Armenia and Azerbaijan, two neighboring nations in the South Caucasus region with a long-standing dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) region, saw another round of military conflagration in late February, putting regional stability at risk.
According to reports by the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan, Armenian armed forces stationed along the line of contact violated the ceasefire approximately 120 times a day over the final days of February. The Azerbaijani army’s retaliatory measures may not prevent further Armenian aggression so long as the territorial brawl between the two post-Soviet nations remains unresolved.
NK, while a territory fully located inside Azerbaijan, has been occupied by Armenian forces since the early 1990s. Due to regular escalation of mutual hostilities, the conflict is still far from resolution, and is shaping up to be more dangerous than ever before.
Azerbaijan, a predominantly Muslim country and the largest nation in the South Caucasus region located at the junction of Asia and Europe alongside the Caspian Sea, was pushed into a bloody war in early 1990s that resulted in the occupation of more than 20 percent of its historical and internationally recognized lands. Armenia forcibly seized the NK region and seven surrounding districts from Azerbaijan. The war ended in a ceasefire agreement signed between the two sides in 1994, bringing a de jure end to the war. But de facto elimination of mutual military hassle has been failing, as Armenia routinely violates the ceasefire and provokes another next war with Azerbaijan.
Both the people and government of Azerbaijan support the peaceful resolution to the NK conflict. Azerbaijani officials, led by President Ilham Aliyev, have demonstrated an active interest in ending the 20-year territorial dispute peacefully. The ultimate goal of the Azerbaijani leadership in regard to NK conflict is restoring the country’s territorial integrity through the peaceful liberation of the occupied lands.
“The territorial integrity of Azerbaijan is not and will never be the topic of negotiations. Azerbaijan will not retreat from this position in any single step. This means that in territorial integrity of Azerbaijan … there will be no compromise,” President Aliyev has said, according to www.president.az.
Armenia, on the other hand, sees NK as an integral part to its “Greater Armenia” plan, and justifies its armed occupation of territorial extension. The resulting war in Karabakh has witnessed mass murder of Azerbaijanis by Armenian forces, including what can be described as an ethnic cleansing of Azerbaijanis in Khojaly city, which suffered a bloody carnage in 1992. In that incident alone 613 Azerbaijanis were killed, 487 were wounded and 1,275 were taken hostage.
The President of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan, was then commander of the breakaway NK’s armed forces. Thomas de Waal, a British journalist and senior fellow with Carnegie Europe, interviewed Sargsyan in 2000 prior to writing his book about NK, Black Garden. Sargsyan’s words describe in detail the massacre against Azerbaijanis in Khojaly. De Waal wrote that Sargsyan described “some form of ethnic cleansing” as having taken place in Karabakh, which he believed “was not possible otherwise.” De Waal described Sargsyan as intent on showing Azerbaijanis that Armenians should not be stereotyped as being weak.
“Before Khojaly, the Azerbaijanis thought that they were joking with us, they thought that the Armenians were people who could not raise their hand against the civilian population. We needed to put a stop to all that. And that’s what happened,” Sargsyan is quoted as saying to De Waal.
The United Nations Security Council has adopted four separate resolutions about NK, demanding immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian forces from the region. The resolutions remain unfulfilled, as Armenia continues to unlawfully occupy the region inside Azerbaijan.