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Armenia-Azerbaijan lock horns amidst COVID-19

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is an ethnic and territorial conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed region that is de facto controlled by the Republic of Artsakh (self-declared) despite being internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan’s territory. In 1988, the legislature of Nagorno-Karabakh passed a resolution to join Armenia, even though it was a part of the Azerbaijanian territory. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and the self-declared independence of the region was announced; the two countries went to war, with the aim to gain territorial control. In 1994, a ceasefire was brokered by Russia, leaving Armenia in control of the disputed region and 20% of the Azerbaijanian territory around it. After nearly two decades of stability, Azerbaijan’s exasperation with the status quo led to the deadliest ceasefire violations and a  confrontation that lasted for four days between the two Caucasian neighbours.

Recent Developments

Skirmishes between the two nations have remained consistent since 2016. The clashes intensified in July 2020, where the two sides confronted each other using artillery and drones. During this time, Azerbaijan carried out cyber-attacks on Armenian websites, which triggered a war of mutual recrimination that continued till the end of the month when the situation seemingly stabilized a little. The hostilities resumed on 27th September, when civilian and military casualties were reported on both sides. The armed forces of the two countries started launching counter-offensive attacks in response to the alleged attack by the other side. The situation escalated very quickly, with both countries imposing martial law and a curfew. where on one hand, Armenia imposed martial law and total mobilization, and Azerbaijan on the other hand imposed martial law and a curfew. The situation is getting worse day by day with heavy shelling, increasing hostilities, use of drones, artillery, and infantry with rising casualties on both sides. 

International Responses to increasing hostilities

The President of the European Union, the Secretary General of the United Nations, the Security Council, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have all called for a bilateral cessation of hostilities. Many UN member states have called for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Turkey, Pakistan, and Bosnia on the other hand have expressed their support for Azerbaijan calling out Armenia for violating the ceasefire.

USA, Russia and France, chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, have called the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan to “immediately commit themselves to resume negotiations on the substance of the settlement in good faith and without preconditions.” This conflict has resulted in tensions between other nations. France and Turkey have been engaged in a war of words ever since the French President criticized Turkey’s “warlike” rhetoric and encouragement towards Azerbaijan conquering the disputed area again. Expectedly in response, Turkey issued a statement that the French solidarity with Armenia was a clear indication of its support. Azerbaijan was offered support by the Turks, Pakistanis, and Afghans, though the Azerbaijanian President said that their army did not need help, and was determined to fight until the Armenian troops withdrew.

Many claims (unproven) have been raised about the direct involvement of Russian and Turkish armed forces in the “all-out war”. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported that almost 900 Syrians have been transported to Azerbaijan by Turkish companies and Armenian-born Syrians have been transported to Armenia to join the fight. Armenia can officially demand help from Russia and other members of the Collective Security Organization if required in the coming days but it has not done so yet. Turkey and Pakistan have been criticized for supporting the war and have been asked to support the call for a  ceasefire. India’s Ministry of External Affairs has raised its concerns over the increasing hostilities in the region, which are posing a threat to the security of Eurasia, and reiterated the need for ceasing hostilities.

Possibility of a wider regional war

Laurence Broers, South Caucasus expert at Chatham House, has analyzed the possibility of a wider regional conflict if the situation escalates any further. Unlike previous skirmishes between the two countries, the intensity of the current round indicates that the two countries are digging their heels for a longer and protracted conflict. The continuous rejection of negotiations by the two nations gives further credence to our speculation about the military engagement becoming a long-drawn one. A longer conflict only increases the involvement of outside powers backing either side and risking a wider regional war. This will also affect the economies of the countries in the region since their oil supply from Azerbaijan would be cut-off, given that Azerbaijan is a supplier of oil to both Turkey and Russia. Experts claim that Russia would support Armenia, if required, despite having good relations with both nations.

Speculations about a world war

There have been serious speculations about a world war given the fact that conflicts between neighboring countries have intensified in four places around the world, the largest battleground being the Nagorno-Karabakh region near Russia. The skirmishes between India and China along the Line of Actual Control in Eastern Ladakh do not bode well for regional peace and stability. Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran have also increased lately, given that Saudi Arabia has arrested ten Iranian terrorists. Along the South China Sea, China and Taiwan’s rising hostilities and refusal to engage in dialogue and to resolve their differences has only added to these speculations.  

Quite naturally, alarm bells have begun ringing across the world lest these local skirmishes acquire a regional character and soon spread across wider geographies. The spectre of war across regions that has the potential of drawingin the world’s principal military powers has led to an increase in the call for a cessation of hostilities by many world leaders and international organizations. As we enter the last quarter, 2020 looks all set to go down in history as a year of unprecedented suffering and attrition. Let us hope our worst fears do not come true…a prayer on our lips and fingers crossed!

Amisha Singh is a second year student at Ashoka University, pursuing her bachelors in Politics, Philosophy and Economics.

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