Clash in the Caucasus
By Manuel Wallick
Armenia and Azerbaijan have once more engaged in open combat in recent weeks. These clashes are the largest and most significant in around 25 years since the two post-Soviet nations fought a harsh war in the eighties and nineties. The conflict mostly stems from issues relating to the autonomous region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is an ethnically Armenian region that is recognized as part of Azerbaijan. The region has worked towards independence and has effectively been self-governed since 1994, though it is not formally recognized as such. After the effective loss of this region and defeats by the Armenians, Azerbaijan, motivated by ethnic tension and emboldened by Turkey, hopes to regain this territory which has resulted in the current conflict.
Both sides have suffered casualties, and although exact numbers are unknown, they will likely rise into the hundreds—including civilian casualties from artillery and missile strikes in urban areas such as Stepanakert. The Azeri have also frequently used drones as a means of combating Armenian forces, which have proven particularly effective against vehicles. These drones combined with modern long-range artillery bought from Turkey and Israel have provided openings and success for the Azeri thus far. Azerbaijan has seen some success, having inflicted many casualties and pushing the Armenians onto the defense. Meanwhile, the Armenians have claimed to have shot down a Turkish fighter jet that was supporting Azeri forces. Other groups have gotten involved as well, with mercenaries playing a role mainly on the Azeri side as Turkish-backed Syrian militias move into the region to support Azerbaijan. This indicates the potential for regional escalation of the conflict as Turkey and others seek to influence the outcome in the region. Thus far, outside influence seems restrained to Turkey and Russia.
With the conflict escalating to the worst levels since the mid-’90s, regional forces are making their presence known. Turkey has worked to support Azerbaijan, an ethnically Turkic state, while Russia is using its influence to try and resolve the conflict. Turkey has reportedly been supporting the Azeri militarily and is looking for Armenia withdrawal including from Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia has attempted to broker a ceasefire between the two states, which did succeed for a short time to exchange prisoners and war dead. This ceasefire did come into effect this past weekend, but it has since fallen apart. Each side has accused the other of violating the agreement and launching attacks as well as artillery strikes. While Russia has yet to get involved further, although still a possibility, Moscow does not seem to want to involve itself too heavily, especially against Turkey. With the ceasefire falling apart, a mass renewal of hostilities is likely given the circumstances.
While both sides have increased tensions in recent months, this conflict is anything but rhetorical. The escalation should not be surprising given the two countries’ historic grievances, but that should not take away from the fact that these states have the possibility of drawing in more outside forces or aiding a nation like Turkey to further their influence in the region. With the collapse of the ceasefire, the conflict is likely to renew and drag on in the region. Both countries are motivated by nationalistic and ethnic causes to fight on. While the final outcome of this conflict is unclear, it seems to be far from over.
Manuel Wallick is a sophomore from Lexington, South Carolina, majoring in political science.
Note: The GW College Democrats News & Blog Committee’s mission is to highlight, empower, and facilitate the political expression of its members. As such, the views expressed in this article are based on the opinions of its author, and do not necessarily represent the views of the whole of GW College Democrats, its executive board, or its deputy director board.