“This is a life-and-death war.” On September 27, Azerbaijan and Armenia fought fiercely in the Nagorno-Karabakh (hereinafter referred to as “Naka region”) region where the two countries have sovereignty disputes. The leader of the region, Arayik Harutyunyan So said.
For three consecutive days, the two sides have used rockets and artillery and other heavy weapons to attack, and accused each other of initiating a conflict. This was the most intense conflict between the two sides in more than 20 years.
In a video released by the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan on the 28th, multiple rocket launchers fired at the same time. The scene was shocking. According to a report by the Russian Satellite News Agency on September 29, ordinary residential houses were blown up after the two sides opened fire, including the deaths of women and children. It has caused hundreds of casualties, including civilians.
Regarding the cause of the conflict, both sides hold different opinions. Armenian Prime Minister Nikolai Pasinyan said in a tweet that the aggression appeared to be pre-planned and “constituted a massive provocation to regional peace and security.” Azerbaijani President Ilam Aliyev retorted: “The first fire, including shelling, was fired by Armenia. The first victims were Azerbaijani soldiers.”
The Chinese in Azerbaijan who witnessed the exchange of fire said that people have long been accustomed to the conflict between the two countries, but this is the first time that the Internet has been disconnected due to border conflicts in the past five years. Azerbaijanis have never hesitated to express their love for the country. After hearing the news from the front lines, they began to express their resentment and loyalty to the motherland in various ways-some people hung the national flag on the balcony; some people watched in front of the TV most of the night Watch the frontline battle report; after the curfew, the national flag is flying behind the scattered cars on the street. Even people who go to the supermarket to buy things wear national flags, and they don’t forget to say: “Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan.”
Azerbaijani Ambassador to China responded
Regarding the cause of the incident, Azerbaijan’s ambassador to China Akram Genali responded in a press release to Phoenix Weekly, “On September 27, 2020, the Armenian armed forces blatantly violated the ceasefire agreement and used Large-caliber weapons, mortars and artillery launched provocative attacks on the frontline armed forces positions in Azerbaijan and the contact lines of Azerbaijan’s Naka region and 7 adjacent areas. There are reports that this attack caused civilian and military casualties. Many houses and civilian infrastructure have been extensively damaged. Armenian armed forces continue to bomb front-line positions and residential areas in Azerbaijan.”
In order to repel Armenia’s military aggressions time and time again and to ensure the safety of civilians and densely populated areas within the internationally recognized Azerbaijani territory, the Azerbaijani Armed Forces are within the scope of legitimate defense and in full compliance with international humanitarian law. Counter-offensive measures were taken.
Genali emphasized that this act of Armenia’s aggression against Azerbaijan is a continuation of the Armenian side’s recent provocative activities-that is, the armed attack in the direction of Tovuz from July 12 to 16, 2020. On August 23, the provocative act of sabotaging the reconnaissance team in the direction of Goranboy, the illegal settlement of Armenians in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan and other provocative remarks and actions of the Armenian leader. Armenia’s political and military leaders must bear all the responsibilities for the current situation.
However, the Armenian side claimed that Azerbaijan opened fire first. According to Reuters, Armenia claimed that the Azerbaijani army shelled the Naka area and killed an unknown number of civilians. The Armenian Defense Ministry stated that in response to this wave of attacks on civilians including the capital, Stepanakert, the Armenian Defense Forces took action. The leaders of the military government of Azerbaijan should take full responsibility for this situation. Prime Minister Pashinyan said on Twitter that we will firmly support the army and protect the country from Azerbaijanis.
The two sides have different attitudes towards military losses. Based on reports from Sputnik and Reuters on September 29, the Azerbaijani military claimed that it had destroyed several Armenian tanks and ten armored vehicles of an Armenian motorized infantry regiment, but Armenian officials denied this. The spokesman of the Armenian Ministry of Defense, Stepanyan, said that the country’s army used various anti-tank weapons and artillery to destroy Azerbaijan’s 137 tanks and armored vehicles in the Naka region, and shot down 72 drones, 7 helicopters and 1 aircraft, Azerbaijan also denied it.
Decades of disputes in the Naka region
Territorial disputes surrounding the Naka region have a long history, and conflicts have erupted many times in the past few decades.
The Naka region is located in southwestern Azerbaijan, an autonomous prefecture of Azerbaijan during the Soviet period. It covers an area of 4,400 square kilometers and has a population of only about 150,000, but most of its residents are Armenians. Armenia is a mountain nation, and the Naka region is also in the Lesser Caucasus Mountains. It is more similar in climate and culture to Armenia, but is very different from the plains of the lower reaches of the Kura River in Azerbaijan.
After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Naka region was classified as the newly independent Azerbaijan, and the seeds of contradiction were planted. The Naka region itself tended to merge with Armenia, but Azerbaijan could not accept it, so the two sides resorted to war.
As early as 1988, the Naka region requested to be incorporated into Armenia, which led to an armed conflict between the Afghan and Asian communities in the state. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Armenia and Azerbaijan became independent in September and October 1991, and the Naka region declared independence from Azerbaijan in December of the same year. In response, Azerbaijan cancelled the autonomous status of the Naka region, and war broke out thereafter.
The war lasted from the end of 1991 to May 1994. It was not until 1994 that the ceasefire was under the mediation of the OSCE Minsk team. The war caused a total of about 30,000 deaths. After that, although the conflict in the Naka region seemed to have entered the stage of “no war, no peace”, the conflicts, large and small, never stopped.
The international community generally recognizes Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over the Naka region, but Naka has its own national name, the “Naka Republic”, and only Armenia supports it. Armenia has always demanded the recognition of the right to self-determination of the Armenians living here, and advocated that it is the responsibility of itself to guarantee the security of the Naka region and adjacent territories until the right of self-determination of all ethnic groups is officially recognized. Azerbaijan insists on territorial integrity.
On April 2, 2016, a serious conflict broke out between the two sides in the Naka region, breaking the ceasefire that had been maintaining for more than 20 years. Fortunately, a few days later, the two sides announced a ceasefire one after another, and the military conflict came to an end.
The reason why the conflict broke out again this year, analysis pointed out that it was related to the resentment of civil hatred after the border conflict between the two sides in July this year. The two sides exchanged fire on the northern border on July 12 and 13, and used heavy weapons. Both countries accused the other of crossing the border to commit provocations. The conflict area is hundreds of kilometers away from Naka. The conflict resulted in the death of at least 16 people. It triggered the largest demonstration in the Azerbaijani capital Baku in recent years, calling for the retake of the Naka region.
Fan Hongda, director of the Middle East Research Center of Xiamen University, pointed out that if only the size and capabilities of Armenia and Azerbaijan are concerned, the military conflict between the two sides will not have much impact, because bilateral conflicts like the current one have been the same since the independence of the two countries. Existing problems. Therefore, if there is no strong intervention from outside forces, this round of military conflict will not last.
The great power behind the conflict
After the conflict, the international community urged both parties to the conflict to exercise restraint. The United States, the European Union, and Russia all called for an immediate ceasefire between the two countries. UN Secretary-General Guterres spoke with the leaders of the two countries on September 28, again calling for immediate measures to achieve a ceasefire in conflict areas.
Only Turkey directly “selected sides” to support Azerbaijan. Soon after the conflict broke out on September 27, the Turkish Foreign Ministry publicly condemned Armenia, stating that “Turkey will fully support Azerbaijan and stand by the people of Azerbaijan.” Turkish President Erdogan even directly characterized “Armenia is the greatest threat to regional peace and tranquility.” According to Turkish “Sabah Daily” report, Azerbaijan Airlines issued an announcement stating that all international flights except Turkey are suspended.
According to the Russian Satellite News Agency, the chief adviser of Armenia’s Prime Minister Wagsak Harutiuyan pointed out that Turkey’s purpose is to obtain geopolitical benefits in the conflict. “We are preparing for a protracted war. As for the reason, I have always emphasized that the main player here is not Azerbaijan, but Turkey. The duration of the war depends on many factors, including how the war proceeds and the reaction of the international community.”
The Turkish approach has its historical origin. Fan Hongda said that the Ottoman Empire had carried out a “massage” against the Armenians, and Turkey’s denial of them for a long time became the fundamental reason why Armenia hated Turkey. Armenia has been pushing the international community to put pressure on Turkey on the “holocaust”, which is also a key factor in the antagonism between Turkey and Armenia.
The Syrian issue has also contributed to the conflict between Turkey and Armenia. In March 2014, the Syrian town of Ksab, located in the Syrian-Turkish border area, was occupied by Syrian opposition forces. The main population of the town was Armenian. Some media said that when the Syrian opposition armed forces invaded Ksab, they entered from the Turkish side with Turkey’s acquiescence. As the security situation in Syria further deteriorates, more and more local Armenians are forced to leave their homes, which also makes Armenia hate Turkey even more.
On the other hand, Turkey and Azerbaijan share the same origin in terms of ethnic attributes, and Azerbaijan has been actively moving closer to Turkey since independence. “As the Turkish Republic’s centennial celebration is approaching in 2023, Erdogan, who is eager for national rejuvenation, is vigorously shaping and enhancing Turkey’s regional influence. Similar to this military conflict, Turkey has shown its position and influence. Opportunity.” Fan Hongda said.
Behind the conflict in the Naka region is Russia’s presence. Russia maintains economic ties with Armenia and Azerbaijan, but Armenia and Russia are military alliances. Russia has provided a large amount of military assistance to Armenia and the Naka region during the conflict in the Naka region, and has stationed heavy troops in Armenia. In addition, in Armenia’s post-war economic construction in 1994, Russian assistance played a significant role.
But this time Russia expressed a conciliatory attitude. When the conflict broke out between the two countries in July this year, Russia also expressed its hope that the two sides would cease fire immediately and would continue to serve as a mediator in the dialogue between the two countries. The Kremlin Information Bureau announced on September 29 that President Vladimir Putin said during a conversation with Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan that he was very worried about the Naqqa conflict. He also said that both parties to the Naqqa conflict should take measures to downgrade the crisis.
Wang Jin, an associate professor at the Middle East Institute of Northwestern University, believes that “The Naka region is very important to Armenia and Azerbaijan, but for Russia and Turkey, it only accounts for a small part of their geostrategy. Therefore, eventually Russia should share Turkey with Turkey. Promote peace in this area.”