The Nagorno-Karabakh region under the self declared Republic of Artsakh has become reason for another war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. On Sunday, Azerbaijan is said to have invaded some territories in Artsakh and captured some posts. While Armenia has claimed that it inflicted heavy losses on Azerbaijani forces with 200 people killed, Azerbaijan claims that these are false figures and in fact Armenia has lost 550 soldiers. There were no independently verified reports available in this regard. In the meanwhile, Turkey has pledged full support to Azerbaijan, while Armenia’s ally Russia has called for an immediate ceasefire. US President Trump, like so many times, has offered to mediate.
Why the fight?
The cause of current conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh region is at least a century old. The mountainous region is ethnically Armenian but is claimed by Azerbaijan. Armenia and Azerbaijan are situated in the area that forms the boundary between Eastern Europe and Western Asia. The Armenian homelands were on the border of Ottoman and Russian empires in early 20th century, with Armenians found as minorities within both empires.
As the first world war started, Ottoman Turkey and Russia found themselves in opposite camps. As most Armenians were Christians, Muslim Ottoman Turkey carried out a genocide, starting in 1915, in which about 15 lakh Armenians were killed, raped, deported and expelled from areas under its control. However, Turkey has not recognized the genocide till date and that is a major source of tensions between both countries.
As both Ottoman and Russian Empires collapsed around 1917-18, Azerbaijan and Armenia declared independence and fighting started for the Nagarno-Karabakh region, but part of Azerbaijan. However, within a few years, both countries were conquered by Soviets and became part of USSR. The conflict was thus dormant for many decades.
Within USSR, Armenia and Azerbaijan were recognized as Republics, while Nagorno-Karabakh was declared an autonomous region. With the collapse of USSR in early 1990s, the conflict renewed and tens of thousands died in the war over the territory. The area has been under control of Armenian backed forces of the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh since 1994, when the war ended with about 30000 deaths. Many surrounding territories are also under Armenian control, which Azerbaijan claims to be its own.
Although Azerbaijan is officially secular, due to remaining Soviet influence, in recent years Islamism has steadily increased its influence. Armenia is a majority Christian country and prides itself on being “world’s oldest Christian nation”. It had declared Christianity as its official religion in 301AD, even before the Roman empire. Thus there is also a prominent religious angle to this ethnic conflict.
Armenia is a member of Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russia-led military alliance of many former members of USSR. Russia is a major ally of Armenia and thus the conflict can spiral out into neighbouring countries too. It would also be the case if Turkey enters into the conflict on behalf of Azerbaijan. Turkey has already reportedly deployed Syrian fighters, its proxies, in the region.
Armenia also shares a border with Iran, which is wary of Turkish influence in the region. Iran and its allies like Syria are also likely to support Armenia or remain neutral. The role of Georgia in the ensuing conflict would be very important. Georgia is one of the four neighbours of landlocked Armenia. The other three -Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkey- are Muslim majority, while Georgia, in the north, is Christian majority. Although it must be remembered that Iran is a Shia majority country and not on best of terms with Sunni countries. However, Georgia also has strained relations with Russia. It must be noted that Turkey and Azerbaijan have imposed a blockade on Armenia. Thus,70% of its trade, even with Russia, passes through Georgia, the rest through Iran.
The situation in the region is very serious with both countries having made preparations for war and imposed martial law. As far as military power is concerned, Azerbaijan has more number of troops due to its population of almost one crore being more than triple the population of Armenia, which is around 30 lakh. It also has unqualified support of Turkey. The Karabakh region itself has a small population of 1.5 lakhs, but can be a difficult battleground due to its hilly terrain.
Role of Bharat
Armenia has previously supported Bharat on Kashmir issue in a strong manner. Sidhant Sibal of Wion News shared an old clip of its PM on the issue on Twitter.
Watch: In response to my question over Turkey's🇹🇷 President @RTErdogan raking Kashmir at UNGA, Armenia's 🇦🇲 PM @NikolPashinyan backs India🇮🇳. This was last year, in New York, immediately after his #UNGA speech. @WIONews pic.twitter.com/wMTJTWwdvv
— Sidhant Sibal (@sidhant) September 27, 2020
Azerbaijan, a member of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation has many a times sided strongly with Pakistan. This is one of the key reasons that Pakistan has assured support to Azerbaijan in the current conflict against Armenia.
It remains to be seen if Bharat comes out of the Nehruvian utopian foreign policy paradigm and takes a firm stand on the issue, that is informed by its geopolitical interests and not just by hollow idealism. For a country with global power dreams, we cannot remain non-aligned now.
Image : rferl.org
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