In depth: Why are Armenia and Azerbaijan at war?
Armenia and Azerbaijan are at loggerheads for more than four decades now. But the tensions escalated last month when Armenia declared martial law and moved its military to borders after claiming that Azerbaijan launched army operations in Nagorno-Karabakh. Though the situation is under control right now, the region is sitting on a ticking atom bomb.
Armenia claims that the mountainous region and people of Nagorno-Karabakh are exploited by the Azerbaijan governments. Though Nagorno-Karabakh is recognised internationally as Azerbaijan’s territory, it has a majority of Armenian population who have resisted Azerbaijani rule for more than a century. In 1991 the region of around 150,000 people declared independence and since then it has ruled itself – with Armenian support – as the unrecognised Republic of Artsakh.
There have always been skirmishes in the region between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh but the tensions have now escalated. Since late last month, the Nagorno-Karabakh forces along with the Armenian military have been fighting Azerbaijani troops, armour and aircraft. At least 400 people have been killed including civilians, and hundreds more are said to be injured. Apparently, Azerbaijan has taken control of territory inside Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenians, however, claim it to be false.
Armenia is a Christian majority country while “oil-rich” Azerbaijan is Muslim majority, and the Nagorno-Karabakh region is mostly populated with ethnic Armenians. The roots of the problem go back to the Soviet era. In 1921, Azerbaijan and Armenia became Soviet Republics and Nagorno-Karabakh, was an autonomous region within Azerbaijan. But after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Nagorno-Karabakh came under Azerbaijani control, which the Armernians did not accept.
Though Nagorno-Karabakh claimed independence from Azerbaijan, tensions resurfaced in the region after Azerbaijan and Armenia became independent countries, and entered a separatist war which led to a separatist war that lasted till 1994 and that killed nearly 30,000 people.
The sleeping battleground
Russia brokered peace between the two countries after the war but the tensions kept simmering. The region is also important because of its geopolitical conflict. While Russia has relations with both the countries, it definitely is tilted towards Armenia. Turkey is openly favouring Azerbaijan and even training its military. Iran, too, is trying to broker peace but the skirmishes haven’t stopped. Then the countries like China and the US are also in the picture with other smaller nations like Pakistan and Arab world. India has opted to be neutral. But if the tensions continue to grow, many think this would lead to another World War!