In the last week, Azerbaijani soldiers were arrested for committing war crimes. These soldiers are charged with dishonouring bodies of Armenian troops, violating rights of Armenian soldiers, and vandalizing Armenian gravestones, claims the International Center for Transitional Justice. This news became public as multiple videos were recorded and released online of the soldiers executing these crimes. The Prosecutor General’s Office of Azerbaijan insisted that others involved in similar inhumane acts would also be arrested.
This is just the latest news in the six-week-long conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the contested territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. The region is universally acknowledged to belong to Azerbaijan, but it has been home to 150,000 Armenians since a conflict over the territory that ended in 1994. In 1988, Armenians living in the Nagorno-Karabakh region attempted to obtain independence, resulting in close to 30,000 deaths and one million displaced people, according to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). The conflict ended when Russia facilitated a ceasefire agreement. CFR claims this agreement was largely followed until 2016 when Azerbaijan reclaimed some of the contested land by force, reigniting ethnic tensions. In July of 2020, a scuffle took place again, causing deaths and prompting even higher pressures that led to the current conflict.
Eurasianet claims that the current conflict is among the worst fighting the South Caucasus region has seen for 25 years. Since violence erupted in September, dozens of civilians have been killed as well as hundreds of soldiers in their early 20s, according to Al Jazeera. UNHCR claims the number of displaced people ranges from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands.
A few weeks ago, both parties signed a peace agreement led by Russia to bring an end to the battle. According to Al Jazeera, some viewed the peace deal as favouring Azerbaijan over Armenia. To this end, Azerbaijan gained some territory back from Armenians, including land outside Nagorno-Karabakh, claims Reuters. Additionally, Azerbaijan led a military parade recently which was supported by Turkish President Erdogan to celebrate reclaiming parts of the contested region. To make matters worse, the ceasefire was broken a few days ago when Azerbaijani soldiers were killed and Armenian troops were wounded, suggesting that fighting has started again, claims Al Jazeera.
In the last few days, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stated in a Facebook post that he claims responsibility for the conflict and is working toward securing peace, revamping election and military processes, overseeing return of refugees, and supporting Armenia’s economic growth. Despite this statement, Armenians are calling for his resignation, like many did three years ago which ousted the former prime minister and brought Pashinyan to power, claims Eurasianet.
This conflict is not just threatening to civilians living in the war zones but also to the South Caucasus region in general, according to CFR. This source claims that continued fighting could cause an even greater refugee crisis, further destruction of infrastructure, and economic and social consequences for Georgia. There are also international factors tied to this regional conflict. Armenia is home to about 25,000 refugees from Syria and 2,000 Armenians who fled Lebanon after the August explosion, according to International Organization for Migration. Additionally, with Turkey supporting Azerbaijan and Russia backing Armenia while supplying weapons to both sides, these countries are risking strife between them, which could in turn complicate their involvement in the civil wars in Syria and Libya, claims CFR.
For decades, the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, led by the U.S., France, and Russia, has attempted to mediate talks between Azerbaijan and Armenia with little substantial progress, claims CFR. In fact, the U.S. is dissuading external actors from intervening yet multiple countries are already involved with little success. It is clear that Azerbaijan and Armenia are unable to adhere to ceasefire agreements, and the Minsk Group is failing.
Throughout the conflict, both sides have suggested the other is guilty of various war crimes, claims Al Jazeera. International humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions protect human rights of civilians and prisoners of war at all times. Therefore, these such acts committed by the Azerbaijani soldiers are certainly war crimes that should result in proper legal action. With human rights violations, war crimes, and displacement of people, it is past time for a decisive and permanent plan to be implemented. Whether led by countries or IGOs, negotiations should focus on understanding each side’s wishes, handling transgressions, and building a plan for peace. For far too long, control of the Nagorno-Karabakh region has been disputed. Armenians and Azerbaijanis living in the Caucasus region need stability and effective leadership.
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