Nagorno-Karabakh is at the center of a long-running conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. While tensions between the two rival ex-Soviet republics in the Caucasus have remained high since the end of armed hostilities in the fall of 2020, since Wednesday a new upsurge in violence has reignited of the risk of war in this mountainous enclave.
Under the leadership of Russian diplomacy and international mediation, Armenia and Azerbaijan are in the process of negotiating a peace agreement. What do we owe to this renewed violence? As the war rages on in Ukraine, can Moscow capitalize on these tensions? Could the peace talks be compromised? 20 minutes examines the issues surrounding the rebel region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
But, by the way, what is Nagorno-Karabakh?
Considered the central region of Armenia’s history, Nagorny Karabakh (meaning mountainous Karabakh or Nagorno-Karabakh in Russian) has changed hands several times. United with the kingdom of Armenia in Antiquity, this region of approximately 146,000 inhabitants spread over 4,400 m2, was under Arab influence in the Middle Ages before a revolt brought it back to the bosom of Armenia. After a period of Persian influence, it was finally incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1813. Finally, since the civil war that followed the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been fighting over territory that is mostly populated by -an of the Armenians of the Christian faith and included. to Azerbaijan in 1921 by Stalin. The region became autonomous from 1923, a situation that would remain unchanged until the last hours of the USSR.
What happened this Wednesday in Nagorno-Karabakh?
Azerbaijan claimed to control “several important heights” there, including hills, and destroyed Armenian targets. Three people, two Armenian separatists and an Azerbaijani soldier, died during this retaliatory operation called “Revenge”. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry quickly added that its forces are strengthening these positions.
Azerbaijan responded with force, as earlier “heavy fire” targeted a position of its armed forces in the district of Lachin, a buffer zone between the border of Armenia and Nagorny Karabakh. In the process, the leader of Nagorny Karabakh separatists, Arayik Haroutiounian, signed a decree proclaiming a partial military mobilization in the entire mountainous territory.
What is the origin of the conflict?
It goes back… too far. Even in the Middle Ages, as explained above. But the height of recent tensions over control of Nagorno-Karabakh dates back to the early 1990s and a war that has left more than 30,000 dead. This armed conflict also led to significant population displacements, with nearly 700,000 Azerbaijanis fleeing to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh and 230,000 Armenians fleeing to Azerbaijan. Then, the two former Soviet republics clashed again in the fall of 2020.
More than 6,500 people would be killed in six weeks of this new war which led to a crushing defeat for Armenia. A ceasefire agreement was negotiated. It was sponsored by Moscow, which quickly sent peacekeepers to Nagorny Karabakh. Armenia has been forced to cede to Azerbaijan the territories it has controlled since its victorious war in the 1990s: three glacis regions around Nagorno-Karabakh. This agreement was experienced as a humiliation by Yerevan, where many opposition parties have since demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, whom they accused of making many concessions to Baku.
Despite a tentative diplomatic détente between Armenia and Azerbaijan, tensions remain high. As proof, violence between the Azerbaijani army and Armenian separatists flared up again on November 16, 2021, killing 13 people on both sides. However, the government of Azerbaijan started in January to organize regular bus trips to the “liberated lands”. It is the first step in what Baku calls the “Great Comeback,” an ambitious $1.3 billion government plan to return Karabakh to its former Azerbaijani population.
How will the international community react?
The Armenian Foreign Ministry on Thursday urged the international community to take steps to stop “Azerbaijan’s aggressive behavior and actions”. Nikol Pashinian called on Azerbaijan to recognize the “existence of Nagorno-Karabakh” and the “Lachin corridor”, which connects the separatist enclave with Armenia. The Prime Minister of Russia also called for action, waiting “for every attempt to breach the contact line to be prevented by the contingent of peacekeepers”.
For its part, Russia accused Azerbaijan of violating the ceasefire, adding only that its peacekeepers deployed in the region sought to “stabilize” the situation. “We call on the parties to show restraint and respect the ceasefire,” Russian diplomacy said in a statement, adding that Moscow was in “close contact” with Baku and Yerevan. The European Union, for its part, called for an “immediate cessation of hostilities”. As for the United States, they said they were “deeply concerned”.
Will this violence undermine the peace negotiations?
Yes, assure most of the experts quoted by AFP, especially since what is being played between Armenia and Azerbaijan can easily be broken on the borders of Nagorno-Karabakh. In fact, Russia and Turkey can come and put their grain of salt in the negotiations to reach a peace agreement that has been going on for years. Moscow, which promoted the cease-fire, considers the Caucasus region as its backdrop. While the war for Donbass is played out in Ukraine, the Caspian Sea is now a strategic and logistical asset for the Russian Navy, serving as a platform for firing “hypervelocity missiles at a very long range” and as a reservoir of forces. . , said Captain Eric Lavault, spokesman for the French Navy.
For his part, Igor Delanoe, deputy director of the Franco-Russian observatory, continued: if Turkey’s position changes and it decides to influence its ally, Azerbaijan, “to reactivate through Baku a conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, one can imagine Moscow moving the Caspian fleet to do “gunboat diplomacy” to show the Azerbaijanis that they are well advised not to play the game too much game in Turkey.
It is without regard that Azerbaijan, strong in its oil reserves, has armed itself with great luxury in recent years. The country is arming itself like Armenia with the Russians, but also getting more modern equipment (drones) together with Turkey and Israel. “I think there is no way out of this conflict until Azerbaijan decides to recognize some form of sovereignty of Armenia in Karabakh (…) and if it doesn’t get some form of compensation”, assured in 2020 at 20 minutes Frederic Encel. The teacher of Science Po then spoke of an “inseparable” conflict, also assured that Azerbaijan does not want “a cease-fire” and that Turkey, “absolutely prejudiced country”, should have nothing “to do with it conflict.