Written by Nuzhat Mahzabin Arpita (Adamjee Cantonment College, Dhaka)
Throughout history, the mountainous Transcaucasian territory has been volatile. Laying between the Middle East and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus has been a center of attraction for numerous Empires due to its geographical location and abundant resources. The Transcaucasian region finally dissolved and gave birth to three nations: Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. The separation bestowed some of the unsolved geopolitical and ethnic crises of the modern era. The ongoing Russo-Ukraine war distressed the international community of the instability in Eastern Europe. However, since the beginning, one region did not receive enough attention: the Nagorno-Karabakh or Artkash enclave, a province (also a de facto independent nation) internationally recognized as a part of Azerbaijan despite being primarily populated with Armenians. Since the decline of the Soviet regime, Armenia and Azerbaijan has been engaged in establishing power over this mountainous enclave.
Ethnicity and Tradition: A Historical Background of the War
The crisis commenced at the beginning of the 20th century after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. With the dissolution of Transcaucasia in 1918, tension uprose between the two nations regarding territorial claims. Azerbaijan demanded control over Karabakh. Meanwhile, Armenia commenced a protest against the Azerbaijanis in the Erivan Governorate. Notorious for multiple outbreaks of genocide and ethnic cleansing, the Armenia-Azerbaijan war ended with the Sovietization of both nations in 1920. During the Soviet era, the Karabakh region was established as an autonomous province. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Nations Armenia and Azerbaijan regained their statehood, and the Nagorno-Karabakh territory integrated with the Azerbaijani territory. Nevertheless, the Armenian government incited a separatist movement in Karabakh. Eventually, Armenia invaded the enclave as well as districts outside the oblast. Regarding this protest, another war erupted between the neighboring nations. To terminate the war, United Nations Security Council adopted four resolutions in 1933, urging the stakeholders to refrain from conducting offensives and find a peaceful solution. Consequently, the notorious war ended with the mediation of Russia. On May 5, 1994, the Bishkek Protocol was signed by the state representatives of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Nagorno- Karabakh Republic (de facto), and the Russian Federation. Following the ceasefire, Azerbaijan lost control over the enclave. Nevertheless, the global community continued to recognize it as a terrain of Azerbaijan.
The Crisis Resurrects
After several years, the frozen conflict reignited amidst the pandemic in 2020. The offensive was launched from the Azerbaijani side on September 27, 2020. According to The Economist, approximately 100 soldiers died on the very first day of the war. To highlight the major events of the 44-day course of the war:
September 27, 2020— commencement of the hostilities with Azerbaijan declaring martial law September 27, 2020—Azerbaijan imposes domestic media restrictions to control the spread of misinformation
October 8, 2020- shelling of the historical Ghazanchetsots Cathedral, presumably by the Azerbaijani military
October 10, 2020- agreement for a ceasefire after a 10-hour discussion with Kremlin October 15, 2020-violation of ceasefire by both armies and negotiation regarding another ceasefire begins
23 October, 2020-blastoff of the Lachin Offensive which ended with Azerbaijani occupation of the Qubadi district
26 October 2020—US-brokered ceasefire agreement inaugurates 9 November 2020—final ceasefire agreement
10 November 2020—implementation of the final ceasefire agreement and Russian deployment of peacekeepers to control the situation and outbreak of protests in front of the Armenian parliament
12 November 2020—Azerbaijan lifted the decrees
10 December 2020—Declaration of victory and celebratory parade in Baku and protest in Yerevan regarding the concession of the Armenian government with the opposite party 15 December 2020-Exchange of war hostages
30 January 2021—joint Russian/Turkish monitoring center became functional.
Why Nagorno-Karabakh Matters
The most probable key incentive behind the desperation of the involved state parties is the abundance of natural resources in the enclave. With a diverse environment comprising steppes,
meadows, and forests, Karabakh inherits an enriched natural resource. Besides arable lands, it stores vast mineral resources like gold and platinum. The occupation led to a drastic 43 percent reduction in food production in Azerbaijan, leading to a food emergency and economic crisis during the first decade of the war. Being economically weaker than the nearest neighbors. Based on the CIA World Factbook 2020 updates, Armenia had an estimated real GDP of $37.31 billion with a per capita income of $12,600; Azerbaijan had a real GDP of $138.51 billion with a PCI of
$13,700 as opposed to the $2,393,960,000,000 GDP with $28,400 PCI of Turkey and
$1,044,310,000,000 billion GDP with $12,400 PCI of Iran.
A noticeable phenomenon of the 44-day war was the involvement of third-party nations. Apart from the stakeholders, Russia and Turkey had active roles in the hostility. Analysts and international press have depicted this as an extension of the Russia-Turkey proxy war in Syria.
- Russia: For both sides, Russia has been a source of military support. Following the uprising, Russia guaranteed it would provide the necessary support for Armenia. Russia was the supplier of military equipment for Armenia, notably the Iskander missiles. Besides, Russian media informed that the Russian Private Military Company Wagner Group deployed mercenaries in Armenian territory, although the Wagner Group officials have denied the statement.
- Turkey: Perhaps the most astonishing part of the war was the active involvement of Turkey, a nation that previously abstained from engaging in territorial conflicts in this zone. During the war, Turkey supported Azerbaijan with air weapons, fighting vehicles, and Military Intelligent Drones. Moreover, various sources reported the illegitimate launching of Syrian Militia Forces in the war-affected regions by Ankara.
Now the question arises: What are the stakes of these third parties in this war?
- Russia: Despite strong acquaintances with Armenia, the final Russian-brokered ceasefire resulted in an Azerbaijani victory. The most supposed cause behind this can be the pro- Western policies of Nikol Pashinyan. Since his takeover, he openly criticized the Russian government and even persecuted some Russian-favored significant personnel from the legislature. All these initiatives created tension between these ally nations. Nevertheless, Russia assured proper support for the Armenian military. However, a harmonious relationship with Azerbaijan is crucial for Russia due to the current situation. In recent times, Russia-Turkey relations witnessed some noteworthy developments. For Russia, any measure of antagonizing Turkey can deteriorate all these, and even Turkey might become a threat to Russia. Besides, being on favorable terms with Turkey and Azerbaijan will eventually fulfill the chief Russian agenda: having a substantial presence in the former Soviet lands, famously labeled as ‘near abroad’.
- Turkey: Turkey was not a participating nation in the ceasefire agreements. Nevertheless, the Caucasian zone has always had significance for Turkey. The history of Armenia- Turkey relations has always been volatile. Even after being one of the first nations to identify Armenia as an independent state, there are no official diplomatic relations between these two nations. On the other hand, Azerbaijan and Turkey always had strong bonds due to cultural and historical factors. This kinship further developed into economic and diplomatic alliances. However, before 2020 Turkey did not actively engage in this confrontation. The incentive behind this somewhat abrupt engagement synchronizes with the actions of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Since his ascension, Turkey-US relations started to decline. Furthermore, Turkey is engaged in multiple battles with neighboring states and shifted from its previous secular ideology. All of these express development of Turkey toward establishing dominance over the former Ottoman colonies. To focus on economic benefits, with the enclave under Azerbaijan, Turkey will have easier access to the Caspian Sea, a gateway to Central Asia. To conclude, it all contributes to the fulfillment of Turkish neo-Ottomanism ideology.
With the world submerged in armed conflict and humanitarian crises, we do not need further deterioration of global security and peace. Moreover, the lack of international response regarding this issue is astonishing and alarming.
Through the effective implementation of diplomacy, the long-running bloodshed in the black garden can be stopped. To solve this issue, international and regional organizations especially The United Nations must address it. If ascertained to be necessary, The Security Council has to inaugurate UN Peacekeeping Mission in Artkash. Furthermore, the riddance of the peacekeepers should be negotiated with the Russian Federation.
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