Updated: Mar 16, 2021
Nagorno-Karabakh is a mountainous Armenian region within Azerbaijan. The region is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but was occupied by Armenia following a war in 1988 and through the peace agreement of 1994 became an Armenian enclave. Its population is mostly ethnic Armenians with a minority of western Azerbaijanis.
The beginning of the conflict dates back to World War I during the fall of the Ottoman Empire, when Armenians were slaughtered by the Turks and expelled from Turkey, in what is acknowledged as a genocide. In the late Soviet period, Armenians claimed Nagorno-Karabakh as their independent ethnic enclave following a conflict with the Azeris, which ended in 1994 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Fighting began again in July 2020 on the international border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, some 300 km away from Nagorno-Karabakh. The cause is yet to be determined since both sides accused each other of reigniting the conflict. In September 27, 2020, the conflict heightened and erupted into the worst fighting in the area since the ethnic war in the late 1900s. Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia got hit by long-range weaponry fired by combatants on both sides. The capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, Stepanakert, was repeatedly bombarded. The losses were massive.Also, Azerbaijan accused Armenia of firing rockets at the country’s second largest city, Ganja. Turkey offered Azerbaijan significant military support and this was the deciding factor that led to the surrender of part of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan.
A truce was signed on November 9 and Azerbaijan declared victory. Under the terms of the new ceasefire, Azerbaijan held on to several areas (Kalbajar, Agdam, etc.) that it gained control of during the conflict and Armenia withdrew troops from them. The deal was brokered by Russia, an Armenian ally, and the next day almost 2,000 Russian peacekeepers began deploying to the conflict zone to guard an access road between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh and oversee the handover of land. Also, Azerbaijan insisted on inviting Turkish peacekeepers since the latter tends to support the former .
Now Armenia is dependent on Russia and its independence is at stake. Protests took place in Armenia to express anger at the agreement and doubt of the ability of the government to negotiate prevailed. Azerbaijan had to compromise too. Nearly 2,000 Russian troops, operating as peacekeepers, are now stationed on Azerbaijani territory and Turkish military officials will now work at a peacekeeping command center in Azerbaijan.
The peace treaty does not determine the long-term status of the territory. Some ethnic Armenians burnt down their homes, unearthed and took with them the bones of their ancestors and fled to Armenia. Other Armenians who returned to their homes in buses overseen by Russian peacekeepers said they could not imagine life in the region without Russia’s protection.
The conflict created renewed uncertainty and instability in the region and the future of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh to say the least looks precarious. There is always the risk of further escalation of the conflict with the direct involvement of Russia and Turkey which may lead to a regional war with unpredictable consequences.