The South Caucasus region is still experiencing instability due to the enduring conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the self-declared Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. The landlocked mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh located within the territory of Azerbaijan, and populated by ethnic Armenian majority. The origin of conflict began in 1988, when Armenia made territorial claims against Azerbaijan. As a result of the ensuing war, Armenian armed forces occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan, including the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts. The official cease-fire agreement was signed in 1994, however tensions and border skirmishes continued in the region. During the conflict, between 20, 000 and 30, 000 people lost their lives. International attempt to bring peace into the region failed, since neither side has reached consensus. While Nagorno-Karabakh declares its de facto autonomy under the control of Armenia, Azerbaijan keeps claiming that the self-declared republic lacks international recognition and does not intend to lose its territory. Two sides are unable to solve the problem by themselves, therefore the OSCE Minsk Group as the main mediator of the conflict was established. It is co-chaired by France, the Russian Federation, and the United States. Nevertheless, even the international effort to stop the longstanding conflict was fruitless. Armenia has ignored four U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for the withdrawal of Armenian forces from Nagorno-Karabakh. By 2016, neither side has changed its position nor the fighting has stopped along the border.
While the last year did not bring any progress into the conflict settlement, the end of 2015 witnessed some development over the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. Right after the Russian Su-24 fighter jet was shot down by Turkey, on the 24nd of November, Russia started to be actively involved in the South Caucasus. The Russian Defense Ministry has announced that more military hardware has been deployed to reinforce its air base in Armenia. Although Russia was reinforcing its military relations with its main ally in the region – Armenia, Azerbaijan was discussing the Nagorno-Karabakh issue with Turkey. On the 22nd of December, Azerbaijan’s Premier Artur Rasizade has met with the Speaker of Grand National Assembly of Turkey Ismail Kahraman. As a result of their talk, Ismail Kahraman said that Turkey would always support Azerbaijan because they are fraternal countries, and they have always been living as “one nation two states” idea in their minds. The Speaker also said the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was a problem of Turkey as well. In addition, having unfavorable relations with Armenia, Turkey declares that it will not improve relations with Armenia unless the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is settled. Following this, Turkey and Russia started to intensively support their own main ally in the region, it can be argued that the South Caucasus might become the next region after the Middle East, where the interest of two powers are inclined to clash. However, Russia and Azerbaijan had always been enjoying friendly relationship. Taking into consideration Russia’s military support to Armenia, while there are clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan along the border, it shows Russia’s preference to Armenia. Moreover, Armenia is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, where Russia holds a leading position.
Ankara and Moscow have already criticized each other during the last month of 2015. Turkey has criticized the co-chairs of the Minsk group in the failure to settle the conflict. Following this critique of Turkey, current Russia’s ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Aleksandr Lukashevich said that Turkey is also a member of the Minsk-Group, and supporting one party in the conflict is destructive. What can be inferred from here is the fact that Russia tries to support its ally, while Turkey persistently declares Azerbaijan’s right to the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. Since they are mediators of the conflict in the framework of the Minsk Group, their active involvement in the region should have illustrated some prospect for conflict resolution. However, it is hard to say whether their actions would lead to the conflict settlement or further escalation. Accordingly, the South Caucasus is inclined to be divided into two spheres of influence. If two sides of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict enjoy support from their Minsk Group ally, what will be the prospect for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement? It can be argued that two sides might never surrender while they continue to enjoy the support from the great powers behind their backs.
On the other hand, the beginning of 2016 has demonstrated an attractive prospect for the conflict settlement. First of all, Germany has promised to participate in settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as OSCE chairman. As it took over the rotating OSCE Chairmanship in 2016, Germany has revealed its top priorities, announced by Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier. He stated that Germany will apply all possible means and mechanisms of the OSCE to sort out the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Germany’s ambitious step towards the Nagorno-Karabakh issue raised some hope for positive development. Nevertheless it is slightly unlikely that holding OSCE Chairmanship would accelerate the conflict settlement, because Germany being a permanent member of the Minsk Group has an opportunity to influence the issue, but it has never put forward its own particular position. It can be said that if Germany shows some positive development during its first six month of chairmanship, further hope for the conflict settlement can be raised. Moreover, the US co-chair of the Minsk Group James Warlick intensified its focus on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue at the beginning of January, 2016.
That is to say, international community intends to bring peace and stability into the region, but it is not clear how. Should Azerbaijan surrender its territory to Armenia, or should Armenian leave the territory is still under the question mark. According to international law, Azerbaijan has chance of winning its interest in the conflict. However, Armenia ignores resolutions made by international community. It seems that we will discuss this issue more in 2016.
Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute’s editorial policy
Aidana Arynbek was a research fellow at the Eurasian Research Institute. She holds a Masters in International Relations from the University of Warwick (UK). Aidana specializes in theories of International Relations, the Politics of International Trade, International Political Economy. Her research fields are the region of the Caspian Sea, the Caucasus and Central Asia. In 2014 she completed English for Academic Studies at INTO City University in London (UK). In 2013, she was awarded the Bolashak Scholarship of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan. The same year, she received her bachelo