In the history of human conflict and peace, there has never been a time when camaraderie, collective action, and International coordination had been witnessed at a scale as seen in the first half of this year while dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic. The world was truly united against one common adversary. However, as we progressed into the second half of the year, those terms lost their meaning altogether, as the world was once again plunged into a state of anarchy as nations embarked on a journey to harness socio-political and militaristic powers. Whether it be the Indo-China conflict, the United States Presidential Elections, the wave of coups destabilizing countries such as Mali, and the latest being the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict along the Line of Contact. The region of Nagorno-Karabakh has long been a bone of contention between the two Middle Eastern states of Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Background of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict

The region of Nagorno-Karabakh has for several decades been constantly buffeted by the winds of political instability, which emanated from the last days of the Soviet Union. Tensions originally arose when Armenias, which constitute a majority of the population in the region demanded a complete unification with the nation of Armenia. However, prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, when both Armenia and Azerbaijan were under the military-economic sway of the Soviet Union, the Armenian Parliament passed legislation, declaring the region of the Nagorno-Karabakh to be a part of Armenian territory. This was however categorically rejected by the Soviets, and led to a six-year-long war, which was only resolved in the early 1990s, by Russian intervention. In claim over the region, the Armenian authorities have cited the 1991 referendum, whereas the Azeri side has repeatedly highlighted the United Nations resolution that declares Nagorno-Karabakh, though a predominantly Armenian region, to be an integral part of Azerbaijan. As mentioned already, the region houses a majority of the Armenian population, owing to which several separatist movements have gained momentum, and have managed to declare the region as the ‘Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast’. Since the Six-Day War that recorded the killing of over 30,000 individuals, the conflict in the region has continued sporadically. However, what is unique in terms of the current conflict is the manner in which it has drawn in regional powers and has turned Nagorno-Karabakh into a region of Russian and Turkish interests.

Turkish Involvement in the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict

In recent months, the Turkish Government of Recep Erdagon. has attempted to portray economic might and military prowess, through its increasing presence in the region. Through the perspective of the international community, as the conflict escalates, many actors have questioned the role played by neighbouring nations such as Turkey. However, in the current conflict, the Turkish Republic has been pinned down by allegations regarding the involvement of Syrian fighters through the Turkish backed militias. It has been ascertained that Syrians are being deployed on behalf of the Azeri army, in the form of shock troops to claw back scraps of land. The increasing deaths of Syrians in the conflict and the use of weapons produced and supplied by states like Israel has been questioned and brought under the scanner the issue that how the worsening of the decades-long conflict attracts outside regional powers to the region. Reporters have shed light on the use of Turkish, Russian, and Israeli produced weapons in the war, especially Azerbaijan’s assault on Stepanakert, the capital of the region which has included the use of cluster munitions. While on the Armenian side, the reports from international groups such as Amnesty International have confirmed the use of Russian manufactured rocket artillery systems in the bombardment of the Azeri city of Ganja. The deployment of the Syrian mercenaries has followed a pattern very similar to the conflict in Libya, where both Turkey and the Russian Federation have locked horns in a bitter battle. Turkish officials have chosen to portray their country’s expanding foreign engagements as part of the country’s promotion of its security and energy interests. Interestingly, another view that has been adopted and mainly by the critics is that Erdagon’s government has used international engagement as an excuse to divert people’s attention from domestic problems such as the crumbling economy, the problems facing the healthcare system, and the effort of the government to rally the country behind an external cause is one last attempt to shore up domestic support.

Russian Stakes in the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, right, and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, left, speak to each other before talks on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia | Source: WSJ

As aforementioned, the Russian Federation has a long-established history with the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The first war which lasted six years was brought to an end owing to Russian intervention, effectively defining the Line of Contact between the two neighbouring nations. Russia for long has played a rather confusing and contradictory role. When it comes to Russia’s relations with Armenia, it provides military assistance through bilateral ties and Collective Security Treaty Organisations. However, this assistance for Armenia does not expand to the region of Nagorno- Karabakh, since it is an internationally recognized part of Azerbaijan. In terms of the current crises, Putin’s government has chosen to tread a fine line in terms of diplomatic relations with the erstwhile Soviet satellite states, by selling arms and providing economic assistance to both states. The Federation has given out mixed signals of its willingness to intervene in the conflict, by citing the excuse that it has met its moral obligation to aid the two states and that its jurisdiction does not extend to the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Moscow has condemned Azerbaijan’s use of Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries in the region, out of the fear of the conflict becoming the trigger for Islamist militants to establish a presence in the outer reaches of Russia. However, Russia has stepped into the conflict to bring an end to chaos once again, just like it did more than three decades ago. Unfortunately, this time introducing a mutually agreed ceasefire is not going to be a cakewalk for the Russian authorities. Even as Russia floated the idea of sending in ‘Military observers’, the suggestion wasn’t responded to by either of the two heads of states involved in the conflict. The fighting scene is the worst since the war in the early 1990s. Several international bodies warn of an emerging humanitarian crisis, which will only be aggravated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

What Next?

It is crystal clear is that the current conflict can draw in regional powers especially NATO powers such as Turkey. In terms of closure to the conflict, the European Union Policy Chief, Josep Borrell, urged the two nations to carry out an immediate cessation of hostilities. While Iran, a strategic player in the region, also an ally of Armenia, offered to mediate. The region has already experienced war in the latter years of the 20th century which lasted a number of years, while on the other hand, 2016 skirmishes only lasted for a few days. Owing to such historical uncertainty it is difficult to chalk out a prediction for the near future. However, the situation may change significantly if a major power were to enter the conflict in the near future.

Ratnadityasinh Chavda

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