Tensions Rise Between Azerbaijan And Armenia, One Year After War

The Republic of Azerbaijan has sued the Republic of Armenia in the International Court of Justice to provide maps of landmines planted in the territory exchanged during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War and calls on Armenia to cease what it describes as “ethnic cleansing.” This follows several escalating accusations and lawsuits being drawn up against one another about the 2020 war, with each accusing the other of violating an anti-discrimination convention, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, through hateful ethnic rhetoric and actions.

Last week Armenia brought up a similar suit urging the UN to protect Armenians from Azerbaijani persecution, accusing Azerbaijan of inciting hatred against Armenian people. Azerbaijan, in turn, this week has accused Armenia of a “decades-long ethnic cleansing campaign” through which Armenia has planted mines to terrorize and prevent Azerbaijanis from moving into the territories Armenia had occupied, as argued by Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Elnur Mammadov. Armenian representative Yeghishe Kirakosyan says that Armenia is not planting more mines, and called on Azerbaijan to release Armenian prisoners still being held, while Azerbaijan argues that those who are still detained have been prosecuted or suspected of “serious crimes,” according to the Associated Press.

Armenia and Azerbaijan were both former Soviet republics that broke away from the dissolving communist bloc in 1991-92, but even before either country was officially independent, conflict began to brew in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. Nagorno-Karabakh is a majority Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan, and as the Soviet Union collapsed, tensions rose as Armenians of the region wished to join Armenia, declaring the unrecognized Republic of Artsakh.

The conflict burned as low-intensity fighting between the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, backed by Armenia, and Azerbaijan attempted to put down the rebellion, until in 1992 a full-scale war between the two nations began, with Armenia occupying Nagorno-Karabakh and several neighboring provinces. A Russian-backed ceasefire ended the fighting in 1994, but the question of Nagorno-Karabakh went unresolved and both sides failed to resolve the question in subsequent negotiations throughout the next 26 years. De jure, Nagorno-Karabakh remained under Azerbaijani control, but de facto Armenia occupied it and 7 surrounding districts that connect it with Nagorno-Karabakh.

Both sides were deeply unsatisfied with the situation, and in October of 2020 open war returned after decades of clashes, and though both had heavily militarized in the intervening years, Azerbaijan emerged victorious due in no small part to imported Turkish weaponry, namely Bayraktar TB2 drones. Armenian forces were pushed out of their occupied Azerbaijani districts, while Nagorno-Karabakh remains a part of Azerbaijan occupied by Russian peacekeeping forces.

Despite the rhetoric, there may be a chance for peace: Mammadov told Al-Jazeera last week, now that Armenia no longer occupies Azerbaijani land, “now we are ready to talk,” while Armenia and Turkey, Azerbaijan’s primary international backer, have declared their intentions for a rapprochement after decades of tension. But while peace should not be discounted, the question of war crimes, leveled both by each nation against the other as well as by a host of international observers, will impede any talks between the two nations. As we saw this week, both nations are beginning the process of bringing serious accusations against each other, grievances that go beyond the political and both have serious questions to answer about certain occurrences during the war, including targeting civilians, torture of prisoners, and destroying cultural monuments.

Peace will only be possible if these actions, on both sides, are conclusively condemned and made clear that neither state endorses their viciousness nor the consequences for their respective people. Though the long history of mistrust and hatred makes these investigations difficult to be objective, international observers and human rights groups have and continued to make investigations into the violence. If either side truly wishes to end the generational hatred between them, rather than simply enter another period of limbo between wars, account must be taken, so that the criminal violence of this conflict can be denounced as abnormal with a finality that answers for and prevents it from feeding into the cycle of grievance, enmity, and violent rage.