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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 45, New Delhi, October 24, 2020

Nagorno-Karabakh: Unending Conflict | R G Gidadhubli

Saturday 24 October 2020

by R G Gidadhubli

Recent conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh have hit the headlines in global media. In fact, Armenia and Azerbaijan, the two neighboring republics in the Caucasian region of the former Soviet Union, have been locked up in the conflict since 1988, over breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is geographically situated in Azerbaijan the territory. As opined by some analysts there has been ‘frozen conflict’ over Nagorno-Karabakh since the breakup of the of the former Soviet Union in 1991, subsequent to the intense fighting in 1994 that left an estimated 30,000 people dead as the Nagorno-Karabakh region declared that it broke away from Azerbaijan. An effort has been made to analyze the causes for the conflict which is unending and aggravating since the last few weeks.

First, there are ethnic differences between the two states, Armenia is predominantly Christian population while Azerbaijan is predominantly Islamic, which could be one of the causes for conflicts, which was not an issue during the Soviet era under communist system when religion did not play any role.

Second, it is important to know that Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous state is geographically in the territory of Azerbaijan, but inhabited mainly by Armenians numbering about 150,000 for centuries, which has broken away from Azerbaijan and declared an autonomous state.

Third, it is most unfortunate that in the on-going latest conflict since 27th Sept. 2020 civilian areas are hit resulting in the destruction of many villages and towns and casualties of injuries death of hundreds of people. Authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh confirmed on 18th October that they had recorded 40 casualties among its forces, pushing the military death toll to 673 since the fighting erupted. As per official reports on 19th October Nagorno-Karabakh informed that Azerbaijani forces were shelling their positions in northern and southern areas of the Line Of Contact that divides them.

Fourth, Russia has maintained close and cordial relations with both Armenia and Azerbaijan and plays an important role in bringing about peace in the region. For instance, subsequent to violence that took place on 27th Sept. Russia brokered a humanitarian cease-fire agreement between the two sides that took force on 10th October urging an urgent halt to the violence and bring about settlement for peace. At the same time it needs to be mentioned that from security perspective Russia has close ties with Armenia which is also a member of Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) along with Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan and hence can invoke defense obligation if essential. But Armenia cannot take advantage of this since Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, which is not a CSTO member.

Fifth, Russia has also tried to involve major powers to bring about solution, which is evident from the fact that on the initiative of Russia in the first week of Oct. the presidents of France, Russia, and the United States, representing the co-chair countries of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) urged for peace and ending the conflict.

Sixth, international organizations have expressed their deep concern for the on-going conflict. On 18th Oct. Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, called the foreign ministers of both Azerbaijan and Armenia to condemn the continued fighting and urged them to stick to the cease-fire. Moreover, as the issue has aggravated which made the United Nations Security Council set to hold closed consultations on the situation at a meeting on 19th October after UN chief Antonio Guterres called on both sides to respect the truce and condemned attacks on civilians in the fighting.

Seventh, Turkey having close ties with Azerbaijan supplies arms increasing military exports to Azerbaijan 6 times since July 2020 and has offered tens of millions of dollars in the kind of drones and other military equipment that have fed the current military operations in and around Nagorno-Karabakh. It is important to note that Turkey has no diplomatic relations with Armenia and has never acknowledged blame for the mass Ottoman-era killings of ethnic Armenians claimed by Armenia. It is a NATO member and a staunch Azerbaijani ally.

Eighth, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, has been candid in stating that the situation is "very difficult" and that Azerbaijan’s intention is to take control of Nagorno-Karabakh completely. Hence Azerbaijan and its ally Turkey do not want "to stop their aggression."

Ninth, Russia-Turkey assessment and interest on the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh assumes great significance. As per reports Turkey advised Azerbaijan not to go for compromise with Armenia for peace, which could be one of the reasons for the latest escalation of conflict between the two countries. On its part Russia has been making efforts to broker peace and urged that the conflict should be resolved through diplomatic means. On this issue Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has stated on 14th October that Turkey was spurning talks in favor of a military resolution of the dispute. Hence the conflict is unending and as rightly opined by Russia analyst Neil Haner there are fears that the current flare-up could draw Russia and regional power Turkey into a wider conflict.

(Dr R G Gidadhubli is Professor And Former Director, Center For Central Eurasian Studies, University of Mumbai)

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