why-are-armenia-and-azerbaijan-fighting

Context: The military confrontation between Armenia and Azerbaijan reflects the failure of the Madrid principles. 

Background

Dissolution of Soviet Union

  • Formally established in 1922, at its height the Soviet Union was composed of fifteen republics, the largest of which was Russia. 
  • The Russian-dominated Soviet Union encompassed 15 republics–Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Belorussia, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. 
  • In 1991, the Soviet Union was dissolved following the collapse of its communist government. The 15 republics broke away.

Armenia and Azerbaijan

  • Armenia declared sovereignty on August 23, 1990, and independence on September 23, 1991.
  • Azerbaijan declared sovereignty on September 23, 1989, and independence on August 30, 1991.
  • Azerbaijan is majority Muslim and Armenia is majority Christian.
  • Located in the main corridor of oil and gas supplies to Europe, Armenia and Azerbaijan have also relied on a nationalist rhetoric.

Geography

  • Armenia, lies just south of the great mountain range of the Caucasus mountains and fronting the northwestern extremity of Asia. 
    • To the north and east Armenia is bounded by Georgia and Azerbaijan, while its neighbours to the southeast and west are, respectively, Iran and Turkey. 
  • Azerbaijan, officially called Azerbaijani Republic, is a country of eastern Transcaucasia. 
    • It lies on the southern flanks of the Caucasus Mountains, bounded on the north by Russia, on the east by the Caspian Sea, on the south by Iran, on the west by Armenia, and on the northwest by Georgia. 

Nagorno-Karabakh region

  • It is a mountainous, landlocked region inside the borders of Azerbaijan, and has been a source of dispute since before the creation of the Soviet Union. 
  • The dispute worsened after Armenia and Azerbaijan gained independence from the USSR after the end of the cold war.
  • Nagorno-Karabakh is recognised internationally as Azerbaijan’s territory but has a mostly Armenian population who have resisted Azerbaijani rule for more than a century. 
  • In 1991 the region declared independence with Armenian support and called itself the Republic of Artsakh which has not been recognized by the international community.

Armenia-Azerbaijan war, 1994

  • A war between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces ended in a ceasefire in 1994, with Armenia in full control of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Reasons behind current conflict:

  • With the Covid-19 pandemic taking a toll on the price of Azerbaijani oil and gas, it may be that Armenia has decided to attack the region.
  • Armenia had asked for Nagorno-Karabakh’s reunion with the country as a precondition for a possible return of other territories.
  • Azerbaijan has asserted the it’s long-standing claim over the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh.

Concerns:

  • Ignoring Madrid principles: They provided for a prohibition on the use of force, respect for territorial integrity, and recognition of the equal right to self-determination.
    • In the absence of a peacekeeping force and the political will for peace, low-level frictions have persisted over the years. 
  • Regional geopolitics: Regional powers including Russia, Turkey and Iran are invested in the South Caucasus to varying degrees.  It could develop into a larger regional conflict.
    • Turkey has already declared its support for Azerbaijan, while Russia is traditionally closer to Armenia.
    • Russia and Turkey are jostling for influence in Syria and Libya.
  • Oil and gas: The wider South Caucasus is a crucial artery for gas and oil from Azerbaijan into Turkey and on to Europe and other world markets. 
    • Azerbaijan supplies about 5% of Europe’s gas and oil demands (helping to reduce the EU’s dependence on Russia).
  • The humanitarian issue involves civilians on both sides being killed.

The peace process should start with the reasonable framework outlined in the Madrid Principles.

Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)

  • With 57 participating States in North America, Europe and Asia, the OSCE is the world’s largest regional security organization. 

  • The OSCE works for stability, peace and democracy through political dialogue about shared values .

The Minsk Group 

  • It functions under the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

  • It was formed in 1992 to mediate between Baku and Yerevan during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, when Armenian militias illegally occupied and claimed the Azerbaijani region.

  • It was Co-chaired by Russia, France and the U.S.

  • The US, Russia and France are the three countries, where the Armenian diaspora is the most powerful.

  • It put forward the Madrid principles in 2007.

The Madrid Principles 

  • The Madrid Principles was the basis for the formulation of a peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan. 

  • They were drawn from the 1975 Helsinki Final Act principles, signed at the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The framework of Madrid principles: It called for

  • The demilitarisation of Nagorno-Karabakh.
  • Representation of Nagarno-Karabakh in international organisations where statehood was not a constraint. 
  • Nagorno-Karabakh’s right to self-governance 
  • The gradual liberation of Azerbaijani territory that Armenia had occupied in the 1991-94 war. 
  • International peacekeeping operations to monitor the Armenian redeployment. 
  • Internally displaced refugees were to be provided the right to return to their original place of residence.
  • The election of officials with legislative and executive powers during the interim period preceding a plebiscite.

Image source: https://www.theguardian.com/