Firing on the Azeri-Armenian border; 67 dead and many injured, UN calls for peace

The border conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia remains to be one of the major conflicts that emerged from the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. Since decades, US, Russia and France have been trying to resolve the conflict but all in vain. After 2016, now in 2020, a number of bullets were shot across the border, taking lives of 67 individuals.

Being on the brink of the war, none of the countries are willing to pull back from the borders to ease up tensions. To further tense up the matter, Turkey has announced its allegiance towards Azerbaijan.

The disputed area of Nagorno-Karabakh

Nagorno-Karabakh is a mountainous region of about 4,400 square kilometer (1,700 square miles). The region became an autonomous region within the republic of Azerbaijan in the Soviet times. It is internationally recognised as a part of Azerbaijan but is inhabited majorly by ethnic Armenians.

None of the countries are in agreement to give up their control of the region as the region is a corridor for pipelines carrying oil and natural gas from the Caspian Sea to the world markets. Hence, the war can affect the world as well.

The Nagorno-Karabakh region became a part of the Russian Empire in the 19th century. As the Soviet Union started loosing control in the 1980s, the Nagorno-Karabakh region voted in the favor of being a part of Armenia.

This resulted in a fight to break out between Armenia and Azerbaijan. 30,000 people lost their lives in the violence. The ethnic Armenians gained control of the region. They also pushed further, occupying some of the territory of Azerbaijan, creating a buffer zone linking Karabakh and Armenia.

After the disintegration of the 1991 Soviet Union , Karabakh declared itself as an independent republic. This escalated into a full scale war between Armania and Azerbaijan. The number of lives lost in the war, have not been determined yet.

While Armenia itself has never officially recognised the region’s independence, it became its main fainancial and military backer.

Peace calls between Azerbaijan and Armenia

In a referendum in 2006, the region of Karabakh approved a new constitution. This was declared as illegitimate by Azerbaijan.

With the presidents’ meeting several times, there have been multiple instances of progress in the peace process between the two countries.

In May and November 2009, significant progress between the two countries were reported. The progress stalled and since then there have been a number of serious ceasefire violations in the region.

The most serious violation occurred in April 2016, killing dozens of soldiers on both sides.

The escalated conflict, what happened?

According to Armenia’s defence ministry, the attack on civilian settlements in Nagorno-Karabakh and the regional capital Stepanakert began on the morning of September 27, 2020. Today, the situation has escalated, further killing 15 more servicemen and with more civilian casualties.

The separatist authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh confirmed the death of 18 people. The 18 individuals included a woman, a child and 16 of their troops. The authorities also laid out the information of around 100 people being wounded.

On Tuesday, September 29, 2020, the defence ministry of Nagorno-Karabakh reported 27 more deaths. The overall death toll shot up to 67, including 9 civilian deaths – seven at Azerbaijan and 2 on the Armenian side.

Azerbaijan alleged that the Armenian forces started the shooting on the border, and five members of the same family were killed by Armenian shelling. Both these things have been strongly denied by Armenia.

The Armenian government declared martial law and total military mobilisation, shortly after a similar announcement by the authorities inside Nagorno-Karabakh.

Martial law is an emergency measure under which the military takes over the authority and dunctions of the civilian government.

Armenian Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan accused Azerbaijan of “planned aggression”. He also warned the possibility of the region being on the verge of a full-scale war by saying, “Get ready to defend our sacred homeland,”.

Pashinyan urged the international community to unite to prevent any further destablisation.

Armenia claimed to have shot down two Azeri helicopters and three drones. It also claimed to have destroyed three tanks in the clashes that broke out on Sunday.

Azerbaijan’s defence ministry confirmed the loss of one helicopter but said that the crew had survived. It also reported that 12 Armenian air defence systems had been destroyed. It denied the claims of losses reported by Armenia.

Azerbaijani President, Ilham Aliyev went live on TV to announce the order of a large-scale counter-offensive operation to respond to the Armenian army attacks.

He said, “I am confident that our successful counter-offensive operation will put an end to the occupation, to the injustice, to the 30-year-long occupation.” 

Armenia denied Azerbaijan’s success in acquiring some regions. The unrecognised president of Nagorno-karabakh, Arayik Harutyunyan, confirmed some positions had been lost to Azerbaijani forces.

The International Reactions

Russia is traditionally seen as an ally of Armenia. Russia called for an immediate ceasefire and talks to stabilise the situation.

UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres said that he was “extremely concerned” and called for both sides to stop fighting. France, which has a large Armenian community, called for an immediate ceasefire and dialogue. Iran, which borders both Azerbaijan and Armenia, offered to broker peace talks. President Donald Trump said that the US was seeking to stop the violence.

Turkey has pledged its support to Azerbaijan. Turkish President, Tayyip Erdogan encouraged the world to support the country in its “battle against invasion and cruelty”.

Turkey’s support may strengthen Azerbaijan. In August 2020, it was stated that with the help of Turkish military, Azerbaijan would fulfil its “sacred duty”. This can be related with the aim to take back its lost territories.

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