Updated: Nov 11, 2020
Assistant Opinions Editor
The mountains of Karabakh are alive with the sound of gunfire and missiles as two peoples and armies clash over the region. Officially known as Nagorno-Karabakh, the region is home to a majority Armenian population that has longed for independence or reunification with Armenia. However, Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as being a part of Azerbaijan.
For the past month the area has experienced intense fighting, due to the invasion of Azerbaijani forces to the region from a north and south axis of advance. While these two nations are in war, international and regional powers ascend like vultures to make sure their side will come out on top when the dust settles. Russia is keen but cautious to support its Armenian ally, while Turkey and Israel are directly supplying Azerbaijan with state-of-the-art weaponry; nota
bly drones. Nagorno-Karabakh is not new to military conflict. In fact, the region has a complicated history, one that is often scarred by battle and bloodshed.
The trouble really started at the onset of Soviet domination in the region. After the fall of the Russian and Ottoman empires, the Soviets quickly and brutally established control over the Caucasus mountain regions. After a short-lived confederation of Armenians, Georgians and Azerbaijanis, the region was once again under the control of foreign powers. Soviet authorities decided Nagorno-Karabakh would belong to their Azerbaijini satellite state, even though the region was a majority Armenian. Ethnic tensions were alive but were mostly kept under control as the Soviet Red Army was able to present itself as a neutral arbiter and resolve issues between the communities.
Occasionally, the Red Army had to resort to brutal crack downs to achieve this. Nevertheless, this peace prevailed until the Soviet Union collapsed at its seams. Red Army weapon depots and caches were seized by nationalists on both sides. Severe ethnic violence erupted in Nagorno-Karabakh as Armenian and Azeri militias battled it out in broad daylight. Atrocities and instances of ethnic cleansing were perpetrated on both sides. Finally, as Armenia and Azerbaijan achieved independence, all out war broke out, a war in which Armenia prevailed in 1994. Nagorno-Karabakh would become independent while at the same time becoming de-facto united with Armenia. The region was still ripe with tension, even though Azerbaijan still had its claim over the region in the eyes of the international community.
This claim was finally pressed on Sept. 27, 2020. After two decades of heavy investment in military resources, and procuring modern equipment such as the aforementioned drones, Azeri forces attacked Armenian positions.
Multiple videos taken from the Armenian perspective detail many tanks being destroyed by anti-tank missile teams (please note the video linked shows disturbing images of war). Azeri forces made slow progress for the first two weeks. According to Reuters, Azerbaijan has refused to release casualty lists. Armenian forces have taken 350 military casualties as of Oct. 8, 2020, before that incremental gains had been made by the Azerbaijani forces. Days later a rupture in the Armenian lines appeared as Azerbaijani forces made strong gains up until the town of Hadrut, which is in the south of the province. Southern Azeri forces have now advanced 17 miles from their starting point. In the northern part of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan’s army has advanced five miles from the Azeri border. The center section has advanced four miles.
Azerbaijan has utilized drones to devastating effects.The Israeli made IAI Harop in particular has caused severe damage both physically and in morale to the Armenian soldiers. The Harop drones operate in a “kamikaze” fashion, hovering above the war zone until it finds a target before diving and exploding on impact.
Fighting has been bitter as both Azerbaijan and Armenia have imposed martial law and mandatory conscription for their adult male populations. Even women have joined in the fighting as nurses and rear area adjutants. According to the Armenian news outlet Armenpres, only two Armenian prisoners have been taken by the Azerbaijani forces, which can be seen as an indicator to the brutality of the fighting.
The spectre of international intervention, and a subsequent widening of the war, worries nations such as the United States,Russia, and France. An attempt to broker a ceasefire failed as fighting raged on shortly after. Russian leader Vladimir Putin is concerned about a Turkish intervention, while Turkey and Iran nervously eye their borders on the unfolding chaos in the area.