This Conflict Is 'One Step Away From a Large-Scale War'

Hundreds killed in fighting, shelling as Azerbaijan vows to retake Armenian enclave
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 5, 2020 2:26 PM CDT
Bitter Clashes in Caucasus Could Trigger Regional War
In this image taken from a video released by the Armenian Defense Ministry on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, Armenian artillery attack Azerbaijan's troops at the contact line of the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh.   (Armenian Defense Ministry via AP)

Nagorno-Karabakh—an ethnic Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan as big as Rhode Island and as populous as Syracuse, NY—has been the site of fierce fighting in recent weeks. Analysts fear it could trigger a wider regional war involving Turkey, Russia, and Iran. Since fighting erupted on Sept. 27, hundreds of people, including dozens of civilians, have been killed, and Armenian officials have accused Turkey of sending fighters and weapons to assist Azerbaijan, the AP reports. Russia, meanwhile, has a defense pact with Armenia. The last time there was a full-scale conflict in the area was from 1992 to 1994, when a ceasefire was called after an estimated 30,000 deaths. More:

  • The background. The region, where animosity between Armenians and Azerbaijanis runs very deep, is one of several "frozen conflict zones" in the former Soviet Union, the New York Times reports. It sits within Azerbaijan but declared independence in 1991, just before the Soviet Union collapsed, reports the AP. War broke out the following year; the eventual 1994 ceasefire left around 600,000 ethnic Azerbaijanis unable to return to their homes. Ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia have controlled the enclave since; Azerbaijan has vowed to recapture it.

  • Both sides say civilian areas attacked. Azerbaijan alleges that missile and rocket attacks that killed at least 24 civilians came from Armenia itself. not Nagorno-Karabakh, reports CNN. Armenia, which calls Azerbaijan's claims "disinformation," said the country fired rockets Monday into Stepanakert, the territory's capital. Officials in Nagorno-Karabakh say 233 soldiers have been killed. Azerbaijan has not disclosed military casualties.
  • "One step away from a large-scale war." Analysts say that the conflict has the potential to explode because, unlike in previous years, Western powers made little effort to de-escalate the conflict as tensions rose this year. "All the signals were in place, everything was telling that escalation was coming. And there was diplomatic silence," Olesya Vartanyan at the International Crisis Group, tells CBS. "We are definitely one step away from a large-scale war in the region."
  • Azerbaijan takes hard line. Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said Sunday that the country is retaking its territory and Armenia must set a timeline for withdrawal from the area, reports Reuters. "Azerbaijan has one condition, and that is the liberation of its territories," he said in an address to the nation.
  • Has Erdogan gone too far? Armenia accuses Turkey of sending foreign fighters from Syria to the conflict, and Bloomberg reports that with Russia and Turkey already on opposing sides of conflicts in Libya and Syria, the Nagarno-Karabakh dispute could be the "red line" that will lead Russian President Vladimir Putin to turn on Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his Turkish counterpart. "Erdogan is really testing Putin’s patience,” says Alexander Dynkin, president of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences, which also advises the Kremlin. “He irritates Putin more and more.”
  • Iran "working on peace plan." Iran, which borders both Armenia and Azerbaijan, says it is talking to all parties to try to resolve the conflict—and it will not tolerate hostilities leaking over the border. "Any aggression against the borders of the Islamic Republic, even inadvertently, is a very serious red line for the Islamic Republic that should not be crossed," foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said Monday, per the AP. Russian authorities have said they are willing to host peace talks.
(More Nagorno-Karabakh stories.)

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