On Sunday, five people were murdered in a gunfight between Azerbaijani soldiers and Armenian police officers in Nagorno-Karabakh, an area of Azerbaijan where most of the population is Armenian. Three of the fatalities were Armenian police officers, and the other two were Azerbaijani soldiers.
The incident occurred when the Azerbaijani army stopped an Armenian police vehicle on the Lachin corridor connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia. Azerbaijani activists who claim to be protesting against unlawful mining extraction have been blocking the road, which the army claimed the Armenian police were not authorized to use, since December. The Armenian police car was allegedly moving weapons to some remote regions of the country, according to the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defence.
The Armenian foreign ministry dismissed these claims as rubbish and claimed that the vehicle contained service weapons and some paperwork.
The territorial dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh has embroiled the South Caucasus for many years. Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought two wars for control over the region, resulting in thousands of deaths, beginning in the late 1980s when the majority-Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast territory inside the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic stated its intention to leave Azerbaijan and join Armenia. Whereas Armenia, a mostly Christian nation, views Nagorno-Karabakh as a cultural and historical bulwark, Azerbaijan, a country with a considerable Muslim population, has traditionally seen the region as a part of its territory, and the two parties have been locked in fierce competition since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Nagorno-Karabakh dispute quickly became violent, killing tens of thousands, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee their homes, and devastating most of the area’s infrastructure.
After a truce in 1994, the self-declared Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, supported by Armenia, gained control of most of the disputed region. But the tension between Armenia and Azerbaijan persisted, and fights have broken out intermittently over the years. In September 2020, Azerbaijan further worsened the area’s tensions when it mounted a significant military effort to retake the region, handily winning the 44-day conflict and taking control of large chunks of the disputed territory, including several important cities and villages. When another round of fighting broke out in September 2022, Russian peacekeepers were sent to keep an eye over the situation, and Armenia did agree to a ceasefire. However, the article “Upholding the Ceasefire between Azerbaijan and Armenia,” published by the International Crisis Group Q&A, explains that although a ceasefire for the 2022 conflict was reached, violent crimes continue unabatedly.
The Nagorno-Karabakh war is intricate and multifaceted. Historical and ethnic rivalries, territorial disputes, and geopolitical concerns have all contributed to its protracted nature, and the involvement of foreign powers with interests in the region, such as Russia, Turkey, and Iran, has also intensified the conflict. Despite the formidable challenge of resolving these tensions, however, Armenia and Azerbaijan must come to compromise and make concessions in order to peacefully resolve their dispute, which has brought about great suffering for the local population and shaken the South Caucasus as a whole. The international community can be vital in facilitating dialogue and assisting attempts to end the confrontation, but long-lasting peace in the area can only happen with continuous work and a dedication to communication.