Fights broke out between Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers today. Most diplomats knew it would happen sooner or later. During a visit at the council of Europe in Strasbourg in February I witnessed the tensions between both countries’ representatives, during speeches. The council’s former president, Anne Brasseur, whom we spoke with, also expressed her concern about an escalation. They were still hoping for a peaceful solution, but the diplomats of both countries did not even want to talk to each other. Where diplomacy has failed, weapons are now speaking. But what is exactly going on? And what might be the consequences?
One cannot say that both countries are extremely famous, although due to the Armenian genocides the country has a certain notoriety. Both of them have long history of enmity. There have been conflicts after WW1 and in the late 80ies up to May 1994. The conflict in the 80ies and 90ies started peacefully with a referendum, but ended in an armed conflict with ethnic cleansings and a military victory by Armenia. Nevertheless, the region stayed Azerbaijani. The ceasefire agreement of 1994 was always considered as extremely weak and it was pretty clear that sooner or later the tensions would escalate again. The conflict is based on a fight for the Nagorno-Karabakh region. It lays in Azerbaijan but is an Armenian enclave because of its mainly Armenian population. The local Armenian militia is strongly supported by the regular Armenian army.
No one know who started the recent fights. Each country says the other one started it and therefore it is difficult to know who is right. The recent summit in Washington DC, about nuclear security, was also meant to resolve the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. But apparently the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents did not even want to see each other. Both stated that the meeting in DC was a success, as it tightened the bond between their respective country and the US. Unfortunately there has never been a real wish from any of the sides to find a diplomatic solution. Whoever gave the order to attack probably did it on the flight home from or maybe even still in Washington. The summit, which was considered being the last chance, failed there.
The fights started on April 2nd 2016 and 24hours later, the death toll is 30 deaths (both sides combined). It is still only a conflict and specialists don’t think it will escalate into an “all-out-war”, even if both sides are using serious material like tanks and helicopters. Azerbaijan has recently called for an unilateral truce, which has not been respected on the ground and the Armenian president said that his troops will not cease fire neither. Until now, no one knows when at how this will end.
This conflict is described as the death of diplomacy by some specialist. Mainly because both parties were not interested in a peaceful solution at all, as they would not even accept to meet. Therefore it is also another European failure. They put a lot of effort in trying to find a diplomatic solution. Unfortunately this European defeat is another weakening hit for the Union and every one of them strengthens Russia. Vladimir Putin will now probably try to be the guardian of security of the region and send Russian “peacekeepers”. It is not yet clear on whose side he is, as Russia sells weapons to Azerbaijan but has a military base in Armenia. Turkey on the other side will most likely support the Muslim Azerbaijanis against the Christian Armenians, especially because turkey has not shown much love to the Armenians in the past. Now let’s imagine for a second that Russia supports Armenia, which specialist consider as highly probable. This would mean that we’d have a second conflict where Russia and Turkey support two opposed sides. It would therefore increase the tension between those two countries. The European Union will, once again stand by, try to find diplomatic solutions and be ignored by Russia and Turkey who would do as they please. Both would slowly take steps towards a confrontation. Putin and Erdogan are both greedy and insane enough to dare an escalation. So, this conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which may seem dull and unimportant, may very well open the way to much bigger problems!