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Armenia – Azerbaijan War

NewsArmenia - Azerbaijan War

Two years after the end of the second Karabakh war, rockets and rifles are rising again in the Caucasus region

Azerbaijan has attacked, this Tuesday, part of its border with its neighbor and enemy, Armenia, in the latest episode of a centuries-old conflict.

A frozen conflict under the USSR

During the October revolution of 1917, the Russian empire was dismembered. Many of the territories belonging to the Romanov family became independent, and in the Caucasus, a mountainous region full of valleys, mountains and small nations, three independent states were born. Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The borders were something new: the cities had mixed populations and it was common for one town to be Armenian-majority, the next town to be Azeri, and the next town to be Armenian again. But the newly independent states wanted to delimit themselves, to impose their lines on the others. That is when the first battles broke out over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region of forests and mountains on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan. High in the mountains, most of the population was Armenian. In the valleys, Azeri.

That little war lasted a year, until the Red Army troops arrived and conquered the whole region. Karabakh remained within the territory of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. Armenia also became part of the Soviet Union, so the border disappeared.

Creation of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh and the first war

The conflict over those lush mountains – Karabakh means black garden – was frozen until the Perestroika of the late Mikhail Gorbachev. Armenians began to demand the union of Karabakh with Armenia. A timid violence began, which came to light with the first pogroms in 1988.

Then war broke out. In 1991, the Republic of Upper Karabakh was created, composed only of Armenians. This republic still exists, but is not recognized by any country in the world. That first war caused 30,000 deaths, ended in 1994 and was won by Armenia: all the Azeris who populated the Karabakh valleys were expelled. Their cities became empty skeletons, abandoned deserts.

Armenia, victorious but isolated

Armenia won that war, but the victory was bitter. The small landlocked Caucasian country was isolated. Armenia borders four countries: Georgia, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Iran.

Turkey closed its border with Armenia because of the occupation of territories formerly populated by Azeris. The border with Azerbaijan was also closed, because this line became a war front with trenches. Iran is a country under international sanctions since 1979 and the creation of its Islamic Republic.

Only the crossing with Georgia was viable. However, this country turned its back on Armenia after the Russian invasion in 2008. The only means of survival for the Armenians became the air route with Russia, the main supporter of Yerevan.

Second Karabakh war

During the last decade, Azerbaijan, with its large reserves of gas and oil – and its alliance with Turkey – rearmed to relaunch the conflict, which erupted with an Azeri offensive on September 27 two years ago. That second Karabakh war lasted six weeks, killed more than 6,000 people and was an almost total defeat for Armenian forces. Azerbaijan conquered – by force or by pressure in negotiations – all the regions enveloping Nagorno-Karabakh, and even parts of the mountains, including the second city of the region, Shusha.

In November 2020, the two sides signed a shattering ceasefire for Armenia: Russia would send its soldiers to the region to keep the peace and Azerbaijan would control the approaches to Nagorno-Karabakh. In addition, Armenia promised to allow the creation of a corridor connecting Azerbaijan with its enclave near the Turkish border, Nakhichevan.

A weak cease-fire

The ceasefire has held, although sporadic violence on the front line has been constant. Tuesday’s offensive – not in Karabakh but against the national territory of the Republic of Armenia – was its most violent episode. Russia, which cannot afford another open front after its defeats in Ukraine in recent weeks, has announced a new pact to lay down arms, with the intention of calming the tension but has no military forces that can stop breaches of that pact.

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