When Armenia talked tough, Azerbaijan took action

Roots of war: When Armenia talked tough, Azerbaijan took action

The two countries returned to all-out war a month ago, with Azerbaijan determined to retake the roughly 13% of its land that Armenia seized 26 years ago

 Armenia and Azerbaijan have for three decades been locked in a conflict over Azerbaijan's Armenian-populated mountainous Karabakh province, which broke away from Baku in the 1990s war that left 30,000 people dead. Credit: AFP Photo

For years, the leaders of Armenia had spoken carefully and ambiguously about the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, to avoid inflaming passions in Azerbaijan. But that changed suddenly this spring, when the populist prime minister declared the area indisputably Armenian.

To Azerbaijanis, who lost a bitter, unresolved war with Armenia over the region in the 1990s, the remark by the prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, landed with explosive force. Even more infuriating, it was delivered in Shusha, a city that Azerbaijanis regard as their cultural capital but that lies in territory lost during the war.

The two countries returned to all-out war a month ago, with Azerbaijan determined to retake the roughly 13 per cent of its land that Armenia seized 26 years ago, displacing 800,000 Azerbaijanis in the process. The fighting threatens to draw in Turkey, on the Azerbaijani side, and Russia, which backs Armenia.

Casualties in the conflict have already mounted into the thousands, but as his troops make advances, Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, is showing no signs of slowing down, and the country is gripped with war fever.

A cease-fire mediated in Washington last weekend was broken within an hour of coming into force as both sides traded artillery fire Monday morning.

Also read: Azerbaijan, Armenia trade accusations of violating new ceasefire

Aliyev is demanding that Armenian forces withdraw to internationally recognized borders in keeping with United Nations Security Council resolutions and basic principles agreed to in previous negotiations. These were the terms agreed upon 10 years ago but never implemented, and analysts say that Armenia became less ambiguous this year about claiming territory seized during the war.

The immediate spark for the current conflict came in July, in a deadly clash near the border town of Tovuz, where Azerbaijan’s vital oil and gas pipelines run on their way to Georgia and Turkey.

Azerbaijani troops have already retaken parts of four southern districts along the border with Iran and have come within striking distance of the Lachin corridor, a mountain pass that is a critical supply route from Armenia. But there is little doubt that it has been tough going for Azerbaijani forces.