Since Sunday night, violent clashes have been taking place between the Armenian and Azeri military forces in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, as each side accuses the other of having started the hostilities.
Current situation: facts and claims
In terms of casualties, the conflict is at the highest point since 2016. At least seven civilian casualties have been reported by the Azeri authorities and 84 military lives have been lost by the Armenian forces, raising the death toll to nearly a hundred lives in two days, even though Azerbaijan has not released information on military deaths. The Armenian defense minister said 200 civilians have been wounded in the fighting. Furthermore, a civilian has allegedly lost his life on Tuesday in Vardenis, which is the first death on Armenian soil since the conflict broke out. However, casualty claims have not been independently verified.
An assessment of each sides’ military power shows tangible strike force and reaffirms the credibility of a military threat, as the fighting seems to extend outside of the region’s borders. Both countries have declared martial law. More specifically, the Armenian government claims that the Azeri army benefits from Turkish military support, especially in terms of manpower (including alleged foreign mercenaries from Syria), intelligence and weapons (including UAVs and warplanes).
Competing normative claims are put forth to legitimize the deployment of force on each side. The Armenian rhetoric underlying military intervention tables on the defense of human rights and the protection of civilians, whereas Azerbaijan contends that the Armenian intervention is a violation of its sovereignty rights and of its international borders.
Historical and geopolitical context
The larger geopolitical context is essential in understanding the underlying tensions and security threats brought about by the conflict. The majority of the region’s population is ethnic Armenian, but the region is officially recognized as part of Azerbaijan. At the end of Soviet rule, demands for independence of the previously autonomous region of Nagorno-Karabakh from the Republic of Azerbaijan by Armenian secessionists led to a war that killed about 30,000 people and displaced another million.
Since 1994, the conflict is at a stalemate, as negotiations have failed to draft a comprehensive peace agreement. The self-proclaimed authorities thus rule a de facto independent region, supported by Armenia but never officially recognized by neither the UN nor Armenia. In addition to geopolitical motivations linked to its strategic location between Europe and Asia, the region also presents economic interests by virtue of its considerable gas and oil resources.
Peace prospects amidst increasing regional and international attention
Regional actors involved in the conflict include Turkey, which openly supports Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a military base in Armenia. Russia has called for an end of hostilities between the two states and supported a politico-diplomatic resolution to the dispute, according to the Kremlin spokesperson D. Peskov. Turkey’s President R. T. Erdogan has stated that his administration will support Azerbaijan until Armenia’s “occupation” of the region ends.
Furthermore, the two former Soviet nations are under increasing pressure from the international community to engage in peaceful conflict resolution. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group Co-Chairs is in charge of actively organizing peace negotiations with the support of Russia, France and the United States. UN Secretary-General Guterres also urged “all involved to take immediate steps to de-escalate the situation and refrain from provocative rhetoric” and called for the immediate deployment of OSCE monitors in the region. An emergency meeting will be held on Tuesday evening in New York. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation has also condemned Armenia’s actions and called for a peaceful end to the conflict.
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