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Conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh: why Armenia and Azerbaijan are at war

Armenia and Azerbaijan continue active hostilities in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. This is the most serious escalation of the conflict in the region over the past 30 years. Russian service Bi-bi-si talks about how the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict arose, why the sides refrained from war for so long and why the outbreak of tension occurred right now.

Photo: Shutterstock

History of Nagorno-Karabakh and its population

Nagorno-Karabakh was historically inhabited by tribes of non-Indo-European origin, it is said in Wikipedia... During the period of classical antiquity, the region was annexed to Great Armenia and armenianized, making it a province of Artsakh. At the end of the IV century. n. e. during the partition of Armenia, this territory was included by Persia into its vassal state - Caucasian Albania. From the middle of the XNUMXth century to the end of the XNUMXth, it was under Arab rule. In the IX-XVI centuries. - was part of the Armenian feudal principality of Khachen. From the Late Middle Ages to the XNUMXth century, Nagorno-Karabakh was a summer camp for Turkic nomads, and later for Azerbaijanis.

From the beginning of the 1813th century to the middle of the XNUMXth century, Nagorno-Karabakh was ruled by the union of the Armenian meliks of Khamsa under the suzerainty of the Safavids and Afsharids as part of the Karabakh beglerbekism. In the second half of the XNUMXth century, Nagorno-Karabakh became part of the Karabakh Khanate, and in XNUMX, as part of the Karabakh Khanate, according to the Gulistan Peace Treaty, into the Russian Empire.

In May 1918, in connection with the revolutionary events and the collapse of the Russian statehood in the Transcaucasus, first, an independent Transcaucasian Democratic Federal Republic was proclaimed, and later three independent states: the Georgian Democratic Republic, the Republic of Armenia and the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR). But the Armenian population of Karabakh and Zangezur refused to obey the ADR authorities. The First Congress of the Armenians of Karabakh, convened in Shusha on July 22, 1918, proclaimed Nagorno Karabakh an independent administrative-political unit and elected its own People's Government (since September 1918 - the Armenian National Council of Karabakh). The confrontation between Azerbaijan and the local Armenian government lasted until the summer of 1919, inclusive, when, under pressure from Azerbaijan, the Congress of the Armenians of Karabakh had to recognize its jurisdiction until the appropriate decision of the Paris Peace Conference.

In March 1920, an anti-Azerbaijani uprising began in Karabakh, prepared by emissaries from Armenia, during which the Armenian militia attacked the Azerbaijani garrisons. The uprising failed, but fighting in the countryside of Nagorno-Karabakh continued until the Sovietization of Azerbaijan on April 28, 1920. In May 1920, units of the 11th Army of the Red Army, in cooperation with Azerbaijani troops, occupied the territory of Karabakh.

During 1920-1921. the question of the ownership of Nagorno-Karabakh was decided with the mediation of the Bolsheviks. On June 3, 1921, the plenum of the Caucasian Bureau of the Central Committee of the RCP (b) decided to transfer Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, but the final decision was made by the plenum of the Caucasus Bureau of the Central Committee of the RCP (b) on July 5 of the same year: "Leave Nagorno-Karabakh within the Azerbaijan SSR, granting it broad regional autonomy." ... In July 1923, the regions of the Azerbaijan SSR with a predominantly Armenian population were united into an autonomous entity (the Autonomous Region of Nagorno-Karabakh (AOK), since 1937 - the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region (NKAO)).

How the conflict began in the 1980s

The modern history of the conflict begins with Gorbachev's perestroika in the 1980s and the growing popularity of ideas of national identity among the peoples inhabiting the USSR.

In the late 1980s, the Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh appealed to the leadership of the USSR with a request to transfer them under the jurisdiction of the Armenian SSR.

The movement of local Armenians for unification with Armenia caused a surge of emotions in Azerbaijan. Clashes between representatives of the two communities soon resulted in the exodus of the Azerbaijani population from the Armenian SSR and Karabakh, followed by the Armenian pogroms in the Azerbaijani city of Sumgait in February 1988.

The USSR government tried to resolve the issue by force, but the arrests of representatives of the national movement in Karabakh, Armenia and Azerbaijan only intensified the enmity between the two republics. In January 1990, Armenian pogroms took place in Baku, and on January 20, army units entered the capital of Azerbaijan, hundreds of civilians were killed, wounded or disappeared without a trace.

In 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the struggle for Karabakh entered a new round. After the collapse of the USSR, Armenia and Azerbaijan were recognized as new independent states within certain boundaries, in which Nagorno-Karabakh was considered part of Azerbaijan. The conflict took on the dimensions of an interstate problem.

Especially fierce battles were fought in 1992-1993: both sides suffered heavy losses. Certain episodes of conflict during this time fall under the definition of war crimes. In particular, we are talking about the execution in February 1992 of the civilian population from the surrounded Azerbaijani city of Khojaly: then, according to the official data of Azerbaijan, more than 600 old people, women and children died.

During the conflict, the total number of victims on both sides amounted to more than 30 thousand people, more than a million were refugees.

The conflict has become a defining factor in post-Soviet history and an integral part of the modern identity of the peoples of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Every fact, opinion, discussion on this topic causes a wave of emotions in both countries.

On the subject: For the first time in history: the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh took an unexpected turn

Where the international community was looking

The conflict in Karabakh was repeatedly discussed at the UN, and in 1993 the UN Security Council adopted four resolutions, none of which was implemented. The first resolution demanded the immediate withdrawal of all Armenian forces from the Kelbajar region and other recently occupied regions of Azerbaijan; the second is the withdrawal of the occupying forces involved in the conflict from the Aghdam region and all other recently occupied regions of Azerbaijan; third, called on the parties to make an effective and permanent ceasefire; the fourth - condemned the occupation of the Zangelan region and the city of Horadiz of the Republic of Azerbaijan, said in Wikipedia.

According to TASS, the Armenian authorities stated that "these resolutions do not speak about military actions on the part of Armenia at all", and "they were adopted in a specific operational situation." Therefore, according to the Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan, the resolutions "cannot be taken out of context."

Attempts to bring the parties to the negotiating table were at different levels. But every time the leaders changed in Armenia or Azerbaijan, they had to start the negotiations anew. The so-called OSCE Minsk Group, co-chaired by Russia, the United States and France, was engaged in negotiations: it was created in March 1992 at a conference of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Minsk.

In May 1994, the mediators managed to achieve a ceasefire in Karabakh. By that time, the territory of the autonomous region and seven adjacent regions was under the control of the Armenian forces.

Since then, the meetings and negotiations have not led to any results. The sides were closest to a breakthrough in 2001, when the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia met in the American resort town of Key West to sign a peace agreement. But at the last moment, the signing fell through.

What about the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic

The Armenian community proclaimed the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR - the Armenians also call it Artsakh) in 1991. It remains an unrecognized entity. Baku considers this territory to be occupied. Yerevan does not officially recognize the independence of the NKR, but calls itself the guarantor of its security, and the budget and the army of the Republic are closely linked with Armenia.

The NKR regularly holds elections, but no one in the world recognizes their results. Residents of the self-proclaimed republic use Armenian passports. Phone calls here go through the Armenia code.

How the ceasefire was held until recently

On the line of separation of the sides, local battles with the participation of sabotage groups, drones, as well as positional skirmishes constantly took place.

The most serious clashes occurred in April 2016, which resulted in the deaths of dozens of soldiers on both sides. They lasted four days and stopped when representatives of the general staffs of the two countries agreed on a ceasefire in Moscow.

In July 2020, clashes occurred on the international border of Armenia and Azerbaijan, not in Karabakh. Unlike the escalation in 2016, when the Russian prime minister visited Yerevan and Baku, the July clashes did not spark a major international effort to bring the two sides together.

On the subject: The truce lasted less than a day: the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh escalated

What is the position of Russia

Russia is linked with Armenia and Azerbaijan by a centuries-old history, but now everything is much more complicated. And the point is not only that Russia is the co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group and, as a mediator, must listen to both sides.

Russia sells arms to Armenia and Azerbaijan for many billions of dollars. Russian companies own large economic assets in Armenia. There is a large Russian military base on the territory of Armenia. A great number of Armenian citizens are working in Russia. Many Azerbaijani citizens also work in the Russian Federation. Russian business has invested in the oil industry of Azerbaijan. In Azerbaijan itself, there are quite a few citizens with Russian roots.

It is assumed that for these reasons Russia does not take an unequivocal position in supporting Baku or Yerevan.

On the subject: Over 100 thousand Armenians marched in California to march in support of Nagorno-Karabakh

Why the conflict flared up with renewed vigor right now

Experts on the South Caucasus suggest many factors are involved. Here are some of them.

Azerbaijan has a military advantage over Armenia: the revenues generated during the 2000s oil boom were invested in building a well-trained and armed army.

Perhaps Azerbaijan decided to take advantage of this advantage in order to change the situation in the conflict region in order to continue negotiations with Armenia from a stronger position, and not from a weak position of the side that lost the war, as it was in 1994.

Direct support for Turkey, whose influence in the region has grown sharply after Ankara's successful intervention in the conflicts in Syria and Libya, has given the Azerbaijani leadership confidence in the reach of success.

Leading world powers are busy with the coronavirus pandemic crisis. In the USA, in addition to everything else, the presidential elections are the main focus of political leadership.

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