The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

With so many conflicts around the world today, the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute hasn't received the attention it deserves by the international community.

Nagorno-Karabakh is an Armenian enclave inside Azerbaijan that has been the subject of a long, frozen conflict. The present-day conflict has its roots in the decisions made by Joseph Stalin when he was the acting Commissar of Nationalities for the Soviet Union during the early 1920s to include Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan in order to undermine the national aspirations of all minorities in the Soviet Union.

Yet, there is no doubt, the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh is an integral part of historic Armenia and is considered an extension of the country as its residents travel aboard on Armenian passports. According to Thomas de Waal, "for Armenians, Karabakh is the last outpost of their Christian civilization and a historic haven of Armenian princes and bishops before the eastern Turkic world begins (...) Historically, Armenia is diminished without this enclave and its monasteries and its mountain lords."

Origins of the conflict
The confrontation over Nagorno-Karabakh broke out in 1988 when the region, mostly populated by Armenians, sought independence from Azerbaijan and announced its intention to join Armenia. The Nagorno-Karabakh population held a referendum in 1991, as the Soviet Union was disintegrating. Christian Armenians voted overwhelmingly for independence from Muslim Azerbaijan.

As the Soviet Union broke apart, the conflict grew into a full-scale war.

A Russian-brokered ceasefire was reached in 1994, ending the war, but without reaching any permanent peace agreement. Since then, Armenians have consistently proposed monitors and confidence building measures but Azerbaijan has refused, calling for a military solution.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) established the Minsk Group in 1994, which is co-chaired by France, Russia and the United States. The Group's mandate is to broker a peaceful resolution to the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but it has been unsuccessful so far.

Thus, since 1994, what we have seen is "a kind of slow suicide pact in which each country hurt the other, while suffering itself, hoping to achieve a better position at the negotiating table" according to Thomas de Waal.

Recent developments

This month, violent conflict erupted as Azerbaijan violated the cease-fire on April 2nd 2016.
As expected, the Azerbaijani offensive was immediately endorsed by Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who expressed that "Nagorno-Karabakh will be returned to Azerbaijan (...) we will support Azerbaijan until the end." Turkey maintains a close relationships with Azerbaijan but remains famously antagonistic towards Armenia, having perpetrated a genocide against the Armenian population in the early 20th century.

According to Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, "this is the most wide-scale military action that Azerbaijan has tried to carry out since the establishment of the 1994 ceasefire regime."

Why did the conflict erupt?

The conflict may help Azerbaijan's President, Ilham Aliyev, distract its inhabitants from the regime's abuses and economic insecurity. According to the Economist, oil and gas represented 94% of the country's exports in 2013. "As prices dropped over the past two years, the Azeri central bank burned up more than two-thirds of its reserves supporting the currency before allowing it to devalue sharply. In January 2016 the government imposed a 20% tax on foreign-exchange transactions and sounded out the International Monetary Fund about a possible loan. Rising prices and unemployment prompted protests in several smaller towns earlier this year, a rarity under Mr Aliev's tight watch. The local population also denounces the regime's human rights violations.

What's ahead?

If a long term solution is not found, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict could turn into a wider regional war, involving Russia, which has a military base in Armenia and a treaty obligation to defend it against external attacks, and Turkey, which backs its ethnic brethren in Azerbaijan, against each other. Such an escalation would be catastrophic and should be avoided at all costs.

Instead, cooperation and conflict monitoring through the Minsk Group must be considerably intensified and include Nagorno-Karabakh representatives in the negotiation process to prevent an escalation of the conflict.