The South Caucasus region houses three countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, each with a unique history, language, religion, and culture. Two of these countries, Armenia and Azerbaijan, have a complicated relationship marked by border disputes, skirmishes, and attempted ceasefires. The reason for this hostility? The status of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, governed by the Republic of Artsakh. It is a landlocked region located between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which is de jure recognized as a part of Azerbaijan but is de facto an independent state with a majority Armenian population.
To fully understand the nature of the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, we have to step back a bit in time. From as early as the 9-6th centuries BC, Artsakh has been a part of the Armenian kingdom. Throughout history, Artsakh came under the rule of various conquerors and experienced annexation but always remained Armenian. The modern-day Nagorno-Karabakh conflict emerged during the pre-Soviet and Soviet periods of history. In the pre-Soviet era in 1917, Nagorno-Karabakh convened its first congress and declared itself an independent political entity with a majority Armenian population, only to experience military aggression from Azerbaijan and Turkey. The international community did not have a robust response to this problem.
Now, step into Soviet history. Not only was Nagorno-Karabakh already disputed between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but Soviet Russia had entered the picture as well. In 1921, even though Nagorno-Karabakh had been declared an inseparable and integral part of Armenia, Moscow and Stalin made a decision to incorporate Nagorno-Karabakh into Azerbaijan as an autonomous oblast. There was no legal or normative basis for this decision, and it set into motion decades of discriminatory policies which harmed Armenians living in the oblast.
For decades, Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh resisted this rule, until large-scale military altercations began in the early 1990s. The United Nations Security Councill attempted to step in and demand peace and the cessation of military actions, and it was ultimately the OSCE Minsk Group that held conflict settlement negotiations. While the Minsk Group did hold negotiations and cease-fire agreements, terms of peace have always been tenuous. In recent weeks, they have also been violated.
On July 12th and 13th, Azerbaijani forces began launching attacks against the northern Armenian province of Tavush. Drone strikes, targeted attacks against civilian infrastructure, and violence against Armenians in their homes have erupted. In one case, the Tavush Textile factory was attacked, which has been making face coverings for the COVID-19 pandemic. These attacks come after Azerbaijan had been conducting large-scale military exercises in past months, and now Azerbaijan and Turkey are said to be soon holding joint military exercises as well. These altercations have arguably been the worst occurrences of violence seen between Armenia and Azerbaijan since 2016.
What’s more, the conflict is not just on the ground; it’s also occurring in cyberspace with disinformation and cyberattacks running rampant. Armenian digital security expert Artur Papyan notes that several cyberattacks occurred before this latest altercation on the ground. As well, the Institute or War & Peace Reporting highlights that Azerbaijan has created over 500,000 bot accounts, and new social media accounts with Armenian names have been crafted to spread disinformation.
Suffering on the ground is growing bigger by the day, sparking a worldwide condemnation of violence and initiating calls for peace. On the international level, Radio Free Europe reports that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe demanded peace talks resume between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and both Moscow and Washington have made calls to halt the violence. Meanwhile, Armenians around the world have begun protesting for peace, seen everywhere from London to Marseille to Uruguay to Geneva to New York.
Despite these calls to action, more must be done to assist the Armenian population on the ground. If you’re wondering how you can help from home, there are plenty of ways to do so, starting with signing petitions for key pieces of legislation in Congress that would diminish military funds going to Azerbaijan and support funding for de-mining in Nagorno-Karabakh. Beyond all, keep reading about the conflict, stay informed, and make it known in your community. We all must do our part to support peace.