Armenia-Azerbaijan Clash: All You Need To Know
At least 16 military personnel and several civilians were killed on Sunday in the heaviest clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan since 2016, reigniting concern about stability in the South Caucasus, a corridor for pipelines carrying oil and gas to world markets.
The clashes between the two former Soviet republics, which fought a war in the 1990s, were the latest flare-up of a long-running conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway region that is inside Azerbaijan but is run by ethnic Armenians, reported Reuters.
Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan in a conflict that broke out as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
Though a ceasefire was agreed in 1994, after thousands of people were killed and many more displaced, Azerbaijan and Armenia frequently accuse each other of attacks around Nagorno-Karabakh and along the separate Azeri-Armenian frontier.
Under international law, Nagorno-Karabakh is recognised as part of Azerbaijan. But the ethnic Armenians who make up the vast majority of the population reject Azeri rule. They have been running their own affairs, with support from Armenia, since Azerbaijan’s troops were pushed out in a war in the 1990s.
Long-standing ethnic tensions in the region between Christian Armenians and their mainly Muslim neighbours flared in Nagorno-Karabakh in the late 1980s. Hostilities this year have been the worst since 2016, when intense fighting killed dozens and threatened to escalate into all-out war, according to Reuters.
Such a conflict could drag in the big regional powers, Russia and Turkey. Moscow has a defence alliance with Armenia, while Ankara backs its ethnic Turkic kin in Azerbaijan.
In the 1980s, the territory was within the borders of the then-Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, though most decisions were made in Moscow.
As the Soviet Union began to break up, it became apparent that Nagorno-Karabakh would come under the direct rule of the Azeri government. The ethnic Armenians did not accept that.
Sectarian conflict erupted, escalating into war in 1991 between Azerbaijan’s troops and Nagorno-Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia. Thousands of people were killed and hundreds of thousands were displaced.
Authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence that year but it was not widely recognised internationally, leaving the ethnic Armenian administration there in a state of legal limbo and under blockade from Azerbaijan’s government.
By 1994, when an internationally brokered ceasefire was agreed, ethnic Armenians controlled almost all of Nagorno-Karabakh, plus some surrounding Azeri districts that gave them a buffer zone and land bridge connecting their region to Armenia.
Azerbaijan vowed to take back control over the territory, using military force if necessary. International efforts over the years to find a lasting peace settlement, involving France, the United States and Russia as mediators, have failed to clinch a deal.