ARMENIA AND AZERBAIJAN: A BORDER THAT BORDERS ON PERPETUAL WAR

TIA CARR WRITES — On October 24, a humanitarian ceasefire was agreed to by Azerbaijan and Armenia, facilitated by the US State Department. Beginning at 8 AM the following day, Azeris and Armenians were legally obliged to lay down their weapons. Instead, a mere 45 minutes after the truce the front line was again lit up with artillery fire–which begs the question: How useful was US intervention, this time?

Azerbaijan and Armenia have long been in conflict over an enclave called Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous region rich in oil and gas, located in Azerbaijan but populated by an Armenian majority. On September 27, 2020, warfare erupted, reaching the highest death toll in decades, with at least 1,000 soldiers and civilians dead, and with estimates reaching up to 5,000 fatalities cumulatively, on both sides.

This heightened conflict comes as no surprise to the international community. Tensions have existed since the Russian revolution created the two nations as Soviet Republics, giving Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan, which has retained de jure sovereignty since the collapse of the USSR in 1991. That same year, the region voted for independence, but since it was legally under Azeri control, the referendum was ignored. War ensued, leaving 30,000 dead and Nagorno-Karabakh in the de facto control of Armenians.

Violence has flared up periodically ever since, with Azeris wanting to hold onto territory to which they feel legally entitled, and Armenians arguing that the region has historically belonged to them. Both sides accuse the other of ethnic cleansing, massacres, and robbing land.  Multiple UN resolutions passed to quell the conflict have been unsuccessful. A special international government body was created, entitled the Minsk Group, headed by Russia, the United States, and France in 1992, but attempts at a peace accord fell apart in 2007.

The international community is crying out for intervention, for the Armenians in particular. A century prior, a million and a half Armenians were killed at the hands of Talat Pasha, the old Turkish emperor of the Ottoman Empire during the first World War. At the time, the word genocide was not a familiar one, and there were no international laws protecting people from their own governments, so state sovereignty was the main governing principle.

As a consequence, the Armenian genocide long went unacknowledged, and the United States didn’t officially recognize these atrocities until late 2019. Today, renewed violence at the hands of a Turkish people and the scarcity of international intervention is reopening old wounds for many Armenians. Can foreign intervention heal these wounds, or will they inevitably fester because national efforts tend to be little more than band-aids?

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