What is Happening in Azerbaijan/Armenia?

An attempt to end a post-Soviet dispute by force in the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave?

Source: By Golden - CC BY-SA 4.0


On September 19, 2023, the Azerbaijani military initiated operations in Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory internationally acknowledged as Azerbaijani but contested by Armenia. The operation did not come as an unexpected development, given the escalating tensions between the two Euro-Asian nations in recent months. The hostilities have led to over two dozen casualties and additional injuries. International calls for de-escalation have not swayed Azerbaijan's intent to dominate the conflict. A temporary ceasefire has been established, mediated by Russia.

Situation Snapshot

The military engagement instigated by Azerbaijan on September 19 takes place against a backdrop of mounting tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Although Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as Azerbaijani territory, its status remains a point of contention between the two countries.

Casualties and Injuries:The conflict has resulted in more than 24 fatalities and a greater number of injuries within the enclave, thereby raising international concerns.

International Response:Various global powers, including the United States and Russia, have urged an immediate halt to hostilities. The European Union and the United Nations have echoed these sentiments. Despite these diplomatic overtures, the Azerbaijani authorities have not demonstrated any significant change in their course of action.

Military Strategy and Outcomes: Possessing a superior military arsenal, Azerbaijan has succeeded in neutralizing the air defense systems within the enclave, which it identifies as terrorist entities, and has also targeted their artillery installations. The Azerbaijani military has effectively blocked the sole logistical corridor connecting the enclave to Armenia, thereby consolidating its position.

Humanitarian Concerns and Mitigation: Limited steps have been taken to mitigate the humanitarian impact of the conflict. The International Committee of the Red Cross has been granted access to the enclave, and Russian peacekeepers have conducted limited evacuations from high-risk areas.

Ceasefire: A ceasefire has been implemented, and brokered by Russia, although it is currently unclear how enduring this truce will be.

Conclusions and Implications: The escalation of military activities in Nagorno-Karabakh merits close attention due to the potential for regional destabilization and the undermining of international peace efforts. Organizations with a presence in the area should exercise increased vigilance and consider reviewing their current risk mitigation strategies.

Critical Context

While the roots of the conflict extend far beyond the dissolution of the Berlin Wall, that historical juncture significantly shaped the contemporary contentious landscape. In 1988, during the era of glasnost under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev, ethnic Armenians began to advocate for Moscow's administration to place them under Armenian jurisdiction, capitalizing on the newfound freedom to participate in national conversations.

Previously, in 1923, the Soviet Union had designated the Armenian-majority enclave as a region under Azerbaijani governance. With the impending disintegration of the Soviet Union, the focus shifted to nationalism among its constituent republics and the delineation of territories. Post-independence in the early 1990s, Armenia felt emboldened to assert its claim over the enclave, substantiating its actions through the presence of an Armenian majority. The initial conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan transpired during this period, culminating in a ceasefire agreement in 1994, where Armenia emerged more dominant.

In a complicating move, Armenian separatists in the enclave declared independence in 1992, further followed by the drafting and subsequent adoption of an "independence" constitution in later years. These actions rendered the 1994 ceasefire agreement more intricate. Over the past two decades, the dynamics between Armenia and Azerbaijan concerning Nagorno-Karabakh have been substantially influenced by Armenia's political transformations.

In a recent development, tensions between the two nations escalated in mid-July 2020, leading to a brief armed skirmish, which was subsequently followed by a more substantial military engagement a few months later. Contrary to the earlier conflict in the 1990s, Azerbaijan decisively dominated the 2020 clashes. The ensuing ceasefire disproportionately favored Baku, compelling Armenia to withdraw its military forces from the enclave.

Geo-Political Aspects

Similar to numerous international conflicts, external interests both at the regional and global levels have played a significant role in the hostilities between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Since the 1990s, Turkey has leveraged its historical alliance with Azerbaijan and its contentious relationship with Armenia to materially support Azerbaijan's territorial claims.

Up until recent times, Russia had been a staunch supporter of Armenia, particularly backing the aspirations of Karabakh separatists. Russia played a decisive role in aiding Armenia's upper hand during the 1990s conflict and subsequently acted as a security guarantor for the nation.

In the 2020 conflict preceding the current hostilities, Turkey's material support proved pivotal to Azerbaijan's military success. Advanced weaponry, such as precision missiles and drones provided by Ankara, facilitated conditions for Azerbaijan to not only gain the upper hand but also determine the conflict's outcome. Ultimately, a settlement orchestrated by Russia led to the deployment of Russian peacekeeping forces in the enclave, effectively supplanting Armenian forces. Since that time, Azerbaijan has assumed a particularly dominant role in shaping the enclave's future, thereby reducing Armenia's influence.

Following the 2020 ceasefire, Moscow has essentially supplanted Yerevan as the primary benefactor of ethnic Armenians residing in the enclave. With Russia's attention largely diverted to the conflict in Ukraine, its peacekeeping presence in the enclave has diminished. Intriguingly, Armenia has sought to strengthen its relations with Washington in recent years.

In the most recent episode of hostilities, Armenia refrained from offering explicit military support to the separatists. While this could potentially reflect a lack of capability, it also signifies Armenia's adherence to the 2020 ceasefire accord. Nonetheless, this stance could have implications for the Armenian government's popularity within its own populace. A significant portion of ordinary Armenians continue to believe that their nation bears a responsibility to support their ethnic compatriots in Karabakh, and some even advocate for the enclave's complete annexation.

Looking Forward

With the implementation of the most recent ceasefire, facilitated by Russian mediation, hostilities have seen a rapid de-escalation within a span of less than 48 hours. However, the potential for the resurgence of conflict remains a very real possibility.

A shift in Armenia's governmental leadership, coupled with rising nationalist sentiments, could alter Yerevan's future stance toward the dispute. Such a change becomes even more plausible if Armenia gains access to more advanced weaponry in the years to come. While a definitive resolution to the longstanding issues remains elusive at present, it is conceivable that all parties with vested interests could convene for negotiations aimed at achieving a more lasting peace.

In conclusion, it remains crucial for organizations with risk exposure in the region, and certainly in the operational areas of Nagorno-Karabakh zone to remain vigilant for any further developments in this fluid situation. For ongoing updates and analyses, please continue to monitor reports from the RileySENTINEL team and other reputable sources.


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