Deadly clashes erupted on Sunday between two former Soviet Republics—Azerbaijan and Armenia, over a longstanding territorial dispute for the turbulent Nagorno-Karabakh region, a strife-torn region that lies within the jurisdiction of Azerbaijan but is governed by ethnic Armenians.
The recent flare-ups, worst since 2016, have raised the spectre of a fresh war between the two arch-enemies that have overlapping claims over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. At least 23, including 16 military personnel, were killed in the clashes that took place on Sunday, rekindling concerns of stability in South Caucasus, a corridor for pipelines carrying oil and gas to the world markets.
Clashes erupted between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the volatile Nagorno-Karabakh region, reigniting concern about instability in the South Caucasus, a corridor for pipelines transporting oil and gas to world markets https://t.co/tVxDtV3zZb pic.twitter.com/bmBh5EzLBZ— Reuters (@Reuters) September 27, 2020
Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia have declared martial law after Azerbaijan launched an aerial and artillery attack on Sunday, killing several of the military servicemen and injuring hundreds of others.
Azerbaijan, on the other hand, has also imposed martial law, claiming its attack was in retaliation to shelling by Armenia that had reportedly killed five members of a single family.
Azerbaijan also claimed that it has taken control of seven villages of Nagorno-Karabakh. This initially denied but later Nagorno-Karabakh admitted of having lost “some positions” and acknowledged the loss of civilian lives, without delving into the details.
The violent confrontation between Muslim-majority Azerbaijan and Christian-majority Armenia threatened to draw in regional players—Turkey and Russia—increasing the possibility of snowballing a regional conflict into a global one. According to reports, Turkey has already deployed Syrian fighters in Azerbaijan to fight against Armenia.
International leaders and global organisations call for a truce between Azerbaijan and Armenia
This likelihood of a zonal conflict devolving into a full-scale war was acknowledged by several international leaders, prompting them to call for an immediate ceasefire between the two countries.
US President Donald Trump recognised the precarious nature of conflict and said in a Sunday evening press briefing that the United States is looking strongly at the situation and a lot of good relationships in the region to de-escalate the mounting tensions.
US Senator Bob Menendez condemned the attack on Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijan, stating that it is another act of aggression supported by Turkey and asked the Trump administration to terminate security assistance granted to Azerbaijan.
I strongly condemn Azerbaijan’s attack on Nagorno Karabakh, yet another act of aggression supported by Turkey. The Trump Administration should suspend security assistance to Azerbaijan and engage through the OSCE Minsk Group to bring about a ceasefire. https://t.co/hBAR7abDAc— Senator Bob Menendez (@SenatorMenendez) September 27, 2020
The United Nations Chief Antonio Guterres said that he was concerned about the fresh resumption of hostilities between the two countries. Amidst the intensifying clashes, the UN Chief asked the two nations to “immediately de-escalate” and get into “meaningful negotiations”.
The European Union also called upon the two countries to immediately end hostilities and return to negotiating tables. Similar sentiments were also raised by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Pope Francis urged both sides to strike an armistice and resolve the matter through talks.
History of violent conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over volatile Nagorno-Karabakh region
The dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh dates back to several decades when the then Soviet Republic merged the predominantly ethnic Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh with Azerbaijan in 1921.
However, the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991 provided an opportunity to the Armenian separatists to wage a war for seeking liberation from Azerbaijan. The ensuing war resulted in the deaths of 30,000 people and left thousands of others homeless.
Though a ceasefire was reached in 1994, Azerbaijan and Armenia were locked in the territorial dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh region, frequently accusing each other of mounting attacks along their tense border.
Recently, in April 2016, a violent confrontation between the two countries caused the deaths of 200 people. Azerbaijan has promised of reintegrating the territory back into its country while Armenia has pledged of doing all it could to defend the area.