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Azerbaijan-Armenia Border Clashes


Dozens of Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers have reportedly been killed in renewed border clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan, in the worst round of hostilities since 2020. After several hours of fighting, the Armenian government appealed to world leaders for help, saying that Azerbaijani forces were trying to advance into its territory. The conflict is decades old with its repercussions potentially engulfing all of the Caucasus.


GS II: International Relations

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About Centuries-old conflict
  2. The current flare-up
  3. Involvement of foreign players

About Centuries-old conflict

  • Christian majority Armenia and Muslim majority Azerbaijan have been in a state of near conflict for centuries, initially over religion but more recently concerning territorial disputes.
  • The current crisis draws its roots from the early 1920s when Russia under Joseph Stalin conquered large parts of the Caucasus.
  • At the time, Stalin placed the Armenian dominated region of Nagorno-Karabakh into Azerbaijan.
  • As the erstwhile USSR started to collapse in the late 1980s, nationalist forces on both sides started a battle for control over the disputed region.
  •  In 1991, ethnic Armenians in the region declared independence culminating in an all-out war three years later.
  • By 1994, Armenia managed to drive large swaths of the Azerbaijani military out of Nagorno-Karabakh.
  • The violence left tens and thousands dead and displaced hundreds of thousands.
  • Later that year, a Russian imposed ceasefire took effect but failed to resolve the underlying dispute.
  • Clashes have broken out sporadically since then, most notably in 2020.
  • Although the enclave is still recognised internationally as Azerbaijani territory, it is dominated by ethnic Armenians and controlled by Armenian separatists who have declared it as the “Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast”.
  • While the Armenian government does not recognise the region as independent, it does support the region politically and militarily.
Velvet Revolution:
  • In 2018, Armenia went through a so-called Velvet Revolution in which its president at the time was peacefully deposed, leading to hopes that the conflict could be peacefully resolved.
  • Although Armenia’s new president Nikol Pashinyan, indicated that he was willing to settle the issue diplomatically, he later backtracked on his statements, arguing that Nagorno-Karabakh belonged to Armenia.

The current flare-up

  • Although the current crisis has been simmering since 2020 after a six week long war left 6,500 people dead, relations were relatively subdued until early this year.
  • In March, Azerbaijani forces seized territory in Farukh, an ethnic Armenian populated village.
  • Because of its strategic location, the events in Farukh triggered concerns that Baku would make a play for the region, especially given that Russian forces were preoccupied with Ukraine.
  • In April, an EU-backed mediation process established a brief period of peace, but by August, the situation escalated once again. On the third of that month, Baku launched an offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh, alleging that an Armenian soldier was killed in the Lachin region.
  • Recently, Armenia claimed that Azerbaijani forces “launched intensive shelling, with artillery and large-calibre firearms, against Armenian military positions in the direction of the cities of Goris, Sotk, and Jermuk”.

Involvement of foreign players

The recent conflict has sparked international attention because of the involvement of regional rivals Turkey and Russia.

  • Turkey, a NATO member state, was the first country to recognise Azerbaijan’s independence in 1991 and continues to support the country unconditionally.
  • Turkey has no official relationship with Armenia, having shut its borders with the country in 1993 in support of Azerbaijan.
  • Ankara and Baku share close cultural ties over their shared cultural heritage. Meanwhile, Turkey and Armenia have a long history of conflict stemming from Turkey’s refusal to acknowledge the 1915 Armenia genocide.
  • This threat is exacerbated by the fact that Russia and Turkey are on opposite sides in the ongoing civil wars in Syria and Turkey.
  • For its part, Russia maintains good relations with both Azerbaijan and Armenia. That being said, it has a much deeper relationship with Yerevan as it hosts a Russian military base and is part of the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union.
  • Nagorno-Karabakh also plays a key role in the global energy trade, with pipelines connecting Azerbaijan and Turkey passing by the region.
  • Hostilities would compromise the pipeline, leading to more uncertainties in global energy prices.
  • Although the conflict is seen as a regional one, bolstered by Russia and Turkey, the international community has at times attempted to broker a cessation in tensions.
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe:
  • Chaired by France, Russia and the United States, under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Minsk Group has sought to prevent military clashes and to implement a peace settlement.
  • However, despite these efforts, the prospect of peace seems distant, especially given the outbreak of fighting over the last week.

-Source: Indian Express

December 2023