Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous, wooded inland region in the South Caucasus, is at the heart of a decades-long armed stalemate between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The worst clashes since 2016 broke out on Sunday, leading to fears of an all-out war between two former Soviet republics.
Both sides accuse each other of initiating the violence and dozens of deaths have been reported.
“We are one step away from a major war,” said Olesya Vartanyan of the International Crisis Group, an NGO focused on preventing and resolving deadly conflicts.
She has warned that the current clashes could escalate more than it did in April 2016, when dozens of people were killed on both sides in the worst fighting in the region in years.
The international community is concerned about the prospect of war as Nagorno-Karabakh serves as a corridor for pipelines bringing oil and gas to world markets.
Fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia threatens to involve the regional actors Russia, which is in a military alliance with Yerevan, and Turkey, which supports Baku.
“It is a region of international importance that has actually gained international importance in the last 25 years due to oil and gas pipelines [going] thereby, ”Thomas de Waal, Senior Fellow at Carnegie Europe, specializing in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, told Al Jazeera. “It is a region that borders Iran and is in the European and Russian neighborhood. The USA also got involved in the 1
“What we’ve seen over the past few years is the US withdrawal in this issue. It used to play a much more important role than it does today. Cynically, one could say that if Azerbaijan has launched a military offensive, one of the possible reasons is that the US is currently so incapacitated. “
Armenia, which has declared martial law, has accused Turkey of meddling in the conflict and sending thousands of mercenaries from northern Syria to the battlefield, an allegation that Azerbaijan has rejected.
France, Germany, Italy, the United States, the European Union and Russia have pushed for a ceasefire.
“If you put Armenia and Azerbaijan on the map and take a look, it is strategically very important. You have Turkey in the west, Iran in the south, Russia in the north and huge amounts of Caspian hydrocarbon reserves in the east flowing through the caucuses very close to where the fighting is happening, ”said Al Jazeera Robin Forestier. Walker, who reported extensively on developments in the region.
“In terms of local engagement, the Armenians are very concerned about the noises coming from the President of Turkey [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan himself, who strongly supports Azerbaijan. “
After a phone call with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Erdogan on Sunday called on Armenians to stand up against their leaders who he claimed would “drag them into disaster”. The Turkish president said his solidarity with Baku was “increasingly continued”.
“There were military exercises between Azerbaijan and Turkey in August and there is an unjustified suspicion that some of the military equipment brought by Turkey is still in Azerbaijan and could be used against Armenian positions,” said Forestier-Walker.
“Of course we have to be careful because there are no clear facts that this is happening. Also, let’s not forget about Russia’s military presence in Armenia and its involvement in brokering, but also in the delivery of arms to Armenia and Azerbaijan over the years.
“Iran in the south … has offered to mediate in possible peace talks.”
While Nagorno-Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan under international law, ethnic Armenians, who make up the vast majority of the population – around 150,000 people – reject Azerbaijani rule. They have been running their own affairs with the support of Armenia since the Azerbaijani armed forces were displaced in a war in the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The OSCE-Minsk Group, co-chaired by France, Russia and the US, was set up in 1992 to find a peaceful solution to the conflict, but to no avail. However, a ceasefire was declared in 1994.
“Unfortunately this round of fighting promises to be the worst, probably since the armistice [in 1994]”Said de Waal.
“Of course the war of the 1990s was a very low-tech affair and now, as we see today, a much heavier weapon on both sides whose destructive power is much power [is being used].
“But ultimately this is an identity, territorial conflict between two nations – Armenia and Azerbaijan – and the outside world is not going to solve it … It has to be their own calculation.”