Context: Recently, Russia brokered a new peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the two countries that have been in a military conflict over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh in the South Caucasus.

More on the news:

  • During the course of the conflict, over 1200 have lost their lives, while thousands have been displaced.
  • Since the conflict started, multiple ceasefire agreements have been signed between the two sides, but none so far have been successful.

About the Nagorno-Karabakh region:

Source: Al Jazeera

  • Recognised as Azerbaijan’s territory: Straddling western Asia and Eastern Europe, Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan. Nagorno-Karabakh has been part of Azerbaijan territory since the Soviet era. 
  • Controlled by: Most of the region is controlled by Armenian separatists. 
  • Strategic significance of the region:
  • Energy-rich: Azerbaijan has built several gas and oil pipelines across the Caucasus - the region between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea - to Turkey and Europe.
  • Reason for dispute: 
    • When the Soviet Union began to collapse in the late 1980s, Armenia’s regional parliament voted for the region’s transfer to Armenia. However, the Soviet authorities turned down the demand.
      • This was followed by years of clashes between Azerbaijan forces and Armenian separatists. 
    • Role of ethnicity: At present, the disputed region consists of a majority Armenian Christian population, even though it is internationally recognised as a part of Muslim-majority Azerbaijan.
  • Other ceasefire agreements:
    • Even after the 1994 peace deal, the region has been marked by regular exchanges of clashes. 
    • In 2016, it saw a Four-Day War before Russia mediated peace. 
    • The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, has tried to get the two countries to reach a peace agreement for several years.

Role of regional players:

  • Turkey: Turkey shares a border with Armenia and is backing Azerbaijan.
  • Russia: Russia’s role in the conflict has been somewhat opaque since it supplies arms to both countries and is in a military alliance with Armenia called the Collective Security Treaty Organisation. 
  • Israel: Dominated by the Sunni and Jewish communities, Israel supports and arm Azerbaijan. The conflict marks a strange coupling of Turkey and Israel, which are hostile to one another both diplomatically and in terms of security.

Role of India:

  • Armenia: With Armenia, India has a friendship and cooperation treaty signed in 1995, which would prohibit India from providing military or any other assistance to Azerbaijan.
    • Armenia extends its unequivocal support to India on Kashmir issue.
  • Azerbaijan: ONGC/OVL has made investments in an oilfield project in Azerbaijan and GAIL is exploring the possibilities of cooperation in LNG.
    • Strategic location: Azerbaijan also falls on the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) route, connecting India with Russia through Central Asia. It can also connect India with Turkey and beyond.
    • Azerbaijan not only opposess but also promotes Pakistan’s narrative on Kashmir issue.
  • Indian foreign policy: Unlike “Neighbourhood First”, “Act East” or “Central Asia Connect”, India does not have a publicly articulated policy for the South Caucasus.
  • Way ahead for India: 
    • Though India has every reason to support Armenia, it can have repercussions for India as its adversaries like Pakistan may misuse it. 

Therefore, under these circumstances, India should adopt a balanced and neutral stance and pitching for a political solution as outlined in the Madrid Principles (Demilitarisation of Nagorno-Karabakh and the gradual liberation of Azerbaijani territory that Armenia had occupied in the 1991-94 war).

Source: DW