Updated: Sep 18
By Aron Shklar
World News Editor
Recently, in a remote but important part of Asia, tensions between two countries spiked unexpectedly. Those countries are Armenia and Azerbaijan, both former Soviet states and members of the former USSR. Long-simmering tensions over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh escalated on September 27th when artillery and air attacks were launched, and both sides accused each other of being responsible.
Described as “an ethnic tinderbox” by the New York Times, Nagorno-Karabakh is a hotly contested region with importance to both Armenia and Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan views the region as part of its country, and it is internationally recognized as such. However, many ethnic Armenians live in the region, and claim that they are allied with Armenia. Armenia’s government backs this claim, using the Armenian Genocide of World War I as a way to justify their military defense. Another source of tension is that In 1992, the ethnic Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh in fact declared themselves independent from Azerbaijan, which resulted in a two-year ethnic war. The tensions from that conflict are still active today, and fed into this current conflict.
This stage of fighting started when Armenia claimed that Azerbaijan launched air and artillery attacks on Nagorno-Karabakh, according to Politico.com. Azerbaijan claims that it was “conducting a ‘counter-offensive in response to military provocation.’” The death toll on both sides is disputed. As of October 2nd, Armenia reported that it had 158 fatalities and killed 200 Azerbajainis. The next day, Azerbaijan claimed that it had killed 550 Armenians already. Both sides, sadly, have been accused of killing civilians, with 13 killed by Armenia and 19 by Azerbaijan. An unknown number of properties have been destroyed by both sides, including at least one restaurant. These tragic losses will continue to rise, as it is no longer just Armenia and Azerbaijan in this conflict.
Azerbaijan and Armenia are not the only countries involved in this conflict. Each has a powerful country prepared to back it, and to enter into the conflict themselves. Those countries are Turkey, who is supporting Azerbaijan, and Russia who is supporting Armenia. On October 1st, CNN learned that Syrians in the rebel Syrian National Army (which is backed by Turkey) were being hired by someone to go fight for Azerbaijan. This mysterious benefactor turned out to be Turkey, who has claimed that these are “baseless allegations” according to CNN. CNN also interviewed an anonymous hired Syrian fighter, who said that “they told us that they will give us $1,500 a month. Our contracts are for three months, and every month we will be getting paid by the unit commander.” But the fighter added that he isn’t sure who is actually providing this money. At least 1,000 men have signed up to fight, but there could be more. Many people are pointing towards Turkey as paying these soldiers, but again, Turkey denies these allegations, blaming Armenia instead. This serves only to raise tensions further, and darken the prospect of an easy end to the conflict.
In spite of the fighting, several attempts have been made to ease tensions between the two countries and their allies. On October 10th, Russia brokered a cease-fire, in which the sides would trade prisoners and collect their dead. However, this deal soon fell apart, and the two countries once again began to attack. Despite this lackluster deal, on Tuesday, November 10th, the war ended, with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announcing that he signed an “unspeakably painful agreement” with Russia and Azerbaijan. This announcement came hours after Azerbaijan announced that it had captured the key city of Shusha, sometimes described as the “Jerusalem of Nagorno-Karabakh,” due to its religious significance. Shortly after Prime Minister Pashinyan’s announcement, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev stated that the deal would “return our territories without any further bloodshed.” President Vladmir Putin of Russia has since said that Russian peacekeeping forces will be deployed along the border, to prevent further warfare. And so, the war ends, with a tragic loss of life on both sides, and no guarantee of this being the last conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.