By Fayrouz Hadi
Left to Right: Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, President of Russia Vladimir Putin, Kyrgyzstan’s President Sooronbay Jeenbekov, Moldovan President Igor Dodon and Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev informal Common Wealth of Independent States (CIS) summit to discuss regional issues. December 6, 2018. Saint Petersburg, Russia. [Euractiv. EPA European Pressphoto Agency].
Just a few months after the last clash in July 2020, the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict resumed again following provocations on both sides. This recent spike of international tensions unleashed a hostile military confrontation over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The government of Azerbaijan, based in Baku, claims that their attack was solely a retaliation for the aggression of the Armenian armed forces. On the other side, in Yerevan, capital of Armenia, fingers are being pointed to Azerbaijan as the first party to initiate the attack. The long-standing geopolitical conflict between the two rivals took a vicious turn back in July 2020, before completely flaring-up weeks ago following reciprocated artillery shelling around the frontier.
As the conflict enters its third week, bombing is continuing to strike urban neighborhoods, including areas outside of disputed territories. Heavy artillery and missile attacks hit both the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, Stepanakert, and the conurbations of Ganga and Mingachevir in Azerbaijan. The escalating tensions caused the displacement of nearly 75,000 people and expedited the talks over an urgent resolution to end atrocities perpetrated by Azerbaijan.
The Human Rights Ombudsman of the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), denounced the inadmissible actions of the Azerbaijani side, including acts of vandalism targeted religious institutions and cultural sites. Countries members of the OSCE Minsk group called for an urgent ceasefire before the fighting spirals out of control, including the United States who chose not to vehemently participate.
A Brief History of the Conflict
After the dismantlement of the Russian Empire and a brief period of independence, the rise of Soviet Union charted a new course for the Transcaucasian region. The Soviet Union expanded aggressively during the interwar period between WW1 and WW2, and acquired a vast swath of Eurasian territories formerly part of the Russian Empire. Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, were united into the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic, and Sovietized by Bolshevik Russia, which resulted in the creation of an independent region for Armenians within Azerbaijan, called Nagorno-Karabakh.
The religious, ethnic and political discrepancies of the two countries are at the origin of the recurrent disputes and political backfire in the region. Christianity is the most extensively practiced religion in Armenia, while 96.9% of the population in Azerbaijan is Muslim. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the fate of the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh was left to blind chance, stemming a perpetual territorial conflict for years to come.
In 1998, after several attempts of reunification, ethnic Armenians in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh advocated for their national self-determination which provoked an aggressive Azerbaijani military response. Numerous cease-fire negotiations were ignored and after several failed peace deals the possibility of an easy resolution looks grim.
A temporary cease fire agreement was reached last Saturday, but both parties continued to accuse one another for failing to comply which is exacerbating tensions even further.
Where is the U.S. in all of this?
The current administration side-step problems when it comes to foreign conflicts resolution and alliances. President Trump took a firm stance of no longer enmeshing the country in what he perceives to be unnecessary and non-profitable. The current state of the country and the president’s drop in election polls is an opportune moment to take the lead on complex world issues and showcase his terrific mediation skills and gather some votes, especially among Armenian Americans who protested expressing their wrath over the president’s inertia in this conflict.
In a tweet on Tuesday of last week, Joe Biden, Democratic presidential nominee of the 2020 election, expressed his reservations regarding the role of Turkey in the conflict and the Trump administration's disregard of the situation.
Instead, Trump remains reluctant to thwart his sometimes ally Turkish president Erdogan. Turkey has intervened in support of Azerbaijan, daring Russia to take the risk in supporting Armenia. While Russia’s role in the conflict remains dominant, it refuses to add fuel to an already unstable region and has attempted to avoid siding with either state. The Russian government seeks to avoid further destabilization of the Caucasian region where the country’s security, gas and oil interests lie. Additionally, Russia has long avoided jeopardizing their fluctuating relationship with Turkey, however Russian president Putin still prefers to negotiate a ceasefire.
President Trump's ''America First’’ stance is alarming to the majority of American leaders and U.S. allies who believe in the indispensable role of America as a global leader. On Tuesday’s vice-presidential debate, Kamala Harris, Joe Biden’s running mate, forcefully criticized Trump’s foreign policy and condemned his inability to stand by our allies in uncertain times. ‘’ You look at our friends in NATO, he walked away from agreements’’ she declared. The U.S. retreat from the international scene risks marking the unfortunate and true beginning of a post-American world.