On September 27 when the armies of Armenia and Azerbaijan had a face off in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, most of us anticipated that it was something which would be over very soon. On the contrary, since then this conflict has been devastating for both the countries and it has become a focal point at an international level. This major escalation has come after several clashes between the two countries which have been going on for some time. In 2010 as well as in 2016 some serious ceasefire violations took place along the border.
The UN along with other major countries have appealed to both countries to end the hostilities and stop the fighting, but this conflict doesn’t seem to be ending. Most political analysts have blamed Azerbaijan for starting this but the roots of this conflict date back to the partition of the USSR. Turkey has been helping Azerbaijan with arms and ammunition which is escalating the tensions further.
This conflict has been a multinational issue and not for the first time the entire region of Caucasus has been caught in fear. Both countries have been using sophisticated technologies, be it tanks, heavy artillery, drones, and this has led to more damage and thousands of lives have been lost. Turkey has been slowly trying to increase its influence by helping Azerbaijan which in turn is undermining the influence of Russia in the region.
Roots of the conflict
The region of Nagorno-Karabakh is an exclave inhabited by ethnic Armenians. It is a part of Azerbaijan and recognised so by most countries, but it acts more like an independent country with a separatist militia group and its own government which is backed by Armenia. It’s also known as the Artsakh Republic. The entire region of Caucasus went through the process of Sovietisation in the 1920s when the Red Revolution took over Russia and brought the Bolsheviks to power in Moscow. They tried to take control of the Caucasus which includes modern-day Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. The entire region of Caucasus became mired in conflict due to Soviet policies as well as those of Ottomans and the British.
The ethnic wars in Caucasus slowly ended and peace returned to this region until the Soviet Union started to collapse. That’s when the trouble began. It was the year 1988 on September 13 that the first major incident took place, when Armenians in the Nagorno-Karabakh pushed for assimilation with Armenia. Soon an act was passed in the Karabakh legislature to officially join Armenia, but this was rejected by the USSR. The region was given to Azerbaijan to administer. In 1991 Azerbaijan abolished the autonomous status of the region and it was fully merged in Azerbaijan.
On December 10th 1991 a referendum was held in the region of Karabakh which was boycotted by the Azeri population which constituted about 20% of the region’s population. The majority population of Karabakh, which were Armenians, voted in favour of secession from Azerbaijan. But during this period war broke out and thousands were killed on both sides. Meanwhile Russia tried to maintain a ceasefire but Armenia was controlling around 20% of the Azeri territory.
A conflict like Nagorno-Karabakh is often termed as “frozen conflict”. Both countries are very rigid in their stance and continuous artillery shelling and minor skirmishes on the border have made the situation very fragile. Hundreds and thousands of deaths in the past years and no sign of them stopping puts the people of this region at a very grave risk. For three decades, multiple violations of the ceasefire have occurred, the most serious incidents prior to the current conflict being the 2016 clash. There have been many attempts to solve the conflict from 1994 through the OSCE (organisation for security and cooperation in Europe). Countries like the US and France have also participated in the process but the territorial issue still remains.
There were many events that took place during the time of USSR, like black January when over 100 people were killed by the Soviet government which sent its troops and military to conquer Baku on 19-20 January. This was all going on when the dissolution of the Soviet Union was taking place. The troops opened fire at the residents and it is considered as one of the bloodiest events in Azerbaijanis history. This was a result of ethnic violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan which saw huge population shifts from here and there and as a result the Soviets at Moscow thought to control it directly.
As we know, Nagorno-Karabakh is essentially a part of Azerbaijan but there are Armenian enclaves where continuous fighting has been going on, like in Sufulu, Askipara and many more. Armenia often helps the insurgents in Karabakh with weapons and money. The escalation was at its peak immediately after the Soviet Union collapsed and the period between 1989 and 1994 was the bloodiest. In 1992 Azerbaijan launched a large military operation known as operation Goranboy which was aimed at taking complete control of the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh but Azerbaijani suffered heavy losses and they had to retreat. In the same year another operation was launched known as Markadarkt and Martini offensive, which was again launched by Azerbaijan in the region of Markardast and Martini of Nagorno-Karabakh. Again the Azeri army was pushed back. This was the second try in one year by the Azerbaijanis to conquer Nagorno-Karabakh. Little skirmishes have happened since then but things were again returning to peace until the current violence broke out.
A lot of conferences took place after the 2000, including at OIC, and UN resolutions were passed regarding this conflict. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan signed the Geneva Convention, yet clashes and border skirmish kept occurring. Both countries have blamed each other for the killings, border firings and ceasefire violations. But there are two events which I would like to mention here to make people understand the severity of the conflict.
The Maraga massacre, which took place on April 10 1992, saw several Armenians being killed in the village of Maraga. Elderly, children, women were killed, houses were burnt, heads were chopped off, and some accounts even suggest that people were burnt alive. Amnesty and other international human rights organisations put the number of fatalities between 40 and 100.
Something similar had happened with the Azerbaijani people on 26 February 1992 when more than 150 Azerbaijani people were killed by the Armenian forces in what is known as the Khojaly massacre. It was mostly Armenian soldiers along with some soldiers of CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) who took part in the massacre. There have been various claims over the death toll as human rights organisations differ from Azerbaijan governments figures, which put the number of killed above 600. The Khojaly massacre is the most brutal and worst massacre in this entire conflict. There have been various war crimes committed by armies of both the countries in this long standing conflict and they both must acknowledge the evil they have perpetuated.