Armenia and Azerbaijan: Old Conflict, New Stakes

By: Alexandra Tolmasov  |  November 27, 2020

By Alexandra Tolmasov

The year 2020 has brought many atrocities with it, one of them being the devastating war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Thankfully, a peace deal has been accepted by Armenia and Azerbaijan on November 9, 2020. However, many people are uninformed about the conflict and the Nagorno-Karabakh region’s importance to Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Most people worldwide are hearing about the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh for the first time. However, Armenia and Azerbaijan have clashed for years over this region, currently recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but controlled by ethnic Armenians.

When Armenia and Azerbaijan were conquered by the Red Army in the 1920s, Joseph Stalin placed the majority-Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh into the control of Azerbaijan. Even though both Armenia and Azerbaijan weren’t pleased with this arrangement, it didn’t matter much at the time since they were both members of the Soviet Union. However, when the Soviet Union started collapsing in the late 1980s, residents in Nagorno-Karabakh voted to become part of Armenia. While Armenia was pleased to gain back the region that was historically Armenian, Azerbaijan had no plan of losing the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. This provoked a devastating war between the two countries over the region.The war between Armenia and Azerbaijan ended with a truce in 1994, which left Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan. However, a self-declared republic of ethnic Armenians, backed by the Armenian government, has governed the region. Therefore, clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region continued.

In August 2019, Mr. Pashinyan, the prime minister of Armenia, told ethnic Armenians assembled in Nagorno-Karabakh that Karabakh is Armenia. This remark angered Azerbaijan. Moreover, in spring 2020, an election was organized by the self-declared Armenian government in Nagorno-Karabakh, aggravating Azerbaijan.

In July of this year, clashes started at the Armenian-Azerbaijani state border between Armenian Armed Forces and Azerbaijani Armed Forces, killing more than a dozen people. The fighting provoked thousands of people in Azerbaijan to demonstrate in favor of going to war with Armenia.

The latest conflict started on  September 27. Armenia said that Azerbaijan fired the first shots on Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan said it was launching a “counter-offensive in response to military provocation.”

The war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2020 was different from previous conflicts between the two countries. For the first time, Turkey directly engaged in the dispute supporting Azerbaijan, which turned this local conflict into a regional conflict. Moreover, the scale of the fighting was larger compared to previous conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Both sides used drones and long-range artillery.

The military conflict came to an end on November 9 when both sides agreed to sign a peace deal brokered by Russia. The peace deal brought to an end six weeks of the devastating war, which killed thousands of people and left many more displaced.

Under the terms of the agreement, Azerbaijan retains control over territory that it gained control over during this conflict, and Armenia must withdraw troops from those areas. Russian peacekeepers that will monitor the truce replace the Armenian troops previously occupying the area. Moreover, Armenia agreed to open a transport corridor for Azerbaijan through Armenia and allow the United Nations to oversee the return of the internally displaced people.

After the settlement was sealed, protests immediately erupted in Armenia, reflecting the unhappiness of the Armenian people with the agreement. Armenians accuse their government of surrendering to Azerbaijan and relinquishing territory that they consider to be part of their ancestral homeland. We can only hope that the hostility over the new arrangement will not turn into a new bloody conflict.

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