Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

Armenia and Azerbaijan are once again in conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region

Photo by Ministry of Defence of Azerbaijan.

4 minute read — by Sam Feierabend

Since the culmination of the Second World War, the world has been perceived to be living in a peaceful period. The United Nations was set up with an aim to restore peace and resolve any conflict that may arise. Unfortunately, wars still occur- take the crippling Syrian Civil War for example- which for the most part, stem from borders being created that split up ethnic populations and allows discrimination against them from a ruling country. In September, a violent conflict erupted between the former Soviet states of Armenia and Azerbaijan again over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which has dangerously started to drag surrounding countries into the equation.

Since the formation and subsequent break-up of the U.S.S.R., Nagorno-Karabakh has been a longstanding potential flashpoint for conflict. The region is largely populated with Christian Armenians yet sits within Azerbaijani territory who have a high Muslim population. The region is backed as an independent state by the Armenian government called the Republic of Artsakh. During the Russian Revolution in 1919, war broke out between the two which was quickly dispersed with the seizing of power by the Communist Party in Moscow. In 1988, war reignited and continued until 1994 when a ceasefire was finally agreed with Armenian forces holding large areas of territory in the region. Minor skirmishes have occurred over the area since then but all have been dispersed without major casualties.

On 27th September, Armenian authorities reported that Azerbaijan had launched overnight shelling attacks on civilian settlements and that there had been multiple casualties. The Azerbaijani Government responded by saying that their actions were purely in retaliation to earlier Armenian attacks on their land. Worryingly, Armenia and Artsakh declared martial law later that day asking its citizens to ‘prepare to defend the motherland’ and Azerbaijan mobilised its army for full scale war.

Shelling and ground fighting continued nightly into the start of October, with the United Nations calling for an immediate ceasefire. This call was fully supported by Armenia’s neighbour Iran who tragically saw a citizen killed by a misplaced missile aiming for an Azerbaijani enclave on their border.

Yet the two nations buried their heads in the sand and turned to historical allies for support. Armenia turned to its Orthodox Christian ally Russia for support whereas Azerbaijan asked Turkey for military support who duly obliged. In addition, it is though that up to 2,500 Syrian fighters have flown to Azerbaijan to support the fight.

Putin has been less committed to getting involved and instead invited key military leaders of the two sides to Moscow to agree a ceasefire over the region. He warned that if a ceasefire could not be agreed then Russia were obliged to help Armenia over a longstanding defence pact between multiple Christian former Soviet states (CSTO Treaty). On 10th October a ceasefire was agreed.

This lasted approximately 14 hours before shelling of Azerbaijani territory recommenced. Once again, intense fighting continued to the dismay of Russia and United Nations who urgently demanded a peaceful solution otherwise sanctions would be placed on the opposing sides. A second humanitarian ceasefire was agreed on 17th October which was immediately broken before U.S. intervention in peace talks agreed a third ceasefire on the 26th.

Still, fighting continues in Nagorno-Karabakh seemingly with no end in sight. It has an alarming similarity to the prelude to the First World War, with various countries  allying themselves with others which could domino into much wider involvement in the region. Russian military involvement is a serious prospect, while Iran has also warned that there could be a wider regional war imminent if there is no resolution. It is unclear what the intentions are of the Syrian fighters in the region- there has been suggestions that they are in cohorts with Turkey who have backed Syrian forces in their own Civil War. France has condemned the involvement of Turkey in the conflict which may bring EU intervention into an already complicated situation.

What is clear though is that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has no clear end in sight and while the situation is changing on a daily basis, the hope is that fighting can be dispersed as soon as possible.