Armenia and Azerbaijan: An old conflict in a new context
Author: Vivian Ramos
Armenia and Azerbaijan are located in the mountainous region of the Caucasus, between Asia and Europe. Both countries were Soviet Republics, while Azerbaijan voted for its independence on August 19, 1990, Armenia did so on September 21, 1991.
The two former Soviet republics have been fighting for three decades over a separatist enclave: the Nagorno Karabakh region. At the centre of this tension is the control of this territory. Internationally, this region is recognized as part of Azerbaijan, a country rich in oil and mainly Muslim, but the population of this region is mostly Armenian and Christian.
In recent weeks, the conflict between these two countries has intensified, so it is worth wondering about the origins of this old confrontation.
AZERBAIJAN AND ARMENIA, A FROZEN CONFLICT
The first shots were fired in July, before the war broke out in late September. It was the worst fight in 25 years. The main raison for this dispute is the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, located within the borders of Azerbaijan. It is internationally recognized as part of this country, but is now controlled by Armenian forces.
As a result of the outbreak of the conflict, many people are living in basements due to the shelling and local authorities have indicated that half of the people living there have been forced to leave.
This region has long been disputed. Iran was in control in the mid-18th century. Later, the Russians took over. (BBC, 2020) In 1920, a key date, Armenia and Azerbaijan went to war for Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan, backed by Russia, gained control. A year later, Azerbaijan’s government promised it to the Armenians, but Stalin made sure that Azerbaijan kept it. (Kramer, 2020)
By 1988, the Soviet Union was crumbling and the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh took advantage of the power vacuum and voted to join Armenia. Therefore, when the Soviet Union finally fell apart in 1991, so did what was left of peace in the southern Caucasus. (Kramer, 2020)
Four years later, in 1992, the war really escalated after the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence. Both parties accuse each other of atrocities. Tens of thousands of local Azeris and Armenians were killed, and millions of people had to leave their homes. In the end, the Armenians expelled the Azerbaijani forces from Nagorno-Karabakh, seized the territories around them and finally it all ended in a ceasefire in 1994. (Cordero, 2020)
That ceasefire has been ignored by both Armenia and Azerbaijan over the years and the feeling of injustice about what happened in the war has not disappeared. Now both countries wage a full-scale war again with trenches, tanks and air strikes. (Polished, 2020)
As Rouvinsky (2020) has explained, there was never a peace agreement, there was only a ceasefire and everything was paralyzed for a while. The clashes did not continue because both actors did not have the economic resources and were going through internal conflicts.
Now, the reality is that Azerbaijan has more resources than Armenia. The graphic below shows how much more Azerbaijan spends on armed forces, soldiers and artillery.
A LOCAL STRUGGLE WITH REGIONAL POWERS
What makes this particular dispute different from all the others is that other countries are getting involved. The Azeris have the support of Turkey. Although it is questionable, how involved is Turkey in the conflict? It is still diffuse to specify it, Azerbaijan uses military drones supplied by Turkey and Israel. In addition, Turkey is accused of recruiting Syrian fighters to help against the Armenians, which Turkey and Azerbaijan strongly deny. On the other hand, Armenia does not have the support from other countries of the region.
Likewise, it must be taken into account that Azerbaijan provides oil and gas to Turkey. Therefore, any instability is negative for business between the two countries. (Vives, 2020)
Over the years, there have been many negotiations between these two countries. The UN issued a series of resolutions to stop the fighting and large international organizations have also intervened. Namely, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), was created in 1994 to address the conflict and is led by Russia, France and the United States.
In 2007, they came close to getting the two parties to agree to peace through the so-called “Madrid Principles”. While it is true that the representatives of Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed on several points, they differed in the way of carrying out the demilitarization of Armenia in the occupied zone. Later, in 2016, the Armenian National Committee of the United States launched a campaign against these Principles, arguing that they were undemocratic.
So far, the evidence has shown that Azerbaijan has a great advantage in having the support of Turkey, while Armenia does not have an ally so far, as Russia avoids having a confrontation with Azerbaijan, with which it has signed arms export contracts and that are linked by large economic interests. The United States is two weeks away from the elections thus, for the moment, it has not spoken out against this conflict.
BBC. (12 de octubre de 2020). Armenia Azerbaijan: Reports of fresh shelling dent ceasefire hopes. Obtenido de BBC: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-54488386
Cordero, A. (30 de septiembre de 2020). ¿Qué hay detrás del conflicto entre Armenia y Azerbaiyán por Nagorno Karabaj?. Obtenido de France24: https://www.france24.com/es/20200930-nagorno-karabaj-armenia-azerbaiyan-turquia-conflicto
Kramer, A. (22 de octubre de 2020). Armenia and Azerbaijan: The Conflict Explained. Obtenido de The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/article/armenian-azerbaijan-conflict.html
Pulido, G. (25 de septiembre de 2020). Conflicto Armenia y Azerbaiyán: Equilibrio de Poder e Historia. Obtenido de The Political Room: https://thepoliticalroom.com/equilibrio-de-poder-e-historia-entre-armenia-y-azebaiyan/
Vives, J. (15 de octubre de 2020). El papel de Turquía y Rusia en el conflicto entre Armenia y Azerbaiyán. Obtenido de La Vanguardia: https://www.lavanguardia.com/vida/junior-report/20201015/484078238347/papel-turquia-rusia-conflicto-armenia-azerbaiyan.html