The Conflict Over Nagorno Karabakh
The disputed region was separated from Armenia in early 1920’s by the newly formed Soviet Union and given to Azerbaijan for military-political reasons. In 1988, its residents, who were mostly Armenian, voted to secede from Azerbaijan and rejoin Armenia, while still part of the Soviet Union. This led to protests in both republics against and for the succession. As the protests in Azerbaijan against the separation got more violent, on 27 February 1988, an Azeri mob attacked Armenians on the streets and in their apartments and massacred dozens of Armenians in the City of Sumgait in Azerbaijan, with the complicity of the local police. The massacre, which ended when the Soviet security forces arrived and imposed a curfew, brought back to Armenians the memory of the 1915 Armenian Genocide, when 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks in the first genocide of the 20th Century, which the Turkish government denies to this date, despite overwhelming historical evidence. I remember talking to an Armenian activist at the time who clearly made that connection.
The massacre made Armenians on both sides of the border even more determined to pursue the succession. Armenia formerly supported the succession and called for self-determination for the people of Nagorno Karabakh, while Azerbaijan vehemently opposed it, resulting in a bloody war between the two countries, which cost thousands of lives until it ended in 1994 in the defeat of Azerbaijan and the creation of self-proclaimed state in Nagorno Karabakh with Stepanakert as its capital. Thousands of ethnic Azeris fled the area into Azerbaijan proper during the war with many others evicted by Armenians, resulting in the area being completely inhabited now by Armenians.
Although the dispute never ended and permanent peace was never reached, the truce has held for over two decades. So, the question to ask is why Azerbaijan decided to attack the region now, after 22 years. I believe Turkey, which has been a staunch supporter of Azerbaijan and which closed its borders with Armenia soon after the conflict began and has maintained an embargo on it to support Azerbaijan, has something to do with it. President Erdogan said in a statement, soon after the shelling of Karabakh village, Martakert, near its border, that Turkey will support Azerbaijan “to the end”, whatever that means. A renewed conflict between the two nations, with Turkey giving its full support to Azerbaijan, will most likely draw Russia in to support its close ally, Armenia, where it has an air base and with which it has strategic partnership. That might be in the geopolitical interests of the US and the Turkish government, which wants to add to Russia’s worries and stretch it thin so it can continue to destabilize Syria with support for ISIS terrorists and attacking its Kurdish minority, but it clearly won’t benefit either the people of Azerbaijan or Armenia who have already suffered enough.