Why are Azerbaijan and Armenia fighting?
Armenia and Azerbaijan have involved in fighting again and a fresh clashes have erupted on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. It is threatening to push for a war again 26 years after a ceasefire was reached. Armenia is a Christian majority country and Azerbaijan is a Muslim majority country. Both of them are a part of South Caucasia. The border dispute between them have erupted over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The conflict traces back to the pre-Soviet era. Then the region was at the tri-junction of the Ottoman, Russian and Persian empires. After Azerbaijan and Armenia became Soviet Republics in 1921, Russia gave Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan but offered its autonomy to the region. After Soviet power started receding separatist stated demand for dissolving the autonomous status of Nagorno-Karabakh. Following this, In 1988, the national assembly voted to dissolve the autonomous status and join Armenia.
But, after collapse of Soviet, Armenia and Azerbaijan became independent in 1991. This was followed by clashes and open war that lasted till 1994 when a ceasefire was signed. By that time, Armenia had gained control over Nagorno-Karabakh and handed it to Armenian rebels. The rebels have declared independence, and they wanted recognition.
The region is still treated as a part of Azerbaijan by the international community. Azerbaijan also wants to take it back. The tension got erupted again after a four day war in 2016 and it is still tensed.
Nagorno-Karabakh is an Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan. It has been out of Azerbaijan’s control since 1994 after a war. The region has a 95% ethnically Armenian population and but is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan. Both sides have deployed a heavy military along a demilitarized zone .
The largely mountainous and forested Nagorno-Karabakh is home to 150,000 people. If a large scale war will break out, civilian population might get displaced. Further, the energy-rich Azerbaijan has built several gas and oil pipelines across Turkey and Europe that passes through the disputed region. If there is open war, these pipelines might be targeted which will impact the energy security. Military escalation would also attract regional powers like Turkey and Russia into the conflict.
Turkey has historically supported Azerbaijan but had a troublesome relationship with Armenia. During the war of 1990, Turkey had closed its border with Armenia. Currently, it has no diplomatic relations with Armenia.
Russia enjoys good ties with both Azerbaijan and Armenia. It supplies weapons to both and sees Caucasus and Central Asian region as its backyard. However, Armenia is more dependent on Russia than Azerbaijan. Russia is also having a military base in Armenia. So, Russia is trying to strike a balance between the two countries.