Global Independent Analytics

How the crisis over Nagorno-Karabakh could get worse, fast

Clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh, which erupted last week after a gap of over two decades, are showing no signs of abating and are likely to deteriorate

Ishaan Tharoor for The Washington Post reports: the weekend’s violence as Azerbaijani and ethnic Armenian forces clashed over the breakaway enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh has gotten on a previously unseen scale. According to the reports, the death toll since the beginning of hostilities on Friday stood at 46; despite a cease-fire was declared, reports of the continued shooting remained.

Tharoor continues: “Tensions date back to the collapse of the Soviet Union, when in 1988, Nagorno-Karabakh, a majority Armenian oblast within Soviet Azerbaijan, sought to unite with nearby Armenia. A full-scale war erupted in 1992 between the former Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan over control of the disputed territory.

Some 30,000 people died and nearly a million people were displaced by the violence before a Russian-brokered cease-fire brought a modicum of calm in 1994. Around 700,000 ethnic Azeris were forced out of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas, where a separatist government declared de facto independence, though the region is still considered part of Azerbaijan by the international community. The status of a vast majority of these refugees is still unresolved, more than two decades later.

The conflict also saw 235,000 Armenian refugees flee other parts of Azerbaijan, including from Nakhichevan, an exclave of Azerbaijan tucked between Armenia and Turkey.”

From then on wth the help of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a slow-moving peace process was sent off. However, so far it has not been able to create a stable agreement in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, making the place perhaps Europe’s most militarized fault-line. Moreover, the area has already been used as a “Karabakh card”, which Armenian and Azerbaijani governments have played several times in order to distract the attention from domestic concerns.

“Armenia's semi-democratic government helps prop up the separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh; it's unclear whether some of the Armenian soldiers slain in the recent clashes were separatist militia or actual troops from Armenia.

Because of an oil boom over the past decade, Azerbaijan's authoritarian leadership was able to increase its military expenditure twenty-fold between 2004 and 2014. Two years ago, entrenched President Ilham Aliyev boasted that his country's military budget alone was greater than all of Armenia's budgetary spending.

Both sides accuse the other of provoking this weekend's violence and have little incentive to back down from their adversarial positions,” sums up Tharoor.

"Armenia’s leadership lives and dies by its ability to hold on to the territory, and so has a clear interest in maintaining the status quo," writes Kevork Oskanian, a researcher at the University of Birmingham. "Azerbaijan’s government on the other hand, under pressure to 'liberate' the region, has become disillusioned with the deadlocked negotiations, and the recent fall in oil prices has hit Azerbaijan’s economy hard."

Other analysts suggest that Aliyev’s administration would gain more from the renewal of the military actions. "Either there was an accidental breakdown of the ceasefire, started by either side, that was allowed to escalate before both sides suffered heavy losses and decided to stop," Thomas de Waal, a veteran analyst of the Caucasus, wrote. "Or, Azerbaijan decided to try to launch a small military operation to try to 'change the facts on the ground' that would tilt the situation more in its favor and recapture lost lands -- and Azerbaijan is indeed saying it captured some small pieces of territory."

"A further escalation of military action could lead to unpredictable and irreversible consequences, right up to a full-scale war," said Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan at a meeting with foreign ambassadors in the capital Yerevan on Monday. Political scientists allege that even the entreaties of the international community have not managed to dim the crisis.

The unraveling conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia would inevitably lead to some severe consequences; the two countries not only are old rivals but also, they are religious and geopolitical adversaries: Armenia, a majority Christian nation, has in recent years grown closer to Russia, while Azerbaijan, whose population is majority Turkic Muslim, has received strong backing from neighboring Turkey.

President of Turkey condemned Armenia for violence: "The fire of Armenia's massacres in Karabakh continues to burn in our hearts," Erdogan said on Monday, referring to the death of 12 Azerbaijani soldiers. "Karabakh will surely be returned to its rightful owner, Azerbaijan, one day." That statement came as no surprise since Turkey-Armenia relations have always been frosty, partly because Turkey ever recognized the horrible massacres and deportations of ethnic Armenians a century ago as genocide. Moreover, while Russia-Armenia ties grew stronger over time, the situation got even more complicated.

Also, recently the relations between Moscow and Ankara have cooled significantly; Russia’s intervention in Syria has undoubtedly played its role. With the current conflict setting Russia and Turkey against each other, the best way to get out of the fight is to adopt a diplomatic approach without appealing to major international forces and further warmongering.

 

By Stefan Paraber for GIA.

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