Nagorno-Karabakh: The conflict that won’t disappear on its own

Sercan Oktay, Contributing Writer

Violent clashes ensued between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, resulting in more than 30 deaths on April 2. The cause of this resurgence is unknown, as both countries have accused the other of initiating the violence. The fighting ended on April 5, when officials from Azerbaijan and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic defense ministries met in Moscow to sign a ceasefire. This is not the first time that violence has erupted over this issue, and it certainly won’t be the last if the situation continues to be handled this way.

The Nagorno-Karabakh region is located within Azerbaijani borders and has historically been inhabited by both Armenians and Azerbaijanis. For the majority of its recent history, different powers controlling the South Caucasus region have considered Nagorno-Karabakh to be a semi-autonomous state, thereby minimizing conflict. The region was under Soviet control until the 1990s, when it became apparent that the collapse of the Soviet Union was imminent. As the end of the Soviet Union drew near, both sides wanted to  control Nagorno-Karabakh and the dispute took a violent turn.

Although both Armenia and Azerbaijan gained independence in 1991, it was Azerbaijan who ended up controlling Nagorno-Karabakh. With the vacuum of power left by the Soviet Union, it wasn’t long before the ethnic Armenian majority in Nagorno-Karabakh began fighting with the Azerbaijani military, ultimately leading to a full-scale war. Armenia supported Nagorno-Karabakh in its fight and shortly thereafter directly joined the war as its ally. When the fighting officially ended via ceasefire in 1994, Armenia controlled most of the region along with surrounding Azerbaijani lands. The ceasefire neglected to end the disputes as a whole, as Armenia controlled a large portion of Azerbaijani lands and Nagorno-Karabakh was a de facto “independent” republic.

There is no difference between the events that occurred earlier last week and the war that took place in 1991. In both cases, conflict erupted and was suppressed by the signing of an all too simple ceasefire. The recent conflict illustrates the inefficacy of this approach, as the ceasefire was violated and lives were lost on both sides. In all likeliness, another ceasefire will be violated in the future. If a bilateral agreement isn’t enough to reconcile conflicts, the countries must take another approach.  

There are countless multinational organizations which aim to do exactly this, but they’ve unfortunately experienced limited to no success. The General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution in 2008 which called for “[the reaffirmation] of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan” by demanding the “withdrawal of all Armenian forces” from Azerbaijani lands. Like the majority of multinational organizations, the United Nations’ decisions do not effectively bind members. Even if they do on paper,  no force is in place to actually stop countries from ignoring these decisions. Until multinational organizations discover a method of successfully incentivizing countries to cease warfare, violent issues such as the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute will continue to escalate.

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