The military chiefs of Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed a ceasefire in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region at a meeting in Moscow on Tuesday following several days of intense fighting. It is a fragile agreement and this long running conflict could easily resume. There is also the danger of Russia and Turkey becoming dragged into the war, although at the moment neither country looks set on such a dangerous strategy.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is due in Azerbaijan today on a visit which was scheduled before the recent outbreak of fighting.
So, herewith The What and The Why of the conflict:
After WW1 Russia’s new Soviet government set about its policy of divide and rule in its expanding empire. It established the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region within the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan.
Nagorno Karabakh, a mountainous forested region of predominantly Christian ethnic Armenians, is under international law still in majority Muslim Azerbaijan which borders Armenia. Following the break up of the Soviet Union the two countries went to war over the mountainous region in 1992.
Russia brokered a ceasefire in 1994 by which time Armenian forces had pushed into Nagorno Karabakh and taken control of most of it. The war left 25,000 people dead, and created 235,000 Armenian and 700,000 Azeri refugees.
Nagorno Karabakh went on to declare itself an independent republic, but no country, not even Armenia recognizes it as such. In effect, if not in law, it operates as a partially autonomous region of Armenia.
Nagorno Karabakh population –Approx 150,000. Capital – Stepanakert.
Armenia population – Approx 3 million. Capital – Yerevan.
Azerbaijan population – Approx 9.5 million. Capital – Baku.
Russia keeps a force of several thousand troops in Armenia (which borders Turkey) and although it has a cordial relationship with Azerbaijan it is politically closer to Armenia. Turkey meanwhile has a fraught relationship with both Armenia and Russia due to history. Ankara sides with Azerbaijan in this dispute.
Both Yerevan and Baku have been spending heavily on their militaries in the past decade, but energy rich Azerbaijan has the deeper pockets. However, given the terrain, the abilities of the Armenian forces, and the fact that Russian forces are in the vicinity, the chances of Azerbiajan being able to regain control over the region in the next few years are slim.
‘Nagorno’ is a Russian word meaning mountain, and ‘Karabakh’ is a word of Turkic/Persian origin meaning “black garden”. The ethnic Armenians who live there mostly call it Artsakh.