Disputed territory: what is the essence of the conflict around Nagorno-Karabakh

What is it about?

Conflicts around the Nagorno-Karabakh region in the South Caucasus have been ongoing for a long time. In the Soviet Union, the region was part of the Azerbaijan Soviet Republic. But the Armenian majority lived there. Following ethnic conflicts elsewhere, they escalated into war, which claimed tens of thousands of lives in the early 1990s. The original 1994 ceasefire agreement could not be converted into a peace agreement. Since then it has been a so-called frozen conflict, but it flares up again and again.

What happened now?

Azerbaijan has launched a military offensive with attacks in Nagorno-Karabakh after weeks of rising tensions. The Ministry of Defense in Baku announced on Tuesday that the operation was against “terrorists”. The goal is “to ensure the disarmament and withdrawal of Armenian Armed Forces from our territories and neutralize their military infrastructure.” Precision-guided weapons will only be used against legitimate military targets, not civilians. The population can freely leave the region through “humanitarian corridors.” Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in a televised address that Azerbaijan’s goal is to carry out “ethnic cleansing” against the region’s Armenian population. Armenia called on Russian peacekeepers for help. The European Union called for an end to hostilities and declared its readiness to mediate in the conflict.

How long ago did the last escalation occur?

In 2020, Azerbaijan last tried to reclaim the territory and other territories occupied by Armenia. In total, more than 7,000 soldiers died during the six-week war. With Russian support, a second ceasefire agreement was concluded in November 2020. He recorded the conquests of Azerbaijan and forced the Armenians to withdraw troops from further territories. Since then, Russian peacekeepers have controlled the line of contact between the conflicting parties, as well as the Lachin corridor, the only supply route between Nagorno-Karabakh and the Republic of Armenia. The truce is fragile and there are repeated armed clashes. There have already been deaths this year as a result of cross-border shootings.

Which state does the region belong to under international law?

The majority of residents of Nagorno-Karabakh are Armenians. In 1991 they declared independence from Azerbaijan. This has never been recognized internationally, organizations such as the EU and the UN consider this territory to be part of Azerbaijan, no state in the world has recognized the “Republic of Artsakh”, the Armenian name for Nagorno-Karabakh, as independent – ​​not even the Republic of Armenia. Azerbaijani leader Ilham Aliyev has called on Karabakh Armenians to live as a minority in his country and rejects the special status of the people of Karabakh.

Why has the humanitarian situation deteriorated so much recently?

Azerbaijan has been blocking the Lachin corridor since December last year. As food and everyday goods were no longer delivered to the region, the situation of the population became increasingly precarious. In June, Baku further tightened the blockade, through which even Russian humanitarian aid and transport of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were not allowed through. Most recently, the Karabakh Armenians agreed to the delivery of aid along the Aghdam route from central Azerbaijan (named after the site destroyed there), along which Russian aid reached Stepanakert on Tuesday last week. Last Sunday, the leadership of Karabakh Armenia and Baku agreed on the “simultaneous” delivery of aid from Russia and the International Committee of the Red Cross along this Agdam route, as well as along the Lachin corridor. A cargo of humanitarian aid from the ICRC arrived in the region on Monday.

Why is Azerbaijan now again escalating the conflict?

According to Foreign Minister Annalena Bärbock (Greens), intensive negotiations have taken place between the EU and the US in the past few days with Armenia and Azerbaijan. Baku promised to refrain from military measures. Now that promise has been broken. This is not surprising for observers, since the timing is favorable for Azerbaijan. The world’s attention is focused on Ukraine, and Russian forces, once considered Armenia’s protective force, have also been deployed there. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan recently complained that he relied only on a “strategic partner” in Russia. This factor is one of many that led to Moscow’s dissatisfaction with Yerevan. Another example is Armenia’s plan to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The court issued an arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin.

Source: Frantfurter Allgemeine

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