PHOTO CREDITS: PRESIDENT.AM
The re-emergence of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region have ratcheted up fears of a wider regional conflict.
The fighting, which started last Sunday morning, is the most serious since the ceasefire agreement was signed in 1994. Both sides have employed heavy weapons systems and aviation in and around civilian populations. The death toll is higher than the 200 that was recorded during the last major flare-up in 2016. It is unclear what flared the so-called “frozen conflict” but the fighting has already been the worst in decades.
The contested mountainous enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but it has been under de facto Armenian control since the early 1990s. The territory declared independence from Azerbaijan in 1991. Armenia supports the self-declared Nagorno-Karabakh region, but the country of roughly 3 million people has not officially recognized it. Leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan have dismissed the suggestion of holding peace talks, accusing each other of obstructing negotiations.
Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a six-year war over Nagorno-Karabakh before reaching a truce in 1994 but have both since blamed one another for ceasefire violations in the enclave and along the border, most recently in July. Located in the South Caucasus between Europe and Asia, majority-Christian Armenia shares a border with Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, and Turkey. Azerbaijan, a mainly Muslim country of almost 10 million people, is to the east of neighboring Armenia and borders Iran, Turkey, Georgia, Russia, and the Caspian Sea. Russia, a close ally of Azerbaijan, is part of a military alliance with Armenia. The Kremlin has offered to host talks between the two sides, claiming it had contacted the foreign ministers of both Armenia and Azerbaijan on Wednesday.
French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the fighting via telephone on Wednesday, calling on the warring sides to immediately de-escalate tensions. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has also voiced his concern over the latest skirmishes, pushing for a “return to meaningful negotiations without delay.”
The fighting has exacerbated tensions between NATO allies France and Turkey. France is home to many people of Armenian ancestry, while Turkey has called on the “entire world” to stand with Azerbaijan. Many link Turkey’s support of Azerbaijan to the mass killing of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915. Turkey has resisted calls to recognize the killings as genocide, saying the death toll has been inflated and those killed were victims of a civil war.
The separatist Nagorno-Karabakh government is backed by Armenia. As a member of Moscow’s Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), Armenia enjoys the formal military backing of Russia, but that does not extend to the disputed territories. Russia, meanwhile, has shown no desire to choose a side — and has even supplied arms to both. In terms of the other neighbouring regional powers, Iran is neutral, but Turkey is providing weapons and, reportedly, mercenary soldiers to its ally Azerbaijan. Russia is notably unhappy about Turkey’s attempts to muscle in on what it sees as its territory, and has accused Ankara of “adding fuel to the fire”.
The richer Azerbaijan has a better-equipped army, supplemented with new drone hardware from Israel and Turkey. Armenian forces are considered to be better organised, however, with the advantage of defensive positions. A good prognosis would see battles focused on small pockets of land and ended within a week; a bad prognosis would suggest a return to protracted, all-out war (Independent).
In an interview with state-run news agency Anadolu, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday that French support for Armenia was akin to Paris backing Armenian occupation in Azerbaijan. In response, France’s Macron said he had taken note of the political statements from Turkey, describing Ankara’s comments as “reckless and dangerous.” Speaking at a news conference in Riga, Latvia on Wednesday, Macron said he was “extremely preoccupied by the belligerent messages from Turkey in the past hours, which are removing Azerbaijan’s inhibitions in what would be a recapture of the Nagorno-Karabakh. And we will not accept that.” Macron said he would speak with the European Council and President Donald Trump about the fighting on Thursday (MSN).
ARTICLE: CARSON CHOATE, DOMESTIC AFFAIRS EDITOR