Overview of the Nagorno Karabakh War

In the recent weeks we have been flooded with information regarding the recently reignited conflict. However, this war isn’t of recent development, the area has known tensions since decades. The historic tension is generated by a discrepancy between who is de facto in control over the region, Armenia and who is de jure recognized as the Sovereign of the land, Azerbaijan. Nagorno Karabakh is an 11,458 square kilometers area with an estimated population of 143,000, the majority of which is ethnically Armenian, around 95%.

Source: Armenia Azerbaijan: Reports of fresh shelling dent ceasefire hopes, BBC

These two countries once part of the URSS, have clashed over the hegemony of the region since the first signs of collapse of the Soviet Union. The Superpower had assigned the region an autonomous state but within the control of Azerbaijan. Under communist rule they succeeded on keeping the rivalry under control. Nonetheless, in the end of the eighties URSS had begun their implosion and the ferrous supervision faded. 

On February 20th, 1988, “an extraordinary session of the Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) Soviet of People’s Deputies passes a resolution to unify the region with Armenia”. This was the spark that ignited the conflict, that lasted for over 30 years. The armed conflict began in 1991 when Azerbaijan considered criminal the independence referendum that created the Republic of Artsakh. So, on one side Azerbaijan was trying to restore their rule over the region and Armenia was supporting the independence movement. 

Flag of the Republic of Artsakh
Source: Flag of the World, website

After the collapse of URSS, the new Republic of Russia having economic ties to both countries has tried to mediate the crisis. Only in 1994 a “cessez-le-feu” was established with the creation of a demilitarized zone. The estimations divulge a bloody account of victims, around 30000 and hundreds of thousands displaced. This ceasefire is highly unstable, through the years a large number of violent clashes have been registered and recently, in 2020 another burst happened. The evidence on how and who restarted the conflict is lacking and both opponents blame the other country. This conflict is different in reason of the use of new technology weapons, highly destructive, the official death toll reported by Aljazeera states that “at least 65 Azerbaijani civilians and 37 ethnic Armenians have been killed” and “officials in Nagorno-Karabakh say 974 troops have died, while Azerbaijan has not disclosed its military death toll”. This only in the past month, between September and October. 

The conflict is said to be mostly motivated by two factors, the ethnic tensions and nationalist claims over the territory. The ethnic tension is an historic component of the geopolitics of this part of South Caucasus. Both countries claim the sovereign right to rule over the area and doing so the hostility is exasperated by national pride. However, in 2007 an agreement was reached based on the Principles of Madrid, a step towards a possible peace. In an interview the counselor of Azeri’s President Hikmet Hajiyev denounces Armenia to openly defy the decision of 2007. Moreover, an underlying economic interest may be the most critical factor to drive the Azeri effort. Azerbaijan is a big player in energy production and export, in 2019, the numbers were impressive, 30.8 Megatons of crude oil and 11 Billion cubic meters of natural gas. The Azeri economy is incredibly dependent of its energy sector and many western countries import large amounts of their demand from Azerbaijan, for example it is Italy’s first supplier since 2013. The strategic importance of the contested area needs to be evaluated in the perspective of its vicinity to the pipelines that lead the natural resources to their buyers. As declared by Hikmet Hajiyev, Azerbaijan is trying to secure their strategic assets and to minimize the risk of attacks. This conflict may disrupt a multi-billion-dollar international operation by causing fuel supply disruption. The so called “Ganja Gap” is the gap from the region of Nagorno-Karabakh and the location of the main pipelines. As reported by Reuters Graphics, “There have been three strikes on Ganja since fighting broke out on Sept. 27, and 25 civilians have been killed. Ganja was shelled in early October, and the leader of Nagorno-Karabakh said his forces had targeted a military airbase located in the town, miles away from the conflict zone. Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh have denied shelling civilian settlements”. The world is worried about the conflict’s impact on the Southern Gas Corridor which is probably the reason of the extended mediatic coverage that the war is receiving in comparison to the past. 

Source: Alessandro Sperandio, Perché le tensioni Armenia-Azerbaigian interessano Ue, Italia e Russia, EnergiaOltre, energiaoltre.it (08/10/2020).

The game of alliances has begun, Russia is holding onto its mediator role trying to broker a peace agreement and keeps trade relations with both countries). In the other hand, Turkey driven by ethnic reasons and past tensions with Armenia (over the alleged Genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923) is giving their support to Azerbaijan. Turkish modern and deadly weapons are being provided to the Azeri forces and cause a fast shift in the scale of the conflict. 

Even though the conflict may seem distant and irrelevant to the western countries; atrocities are being perpetrated and little is being done to broker a long-lasting peace in the region. The attention of the world is being held by the international sanitary crisis due to the Coronavirus pandemic and the war escalates every day. The Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa is monitoring the situation and has reported the repeated perpetration of war crimes, indeed civilian bombardments have been reported by both countries. Only since the clashes of the 27thof September at least 47 Azerbaijanis civilians and 34 Armenian civilians have been killed.

To conclude, the conflict stimulating factors are so impregnated in this geographical area that a swift solution is inconceivable. The distress of this region can only be solved with reaching a common ground to establish a long-lasting peace agreement. As of today, the most involved country strongly pressuring to find a solution is Russia despite the fact that it has failed multiple times. The apprehension of the international community is rooted on the historic precedents of similar conflict that tends to escalate rapidly and results in creating a vicious circle that destroys the livelihood of entire populations. The numbers already tell a critical situation, “the Permanent Mission of Azerbaijan estimates there were 651,458 internally displaced people (IDPs) in Azerbaijan at the end of 2019, of which around 300,000 have been temporarily housed according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre” and Armenia also states that large numbers of people have fled in 90s.

Once again, we are observing the value of black blood exceed the value of human blood.

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