Updated: Sep 15, 2020
By Lauren Zakari
Image Via GeoCurrents
While the world's focus is on the current COVID-19 crisis, a seemingly inconsequential border skirmish threatens to escalate into a full-blown world war with Armenia and Azerbaijan at the forefront. These two relatively unknown Eurasian countries have been in conflict since the end of World War I, with a recent outbreak of violence that has garnered more attention from the global community than in years past. On July 12, the current ceasefire was broken and both countries engaged in a brutal confrontation, resulting in at least a dozen lives lost from both sides and rural villages terrorized by the hostility.
In order to understand the reason for these conflicts, it’s important to understand the events that lead to the present. Starting in 301 A.D., the Armenians became the first people to adopt Christianity as their state’s religion. This established them as the odd-ones-out in a mostly Muslim-dominated region. Throughout history, the Caucasus region has seen many rulers from the Persians to the Ottoman Empire, consistently highlighting the fact that the Armenians were an ethnic and religious minority. Skipping ahead to 1915 when the Ottoman Empire was on the decline, the Armenians faced a mass genocide by their neighbors in Turkey, who attempted to systematically exterminate the Armenian people. This left a scar on the now wounded Armenians with many fleeing the region to find asylum in other countries.
In 1923, Stalin began creating new borders without considering the ethnic makeup of the region, separating a majority ethnically-Armenian region from Armenia (known currently as Nagorno-Karabakh, or Artsakh to Armenians). Throughout most of the Soviet rule, there weren’t any major conflicts until 1988 when the ethnic Armenians of the region began a campaign to join Armenia by taking over the Nagorno-Karabakh territory and much of southern Azerbaijan. They claimed autonomy in the early 90s prompting a new war to emerge between the two countries. Ethnic tensions grew which prompted many peace agreements facilitated by Russia and the United States. Since 1994, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been in an agreed ceasefire with intentions of resolving this land dispute, but nothing has been done, leaving the region on thin ice and with a constant threat of battle at the borders.
Now, the fighting has begun yet again, but something about this time has caught the attention of many countries and organizations including the United Nations and the U.S. Recently, the House of Representatives passed the Pallone Agreement which calls for greater congressional oversight when it comes to the US military aid program, from which Azerbaijan receives $120 million in funds. In addition to this, there have been talks of a new peace agreement backed by Armenians that Azerbaijan has yet to agree to. This flare in violence has also mobilized the Armenian diaspora to respond. There have been protests against “Azerbaijani Aggression” in Belgium, Greece, Canada, and Los Angeles, with conflicts between Turkey/Azerbaijan protesters and Armenian protesters erupting at many of the Azerbaijani embassies.
This may not seem like an issue that deserves international attention, but with many powerful allies invested in the region, a war between the two countries could result in further deepened identity conflicts and many casualties on both sides. For Armenians, this aggression feels reminiscent of the genocide that Turkey has yet to recognize. To the Azerbaijanis, Nagorno-Karabakh is their rightful land- one that they would do anything to protect. Neither side is willing to compromise on the issue, so for now, they will remain in the constant shift between peace and fighting.
Written by writer Lauren Zakari