The decades-long fight over Nagorno-Karabakh has reignited

On September 27, a decades old conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan reignited, already costing the lives of approximately 5,000 individuals. The conflict stems from disagreement over Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous region in the South Caucasus. When the Soviet Union dissolved in the early 1990s, new borders were drawn — ceding Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan. Despite officially being a part of Azerbaijan, the region continues to be primarily populated by Armenians and is largely controlled by local Armenian armed forces. Both countries believe that they hold claim over the region, leading to a deep rooted bitterness that has led to numerous conflicts over the years. 

This tension culminated in a bloody war in the 1990s between Azerbaijan and Armenia, resulting in the death of 30,000 and the displacement of millions. A ceasefire was negotiated in 1994, but there have been periodic clashes since then. This spring, a statement by Armenia’s populist prime minister declaring Nagorno-Karabakh as “indisputably Armenian” inflamed old tensions. Which country instigated the recent violence is unclear, with both accusing the other. Things quickly escalated, with both sides executing artillery and missile strikes. 

The conflict has been complicated by the international community’s response. Specifically, Turkey’s cultural affinity and strong economic relationship with Azerbaijan has led them to back the nation  — exacerbating the conflict. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently exemplified this alliance by sending approximately 1,500 Syrian fighters to strengthen their military force.

Previously, in times of conflict between the two countries, Russia, the United States and France —  known as the “Minsk Group” — had worked together to diffuse the tension. For the first few weeks of the conflict the United States was noticeably absent, as it struggled to balance the ongoing pandemic and its upcoming elections. As a result, Russia has led efforts to negotiate a ceasefire. 

Russia has a formal military alliance with Armenia and neutral relations with Azerbaijan, allowing them to mediate between the two combatants. After two weeks of violence, Putin held talks between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which ultimately culminated in an unsuccessful temporary truce; an attack was allegedly launched within five minutes after it went into effect. 

This week, the United States has finally broken their silence. The Trump administration has invited the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan to the White House to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pomepo. While this is a promising first step, we still have yet to see a strong commitment by the Trump Administration to resolve this quickly escalating conflict. 

This strife is built on decades of mistrust and resentment; consequently, it will not be easily solved. The lack of strong American leadership and Turkey’s antagonistic role solely intensifies the discord, posing a multifaceted problem with no clear solution. 

Recommended Readings

  • “The Trouble in the South Caucasus Extends Far Beyond One Small Enclave” — The New York Times
  • “The Fighting Between Armenia and Azerbaijan Has Halted- But a Deep-Rooted Conflict Remains” -— Jacobin Magazine
  • “Nagorno-Karabakh: Reports of fresh shelling dent ceasefire hopes” — BBC

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