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  • Mohd Rameez Raza and Raj Shekhar

The Nagorno-Karabakh Region Conflict: Are We Underestimating the EscalatingTensions?

This article has been authored by Mohd Rameez Raza,a fourth-year student atFaculty of Law, Integral University, India pursuing B.B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) course and Raj Shekhar, a second-year student at National University of Study and Research in Law, India pursuing B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) course. This article was originally published in the Oxford Political Review.


“All war is a symptom of man's failure as a thinking animal.” - John Steinbeck


It’s been almost a century since the bloodiest war to ever have been fought in the history of mankind concluded. The First World War which began as a relatively small conflict in South- East Europe became a war between European empires and shook the very cores of humanity. Probably, the history seems to be repeating itself, for the same shimmering could be witnessed today in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, where the forces of Armenia and Azerbaijan have both declined to cool down the military standoff. While the military unrest in the initial stages was quite localized and more of a regional conflict, things have quickly escalated with Turkey lending its support to Azerbaijan, owing to the ethnic background and the Muslim majority population of the country. Though Armenia, a Christian dominated state, is itself a part of a security alliance with Russia, unlike Turkey, the Russians have largely remained low and opaque with Russia continuing to deal in arms with both the conflicting nations alike. Even after being regional in nature, the conflict has drawn in the regional rivals like Turkey and Russia, and has become a major source of concern for the world at large. This article tries to unfold the deep-rooted conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region and tries to analyze the overall effect of this grave conflict over the contours of International peace.


The Nagorno-Karabakh Region: Why are Armenia and Azerbaijan at conflict?


The frictions between the Christian-majority Armenia and Muslim-majority Azerbaijan is not a novel development and has continued for centuries. However, religion does not play any role in the present modern-day conflict, but the major blame for the divide rests with Joseph Stalin. The former Soviet leader had placed the majority-Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh into Azerbaijan after the conquest of Caucasus by the Red Army in the early 1920s. When the Soviet Union began to collapse in the late 1980s, Armenia’s regional parliament voted for the region’s transfer to Armenia; the Soviet authorities turned down the demand. As a reaction to such denial, the ethnic Armenians in the region declared independence in 1991 leading to a war between Azerbaijan and the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians, who had the constant backing from Armenia itself. The war continued and by 1994 the Armenians had succeeded in driving the Azerbaijani army from their territory and large surrounding swathes of land. Even after the fact that Nagorno-Karabakh is virtually independent from Azerbaijan’s control, no country considers the territory an independent country — not even Armenia, which also hasn’t formally annexed it but supports the region financially and militarily. As a result of this non-recognition, the region Nagorno-Karabakh at present is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but most of the region is controlled by Armenian separatist forces.


Escalating Tensions: Why have things taken a turn for the worse?


It cannot be denied that the Nagorno-Karabakh region was always ripe for a local conflict. However, in the past Russia and Turkey had time an again cooperated to tone down tensions. The settlement which was reached 26 years ago, was a temporary one and had left about 600,000 Azerbaijanis stranded away from their homes and Nagorno-Karabakh vulnerable to attack by Azerbaijan, as it even to this day considers it as part of its own territory. In Armenian revolution has in 2018 ushered in a new generation of leadership and raised hopes towards the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. However, the aspirations have since the dwindled, with Armenia’s Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, taking a firm and in the eyes of Azerbaijani leaders, provocative line on the issue. The current pandemic and the crashing markets have taken a toll on the price of Azerbaijani oil and gas, and perhaps the separatists have enchased on this opportunity to expand their domain of control as per the words of Laurence Broers, the Caucasus programme director at Conciliation Resources, a peace-building group.


Another major reason for the escalating tensions and involvement of powerful international players is the growing economic and military strength of Azerbaijan, which is a major oil exporter. The local fight has till-date claimed the lives of almost 150 people and has started to draw in the regional powers of Russia and Turkey. Of late with the exit of US from Middle-East, the co-operation between these two states in the Middle East have changed from a co-operative one to a highly assertive one. The sparks threaten to ignite the present local conflict too, as Turkey has already thrown its open support to its ethnic ally Azerbaijan. Though, the Russians have still saved their cards, it is pertinent to note that they already share a security truce with Armenia and hence, the stillness is not expected to last long. All the diplomatic relations, the oil scavenging nature of the west, economic scenarios and the deeply rooted religious issues have equally contributed to the escalating tensions, which are at their highest since the early 1980s.


Is the History repeating itself?


Regional conflicts growing into full-blown global wars isn’t something new for the world. We have already witnessed two major world wars which began as small conflicts and later on shook the very foundations of humanity. The present case and the growing tensions have already laid the foundation for a global conflict. With civilian casualties involved, it’s just a matter of time before the international organizations get themselves involved in the issue at hand. The South Caucasus is very crucial from the point of view of gas and oil supply from Azerbaijan into Turkey and further to Europe and other world markets. With Azerbaijan being a key supplier and regulating almost 5% of Europe’s gas and oil demands, which has in turn had reduced the EU’s dependence on Russia, the fight coming close to a number of these pipelines is an alarming development, as wars for resources have always been a pre-cursors for such world wars. With the growing tensions and the over-assertive attitude of both, Turkey and Russia, in the Middle East, we have again reached a juncture where appeasing of either of these nations is not an option, but rather a staunch call for co-operation is the need of the hour.


Time and again the peace talks between the two nations of Azerbaijan and Armenia have failed, sometimes owing to the lack of intent from the mediating parties, and at other times from circumstances like the 9/11 attacks which backtracked the US attempts at reinstating peace. At a time when Turkey is exhibiting signs of religious majoritarianism and Russia is all bent towards asserting itself in the Middle East, these two small nations can easily become the bait for the larger fish of a global warring crisis. The situations have deteriorated to such an extent that a mere regional conflict and reinstatement of the bitter relations yet again over Nagorno-Karabakh Region is the best alternative that we can expect as of now. Further, though neither Turkey nor Russia have directly involved themselves into the conflict and have so far restricted themselves to only official rhetoric, the continuous arms supply by Russia and the open support by Turkey in favour of Azerbaijan needs to be checked. It’s high time that the international community works in a constructive way towards pacifying the existing conditions in the Middle East. As a first step towards this ‘greater good’ what could be a better starting stage than the centuries-old rivalry and the modern-day conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

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