Ceasefire Unravels in Disputed Nagorno-Karabakh Amid Revived Conflict

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Nagorno-Karabakh, a much-disputed region between Armenia and Azerbaijan, has witnessed another bout of heavy firing. This ongoing upset comes despite both parties agreeing to a ceasefire, merely 24 hours after Azerbaijan initiated a military operation.

The ceasefire is conditional, calling for the dissolution and complete disarmament of the ethnic Armenian forces present in the region. Although globally acknowledged as Azerbaijani territory, Nagorno-Karabakh has been under the control of ethnic Armenians for close to three decades, making it the epicentre of one of the most prolongated conflicts world-wide.

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Positioned in the mountainous South Caucasus, Nagorno-Karabakh lies sandwiched between the Black and Caspian seas in Eastern Europe and Asia. The late 1980s saw Armenia and Azerbaijan embroiled in a bitter war over control of the region, which resulted in intermittent violence punctuating the subsequent years. The most recent escalation in 2020 resulted in thousands of casualties over a six-week period of ruthless fighting.

Russian peacekeepers deployed in the region were able to bring that conflict to a ceasefire, however, mounting tensions were observed for several months leading up to this recent Azerbaijani military operation.

The situation deteriorated following the blockade enforced by Azerbaijan in December of 2022 of the Lachin Corridor—a key supply line connecting Armenia to the almost 120,000 ethnic Armenians residing in Nagorno-Karabakh. The blockade, widely viewed as an act of aggression, led to severe food and medicine shortages in the troubled region.

Azerbaijan claims that the blockade was a response to Armenia using the Corridor for military supply transport, which Armenia vehemently disputes.

Amidst the blockade, observers noted a swelling of Azerbaijani troops around the region, a claim that was promptly rejected by Baku. A glimmer of hope emerged when the International Committee of the Red Cross managed to guide a small convoy of aid trucks through the Lachin Corridor into Nagorno-Karabakh. However, maintaining these transportation links hinged heavily on the presence of Russian peacekeepers, whose focus has veered due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Contemporary Armenia and Azerbaijan became parts of the Soviet Union in the 1920s, with Azerbaijan controlling the Nagorno-Karabakh region housing a predominantly ethnic Armenian populace. As the Soviet Union spiralled towards disintegration, Nagorno-Karabakh voted to join Armenia, a decision which led to ethnic clashes and full-scale war following the independence of Armenia and Azerbaijan from the Soviet Union.

Cognizant of the atrocities committed by both sides in the past, including ethnic cleansing and brutal massacres, and an ongoing reluctance by both Armenia and Azerbaijan to accept historical failings, it behoves the international community to now intervene to prevent further escalation.

Under the provisions of the negotiated ceasefire, the ethnic Armenian forces are required to withdraw from the region, reducing their substantial hold on the territory. However, what remains to be seen is how the 120,000 ethnic Armenians residing in the region will now adapt to Azerbaijani rule.

Amidst these high-tension negotiations, Armenia, traditionally a strategic partner for Russia, has been drawing closer to the U.S., while Azerbaijan, ever since its independence, has enjoyed consistent Turkish support.

As the situation continues to unfold, the voice of the international community will be pivotal in mediating the conflict, ensuring a peaceful resolution, preventing ethnic cleansing, and safe-guarding the rights of the troubled region’s inhabitants.