By Madeleine McCarthy
Tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan, two neighboring nations in the mountainous Caucasus region between Europe and Asia, intensified during this summer, creating the most hostile environment the area has seen since war in the 1990’s.
These conflicts trace all the way back to the 1980’s, when the Nagorno-Karabakh region, a landlocked area in the mountainous range of Karabakh, was technically a part of Azerbaijan but was controlled by the ethnic majority, Armenians. The vote for the Nagorno-Karabakh region to become a part of Armenia sparked years of war. Russia, an ally of Armenia, encouraged and supported the acquisition of Nagorno-Karabakh while Turkey backed Azerbaijan. The war was bloody and violent, with accounts of ethnic cleansing and massacres from both parts. The war ended when Russia called a ceasefire in 1994; tensions have increased, nonetheless. Nagorno-Karabakh is still populated by ethnic Armenians, predominantly and aided by the Armenian government, who wish to see the region be Armenian rather than it’s current status of officially Azerbaijani.
On July 12th, 2020, according to an account from the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense, the Armenian Armed Forces violated the ceasefire by firing on their positions near the Azerbaijani-Armenian border. Azerbaijani officials claimed this was a provocation for violence, initiating artillery fire on both sides. The fighting in early July resulted in the death of an esteemed Azerbaijani general, also angering the Azerbaijani people. These conflicts all resulted in the recent hostilities between the two countries.
In September of 2020, there was increased fighting at the border. These current conflicts have escalated to long range artillery, militarization, and cross border attacks by both sides. There have been more than one thousand military and civilian deaths. This time, tensions have heightened as Turkey, which has pursued a more expansionist and militaristic approach under Recep Erdogan, has given more direct support to Azerbaijan, and Russia has promised support to Armenia.
Many different countries have gotten involved to issue ceasefires, nervous that conflicts in the region will disrupt the entire South Caucasus region. Destabilization of this region could potentially harm oil and gas exports, since Azerbaijan produces around 800,000 barrels of petroleum and other oils everyday, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (https://www.eia.gov/international/analysis/country/AZE). Both France, in coordination with Russia, and the United States, have negotiated ceasefires between the two nations; however, violations of these ceasefires and accusations of deliberate attacks have continued the fighting in this region, with no peace treaties in sight.
As of October 2020, missiles were being fired in the city of Ganja, Azerbaijan, targeting civilians. Hikmet Hajiyev, the assistant to the Azerbaijani president said, “Unscrupulous calls for humanitarian ceasefire should see these war crimes of Armenia.” These attacks violated the October 10th ceasefire brokered by Russia in Moscow. Turkey’s presidential spokesmen condemns Armenia for committing war crimes even under an official ceasefire. The United States Deputy Secretary of State met with the Azerbaijani Foreign Minister, Jeyhun Bayramov, and the Armenian Foreign Minister, Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, to pursue the humanitarian ceasefire in the interest of peace. In mid-November, Russia successfully brokered a ceasefire between the two sides, which was significantly more generous to the Azerbaijans than the Armenians. It remains to be seen how the conflict will be resolved in the coming weeks.