Trouble in the South Caucasus

Posted by Brodie Kirkpatrick on

On July 12th, a new round of clashes broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan near the Armenian village of Movses and the Azeri village of Ağdam on their shared border. The fighting is still ongoing.

Tension between the two countries is largely due to disputed region on the border called Nagorno-Karabakh and can recently be traced back to late-1980's, when both nations were part of the Soviet Union. In 1988, an attempt by the regional soviet to transfer the region, which was held by Azerbaijan, to Armenia failed. As the USSR fell in 1991, a referdum on independence from Azerbaijan was passed by Armenians in the region and directly led to the Nagorno-Karabakh War with Armenia fighting against Azerbaijan until 1994. The war ended with the annexation of the territory by Armenia, even though most of the world still recognizes it as part of Azerbaijan. 

Clashes between the two countries all along their shared border have remained fairly common since the 1994 ceasefire was signed. The most recent set of clashes, prior to July 12th, led to the deaths of three Armenian soldiers in September 2018.

According to Armenian officials, an Azeri UAZ-469 utility vehicle attempted to cross the border on the afternoon of July 12th. It was destroyed by Armenian forces. According to Azerbaijan's account, Armenian forces then opened up on their positions with artillery. Fighting has steadily escalated since the opening clashes. Both sides have employed various means against one another to include small arms, drones, armored vehicles, artillery, and mortars. Both sides have also targeted important military infrastructure such as barracks and battalion-level headquarters. Within the past couple of hours, Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry has threatened to strike Armenia's sole nuclear power plant if the latter targets strategic sites within the former. 

The fighting has led to civil unrest in Azerbaijan. Two days ago, demonstrators stormed the nation's parliament building in the middle of the night demanding for the government to declare war on Armenia. They also called for the resignation of Chief of the General Staff Najmaddin Sadigov, who has held the position since 1993. Lastly, Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov resigned due to the situation; a position he held for 16 years. 

So far four Armenian and 12 Azeri soldiers have been killed. Among the Armenian casualties are a major, a captain, and two sergeants. Among the Azeri casualties are a major general, a colonel, and two majors. Both sides accuse each other of targeting civilians. While there is no confirmation of civilian casualties, we do know that civilian infrastructure has been destroyed.

It's not clear what the clashes mean for the near future. One thing, however, is clear: Nagorno-Karabakh will not see peace anytime soon.

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