Tension rises in Nagorno-Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan

Caucasus is under strain of renewed tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. An outbreak of fighting in Azerbaijan’s breakaway region left more than fifteen soldiers dead, while both Armenian and Azeri government accused each other of fuelling clashes.  Recent events have been the deadliest since the 1994 ceasefire and raise concern about a degeneration of the conflict.

Worst outbreak of violence since 1994

Nagorno-Karabakh has been subject to rival claims from both sides sinnagorno.gifce the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. After a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan that killed more than 30,000 people and displaced over a million others between 1988 and 1994, Armenia took over the mountainous enclave as well as seven surrounding districts that represents altogether around 20% of Azerbaijani territory.  Despite the region’s majority of Armenian population and military occupation, Nagorno-Karabakh remains de jure a part of the Republic of Azerbaijan. It has declared itself independent in 1991 without getting international recognition.

Renewed incursions as well as shootings along the ceasefire line have frequently been taking place  since 1994. But the latest violent outbreak that started last week on the 31th of July, is the most serious challenge of the ceasefire in years. So far, official sources declared that at least twelve Azeri and three Armenian soldiers have been killed, while both former Soviet Republics have accused the other of being the aggressor after multiplying “sabotage” attacks. "The whole responsibility is on Yerevan [capital city of Armenia]”, said the Azeri Foreign Ministry while Armenia responded in kind.

Diverging paths

Yerevan and Baku [capital of Azerbaijan] have followed different paths since the USSR collapsed. Armenia currently benefits from a large Russian support and should join the Eurasian Customs Union - which will also include Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia -  in October. On the contrary, Azerbaijan has moved closer to NATO member Turkey and increasingly condemns Russia´s recent involvement in Crimea and Ukraine. As the former USSR’s third largest oil producer, the country is today the only route for energy to go from the Caspian Sea to Western markets without passing through Russia. The recent annexation of Crimea was perceived by Yerevan as a model for annexating Nagorno-Karabakh, and by Baku as a threat to its sovereignty.  The country´s Foreign Ministry accused Yerevan of taking “provocative” steps and said it “bears full responsibility for the evolving dangerous situation.” It followed a statement by  Armenian Prime minister Hovik Abrahamyan : “In the 21st century it is not sensible to solve problems through wars. But we are ready to accept a war imposed on us and win it”, he said.

OSCE calls for discussions

The European Union, under the voice of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, summons to respect the ceasefire and “continued efforts towards a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict”. Nevertheless, the United Nations Security Council passed four resolutions for the liberation of the region that have not yet been carried out by Armenia. In addition, Azerbaijan´s increasing defence spending and modernisation threatens potential peace talks to come - despite a recent meeting of the countries´ two Presidents in Vienna last November. 

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, in charge of supervising the 1994 ceasefire, advised Armenian President Serge Sargsyan and his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev to meet on August 8-9 in Sochi in order to discuss the current spread of violence. “Retaliation and further violence will only make it more difficult to continue efforts to bring about a lasting peace”, said OSCE chairperson-in-office, Didier Burkhalter.

Sources:Reuters, Radio Free Liberty, Le Figaro, Bloomberg, Al Jazeera, Ria Novosti I,  Ria Novosti II, ABC news, Guardian Liberty Voice, Armenia Liberty.   

Photo and map: Radio Free Liberty and The Economist


Author : Laura Gounon

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