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ONCE considered a ‘frozen’ conflict, the stalemate in Nagorno-Karabakh between Azerbaijan and Armenia has resumed with ferocious intensity over the past few months, with over 1,000 deaths reported so far. The crisis is centred on the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, though the enclave is ruled by ethnic Armenians, who use the name Artsakh for the region. The area has been witnessing violence since the last days of the Soviet Union — of which both Azerbaijan and Armenia were a part — and the present conflict is in fact a continuation of past hostilities and the ‘unfinished business’ that accompanied the break-up of the USSR. While the conflict has ethnic dimensions, it also has the potential to draw in regional players and expand beyond Nagorno-Karabakh. Turkey has been supporting Azerbaijan, primarily because the latter has a majority Muslim Turkic population, while Russia is believed to harbour a soft spot for Christian Armenia, though officially Moscow is trying to play the role of peacemaker. After all, as the successor state of the USSR, Russia considers Nagorno-Karabakh as part of its ‘near abroad’, and would not want instability in its backyard. Moreover, Iran is also in a delicate position. It borders the disputed enclave while millions of Iranian citizens are ethnic Azeris, and the Islamic Republic also hosts a small number of ethnic Armenians. Even Israel has stakes in the conflict, with warm ties with Baku.
Several attempts have been made to make all sides respect a ceasefire, but each time such efforts have been shattered by heavy fighting. Perhaps Turkey and Russia — the primary foreign players in this conflict — must make greater efforts to convince their respective allies to cease hostilities and help resolve this long-standing dispute peacefully. The international community must make greater efforts to help forge a long-lasting peace deal for if the Nagorno-Karabakh crisis is left to fester, it may well spill beyond the enclave and draw regional powers into a destructive new confrontation.
Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2020