Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

Nagorno Karabakh Conflict

Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

Following Azerbaijan’s lightning offensive and occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh on September 19, separatist authorities announced that the ethnic Armenian enclave would dissolve on January 1, 2024. Faced with the prospect of rule by Azerbaijan, more than sixty-eight thousand people have fled to Armenia, amounting to over half of Nagorno-Karabakh’s population.

Background

In 1923, the Soviet Union established Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast within the Azerbaijan SSR with a mostly Armenian population. The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan escalated after the Soviet Union’s collapse. By 1994, Armenia controlled Nagorno-Karabakh. A ceasefire, known as the Bishkek Protocol, left Nagorno-Karabakh de facto independent but reliant on Armenia. Since then, intermittent clashes continued, including the intense fighting in April 2016. In September 2020, heavy fighting broke out, resulting in many casualties. Both countries initially rejected calls for talks but eventually escalated tensions with heavier weaponry.

After failed attempts by Russia, France, and the United States to negotiate a ceasefire, Russia successfully brokered a deal on November 9, 2020, ending the six-week Second Nagorno-Karabakh War. The agreement led to Azerbaijan reclaiming most of the lost territory, leaving Armenia with only a portion of Karabakh. The deal also established the Lachin corridor, monitored by Russian peacekeepers, connecting Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh. Negotiation and mediation efforts by the Minsk Group of the OSCE, co-chaired by the United States, France, and Russia, have failed to find a permanent solution. There is a high risk of inadvertent military action leading to escalation due to proximity and lack of communication between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces. Domestic political interests could also incentivize provocation.

Concerns

Without successful mediation efforts, ceasefire violations and renewed tensions threaten to reignite 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—which produces about eight hundred thousand barrels of oil per day—to Central Asia and Europe. Russia is committed by treaty to defend Armenia in the instance of military escalation, while Turkey has pledged to support Azerbaijan. The United States’ vocal support for Armenia over the past few years, alongside Russia’s current embroilment in the war in Ukraine, could create a pretext for escalation and further complicate efforts to secure peace in the region. Given the United States and Russia’s diminished capacity to serve as honest brokers, the European Union, led by European Council President Charles Michel, has assumed a more active mediating role.

Recent Developments

Increased risk of military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2022 due to failed mediation, militarization, and frequent ceasefire violations. A two-day conflict erupted in September, with disputed death tolls and civilian evacuations. Russia claimed credit for mediating a truce while clashes continued. Nancy Pelosi’s visit disrupted diplomatic efforts. Azerbaijani activists occupied the Lachin corridor, causing shortages in Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan opened a checkpoint to block Armenian passage.

Armenia and ethnic Armenian leaders in Nagorno-Karabakh opposed the checkpoint, alleging Azerbaijan’s attempt to isolate Karabakh Armenians and strengthen control. Russia issued a mild criticism. The peacekeeping force’s inaction eroded trust in Russia as a security guarantor.

In May 2023, the US, EU, and Russia hosted peace talks. Steps toward normalization and peace were made, but no agreement was reached in the discussions. Tensions remain, with sporadic gunfire along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. Disagreements persist on territory and transport routes. Pashinyan’s concession on territory faced domestic backlash.

Further complicating diplomatic efforts, Azerbaijan tightened access to Nagorno-Karabakh, banning even Red Cross convoys from passing through the Lachin Corridor to the region over alleged smuggling of unsanctioned products. Azerbaijani security forces also detained an individual passing through a checkpoint for medical care in Armenia, leading to a suspension of medical evacuations for critically ill patients. With no supplies allowed to pass through the corridor, shelves sat empty and two children died as the humanitarian crisis turned critical. Azerbaijan offered aid, but the region’s leaders rejected it, saying they would not accept aid from the country responsible for the crisis. 

Nagorno-Karabakh Illegal Blockade 

On September 19, days after an agreement to reopen the Lachin Corridor for aid deliveries sparked hopes of easing the crisis, Azerbaijan launched an “anti-terrorist” offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh. Karabakh officials said at least two hundred people died in the operation, which Azerbaijan said was aimed at neutralizing Armenian military installments. Within two days, Azerbaijan claimed to have regained full control over the region, and Russia-mediated negotiations began in Yevlakh, Azerbaijan, over the disarmament of Armenian separatists and the reintegration of Nagorno-Karabakh into Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, protestors took to the streets in Yerevan, Armenia, accusing the government of failing to protect ethnic Armenians and demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. At stake is the status of around 120,000 ethnic Armenians living in the disputed territory; thousands immediately fled to Armenia, fearing persecution if they stayed, and officials have demanded security guarantees for those who remain before they agree to give up their weapons.

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