WHAT’S GOING ON IN THE CAUCASUS?

Despite a deepening conflict, the reality of the cause is not yet apparent

A dispute over a historically contested area in the Caucasus is again the cause of the current ongoing conflict between the rival countries Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The Nagorno-Karabakh region, which borders Armenia to its west and Iran to its south, is home to a large ethnic Armenian population, yet is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan. Moreover, Nagorno-Karabakh is governed by its own unrecognised government known as ‘The Republic of Artsakh’, supported by the Armenians.

The conflict began on Sunday the 27th September, however, how it began is unclear. The Armenian Ministry of Defence stated that the Azerbaijan army fired artillery shells into the disputed region. Whereas, Azerbaijan claims that their attack was in response to artillery fire from the separatist government in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Whatever the case, the fighting has intensified and is notably different from previous conflicts between the two countries, as the battles include armored vehicles, shelling and drone warfare.

Either side has reported conflicting casualty estimates, but many independent outlets suggest that over 200 people have died as a result of the hostilities.

The conflict had largely been fought in unpopulated regions, however, cities from both sides have been shelled. This included Ganja in Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital, Stepanakert.

These skirmishes are showing the signs of becoming an all-out war with a full mobilisation of both sides armed forces, and martial law implemented in both countries. Their leaders are also using worryingly threatening language. In a speech to Armenia on the 27th September, the Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said, “get ready to defend the sacred homeland”.


MACKAYAN: WHAT’S GOING ON, CAUCASUS


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By Matthew Parkes: Political Columnist


A concerning development is the inclusion of foreign powers in this conflict. President Erdogan of Turkey has supported Azerbaijan and has pledged further aid either politically or militarily. Russia has called for negotiations between the two belligerents, but has a Mutual Defence treaty with Armenia. Therefore, the possibility of the conflict progressing outside of the disputed region risks a larger war.

Tensions between Armenia and Turkey peaked this week when the former accused the latter of shooting down its SU-25 fighter plane on Tuesday 29th September. This has been denied by the Defence departments of both Azerbaijan and Turkey.

In another worrying development, It is alleged that 300 ‘jihadist’ fighters from Syria travelled through Turkish territory to join the fighting in region. President Macron has subsequently demanded an explanation from Turkey. Russia’s foreign ministry has also expressed concern about these fighters, stating that their presence could have a long term security risk for the region.

The United States, Russia and France all called for a ceasefire on Thursday 1st October, however as of yet neither side seems willing to engage.

These three countries were also instrumental in mediating the ceasefire to the last war over this disputed territory in 1994.

The ceasefire did not lead to any long-term conclusion.

This historic conflict arose in 1988 when Azerbaijan began to move towards independence from the Soviet Union and taking control of the Nagorno-Karabakh. This region had previously voted in a referendum in favour of secession from Azerbaijan. Conservative estimates put the death count at over 20,000. A daunting warning of what could be to come.


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