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Armenia under attack from Azerbaijan: a war on the edge of Western countries

EN - Friday, 17 July 2020

Fighting has rocked the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan since July 11, killing 11 Azeri soldiers and 4 Armenian soldiers. These conflict between the two states is not new; those two countries have been in conflict since the early 90s, and the secession of Nagorno-Karabakh, a historically, culturally and religiously Armenian area, landlocked in Azerbaijan. However, this is the first time in a long time that an attack of this magnitude has occurred in the Tavoush district, in the north-east of the fighting army.

This event reactivates historical quarrels. Let's go back for a moment. In the 19th century, great Armenia was divided between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. In 1915, the Young Ottoman Turkish government organized the deportation and genocide of the 1.2 million Armenians who lived in Turkey; following the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917, the Russian side became a republic, which joined the USSR in 1920, along with neighboring Azerbaijan. The central committee of the communist party then declared the attachment of Karabakh to Azerbaijan, despite an amicable agreement concluded between the two Caucasian states.

This is the start of a 70-year status quo, which will be broken in 1988 when Karabakh seceded. With the fall of the USSR, each of the states achieve independence, and Azerbaijan sent its troops to take over Karabakh, an attack which was repelled by the Armenians living in the enclave. A truce was concluded in 1994, but tensions remained, resulting in particular in sporadic exchanges of fire on both sides of the border. It is against this background that the recent events occurs.

On the militarized border, soldiers from every state observe each other for decades. The locals learned to live with the war, caulking the windows facing east, fitting out the cellars and stocking up on food when needed. But last Monday, heavy caliber artillery fire was exchanged, killing eleven Azeris and four Armenians. Each government accuses the other of provocation, Moscow calls for calm, defending its interests in the area. Turkey affirm its support for Azerbaijan.

Armenia therefore is caught between two blocks, Turkey in the West, which has left a bloody scar in the Armenian history, and Azebaijan in the East, which wishes to gain Karabakh territory. If the Turkish border is monitored by the Russian Army, which prohibits any violation, Armenia finds itself in the grip of the Azeri army, whose military budget is larger than the total budget of Armenia. David's fight against Goliath?

In this geopolitical play, Armenia can nevertheless count on the heavy support of Russia, which wishes to see the situation return to calm, and which defends this Christian state in a region dominated by Islam. For its part, "in its capacity as co-chair of the Minsk group, France (...) reiterates its commitment to achieve a negotiated and lasting settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, in accordance with international law" according to the French Embassy in Yerevan. The future will say whether these tensions will escalate, or whether the situation in the Caucasus will return to calm, allowing Armenian Christians to live in peace and continue to rebuild their country.

photo : UN Photo / Armineh Johannes