Grayson Grigorian '21
Nagorno-Karabakh has been a contended region in geopolitics between Armenia and Azerbaijan for the past century. In 1918, both states gained independence with the fall of the Russian empire, and both disputed possession of the region. A brief war even broke out in 1920, but the young Soviet Union soon established order in the region. The region was made a part of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic in 1923.
Peace in the region ensued until the fall of the Soviet Union, when the region reappeared as a contended territory. Nagorno-Karabakh is an ethnically Armenian region, yet it was under political control of Azerbaijan. Thus, with Soviet influence in the region dissolved, the regional parliament voted to withdraw from Azerbaijan in 1991. Naturally, the Azeris opposed this decision while the Armenians backed it. High tensions in the region of this contested territory resulted in the 1991-1994 Nagorno-Karabakh war, which was brought to a temporary end with a cease-fire in 1994. Armenia overtook some of the Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas in the war, and Azerbaijan intended on taking them back. Conflict in the region has continually flared up over the region since then, but most significant has been the fighting in the past few months. Armenia is a predominantly Christian country, while Azerbaijan is majority Muslim, which contributes to tension in the region.
The most serious conflict over the territory since 1994 broke out on September 27th earlier this year. This time, however, things looked different. Technological improvements from the past decade and a half accounted for a different style of fighting, but the most stark contrast in the recent conflict was the involvement of external states like Turkey and Russia. Turkey and Azerbaijan share cultural ties which have maintained good relations between the two since the birth of Azerbaijan. As a result, Turkey became directly involved in the conflict, lending significant military aid to Azerbaijan. Russia, accustomed to being the influential power in the region and threatened by Turkey’s actions, decided to get involved in response. Russia worked as an impartial peacekeeper in the matter. Fighting ended after Azeri troops captured Shusha, one of the largest cities in Nagorno-Karabakh, and a ceasefire was negotiated by Russia which went into effect on November 10th. The terms called for Armenia to return the territories it gained from the 1991-1994 Nagorno-Karabakh War, and Russia would also provide peacekeepers to facilitate the transition.
The return of Armenian territories has left the Armenians who lived in the region without homes. Casualty estimates are in the thousands on both sides from the fighting. Perhaps most notably, however, the conflict indicates a growing role of Turkey in international relations in the Middle East and even a decreasing role in the mostly uninvolved United States. Also, with Turkey’s direct backing of Azerbaijan, Armenia may become increasingly dependent on Russia to preserve its autonomy.
The peace is uneasy, and only time will tell if fighting breaks out again over the disputed territory; however, the diplomatic structures of the Upper Middle East have achieved peace for now.