-Karabakh, also known by self-proclaimed title of The Republic of Artsakh, is a region internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but around 95% of the population are ethnically Armenian. The issue surrounding this land is one of ethnic make-up, self-identity and territorial politics. Conflict here stems from this disparity between internal identity and external recognition, whilst none of the international community recognise the authority of the Republic of Artsakh and under official lines the region is part of Azerbaijan, much of the population feel differently and so do the Armenian government. To add another complex dimension, the majority of Armenians are Christian, whilst most of the Azeri population is Muslim, introducing a sectarian element to the situation, only complicating things further. Because of this long-standing issue there are almost no Armenians in Azerbaijan and no Azeris in Armenia, leaving this region largely responsible for a lack of cultural, political and economic ties between two nations.
This conflict dates back to the fall of the Russian Tsar which lead to conflict in the disputed territory until 1920, when it was made an Autonomous region within Azerbaijan under the new Soviet Government. Peace seemed to mostly last for several decades, but during the reign of Mikhail Gorbachev and the dramatic changes he brought to the USSR, war broke out yet again over claim to this ground. In 1988 the regional parliament voted for Nagorno-Karabakh to become part of Armenia, causing outrage in Azerbaijan and leading to an explosion of violence. Between 1988 and 1994, when another Russian mediated peace was reached, this conflict claimed around 30,000 lives and displaced close to a million people.
Today the conflict has once again become violent, reaching some its worst levels since this peace was agreed, and this has many worried about the future of the global region.
The International Dimension
The major concern on the minds of many world leaders is that this conflict will spin out of control, dragging surrounding nations into play. Turkey has had an economic blockade in place against Armenia since 1993 and is a vocal supporter of Azerbaijan in this stand-off. Standing more precariously between the fighting nations, Russia has ties with both parties. Although they have some close ties to the Azerbaijani government through trade and relations, Russia is part of official military alliance with Armenia. Therefore, if the situation were to escalate, both Turkey and Russia may intercede, increasing the scale of the conflict significantly.
Iran has spoken out, warning of the chaos a regional conflict could unleash and much of the international community calls for peace to be made. There is an economic concern regarding the security of energy, as Azerbaijan is a major producer of oil and gas to global markets, which accounts for the majority of Azeri exports. This is one of the reasons it is in the interest of Turkey, a reciprocate of said energy, to defend Azerbaijan if this situation were to escalate.
Negotiations and mediations up until this point have mostly been done by the Minsk Group, an organisation set up in 1994 with the goal to craft a peaceful solution to this whole situation, but evidently has not been very effective. Russia has historically been the mediating party when it comes to this region, so some hope they could take on the role again and bring this fighting to an end.
Both parties are accusing the other of being the main aggressor, with evidence of Cluster bombs being used by Azerbaijan and accusations against Armenia of the same. These armaments are illegal under a treaty signed by more than 100 countries, but neither battling party are signees. The use of these weapons has some worried about where the situation could go in terms of the military technology and tactics utilised by fighting forces.
At the time of writing this post, the situation seems precarious. A Russian brokered ceasefire was reached between the two nations, but deaths are on the rise again as the agreement falters and fighting resumes. With a ceasefire falling apart this quickly, spectators are becoming concerned and the future of Nagorno-Karabakh seems uncertain.