From a smoulder to a blaze
While it may seem that the current pandemic has reduced or halted instances of strife and human conflict across the world. The reality is not quite so simple. While it is true that the onset of the pandemic early on did bring a temporary halt to hostilities in certain conflict zones across the world, by and large, conflict continues. The only difference is that the world is not watching so closely or so often. Nevertheless, even given the circumstances, it is hard for the world to ignore a newly sparked conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. This is particularly so as the conflict appears to be approaching full-scale war at this moment.
It would be more accurate to say that this particular conflict has been an on and off cycle of contention between the two nations for nearly three decades. In this time, wars have broken out and the last one was in 1994 which was ended by a ceasefire that was reached by Russian mediation. Russia has always been at the heart of matters in this conflict which was truly sparked off by the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the territorial disputes that followed. The region in question was one that changed hands many times during its past, making the process of establishing a historic precedent for ownership of the region a difficult task. Both nations claim to have historic ties to the region at varying points before its takeover by the Russian Empire in the 19th century. Confusion over ownership continued in the days of the Soviet Union as well with many saying that Stalin may have some role in deliberately leaving the situation in a precarious balance to meet his supposed agenda of dividing the Caucasian people. For the most part, the matter was settled with Azerbaijan gaining control of the region. This, predictably, was not a welcome decision on the Armenian side, particularly those living in the Nagorno-Karabakh region who accused the Azerbaijani authorities of methodically stamping out their culture in all its forms. Attempts to unite the region with Armenia ultimately failed and the matter was left in a semi-permanent state of limbo. The general feeling was that the other side was unforgivable for their transgressions and more importantly, that the Soviets could not resolve the situation. It was in this background that the fall of the Soviet Union became explosive for the region. Immediately, a conflict that was once the internal matter of the Soviet Union was now a regional matter with many international players entering the field on both sides, complicating the process further. Ethnic infighting evolved to full-blown war which exhausted both sides with periods of intense fighting. When Russia finally mediated peace in 1994, the damage to the possibility of true reconciliation between the two nations was already done. There now existed strong sentiments in both nations for the nation, people and culture of the other. Controversial events such as the wanton destruction of Armenian gravestone sites by the Azerbaijani Government symbolised the internalised hatred and rivalry that now marred this frozen conflict. And so the conflict lay for another decade and more, frozen but always threatening to thaw over. It was noted in 2008 that Azerbaijan's oil-fuelled militarisation drive in recent years was once again threatening to destabilise the region. But it was not till 2020 that conflict truly broke out.
On the face of it, this may be an attempt by Azerbaijan to capture territories it lost after the fall of the Soviet Union. But it must be noted that unlike before, the whole region is now tied up in a much larger power game between nations like Turkey and Russia which may have influenced events in a certain direction. What is known is that the scale of the conflict is unrivalled by anything that has been seen in recent years. Tanks, aircrafts, drones, etc., have all seen use as over a hundred casualties have already been officially announced. Given that both governments are busy dealing with the pandemic and the international community also had other priorities, the conflict was allowed to build up to a point when simple negotiations may not cut it. Decades of rivalry and bitterness mean that the two nations are reluctant to accept any idea of peace that comes with compromise, particularly in light of the ever-escalating conflict. Now, the involvement of Turkey and Russia can only complicate matters further. While Russia seems to be playing both sides from time to time, it will not consent to lose the initiative in an area that it considers as part of its sphere of influence. Turkey, likewise, is under obligation to protect its claim of being the protector of the Muslim world. These positions may make any international mediation, already a distant consideration, even more difficult.