by Tom Athron ’21
Published Nov. 11th, 2020
(NAGORNO-KARABAKH, Armenia/Azerbaijan) For the first time since the collapse of the USSR, the Caucasus nations of Armenia and Azerbaijan are at the brink of total war.
The two nations have engaged in the worst military conflict in the region since the early 1990s. Azeri forces are believed to be moving on the offensive, according to the BBC and the New York Times, resulting in heavy casualties on both sides.
Azeri president Ilham Aliyev proclaimed great successes in the conflict, announcing on Twitter that the “Victorious Armed Forces of Azerbaijan” had “liberated” several settlements in the region. Aliyev also stated: “Long live Azerbaijan’s Armed Forces! Karabakh is Azerbaijan!”
The violence in the region is primarily centered around the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is an area in the Caucasian region widely recognized as part of Azerbaijan. However, it has been under Armenian separatist control since a conflict in 1994.
While Armenians made up an ethnic majority in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Soviet government decided to assign the territory to Azerbaijan upon the founding of the USSR.
Despite continuous appeals from Armenia, the territory remained a part of Azerbaijan, much to the anger of many Armenians who believed themselves to be unjustly separated from their kinsmen.
During the breakup of the Soviet Union, Nagorno-Karabakh’s primarily Armenian population voted in a referendum to become part of Armenia, despite previously being part of Azerbaijan.
This sparked conflict between the two nations and eventually ended with Armenian-backed separatists taking de-facto control of the region, prompting many Azeri refugees to flee to Azerbaijan.
There are worries that the conflict may spiral out of the Caucasus and into the wider world. Azerbaijan, a primarily Muslim and ethincally Turkish state, has received the public backing of Turkey and Pakistan, with both nations refusing diplomatic ties with Armenia.
Armenia, however, has very good relations with Russia, being a member of several common initiatives with Moscow. Russia has played a crucial role in trying to create a long-lasting ceasefire, but the most recent armistice from earlier this month was reportedly broken by both sides after around 4 minutes, according to a recent BBC article.
According to an ABC News article, a U.S.-brokered ceasefire has met a similar fate. As for now, the conflict between the two countries remains unresolved.
As of November 10, 2020, the Armenian government announced that a surprise peace agreement has been reached between the two nations.
The agreement, brokered by the Russian government, involves the Armenian retreat from several areas in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Azerbaijan will hold on to areas of Nagorno-Karabakh that it has taken during the conflict, while Armenia will withdraw from several other adjacent areas over the next few weeks.
According to the BBC’s Orla Guerin, the deal should be seen as a victory for the Azeri’s and a defeat for Armenia, with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan calling the deal “incredibly painful both for me and both for our people.”