Decoding Geopolitical War In Caucasus Region

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Caucasus Region, Nagorno-Karabakh war
Image Credits: Axios

On 27th September, the long frozen war between two Soviet Union descendent countries namely Armenia and Azerbaijan erupted. As a result of these clashes, hundreds of people have reportedly been killed and more than thousands have been injured till date. Both countries were at loggerheads since the 1990s over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh after the disintegration of Soviet Union. This region witnessed gross human rights violations, a massive refugee crisis and large-scale death of civilians during a four-decade-long stalemate in the region. While clashes over this disputed territory were on and off till now, the current crisis is seen to be a most serious one in recent years. 

Historical Background:

Nagorno Karabakh, a piece of land situated in the mountainous region of South Caucasus, populated by a majority of Armenian Christion and historically having a significant population of the Turkish Muslim community. Armenian people claim that this region belongs to them since it was a part of the Great Armenian empire way back to 4th Century BCE. Along with this, Nagorno Karabakh population ethnically relate with Armenians as Armenia being predominantly Christian country. Azeris, on the other hand, claim that Nagorno Karabakh belongs to them as Turkish Ottoman empire ruled over the region. Ottoman empire said to have conducted the first genocide of the Armenian Christian population in between 1914 to 1923, but this fact is denied by Turkey and Muslim historians. Azerbaijan is a Sunni Muslim country, claiming that despite all religious differences, Nagorno Karabakh was under their control during the Soviet era.

Caucasus Region, Nagorno-Karabakh war
Image Credits: Modern Diplomacy

In 1823, Tsar Nicholas-I occupied this territory and merged it with the Russian empire. After the 1920s, when Trans-Caucasus regions joined newly formed socialist USSR, the border between three countries namely Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan remained largely undefined. Joseph Stalin initially proposed to include Nagorno Karabakh and surrounding seven districts region into Armenia and it was agreed by Azerbaijan too; but later on, under Turkish influence, he formed it as an autonomous region as de jure part of Azerbaijan. Seeds of dispute sown here in this decision of the then Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin.

Flares of conflict resurfaced again in 1988 during final days of USSR when people in Nagorno Karabakh demonstrated for demanding their cessation from Azerbaijan and reunion with Armenia. Series of clashes continued thereafter causing civilian and military casualties. In 1994, Russia mediated ceasefire between two belligerent countries but that also could not stop from ceasefire violation from both sides. Again in 2016, four days war erupted which boiled down after Russia mediated and asked both countries to restrain from violent clashes. 

Current Scenario:

Nagorno Karabakh autonomous region currently ruled by insurgents allegedly receiving support from Armenia. Only a few areas (around 5% of the total disputed area) of the region have de facto ruled by Azerbaijan. Despite the UN and other countries accept Azerbaijan’s claim of having de jure authority over Nagorno Karabakh, Armenian separatist government in Nagorno Karabakh claims that this is against their right of self-determination. 

Image Credits: TRT World

According to the Warsaw-based Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW), the current escalation was “most likely” initiated by Azerbaijan on 27th September after widespread support marches in the country to take landmass back from foreign control. According to a BBC report, Azerbaijan initially had destroyed an Armenian fortification and artillery which inflicted hundreds of Armenian casualties. Later on, Armenia denied this report. Both countries issuing stern warnings and statements against each other in parallel with the on-ground ongoing war.

Role of Geopolitics:

Geopolitics is playing crucial role in this conflict. A proxy war between regional players started behind the shadows of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Russia, a dominant figure in the region have stakes in both countries. This is the reason why Russia want to de-escalate these tensions as early as possible and appealing both countries for same. Russia is a major supplier of arms and ammunitions to Azerbaijan. Russia also have had good relations with Armenia. Armenia is Russia’s ally against another significant regional player Turkey. 

Caucasus Region, Nagorno-Karabakh war
Image Credits: Turkish Policy

In recent decade Turkey emerged as a strong geopolitical player under Erdogan’s staunch Islamic political credentials. Turkey openly supporting Azerbaijan with all kinds of help. Turkish president Erdogan even castigated Armenia as a “threat to regional peace”. Azerbaijan, having large Oil and Natural gas resources, is best option for Turkey against its reliance on Oil reserves in Middle east, since almost all middle eastern countries are averse to Turkish domination. It has been also reported that Turkey mobilised Syrian refugees to Azerbaijan in order to fight war in Nagorno Karabakh. Turkey’s friend Pakistan also said to have unofficially sent around thousand soldiers to fight war against Armenia. 

Iran is another regional power and neighbour to both belligerent countries. Iran is Shia country and chief opponent of Sunni Turkey in the region. In this conflict, Iran covertly supporting Armenia since its both opponents namely Turkey and Israel supporting Azerbaijan. Israel is one of the largest exporters of drones to Azerbaijan. These defence ties compelling Israel to stand with Azerbaijan in this dispute. OIC (Organisation of Islamic Countries) also unequivocally supporting Azerbaijan.

USA and France are NATO countries and this fact bind them to show solidarity with Turkey; but in this conflict both countries are reluctant to support for Azeri cause too. Both appealed for peace and restrain from violence. China maintaining neutrality in dealing with this complex issue. India have good defence ties with Armenia and hostile ties with Azerbaijan to some extent because of Azerbaijan’s support to Pakistan on Kashmir issue. But despite all these things, Ministry of External Affairs of India clarified that India won’t support either warring country. 

Way forward…

Russia closely monitoring each and every development in this situation. By virtue of CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) Russia would be compelled to involve in the conflict in support for Armenia as treaty mandates attack on any member country would be akin to attack on all member countries. Turkey on the other hand would possibly seek NATO help against Armenia as mandated by Article 5 of NATO treaty. 

To sum up, these flares of war seems to be prolonged for a long time in future since both countries are reluctant to refrain from peace. US presidential election and slowdown of the global economy due to pandemic would probably procrastinate efforts to make peace deal in between both warring countries. War in any part of the world is certainly a threat to peace in every part of the world and this war will cost the whole world community a lot.

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