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  • Frank Serpe

Conflict in the Caucasus: Armenia and Azerbaijan Resume Decades-Long Hostilities

A brokered ceasefire between the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan came to a sudden end on September 27, 2020, restarting a deadly territorial dispute that has quickly engulfed the region. This comes as nations across the world call for a peaceful resolution to these renewed hostilities.

This most recent escalation stems from unresolved disputes dating back to the late 1980s. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan claim sovereignty over the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh region. While internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, the ethnic Armenian-majority area is administered by the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh, a de facto independent state. By 1992, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, open warfare would commence, leading to an unsteady ceasefire in 1994 that has failed to produce a lasting peace agreement. While the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) helped found the Minsk Group following the conclusion of open conflict, co-chaired by the United States, Russia, and France, no concrete agreements have been developed.

Occasional flare-ups in fighting have not been uncommon in the 30 years since fighting officially concluded. Most resultly, both sides last clashed in July 2020. However, these recent clashes are the deadliest since the end of the war.

According to the Armenian Ministry of Defense, Azerbaijani forces were the first to launch artillery and aerial strikes against civilian settlements in the disputed territory. Meanwhile, officials in Azerbaijan blamed Armenian forces for launching unprovoked attacks against Azerbaijani targets, prompting an Azerbaijani response.

In the ensuing hours, Armenia imposed martial law and issued a full-scale military mobilization across their territory. President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan also introduced martial law and curfews across the nation. News from the front remains unclear, with both sides claiming to have captured or recaptured several settlements. Numerous military equipment have also been destroyed. In addition, civilian and military fatalities remain unclear, with tallies ranging from a few dozen to several thousand wounded or killed.

International observers have been quick to react. The United States, Russia, France, Great Britain, China, Iran, and several other countries have called for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The United Nations and the European Union have also issued condemnations of their own and urged for a ceasefire. Meanwhile, Turkey has issued its own statement in support of Azerbaijan, blaming Armenia for restarting hostilities. Others including Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Ukraine have shown support for the Azerbijani cause as well.

Similarly, Armenia and Azerbaijan have called on various countries to support their efforts. Ambassador Varuzhan Nersesyan of Armenia, as well as Ambassador Elin Suleymanov of Azerbaijan, have appealed to the United States to intervene on their respective country’s behalf. Moreover, news outlets and world leaders have claimed that Russia is delivering military hardware through Iran to aid Armenia, while Syrian National Army forces are said to be supporting Azerbaijan. Both sides deny these competing claims.

Though not the first instance of a ceasefire being broken in the region, renewed hostilities threaten to envelope the region in violence and bloodshed. Warfare would also likely complicate the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic across the Caucasus.

Moreover, international powers are working to secure an advantageous resolution to this conflict. As noted, Turkey has come out with strong support for Azerbaijan, furthering President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s aggressive foreign policy. This puts additional pressure on Russia, whose influence in the region has previously been left unchallenged. The United States and her allies must also prepare for their own responses if they hope to maintain a stable footing. Less widely reported is China’s interests in the region, with their ambitious Belt and Road Initiative skirting closely by. Any escalation by forces on the ground or from Ankara, Moscow, or Washington could quickly bring Beijing into the fold.

Since fighting commenced, there have been no signs of de escalation. War fever continues to grip all sides, with nationalistic and ethnic appeals ringing from Armenia to Artsakh to Azerbaijan and beyond. What is now a contained military engagement could quickly spiral into a sustained regional conflict. As the world is gripped by numerous uncertainties, another war is the last thing humanity needs.


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