By Athena Papakosta

Once again the South Caucasus region is on fire as Azerbaijan announced that its armed forces launched what it calls “anti-terrorist” operations in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The purpose, as Baku reported yesterday, Tuesday, is to disarm the armed forces of Armenia and ensure their withdrawal from the region after the neutralization of their military infrastructure.

Armenia, for its part, denounces a “large-scale attack” by Azerbaijan, stressing that Baku’s aim is to carry out “ethnic cleansing” in the disputed enclave.

Nagorno-Karabakh: The Story of the Conflict

Armenia and Azerbaijan have been involved in two wars over Nagorno-Karabakh since the collapse of the Soviet Union three decades ago. Today, the situation remains unsettled.

Nagorno-Karabakh is a mountainous region located within Azerbaijan and recognized as part of it under international law.

The Armenians, however, call it Artsakh and make up the vast majority of the approximately 120,000 inhabitants of the area. They have their own autonomous administration in it, which maintains close ties with Armenia but is not officially recognized by Yerevan. Both sides claim deep historical ties to Nagorno-Karabakh, which under the Soviet Union became an autonomous region within the republic of Azerbaijan. Armenia has never recognized the region’s independence and remains its main economic and military supporter.

The first Karabakh war broke out in 1988 and lasted until 1994. Almost 30,000 people died and more than a million were displaced. Most of them were Azeris who were driven from their homes when the Armenian side now controlled Nagorno-Karabakh as well as parts of seven regions around it.

In 2020, Baku launched a military operation that evolved into the Second Karabakh War, which quickly broke the Armenian defenses. Within 44 days, and nearly 6,500 dead later, Azerbaijan took back seven regions and 1/3 of Nagorno-Karabakh.

According to analysts, the use of drones by Turkey and Israel was of key importance in Baku’s victory.

Russia, which has a defense treaty with Armenia and good relations with Azerbaijan, negotiated the ceasefire. The deal called for about 2,000 Russian peacekeepers to be deployed in Karabakh to guard the only road left linking the enclave to Armenia – the so-called Lachin Corridor. Yerevan, however, criticizes Moscow for not keeping its commitment while tensions in the region remained high and negotiations to sign a peace agreement did not progress.

Fine balances

According to experts, Baku’s decision to now launch a new military operation in the region proves that Moscow is losing its influence in former Soviet states that are considered part of its undisputed sphere of influence.

In the last period of time the relations between Armenia and Russia have deteriorated. Yerevan has long criticized Russian peacekeepers for failing to keep the Lachin Corridor open while, a few weeks ago, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, in an interview with Italy’s La Repubblica, went so far as to claim that Moscow is not in position to guarantee the security of Armenia predicting, in fact, that the Russians are preparing to leave the South Caucasus.

For its part, Moscow is also unhappy with Yerevan, one of its oldest allies. The reason is the provision of humanitarian aid to Ukraine, but also the fact that Armenia did not allow the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization to conduct exercises on its territory while, this month, it decided to conduct joint exercises with the United States of America .

At the same time, Azerbaijan, “counting” Nagorno-Karabakh as an internationally recognized part of its territory, is counting on Turkey and Israel, with the European Union also looking towards it, as Brussels is looking for alternative solutions for its energy independence Union from Moscow.

Concern in the international community

The new cycle of violence in Nagorno-Karabakh is causing great concern to the international community, which is calling for a ceasefire.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken described the situation as “particularly dangerous”. The European Union, through the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, condemned the military escalation and called on Baku to stop its current military activities while Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that “the Russian side urges the parties to the conflict to stop the bloodshed, immediately cease hostilities and return to the path of political and diplomatic settlement.”

Turkey is an exception. The Turkish Foreign Ministry hastened to stand by Baku, stressing among other things that “Azerbaijan had to take the measures it deems necessary on its own sovereign territory.” A few hours later, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, did the same from the United Nations General Assembly.

(With information from Reuters, AFP, The Guardian, AP)