Armenia-Azerbaijan: The Pot Boils Yet Again
Armenia and Azerbaijan, two neighbouring countries became part of the Soviet Union when it was formed in 1922. They were back as independent nations after the USSR was dissolved in 1991.
Armenia is a landlocked country whose capital is Yerevan and has an area of 29,743 square kilometres and a population of 29.6 lakhs (2.96 million). Azerbaijan is a transcontinental country, located at the boundary of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. Its capital is Baku, it has an area of 86,600 square kilometres and a population of 1.01 crores (10.1 million).
The territorial ownership of the Nagorno-Karabakh region is the main dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan. After World War I ended on November 11, 1918, a dispute over the control of this region arose. However, with Armenia and Azerbaijan joining the Soviet Union in 1922, this issue remained on the back burner. During their stay with the USSR from 1922 to 1991, Armenia was governed as an autonomous oblast (district) within the Azerbaijan SSR (state).
However, as Eastern European revolutions started in the 1980s, and the dissolution of the USSR was imminent, the issue of control of the Nagorno-Karabakh region rose once again. In early 1992, soon after the collapse of the USSR, the First Nagorno-Karabakh War broke out. The 1994 Bishkek Protocol brought the war to an end in the form of a frozen conflict. In international relations, a frozen conflict means that though a war has ended no peace treaty is signed, and the war can resume anytime. A frozen conflict creates an environment of immense insecurity and instability.
The period from 1994 to 2020 saw multiple ceasefire violations from both sides. The most serious amongst them was the four-day Nagorno-Karabakh conflict from April 1- April 5, 2016. Azerbaijan captured a territory of about 20 square kilometres which included two mountain heights. The 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War began on September 27 with an Azerbaijani offensive. This conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan which lasted from September 27-November 10 2020, even as the Covid-19 pandemic was raging across the world. The conflict killed 6184.
Russia supplied arms to Armenia, and Israel supplied arms to Azerbaijan which was supported by Turkey in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in 2020. Armenia and the unrecognised Republic of Artsakh responded with long range heavy artillery and missile strikes. In this war Azerbaijan used drones extensively which proved to be crucial in the war’s outcome.
After Azerbaijan successfully captured Shusha, the second largest city in Nagorno-Karabakh, a tripartite ceasefire agreement was signed between the Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Azerbaijanian President Ilham Aliyev and the Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. This ended all hostilities in the region effective November 10, 2020. The President of the unrecognised Republic of Artsakh, Arayik Harutyunyan too agreed to stop the war.
Under this ceasefire agreement, the warring nations were to keep the land they controlled till the ceasefire came into force. Armenia returned the territories it had occupied since 1994 to Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan got access to transport communication to the Nakhchivan enclave on the border of Turkey and Iran. And the Russians deployed a brigade strength (approximately 2000 troops) as peacekeeping forces along the Lachin corridor connecting Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh for at least five years.
On January 24, 2022 Armenia’s President resigned in protest over allegations of the Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s overtures to Azerbaijan, on border delimitation and attempts to normalise relations with Turkey. On March 18, 2022 the Russian peacekeeping force in Armenia, the 15th Separate Motor Rifle Brigade withdrew to participate in the Russia-Ukraine War.
On March 25, 2022 Azerbaijani forces crossed the ceasefire line and captured the village of Parukh and forced the residents of the village of Khramort to evacuate, forcing a strong protest from Armenia. This ceasefire violation by Azerbaijan came after weeks of simmering tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan over accusations of Azerbaijan cutting natural gas supplies to the region.
On March 26, 2022 Russia accused Azerbaijan of ceasefire violations. This can have serious ramifications in the times ahead.
Ronald Reagan had rightly remarked “Peace is not absence of conflict; it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means”. Clearly the pot is boiling yet again between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Lt Col JS Sodhi retired from the Corps of Engineers of the Indian Army, is an alumnus of NDA, Khadakwasla and IIT Kanpur. Views expressed are personal