Azerbaijan’s ‘Anti-Terror’ Strike in the Nagorno-Karabakh Region: A Historical Overview and Implications
The Resurgence of the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict
In the mountainous enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, a decades-long conflict has recently been reignited by Azerbaijan’s ‘anti-terror’ strike against the region, predominantly populated by Armenians. This territory, recognized internationally as part of Azerbaijan, is home to a majority-Armenian population that has been battling for independence for over three decades. The recent military action has escalated the humanitarian crisis and raised concerns about the region’s semi-autonomous status.
Historical Roots of the Dispute
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has deep historical roots, dating back to the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1923, the Soviet Union established the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, a region with a 95 percent ethnically Armenian population, within the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. However, as the Soviet Union began to disintegrate, so did peace in the region. Amid the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence, leading to a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the region. The conflict resulted in approximately thirty thousand casualties and created hundreds of thousands of refugees, further complicating the situation.
The Ceasefire and Its Aftermath
In 1994, Russia brokered a ceasefire known as the Bishkek Protocol, leaving Nagorno-Karabakh de facto independent with a self-proclaimed government in Stepanakert. However, this agreement did not bring a definitive end to the dispute. Intermittent clashes continued, with both Armenia and Azerbaijan accusing each other of ceasefire violations. The situation further deteriorated in September 2020 when heavy fighting broke out along the Azerbaijan-Nagorno-Karabakh border, resulting in devastating loss of life and displacement.
The Recent Agreement and Its Implications
Despite the ceasefire agreement, tensions and hostilities continued unabated. The recent agreement, brokered by Russia, includes the dismantling of de facto institutions and discussions about the integration of local Armenians under Azerbaijani authority. This could potentially lead to the end of Nagorno-Karabakh’s semi-autonomous government, creating an uncertain future for the region’s majority-Armenian population. This agreement has also raised fears of ethnic cleansing, leading to a mass exodus of ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Potential for Regional War
The current situation has raised concerns about the potential for a regional war, drawing in other powers like Iran and Turkey. The United States’ vocal support for Armenia, alongside Russia’s entanglement in Ukraine, could further escalate tensions. Moreover, the proximity between Azerbaijani and Armenian military forces in Nagorno-Karabakh and the lack of open communication between the two groups increase the risk of inadvertent military action leading to an escalation.
Conclusion and the Way Forward
In light of the recent developments, there is an urgent need for successful mediation efforts to prevent the reignition of a full-scale conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Such a conflict would destabilize the South Caucasus region, potentially disrupting oil and gas exports from Azerbaijan to Central Asia and Europe. The European Union, led by European Council President Charles Michel, has assumed a more active mediating role, but the road to peace remains fraught with obstacles. The situation calls for a concerted international effort to ensure lasting peace in the region.
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