Updated: Oct 19, 2021
Since 1988, there has been a tense territorial and ethnic dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the 1700 square miles that is Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies between the two nations. The most recent dispute began in mid-July, resulting in 16 total deaths from both sides; the two countries have blamed each other for the conflict. Since the short violent encounter, no more serious damage has occurred, but tensions remain high and without intervention, more violence is expected to follow.
Armenia claims that Azerbaijani drones attacked Berd, a Tavush province town by the upper eastern border of Armenia, but also stated that one of the Azerbaijani drones was shot down. Armenia also claims that Azerbaijan placed artillery close to the village of Donar Gushchu, using the civilians as a shield from retaliating attacks.
Azerbaijan, however, denies Armenia’s claim that one of their drones was shot down and instead says that they shot down an Armenian drone. They have also claimed that Armenia was firing close range at civilians, but this was mostly because of the close proximity of civillians to Armenian artillery.
On July 16 Azerbaijan threatened a strike on an Armenian nuclear power plant in close proximity to the capital, a source of almost half of Armenia’s electricity. “The Armenian side must not forget that the state-of-the-art missile systems our army has are capable of launching a precision strike on the Metsamor nuclear power plant, and that would be a huge tragedy for Armenia,” Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesman Vagif Dargyakhly said in a statement. On the other side, Armenia’s Foreign Ministry says that the treats have more serious implication bordering on “genocidal”.
History of the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict
The long-lived conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan began soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the 1920s, Nagorno-Karabakh was established as an autonomous region by the Soviet Union. Tensions began to rise in 1988 when the Nagorno-Karabakh legislature passed a resolution to join Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. The territory is 95% ethnically Armenian but is legally located within the Azerbaijan borders. In 1991, when the Soviet Union officially dissolved, the ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence from Azerbaijan, but it is still considered by the latter to be part of their sovereign territory. This resulted in war between Armenia and Azerbaijan surrounding it and 30,000 deaths. By 1993, Armenia gained control and struck a Russian-broked ceasefire agreement.
The OSCE Minsk Group (Organization for Security and Cooperating in Europe) which includes diplomats from France, Russia and the United States, has been trying to build off of the cease-fire to yield better results. However, the efforts have often been in vain, with the cease-fire having been violated on numerous occasions. Before the most recent skirmish in mid-July, the last major flare-up of tensions occurred in 2016, when Armenia and Azerbaijani forces clashed over the course of four days over the border only to be ended with an announcement from both countries unexpectedly declaring a ceasefire. Now, with Armenian and Azerbaijani patience running thin, ratifying a long-lasting ceasefire could be more important than ever.
Implications of Re-Flared Tensions
In the past, these battles have occurred at a “line of contact” between the two nation’s forces in Nagorno-Karabakh and other territories of Azerbaijan. The more current conflicts are taking place more than 300 miles north, close to a major energy and transport corridor from the Caspian Sea into Europe. While no evidence has yet surfaced that this is intentional, to many outside sources the placement does not seem coincidental. The corridor ensures the security of European energy, and if the area were to be affected, other states in the region would be forced to become more economically dependent on Russia or Iran.
Iran is expected by both sides to support them but has been adamant to ensure that peace returns without picking a side. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called the foreign ministers from the quarreling countries separately to urge restraint in order to de-escalate the situation. Zarif also expressed preparedness on Iran’s part to provide aid in ending these ongoing tensions. The corridor was a U.S.-led foreign policy success, but there has been no steps taken so far by the U.S. to de-escalate conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Through Teen Lenses: Do you think the U.S. Should get involved to de-escalate tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan in order to ensure national security?
“I am torn, but I would say yes. Obviously 2020 has not been what we anticipated in the slightest, and things are only on a downward trajectory for the entire world, so I think that we should do what we can to de-escalate what is happening in Azerbaijan and Armenia.” – Sydney Behrens, 16, Rising Junior at Thomas S. Wootton High School, Potomac, MD
“I am very familiar with the tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but I think that since the President is looking for ways to ensure his re-election, he might interfere for the wrong reasons.” – Sophia Tuncer, 15, Rising Junior at Holton Arms School, Potomac, MD
“I think the U.S. should help de-escelate tensions between Armenia and Azerbaikan only if both countries are able to agree to accepting U.S. intervention. The U.S. should help with this conflict in a manner that uses our resources to help these countries instead of doing it with ulterior motives.” – Meghna Krishnan, 16, Rising Junior at Thomas S. Wootton High School, Potomac, MD