Western Asia Falls Back Into Deep-Rooted Unrest

Armenia and Azerbaijan resume dormant conflict

By Daniel Contaldi | Published 10/27/2020
Western Asia Falls Back Into Deep-Rooted Unrest
Credit: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images | Copyright: 2020 Anadolu Agency

On September 27, war reignited in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Western Asia. The conflict originates from the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1988 when ethnic tension grew in the region between Armenians and Azerbaijanis, leading to a full-scale war in 1992, lasting two years until a ceasefire was signed. Between 1994 and 2016, lower level fighting continued until April of 2016, when the Four-Day War occurred, renewing more violent border conflicts that escalated until September of this year. In short, Nagorno-Karabakh is home to ethnic Armenians, recognized globally as part of Azerbaijan, and controlled by the self-declared Republic of Artsakh.

Since September 27, over 300 people have been killed and thousands have been displaced. Increasing conflict led to ten hours of “substantive talks” in Moscow on October 10, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, resulting in a temporary ceasefire. This truce was to allow time for the two nations to exchange captured soldiers, as well as recover the bodies of those lost. It took less than 12 hours for this ceasefire to begin breaking down, with fresh explosions rocking the region's capital, Stepanakert, late evening on the same day. With both sides pointing fingers over the fresh bombardment it seems increasingly unlikely that peace will be achieved any time soon. With that being said, it seems worth it to take a deeper look at this conflict that has escalated in recent days and what each side wishes to achieve.

What was said in Moscow on October 10?

As stated by Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, the peace talks were “rather difficult.” He claimed that Armenia wishes for Nagorno-Karabakh to be recognized as an independent state on the global scale, agreeing with claims from self-declared leaders of the region who inculpated Azerbaijan for allegedly agreeing to peace talks in an attempt to veil fresh attacks.
Even with temporary ceasefires being negotiated, there is still seemingly little hope for peace any time soon. In a televised speech on Friday President Ilham Alivyev said that he would be willing to begin talks but would be conceding nothing. He stated “We are winning and will get our territory back and ensure our territorial integrity . . . Let them abandon our territory in peace.” These comments were echoed following the peace talks as Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov said that Azerbaijan expected to take control of more territory. He also expressed the sentiment that more pressure should have been placed on Armenia and that the situation could not remain in its current state.

What went wrong?

What went wrong after the negotiations is not totally clear, as both sides place the blame on the other. According to Armenia’s defense ministry, Azeri forces shelled a town within minutes of the truce coming into effect, resulting in ethnic Armenian forces in the region being forced to respond. This is corroborated by the self-declared ethnic Armenian authorities in the region who accuse Azerbaijan of firing missiles into the civilian neighborhoods of the region’s capital. Claims made by the defense ministry of Azerbaijan contradict those made by Armenia. Azeri officials state that Armenia was “blatantly violating the ceasefire” order, claiming that Armenian forces were firing into the regions of Terter and Agdam, both of which are under Azeri control. We are no closer to understanding the origins of the resurgence either as both sides claim the other fired first, unprovoked.
A potential for escalation.

In the past both Russia and Turkey have cooperated in attempts to subdue conflict in the regions, however Turkey's recent and direct engagement supporting Azerbaijan threatens to escalate the situation from a local one to a regional one. Turkey, who has already ostracized the United States after buying weapons from Russia, has seen increasing tensions with Russia following a series of blows dealt by each side in multiple proxy wars. So far Russia, who has connections to both sides of the regional dispute, has yet to directly involve itself outside of peace negotiations. Azerbaijani President Aliyev has warned Russia against involving itself in the war militarily.

A new peace deal.

On Friday, October 23, the foreign ministers met again in Washington, where Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was able to broker a third ceasefire after the first and second, both brokered by Russia, unraveled. As expected, minutes after the third ceasefire came into effect, both sides accused the other of violating the new deal, and both claiming that their own nation has strictly adhered to the deal.

Watch for more articles as we keep you up to date on this intensifying conflict.

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