Regional pulse between Turkey and Russia in the Caucasus.

Erdogan warns Armenia to leave Azeri territory while Russia threatens to "watch over the peace of the territory"
Putin y Erdogan

SPUTNIK/SERGEY GUNEEV  -   Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

The international powers most historically involved in the Caucasian conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, Turkey and Russia, are meeting again after their clashes in Syria and Libya. The territorial conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan erupts again this weekend with direct clashes on the border of the self-determined Republic of Artsaj.  

Last Friday, several tweets were published accusing the Turkish government of moving militia from northern Syria and Libya to Azerbaijan, but nobody knew the reason for this move. It is known that Turkey's support to the Azeris has been historical for ethnic and religious reasons. After this news, namely on Sunday, Armenians and Azeris drew their weapons again leaving at least 30 soldiers dead. 

As a response to these rumours, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia accused Turkey of taking part in the hostilities on the ground. 'Turkish military experts are fighting side by side with Azerbaijan, who are using Turkish weapons, including UAVs and warplanes', the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

The President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, echoed these rumours without confirming or denying them. He explained that "Armenia must immediately withdraw from Azeri lands which it is occupying so the peace would reign in the region again". Any imposition or offer other than ending the occupation “will not only be unjust and unlawful but continue to spoil Armenia,” Erdogan said, recalling that the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, de facto controlled by Armenia since 1994, is Azeri territory. 

Russia has also been quick to speak out, stating on Monday that they were in full contact with Turkey because of this escalation of tension, especially after accusations of Turkish intervention in the area. It should be recalled that both countries have a military presence in the states concerned. Moscow has a military base in Armenia and Ankara is Azerbaijan's main ally. 

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov, in statements to the local press, called on Yerevan and Baku to "maximum containment" and to abandon all steps that could lead to a further escalation of the situation. He also recalled that Russia, as a member of the Minsk Group for the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, is prepared to use its "good relationship" with both sides of the conflict to mediate. 

Tropas Nagorno Karabaj
AFP / AZERBAIJAN MINISTRY OF DEFENCE - Azeri troops carrying out a combat operation during the clashes on 28 September 2020 between Armenian separatists and Azerbaijan in the border region of Nagorno-Karabakh

Nagorno-Karabakh is a territory within the borders of Azerbaijan, has 140,000 inhabitants and 90% of the population speaks Armenian. Armenia claims that, historically, this piece of territory belongs to them. But in determining the borders during the USSR stage (1918), Stalin did not think of them and left them outside their natural border.

After a long war (1987-1994) that left 30,000 dead and more than 1 million displaced, the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh proclaimed itself the independent Republic of Artsaj. Although they are not recognised by any UN state, they have the support of Armenia, which has come to control the surrounding area of Nagorno-Karabakh by occupying 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory. 

Neither the establishment of the Minsk Group in 1994 to mediate between the warring parties nor the Madrid peace talks in 2009, which attempted to establish three steps towards an agreement, have been of any use. Now, in 2020, at the height of the world pandemic, the conflict is resuming with more tension than ever, particularly with the veiled intervention of the already rival Erdogan and Putin. 

How long will the armed clashes last? 

The fighting in the Azeri area occupied by Armenia has already claimed dozens of victims among civilians and the military, and clashes continued on Monday. According to the EFE news agency, both Armenia and Azerbaijan are offering conflicting versions of events on the ground. 

"Who started first?" is a question that remains unanswered. What it does appear is that Azerbaijan is trying to recover the territory occupied by Armenia. And it is succeeding, at least that is what they declared when describing the progress made over the territory in the last warring parties.

Intense armed clashes continued tonight. "The Armenian armed forces have repeatedly attempted to counterattack to regain the lost positions in the Fuzuli-Jabrayil and Aghdara-Tartar", added the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defence in a statement. Armenia, for its part, indicated that "battles of different intensity continue". 

Mapa de Armenia y Azerbaiyán
AFP - Map of Azerbaijan and Armenia

The Nagorno-Karabakh forces have so far confirmed the deaths of at least 59 soldiers in the attacks by the Azeri forces. Baku, in turn, has not yet provided official information on the number of military casualties in the region during the escalation that began this Sunday. 

He said the Minsk group – which is led by Russia, France and the United States and mediates between Armenia and Azerbaijan – "had failed to solve the issue for almost 30 years", Erdogan announced yesterday in a television interview. 

Both countries are calling for a ceasefire while preparing their military equipment to intervene if necessary. This Caucasian Cold War is affecting Azeri and Armenian citizens who since last weekend have been living with martial law and constant internet cuts. 

For his part, the Turkish Defence Minister, Hulusi Akar, has stated that "Armenia must stop its attacks immediately and send back the mercenaries and terrorists who came from abroad", without specifying who he was referring to and ignoring Friday's rumours about his own militia in the country. 

The minister took the opportunity to criticise the European Union and the United States, which yesterday made statements calling for a ceasefire in the area. "Those who now want a peaceful solution, an immediate cease-fire and a dialogue now; where were they for 30 years when Nagorno-Karabakh and 20% of Azerbaijani territories were under occupation".