Armenian, Azeri Forces Battle Again; 21 Reported Dead

At least 21 people were killed on September 28th when Armenian and Azeri forces opened fire after a second day of heavy clashes over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. The battle involved airpower, missiles, and powerful armor, with both sides accusing the other of serious artillery. The dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan sparked international attention and concern over stability in the South Caucasus, a region providing oil and gas to the world market. Moreover, a further escalation in the conflict between the two countries has the potential of dragging in major regional powers Russia and Turkey, with Moscow supporting Armenia and Ankara backing Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan said that Armenia’s actions constitute a full-scale military attack, as Armenian forces fired at the Azeri town of Terter north of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenian government condemned this statement. Anar Evyazov, the Azeri defense ministry’s press secretary, said, “Missile, artillery and air strikes are being applied to the enemy’s positions, which forces the enemy to surrender the held positions,” adding that serious measures are being taken in order to occupy strategically significant regions around the village of Talish in Karabakh. Azerbaijan declared martial law on Sunday night, as well as a military mobilization on Monday. The Armenian ambassador to Russia said that Azerbaijan’s ally Turkey sent 4,000 soldiers on Monday to support the Azeri forces, which could potentially destabilize the area. Baku denied the accusation.

The violent battle between the Armenian and Azerbaijani forces caused concern worldwide, as the conflict has the potential of escalating even further. International partners and actors have stressed the importance of a diplomatic solution in order to end the violence. According to the National Post, China pleaded for both parties to hold back their forces and be cautious. Russia urged for an immediate truce, while Turkey stated its support for Azerbaijan. Under international law, the region of Nagorno-Karabakh is acknowledged as part of Azerbaijan. However, the majority of Nagorno-Karabakh’s population are ethnic Armenians who dismiss Azeri rule.

Moreover, the dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan poses an immense threat towards the civil population in the region. As both sides open fire, civilians are exposed to violence and placed in dangerous condition. Along with this, people living in Nagorno-Karabakh have expressed their concern with the Azeri forces, as they reported on Monday that 15 more of their soldiers have been killed, and over 100 servicemen have been wounded. The region’s position as a significant oil and gas contributor in the world market complicates the conflict even further. If armed battles continue to occur, it will be more difficult to find a diplomatic solution.

The dispute in the area of Nagorno-Karabakh first appeared in the 1980’s, when opposition to the Soviet Communist rule was established. A strip of wars and armed conflicts played out in the 1990’s, and hundreds of thousands of Azeris were driven out from the region with support from Armenia. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan and became self-governing. Since then, multiple conflicts have taken place, as the region is ruled by ethnic Armenians but located inside Azerbaijan. Religious divisions also feed the conflict. Armenia is mostly Christian, while Azerbaijan is mainly Muslim.

In 1994, the involved parties established a truce. However, as Azerbaijan and Armenia continue to accuse each other of military attacks, long term peace in the region is yet to be seen. The conflict flared up again in 2016, killing at least 200 people. An armed battle in July added 16 more bodies to the death count.

The dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh is complicated, because it involves an Armenian ethnic rule within Azeri borders. The ongoing violence threatens the civil population, and Russian and Turkish involvement could destabilize the area even further. All parties should hold an organized meeting to consider diplomatic solutions before the conflict escalates. Diplomacy is the key to long-term peace.