The conflict in the small Nagorno-Karabakh enclave could develop into a regional war, with Russia supporting one side and NATO country Turkey the other.
The Armenian separatists, who have controlled the enclave since 1994 and want to incorporate the region into Armenia, declared full military mobilization on Sunday and have asked the population to prepare for war. The authorities in Azerbaijan have declared a state of emergency and war across the country.
16 of the separatist soldiers are said to have been killed and over a hundred injured. The fighting is between Azerbaijan on the one hand and Armenian separatists with the support of Armenia on the other.
But both sides have powerful countries behind them: Armenia has historically been supported by Russia, while Azerbaijan is one of Turkey’s closest allies.
FACT: The Battle of Nagorno-Karabakh
COUNTER-ATTACK: According to the Armenian defense, this image is of tanks going on a counter-attack on a military vehicle from neighboring Azerbaijan.
Threats from both sides
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is quoted in the regime-run newspaper Daily Sabah as saying that “Armenia is the biggest threat to the region”, and says that Turkey will be at odds with its brothers in Azerbaijan.
In the newspaper Russia Today, a purely propaganda tool for Vladimir Putin’s regime, the conflict is widely covered with types of war in capital letters: Russian President Vladimir Putin has already begun talks with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pasjinian on how Russia can support them.
The powerful president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, has for years threatened to “get tea” in the neighboring country; a badly hidden threat to invade to take back the enclave.
On the Armenian side, the newly elected prime minister has also promised to strengthen the military, and played on the danger of an invasion by the archenemy to strengthen himself politically.
NATO warns of dangerous escalation and calls for a ceasefire; an appeal the EU has also issued.
HOLDING STAFF: Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pasjinian has promised to support the separatists.
Escape from the previous war
Gunel Movlud is an Azerbaijani journalist and author, living in Norway. She is on the run from the regime in Azerbaijan, and has nothing left for those in power in the capital Baku.
– What is very dangerous is that the government in Azerbaijan has for a long time threatened war. The Armenian government has also used this as a threat. As these countries have Turkey and Russia on their side, it can be a very dangerous war, she says.
The author is closely linked to what is happening in the controversial enclave: As an 11-year-old, she was among the nearly 750,000 ethnic Azerbaijanis who were forced to flee the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the early 1990s.
She has recently published a book about what she experienced after the escape, when Armenian militias went on the offensive to capture the controversial enclave.
– Before the fall of the Soviet Union, there was a fairly friendly relationship between the peoples, but when the war came, everything changed. It has now been several decades where conflict between both countries and ethnic groups has increased and increased. In the background, the great powers are playing a dangerous game, she says.
Martin Davitian is a board member of the Armenian Cultural Association in Norway, and was recently in Armenia. He tells VG that he could not notice that there was fear of war during the trip.
– We have heard for years that Azerbaijan will attack, and recently equipped the military. But we did not think this would happen now. I link it to the fact that the president of Azerbaijan wants to stand out from his own people, says Davitian.
– It’s very serious. They have Turkey and Erdogan behind them, but I think the support we get from Russia can mitigate the danger of a major war, he continues.
AZERBAIAN ATTACK: These images, from the Azerbaijani side, are to show an air strike against an Armenian position near the border.
The separatists control the mainly Armenian-populated enclave, but it is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, explains Berit Lindeman, who is head of department for Eastern Europe and Central Asia in the Norwegian Helsinki Committee to VG.
– The international community has never recognized Armenia’s claim to Nagorno-Karabakh, and according to international law, it is Azerbaijan that will actually control the area, she says.
Lindeman has lived and worked in Azerbaijan and is an expert on the human rights situation in the country.
Weapons from Russia
From 1988 to 1994, Nagorno-Karabakh was hit by a war with ethnic Armenians supported by Armenia on the one hand, and Azerbaijani forces with the support of Chechen and Afghan fighters on the other.
Lindeman says that the area has long been controversial and that there have been steep fronts between the two countries since the war ended.
– It is an extremely deadlocked situation and it has been completely impossible to arrive at a negotiated solution. The chance of a full-scale war is great and both parties have equipped themselves, Lindeman says.
Russia has sold a lot of weapons to Armenia, but none of the major powers want a violent escalation, the expert believes.
– Turkey and Russia each support their side in the conflict, but they probably have a good dialogue between them and a common interest in stopping this, she says.
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The historical background is complicated, and involves both great powers: During the last years of the Ottoman Empire, Armenian separatists tried to secede, and the entire people was subjected to a brutal deportation between 1915-1920. As a result, between one and a half million Armenians died.
To this day, Turkey denies that a genocide was committed, something 29 other countries have acknowledged that happened.
Russian interference can also explain the current situation: Under the Soviet Union, both Armenia and Azerbaijan were ruled from Moscow, but despite the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave having a majority of ethnic Armenians, the region was annexed by Azerbaijan.
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PS: Many attempts have been made to negotiate a peace agreement after the ceasefire came into force in 1994. The so-called Minsk group, consisting of France, Russia and the United States, has assisted as mediators, but without the parties approaching each other. The last attempt was made in 2010, writes NTB.