Will the ceasefire last ? Analysing the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict by Saulet Tanirbergen
“To live together is, put simply, impossible,” says Shayan Babayants, head of an Armenian village by the name of Shgharjik.
This simple statement aptly summarizes the current relationship of ethnic Armenians and Azeris in the South Caucasus region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Tensions continue to rise in the region despite the recent Russia-brokered ceasefire between the two Caucasus nations of Azerbaijan and Armenia. The conflict began on the 27th of September with Armenia claiming that air and artillery attacks were launched on Nagorno-Karabakh. On the other hand, the Azeri side says it was performing a "counter-offensive response to military provocation." So far, the conflict has led to reported casualties numbering in the low thousands. The ceasefire was brokered on humanitarian grounds, yet as reports of violations continue, the conflict's future looks bleaker and bleaker.
Clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the region are not anything new. Following the USSR's dissolution, the newly independent states entered into all-out warfare with Nagorno-Karabakh attempting to secede from Azerbaijan in the late 1980s. Nagorno-Karabakh, alternatively called Artsakh, is 95% ethnic Armenian. However, in the formation of the Soviet Union, the territory was put within the Azerbaijan SSR as an autonomous region, much to the Armenians' discontentment. In 1988, chaos erupted in the region when the local Nagorno Karabakh government passed a resolution to join Armenia. The war was further escalated with the newly-created power vacuum following the Soviet Union collapsed and left behind as many as thirty thousand casualties by the time Russia negotiated a ceasefire in 1994. Since then, Nagorno-Karabakh remains a de facto independent state internationally recognised as a part of Azerbaijan. Howe ver, skirmishes continued as the region was stuck in a decades-long frozen conflict.
In attempts to spearhead peace negotiations between the two countries, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) created the Minsk Group, co-chaired by France, Russia and the United States. Since its conception in 1992, the Minsk Group has yet to provide permanent solutions to the conflict. Furthermore, the main actors of the Minsk Group -the aforementioned chairs - have been widely criticized by Azerbaijan for having biases due to their large Armenian diasporas.
With little being done in terms of diplomacy and negotiations, all of this spells nothing but danger to both Armenia and Azerbaijan civilians. Many experts claim that this conflict is distinct from the last one with both sides employing armed drones and long-range rocket artillery that can have a much larger scale of devastation. At the heart of Nagorno-Karabakh, the city of Stepanakert already looks unrecognisable as streets turn into ruins following days of heavy bombardment. Azerbaijan also claims that rockets also landed in Ganja, the country’s second-largest city, with at least 250 casualties.
However, this conflict doesn’t just have local connotations. Turkey has brought in military support to Azerbaijan with what many experts are calling now-Ottoman imperialistic ambitions. In his recent speech to the Turkish Parliament, the Turkish President, Recep Erdoğan, said: “Our Azerbaijani brothers are now waiting for the day they will return to their land.” This can potentially undermine Russia’s traditional role of the mediator in the conflict with the threat of losing its influence in the South Caucasus. Nonetheless, as of now, it’s maintaining neutrality by supplying both sides of the conflict with arms.
Recently, Russia has made fresh appeals to Armenia and Azerbaijan to cease violations of the already fraying ceasefire. Diplomatic circles worldwide, including the United Nations, have urged the countries to enter into peace talks to spare further humanitarian devastation. However, with attacks continuing, the promise of peace looks more and more uncertain.