By Sebran Bruha
Between 250 and 300 soldiers from both Armenia and Azerbaijan have lost their lives in a conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region over the last eight years. A ceasefire was recently signed, with Putin’s Russia playing the peacemaker. That very ceasefire was broken a couple hours later and this complicated dispute is one that does not look like ending any time soon.
The dispute itself derives from Joseph Stalin’s bizarre decision to hand over an ethnically majority Armenian region to Azerbaijan in 1923. This strange move worsened already tense relations in the area, as the region of Nagorno-Karabakh - 99% Armenian - lays in foreign hands.
The Muslim Azeris and Christian Armenians have had a long history of conflict and rivalry. Historically, the Armenians have been the stronger neighbour, and Armenian nationalists have for long wanted to create a nation that stretched from coast to coast. Yet the region was never autonomous. Throughout the Middle Ages, the Caucuses have been controlled by the Mongols, the Persians, the Ottomans and in 1922 by the Soviet Union.
Already within the USSR, the states of Armenia and Azerbaijan were involved in armed conflicts and became impossible for Russians to control. The USSR broke up in 1991, which led to the independance of the three Caucasus nations of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan were no longer only states within a larger power and now had to decide on their borders, which led to war.
Their borders were decided by the international community and followed roughly the same lines as the borders of the states within the former USSR. Therefore the contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh once again became a controversial matter. The local government decided to join Armenia after a referendum. Azerbaijan refused to accept the result, and Nagorno-Karabakh decided to secede. The national Azeri government went to war with the ethnically Armenian rebels.
Armenia sent its army to take back the region in 1992, and a full scale war lasted 2 years. Both sides were responsible for ethnic cleansing and a total of 40,000 deaths. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were displaced as a result of the conflict, that ended in stalemate.
Both Turkey and Greece, fierce rivals, have been indirectly involved in the war, as they supported the Azeris and the Armenians respectively with weapons and machinery. Russia, meanwhile, under president Vladimir Putin, has been playing the role of peacemaker, and managed to obtain a ceasefire in 1994.
The peace talks have never been officially concluded ever since, and skirmishes have occurred from time to time between the two nations. In 2009, the war seemed to kick start once again as the death toll dramatically increased. The United Nations forced Armenia to withdraw all its troops from the semi-autonomous state of Nagorno-Karabakh, a move that has not come close to easing tensions.
NKR= Nagorno-Karabakh Republic
Several battles have occurred since, and between 2008 and 2016, more than 130 Azeris and 150 Armenians have died. The conflict has once again stepped up a notch in recent months, which has led to the recent ceasefire. Once again Putin’s Russia has stepped in to keep the peace, afraid that a full scale war would once again plague the oil-rich region.
Russia has been accused of being less transparent than it seems. Moscow has sold weapons to both sides and is looking to exact its influence on the region by getting closer to both the Azeri and Armenian governments. Conflicts in Chechnya and Georgia have proven that Russian help is to be taken with a grain of salt. The same can be said of the European countries involved, who also seek to obtain Azeri oil, and otherwise would have little motivation to get involved.
The skirmishes were caused by the destruction of six Armenian tanks by Azeri airstrikes. Russia, the United States and the European Union are trying to organise talks between the heads of states, yet the fighting has not come to a halt.
The Azeri government is eager to remove the thousands of Armenian soldiers present in Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenian government is still attempting to force a reunion.
None of the two countries are willing to accept any blame, and like many hot spots across the world, the issue of the Nagorno-Karabakh region has no good solutions. For now, it remains a semi-autonomous republic, officially under Azeri control. Cries of independence and cries of reunion with Armenia make it impossible for it to stay occupied for long. Whatever the outcome, the hatred and animosity might never be resolved.