Why Armenia, Azerbaijan Fight in Nagorno-Karabakh?

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A view of the cultural center, destroyed by shelling during a military conflict, in Shushi, outside Stepanakert, the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. (AP Photo)

For more than two weeks, Armenian and Azerbaijani forces have been fighting over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Hundreds of soldiers and many civilians have been killed in the clashes.

Why Armenia, Azerbaijan Fight in Nagorno-Karabakh? 1

Observers fear that, as the number of dead rises, it will be harder for diplomats to persuade Armenia and Azerbaijan to return to negotiations.

Russia negotiated a ceasefire between the warring countries on Saturday. But the truce is only being partly observed. The two sides are accusing the other of violating the agreement.

A short history of the disputed area

Nagorno-Karabakh lies inside Azerbaijan, but the area is largely independent of the central government. Most of the people living there are ethnic Armenians, not Azeris.

The current fighting started on September 27. It has been described as the worst in the territory since the early 1990s. At that time, as many as 30,000 people were killed before Russia helped negotiate a halt to the fighting. The ceasefire agreement left the dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan frozen. Both the United States and France supported the deal.

Over the past 20 years, conflicts have flared up from time to time. This time, Azerbaijan’s president appears to want to make a breakthrough either by force or by negotiations.

Observers say Azeris, who are the majority in the rest of Azerbaijan, are dissatisfied with a lack of diplomatic progress on the conflict.

Talks are being led by France, the United States and Russia as co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The three and several other countries in the area are known as the OSCE Minsk Group.

Azerbaijan has become frustrated with a lack of progress. They say the ceasefire has permitted Armenian control not only of Nagorno-Karabakh, but seven other areas. They also claim that Armenia now controls about 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized land. Azerbaijan says United Nations Security Council resolutions requiring Armenian troops to leave all occupied territories have been ignored. They add that Armenia’s president has claimed the disputed area as part of Armenia.

Azerbaijan has been modernizing its army since 2016. The country appears to have strengthened its military with the help of Turkey. It has bought $10 billion in weapons from foreign companies in recent years.

Zaur Shiriyev is an expert on the South Caucasus area. He works for the Belgium-based International Crisis Group. He says the morale of Azerbaijani forces is high. He also said there was little interest among civilians for returning to peace talks.

Laurence Broers is with the research group Chatham House. He notes that Azerbaijani forces are flying Turkish and Israeli drone aircraft over land controlled by Armenian forces. He said they have made gains through the “Line of Contact, particularly along the southern flank.”

Any gains are expected to make it harder for Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, to return to his country’s positions before the offensive.

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Words in This Story

flare up –v. when violence or disease suddenly becomes worse

breakthrough – n. a sudden and important development

frustrated – adj. getting angry because of not being able to do something or complete something

morale – n. a feeling of happiness or loyalty that a person or group has about a job

drone –n. a kind of small aircraft that flies without a pilot can be used for war

flank –n. a side of a military formation

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