Historic Ceasefire Declared in Nagorno-Karabakh Amid Tense Ethnic Standoff

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The ceaseless crossfire has finally come to a halt in Nagorno-Karabakh, an international flashpoint, following the provisional ceasefire declared by Azerbaijan and the ethnic Armenians inhabiting this breakaway region. This momentous resolution, achieved 24 hours post Azerbaijan’s military offensive, is engineered to oversee the dismantlement and complete disarmament of the ethnic-Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh.

In spite of the international recognition of this territory as an integral part of Azerbaijan, it has remained under the reins of ethnic Armenians for nearly three decades, consequently breeding one of the planet’s most prolonged conflicts. The territory is ensconced in the mountainous South Caucasus region, positioned between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, offering a vista of Eastern Europe and Asia.

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Historically, the late 1980s and the early 1990s marked a gruesome war over Nagorno-Karabakh, unwinding into a series of violent incidents ever since. The previous significant escalation culminated in 2020, causing thousands of deaths in the six weeks of fighting. It was halted only by the intervention of Russian peacekeepers. Despite their deployment, however, tensions had steadily been escalating leading up to the recent military operation.

The bonfire was reignited by Azerbaijan’s blockade of the Lachin Corridor, a lifeline connecting the Republic of Armenia to the almost 120,000 ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, in December 2022. This blockade escalated the challenges for residents already grappling with severe scarcity of essential food products and medicines. While Azerbaijan justified this measure by accusing Armenia of funneling military supplies through this route, Armenia has consistently maintained their denial of these allegations.

The mitigation of these mounting tensions seemed a far-fetched possibility, until the critical role of Russian peacekeepers in maintaining the supply links through the Lachin Corridor and, separately, the Aghdam Road from Azerbaijan was recognized. However, Russia’s military resources and its attention have been progressively absorbed by its invasion of Ukraine, causing the Armenian Prime Minister to remark on Russia’s spontaneous withdrawal from the region.

The roots of this discord lie in the historic transition of modern-day Armenia and Azerbaijan into Soviet Union territories during the 1920s. Nagorno-Karabakh, home to a majority ethnic-Armenian population, was under Azerbaijan’s control. However, the regional parliament of Nagorno-Karabakh voted to affiliate itself with Armenia during the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. At this juncture, Azerbaijan’s attempt to suppress this separatist movement gave rise to ethnic clashes and a full-scale war, following their independence from Moscow.

The 2020 confrontation became a pivotal turn in the dynamics of this conflict. Azerbaijan regained territories previously lost and confined Armenian forces to minor parts of the region post the enforcement of a 1994 Russian-brokered peace deal. Tensions, however, have ebbed and flowed since then, instigating occasional battles amid periods of calm.

Presently, the outsider powers, particularly NATO-member Turkey and Russia, have significantly influenced the progression of this conflict. Turkey supported Azerbaijan right from its independence firsthand in 1991, its Bayraktar drones even allegedly enabling Azerbaijan’s territorial triumph in the 2020 skirmish. On the other hand, Armenia has typically maintained cordial relations with Russia, both being a part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a military alliance spanning six former Soviet states. However, their ties have waned post Nikol Pashinyan’s ascension as Armenia’s Prime Minister and his criticism of the country’s reliance on Russia as their solitary source for security.

The ceasefire has precipitated swift advancements in Azerbaijani forces. However, the agreement stipulates the complete disarmament and disbanding of Karabakh’s military forces, paving the way for extensive deliberations concerning the region’s integration into Azerbaijan. These future negotiations are expected to have a profound impact on Nagorno-Karabakh’s 120,000 ethnic Armenians. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev insists that the residents of Karabakh would enjoy equal rights as the rest of Azerbaijani citizens and has also floated the possibility of self-governance in some form. Despite his assurance of an open option for the displaced Azerbaijanis to return to the region, apprehensions persist among the Armenians that this shift in power could trigger ethnic cleansing and forced evacuations. These two countries, who have never formalized a peace treaty, continue to lack formal diplomatic relations.