Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
The former Soviet Republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan are rarely reported on in the mainstream media; they can easily be forgotten about if one does not care to search further afield for information. However, the two nations are currently in a state of conflict that has the potential to grow into a large-scale regional war.
So, where did this conflict come from and how did it start? The disagreement comes from the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh which lies on the border between the two states. Internationally the region is recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but because of the Armenian ethnic majority it has operated under a semi-autonomous government since the 1990s. The two states had a long and bloody war from 1988-94. Initially Nagorno-Karabakh wanted to unify with Armenia and campaigned through peaceful means, but as the USSR disintegrated it turned into an increasingly violent conflict laced with ethnic cleansing. During this war, an estimated 30,000 people were killed and one million displaced. A ceasefire was agreed but the issue of the disputed territory was never resolved. Since there have been regular flare ups and increased tension between the two nations.
This sets the scene for the present day conflict, and there is a very real fear both regionally and globally that this conflict could escalate into one with the same destructive effect as the 1988-94 war. Due to the fact that the situation is still developing, it is hard to discern the exact cause of the fighting; it seems that Azerbaijani forces attempted to regain control of the region, but Armenia has fought back. Cities have started to be shelled, and more than 220 people have died in the last week.
Another element that makes the ensuing conflict even more concerning is the involvement of other regional actors who are supporting the violence. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stated that Turkey supports Azerbaijan’s claims to Nagorno-Karabakh, and has been supplying heavy artillery and drones to the conflict. Ankara has also been accused of shooting down Armenian planes, and sending in thousands of mercenaries from Syria into the battle field; but both claims have been denied by the regime. Azerbaijan is important for Turkey as it is a fellow Turkic nation and a key strategic ally in the South Caucasus region. Therefore, it is likely that the administration will do all in its power to aid Azerbaijan.
Russia has military bases established in Armenia and has always had close bilateral relations and collective security agreements with the state. However, relations between the two states have been fraught since the 2018, as the change in regime has been much less favourable to Putin’s world view. All of the global community, apart from Turkey, has called for a ceasefire. Alongside this various NGOs have expressed concern at the human cost that an all-out war would bring. States such as Iran, Britain and the US have offered to act as mediators between the two states to end the conflict, but it is unlikely that this approach will produce a sudden resolution.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pahinyan has said that he is willing to make concessions over the region if Azerbaijan are also willing, but it seems as though the conflict is very much still developing and is likely to get worse before getting better. It is an extremely dangerous situation, and one which needs to be monitored by the global community to prevent any human rights violations or ethnic cleansing from happening again.