Nagorno Karabakh has long been ready for renewed local conflict.
A war between the Armenians and Azerbaijanis that began towards the end of the Soviet period paved the way for the current conflict. At the time, the ethnically Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan declared its independence and was nearly razed to the ground in the war that broke out before its fighters and the Armenian army captured areas of Azerbaijan in a series of victories that led to the 1994 ceasefire. .
But the tensions are even older, at least dating back to World War I, during the fall of the Ottoman Empire, when Armenians were massacred and expelled from Turkey in what many, including the United States Congress and member states of the European Union, they recognize as genocide. That history, Armenians say, justifies their military defense of their ethnic enclave.
The 1994 ceasefire was to be temporary and left some 600,000 Azerbaijanis – who had fled Nagorno Karabakh and seven nearby districts captured by the Armenians – away from their homes. A smaller number of Armenians who had been living in Azerbaijan also fled or were expelled. The result left Nagorno Karabakh, closely aligned with Armenia, vulnerable to an attack by Azerbaijan, which promised to recapture the area.
Then there is the hatred between Muslim Azerbaijanis and Christian Armenians, who accuse each other of destroying religious sites with the intention of erasing the historical vestiges of the other culture from the mountainous landscape. Armenians rebuilt a church, the Cathedral of the Holy Savior, in the city they call Sushi only to see its roof destroyed this fall. Azerbaijan says the conflict in the 1990s left dozens of mosques in ruins.
The conflict is old, but this time it was different
Analysts and former diplomats said that this time the conflict was different because Turkey offered more direct support to Azerbaijan, and also because of the scale of the fighting. Azerbaijan used sophisticated attack drones and both sides used powerful long-range rocket artillery, they said.
Turkey’s direct involvement in support of its ethnic Turkish ally, Azerbaijan, in a zone of traditional Russian influence, turned a local dispute into a regional showdown.
A good example that illustrates this is the ceasefire agreement of November 9: the agreement was negotiated by Russia and the next day Russian peacekeepers began to deploy in the conflict zone to guard an access road and supervise the delivery of territory. Azerbaijan has insisted that it has the right to invite Turkish peacekeepers, raising the possibility that soldiers from two countries will operate in close proximity on a rather tense front.