Actualities of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

Dating back to the early years of the 20th century, the Nagorno-Karabakh region – located on the border of Armenia and Azerbaijan, has always been a source of controversy, violence, opposing interests and cardinal acts. After the Bolshevik revolution in October, 1917, Nagorno-Karabakh had become part of the Armenian Soviet Republic. Only four years later, in 1921, Stalin was the one, who put the territory under the control of the Azerbaijani Soviet Republic. Since then, there were several negotiations, diplomatic approaches evolved, both of the countries claimed that the region belongs to their territories, starting a conflict that, at the time was nowhere to be seen this intense and widespread as it is today. Taking all these violent acts from both of the involved parties and such brutal military interventions, as the one in 2016 into account, is it safe to say that the long-time latent conflict have reached a point where it is impossible to be reversed, or can there still be some kind of peaceful settlements?

The different aspects of the conflict – why is it so complex today?

The general idea of a territorial dispute is that the more it is being neglected by the international community, the more tense the contrary between the participants gets. It has not been different in the case of Nagorno-Karabakh, therefore the opposition between Armenia and Azerbaijan can be recognized through many areas during the past years.

First of all, there are the geopolitical features of the conflict, which are worth mentioning. The main issue related to the geographical aspects of the region derives from the infamous exclave of Azerbaijan, called Nakhchivan. The separated territory of Azerbaijan - also known as the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan. The concerning part of Nakhchivan’s position is that it is neighbored by Armenia from the North, and by Nagorno-Karabakh from the East. The second statement leads to the explanation of why this is a major problem. Hence the fact mentioned as the latter, the Nagorno-Karabakh region forms two thirds of the exact territory that separates Azerbaijan from its exclave, giving Azerbaijan a direct reason for practicing supervision over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. In addition to that, in 1989, as a consequence of an intervention of the USSR, one fifth of the territory of Azerbaijan – which has been inhabited only by Azerbaijanis by the time – had been disannexed from the homeland of Azerbaijan, and was given to Armenia, leading to even larger contrary between the parties.

Secondly, it is important to point out that there are demographic aspects playing major part in the conflict as well. On one hand there is the population of Nagorno-Karabakh. The area is mainly inhabited by Armenians, but it is even more crucial, that the land is considered as the homeland of all Armenians, therefore they are convinced, that their right to control it is unquestionable. The second demographic feature can be found in the Azerbaijani-Turkish kinship. Since these two nations are especially close to each other (i.e. Azerbaijanis speak a different dialect of the Turkish language, there is no such thing as Azerbaijani language), for Azerbaijan it is also a dominant factor, that Armenia is right between them and their ‘relatives’. Lastly, there is Iran’s role in the conflict. It is a strange fact, that there are more Azerbaijanis living in Iran then in Azerbaijan (15 million against 9 million). This means that Iran contributes to the conflict as being the most significant supporter of Azerbaijan. These facts showcase that in terms of demographically-based claims, the conflict is more or less balanced.

When it comes to militarization, we can see that both of the participating countries are taking it exceedingly seriously. Within this field, mainly general statements can be made, but these statements unanimously highlight the fact that militarization is a momentous part of the rivalry. In 1994, there was an agreement on cease-fire between the actors, but it has been violated multiple times by both of them since then. What is a more severe problem, is the increasing number of civil victims, let alone the militants losing their lives in the fights. Exaggerated militarization is also extremely harmful for the ongoing conflict. Azerbaijan spent close to 14 billion dollars for improvements in their military technology during the past 9 years. On the contrary, Armenia has always been in the top ten countries that spent the most on militarization in the last 10 years – with the only exception being 2015 -, according to the BICC’s (Bonn International Center for Conversion) Global Militarization Index.

As a fourth and last aspect, there are the economical characteristics of the dispute. First, there is the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipe, which is a common interest of Georgia and Azerbaijan. In case of an attack on the pipe from Armenia, Georgia would get involved in the conflict right away, which would make the controversy even more disconcerting. Secondly, there is Russia’s position. Russia is a major contributor and supplier, when it comes to the demand for weapons in Azerbaijan. If we take a broader look at that, this means that Russia has a direct interest in keeping the conflict alive, because it has a large income from it.

Latest events, position of the most important IO’s, possible outcomes

In 2014, one of the numerous violations of the cease-fire pact between the parties took place. There were serious fights and battles, all happening on the exact territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and its surroundings. This was a row of serious incidents that led to the fierce events of 2016. In that year, on the 2nd of April, both of the parties executed several, pre-organized military operations, which - by their ending - had several military personnel and civilians as victims. The government of Nagorno-Karabakh reported, that since 1994, this was the first time, when heavy weapons were involved in the fights. As a result of the encounters, Azerbaijan gained two heights, and one small town from the territory of Armenia. This highlights that even today changes in territory is a serious issue. Both of the parties ended the clash on the 5th of April, and signed another cease-fire agreement, but just a few days later they have violated it once again.

The IO’s have not found a solution to the conflict yet. The Minsk-group had been set up by the OSCE in order to help and urge the communication of the parties, but it has not been successful. Its main problem is that Russia serves as one of its members, next to France and the U.S. As a reminder, it is needed to mention that Russia has plenty of interest in keeping the conflict alive. This fact sabotages mainly the Minsk-group’s work in the area. When it comes to other major IO’s, we can see that both the CIS and the OSCE itself tries to urge the parties to sit down, negotiate, and find a peaceful way of solving the conflict. NATO’s approach is somewhat similar to the aforementioned ones, it also points out that a peaceful method is mandatory, but it suggests that the parties should let the government of Nagorno-Karabakh to decide, what the future of that semi-sovereign state will be. Last but not least, representing the EU’s opinion, Licínia Simao said to the Euractiv, that the EU could play a major role itself in the dispute in terms of supporting negotiations about new political agreements between the two states, and contributing to the involvement of other significant regional actors, such as the U.S or Turkey, in order to achieve a constructive agreement, that would secure the development of this strategic region.

In conclusion, it is safe to say that the future of this conflict depends a lot on how the involved parties will behave during future negotiations, how willing they will be to open up to suggestions of the international community, and how much reduction they would take from their individual interests, when it comes to the outline of a new status quo in the region.