Why are Azerbaijan and Armenia fighting again? - The Hindu - 30/09/2020
The conflict can be traced back to the pre-Soviet era when the region was at the meeting point of the Ottoman, Russian and Persian empires.
Once Azerbaijan and Armenia became Soviet Republics in 1921, Moscow gave Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan but offered autonomy to the contested region.
In the 1980s, when the Soviet power was receding, separatist currents picked up in Nagorno-Karabakh.
In 1988, the national assembly voted to dissolve the region’s autonomous status and join Armenia.
When Armenia and Azerbaijan became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the clashes led to an open war in which tens of thousands were killed. The war lasted till 1994 when both sides reached a ceasefire.
By that time, Armenia had taken control of Nagorno-Karabakh and handed it to Armenian rebels. The rebels have declared independence, but have not won recognition from any country.
The region is still treated as a part of Azerbaijan by the international community, and it wants to take it back.
The region was particularly tense because of violent fighting between the two countries in 2016, which came to be known as the four-day war.
The border between Armenia and Azerbaijan has been tense since 2018.
Fresh clashes have erupted on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border, threatening to push the former Soviet republics back to war 26 years after a ceasefire was reached.
Armenia (Christian majority) and Azerbaijan (Muslim majority) are a part of South Caucasia.
The territorial dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan is over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Nagorno-Karabakh is an ethnically Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan that has been out of Azerbaijan’s control since the end of a war in 1994.
This region has a 95% ethnically Armenian population.
It is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan.
It broke away from Azerbaijan in a conflict that broke out as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
Though a ceasefire was agreed in 1994, Azerbaijan and Armenia frequently accuse each other of attacks around Nagorno-Karabakh and along the separate Azeri-Armenian frontier.
Both sides have a heavy military presence along a demilitarized zone separating the region from the rest of Azerbaijan.
The largely mountainous and forested Nagorno-Karabakh which is at the centre of the conflict is home to some 150,000 people. There is a possibility of displacement of the civilian population if a large scale war were to break out.
The energy-rich Azerbaijan has built several gas and oil pipelines across the Caucasus to Turkey and Europe.
It includes the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, the Western Route Export oil pipeline, the Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline and the South Caucasus gas pipeline.
Some of these pipelines pass close to the conflict zone.
In an open war between the two countries, the pipelines could be targeted, which would impact energy supplies.
Military escalation would draw regional powers like Turkey and Russia deeply into the conflict.
Turkey has historically supported Azerbaijan and has had a troublesome relationship with Armenia.
In the 1990s, during the war, Turkey closed its border with Armenia and it has no diplomatic relations with the country.
On the other end, the Azeris and Turks share strong cultural and historical links.
Azerbaijanis are a Turkic ethnic group and their language is from the Turkic family.
After Azerbaijan became independent, Turkey established strong relations with the country, which has been ruled by a dynastic dictatorship.
Turkey has also held a joint military exercise with Azerbaijan.
Recently, the Turkish President has blamed Armenia for the most recent clashes and offered support to Azerbaijan.
This fits well into Turkey’s aggressive foreign policy, which seeks to expand Turkish interests to the former Ottoman territories.
Russia sees the Caucasus and Central Asian region as its backyard. But the current clashes put the Russian President in a difficult spot as Russia enjoys good ties with both Azerbaijan and Armenia and supplies weapons to both.
However, Armenia is more dependent on Russia than the energy-rich, ambitious Azerbaijan. Russia also has a military base in Armenia.
Russia is trying to strike a balance between the two.
Like in the 1990s, its best interest would be in mediating a ceasefire between the warring sides.