On November 9, 2020, Armenia and Azerbaijan signed a ceasefire agreement ending a series of hostilities that began on July 12 this year.
The bone of contention between Armenia and Azerbaijan has been Nagorno-Karabakh, a Delaware-size enclave Azerbaijan encapsulates, internationally recognized as Azerbaijani territory, but having an ethnic Armenian majority population. Pan-Armenianists believe in a Nagorno-Karabakh-Armenia enosis because, in their view, Nagorno-Karabakh belongs to Armenia by right of popular sovereignty and pre-Soviet Armenian settlement. Azerbaijanis disagree because they believe the enclave is Azerbaijani since the Soviets handed it over to them in the 1920s following their induction into the USSR.
There is arguably a religious dimension to this conflict, with Armenia being a Christian-majority state and Azerbaijan a Muslim-majority. For centuries, Muslim and Christian powers contended for control over the Caucasus due to its geopolitical significance. This religious dimension complements the nationalistic one: Turkey staunchly supports Azerbaijan, and both Turkey and Azerbaijan consider themselves ‘Turkic’ nations. For Armenia, the Armenian genocide, consummated by the Turkish republic’s founding-father Ataturk, is still an open wound.
Staunch Turkish support for Azerbaijan, combined with the fact that Azeri leaders and groups have deported and led pogroms against Armenians in Azerbaijan in the past, might have strengthened the nationalistic element of the conflict because it could have been seen as a wrong against the Armenian nation. Armenians were not the only victims of interethnic violence, however. Even Azeris faced deportations, and massacres, which are gaping wounds in their national psyche.
With both Armenians and Azeris sharing vast differences and a painful past, it is unsurprising that, in a 2012 opinion poll, 63% of Armenians viewed Azerbaijan as Armenia’s greatest threat, while 94% of Azerbaijanis thought the same of Armenia.
The First Nagorno-Karabakh War, which established the pre-2020 order in the region, was when Armenian-Azeri interethnic violence peaked. With that war’s end being three-decades-old, many of those then affected adversely still live today, bearing contempt towards those they deem responsible for their painful memories of that conflict.
Armenia won that lengthy war after the dissolution of the USSR, gaining more territory, and Nagorno-Karabakh gaining de-facto independence from Azerbaijan as the internationally unrecognized ‘Republic of Artsakh.’ Though Armenia was reluctant to recognize Artsakh as part of it, there was a de-facto union between Armenia and the unrecognized state.
On the other hand, Azerbaijan’s loss of claimed territory when the war ended with both parties signing the Bishkek Protocol, an armistice agreement, was seen by many Azeris as a national humiliation. Azerbaijan did not recognize Armenia’s gains in the conflict, and Azerbaijan’s maps show Nagorno Karabakh as Azerbaijani land, despite Azerbaijan having no effective control in the region.
The lack of agreement on the enclave’s status has been a regional powder keg since the armistice. Armenian-Azeri disputes continued in sporadic clashes between 2008 and July 2020 before escalating into a war that began on September 27, 2020.
The 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war began with an Azerbaijani ground offensive. Over its course, Azerbaijan made significant territorial gains. Drone, tank, trench, and rocket warfare characterized the conflict. There were more than 4000 casualties, according to Russia. 93 Azeri and 50 Armenian civilians died, while 407 Azerbaijani and 148 Armenian civilians suffered injuries. Approximately 40,000 Azerbaijanis and 90,000 Armenians were displaced.
Turkey supported Azerbaijan throughout the conflict, an attempt to expand its influence and assert Turkish foreign policy. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights noted, and France claimed, that Turkey-backed Syrian mercenaries took part in Azerbaijan’s side.
This conflict surprised observers because it was one where Israel, Pakistan, Turkey, and Syrian resistance fighters were supporting the same side.
Israel drew criticism for weapon sales to Azerbaijan. During the conflict’s first weeks, observers noticed Azeri planes landing and taking off from Israel’s Uva airbase, drawing suspicion to the planes’ cargo. Arayik Harutyunyan, the de facto Armenian leader of Nagorno-Karabakh, accused Israel of ‘facilitating’ “the genocide” of Armenians. Furthermore, in protest, Armenia recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv. Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that, “Israeli officials have said they have no knowledge of or involvement in how Azerbaijan uses the weapons it buys.”
Just as the conflict passed six weeks, and the conflict threatened to grow more violent, news of a peace deal brought calm. Under Russian mediation, Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed on an armistice. Azerbaijan would hold all regions conquered in the conflict, Russian peacekeepers would be deployed in the region, and a series of cessions by Armenia to Azerbaijan to be completed by December 1.
While Azerbaijanis celebrated their victory, many Armenians erupted in a flurry of curses against their Prime Minister for agreeing to make peace. The Azerbaijani win has been seen as a gain for Turkey’s quest to broaden influence. Though the region shows signs of returning to calm, it’s unlikely that it would remain so in the decades to come.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.