The Fight Between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Explained

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan in New York this week for their first face-to-face talks since More than 180 people were reported killed last week in the conflict between the two countries. The outbreak subsided for several days, but the high-level meeting reflected worries that the causes of the conflict – and the full-blown war that preceded it in 2020 – remained unresolved.

Those worries are exacerbated by potential geopolitical tensions. Russia is Armenia’s longtime protectorate. Turkey, a NATO member, is a key ally of Azerbaijan and has supported the country in the 2020 war. And although US diplomats have sought to maintain a mediating role, Speaker Nancy Pelosi entered the middle of the conflict last weekendvisited Armenia to show support and declare that the recent violence was “initiated by the Azeri peoples”.

The trip was widely seen as a political move by Ms. Pelosi ahead of the November midterm elections. She was accompanied by Representatives Jackie Speier and Anna G. Eshoo, both Armenian Americans. from her home state of California, which has a large Armenian community.

Here’s a guide to what happened in the most recent clashes, what lies behind them, and the potential dangers of a dispute.

The Nagorno-Karabakh mountains have long been the focus of tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but with the majority of the population being Armenians, the country declared its independence at the end of the Soviet era.

Then, a years-long war between Armenia and Azerbaijan left tens of thousands of people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced. It ended with a 1994 ceasefire that left Armenia in control of Nagorno-Karabakh and the seven surrounding districts that are legally part of Azerbaijan. In the war in 2020Azerbaijan – with strong Turkish backing including attack drones – has recaptured much of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding districts. The death toll reached thousands, and tens of thousands were forced to flee.

A Russian-brokered cease-fire left Azerbaijan with much of the territory, with Armenian forces retreating and heavily armed Russian peacekeepers entering.

Currently, analysts say, Azerbaijan is pushing for Armenia to recognize Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh and offer other concessions.

Each side has a different story about how the skirmish began last week.

Armenia says that Azerbaijan attacked and that 105 members of this force were killed and 6 civilians wounded. Azerbaijani said its military actions were “retaliatory measures” in response to provocations from Armenia, and it reported 71 of its service members were killed.

Although the tension between the two countries stems from who controls Nagorno-Karabakh, the fighting this time took place directly between Armenia and Azerbaijan, where the border remains undivided.

Other details about the latest conflict are still up for debate. The United Nations said that fierce fighting involving artillery and drones was reported along the international border between the two countries on September 12.

The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spoke of “an incident” at the “considered border”, but Armenia said Azerbaijan attacked three towns in Armenia: Jermuk, Goris and Kapan.

Some analysts also point to fighting inside Armenia. “This is an attack by the Azerbaijanis in Armenia,” said Thomas de Waal, a senior fellow at Carnegie Europe and author of a book on Nagorno-Karabakh. The International Crisis Group think tank says troops from Azerbaijan have entered Armenia.

Several Biden administration officials declined to discuss the issue of whether Azerbaijani troops had entered Armenia, although the US State Department spokesman, Ned Price, said at the outset that the US had seen it “by way of sight”. There is considerable evidence of Azerbaijani shelling inside Armenia and significant damage to Armenian infrastructure . “

On Monday, Armenia’s Foreign Minister, Ararat Mirzoyan, said that forces from Azerbaijan were still inside Armenian territory and should withdraw.

Exact location is important, especially since Armenia is part of a mutual defense alliance led by Russia, like the treaty that established NATO, declares an attack on one member an attack on all. Many analysts believe that Azerbaijan is looking to capitalize on Moscow’s preoccupation with Ukraine following recent failures in the battle thereand they noted the lack of military support for Armenia emanating from the Kremlin.

One problem is that the 2020 post-war peace talks have yet to reach a resolution.

The Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, has said that he intends to come to terms, but his domestic opponents have denied this kind of deal would be treasonous. He was face angry opposition after the ceasefire in 2020.

Analysts say the Azerbaijani government has three demands: Armenia to renounce its claims in Nagorno-Karabakh, delimit international borders on its terms, and secure control over the road corridor and unbuilt railway to Nakhchivan, an island of Azerbaijani territory inside Armenia. That will also connect Azerbaijan with Turkey.

Paul Stronski, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said that Azerbaijan’s military action was exploratory with the aim of changing the facts if possible and pressing Armenia to negotiate a treaty. agreement on its terms.

Russia has claimed to have two roles in this dispute, brokering ceasefire agreements and ensuring Armenia’s security. The first role has so far helped it avoid the full potential cost of a second role.

Mr. Pashinyan spoke by phone with Russian President Putin when fighting broke out last week and the Kremlin brokered a quick ceasefire, calling on both sides to respect the 2020 agreement. That initial truce didn’t work – prompting the US to use its influence on both sides to stop the fighting. And Mr. Putin did not offer military aid.

According to Arkady Dubnov, a Russian expert on the country’s relations with the former Soviet republics, Moscow’s ability to project power in the South Caucasus, for example, by providing weapons or support other military for Armenia.

But Moscow may also find its dual role in the South Caucasus harder to maintain if the situation turns more dangerous. In 2020, Mr. Stronski said, the boundary between the two forces lies within Armenian-occupied territory inside Azerbaijan. Now, “Armenian and Azerbaijani armies are confronting each other quite a lot on the undivided border between the two countries”.

Turkey has said it will side with its ally Azerbaijan, and Azerbaijan’s achievements in 2020 reflect Turkey’s broader support than in previous confrontations, part of shift to a more assertive foreign policy by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Mr. Blinken this week called for the two sides to return to negotiations and prevent further hostility. According to Mr. Stronski, this is in line with the position of the Minsk Group of Nations, the United States, Russia and France, which have been cautious in assigning responsibility. More broadly, Washington has long sought influence in the South Caucasus and other countries in the former Soviet empire.

Meanwhile, the European Union has redoubled efforts for a peace deal since the 2020 war: The leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan held peace talks in Brussels at the end of the month. 8 under the auspices of a top EU official, Charles Michel.

However, Europe’s position is now complicated by the fact that it is looking for additional supplies of natural gas to make up for the loss of Russian imports due to the war in Ukraine. In mid-July, the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, visited Azerbaijan to sign an agreement with the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev. During the visit, she said Azerbaijan is a “definitely reliable” partner.

Report contributed by Cora Engelbrecht, Carlotta Gall, Anton Troianovski, Michael Crowley and Andrew E. Kramer.

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