Azerbaijan and Armenia’s New Cold War

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As most of the world wages war on Covid-19, Armenia and Azerbaijan have decided to reignite an old dispute. Nagorno-Karabakh is a region within Azerbaijan, but with a majority of ethnic Armenians living there. When the Soviet Union was formed in the 1920s, Azerbaijan was given control over Nagorno-Karabakh but in the 1980s, the parliament of Nagorno-Karabakh voted to become part of Armenia. The vote caused small-scale conflicts between the majority Armenian population and its Azerbaijani minority within the region which grew into a full-blown war after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Armenian forces managed to gain control over Nagorno-Karabakh until the ceasefire In 1994, however, the region was given back to Azerbaijan as part of the agreement. Over 30,000 people were killed and a further million displaced. Armenia still occupies the areas surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh. A peace treaty has been sought but so far, nothing has been signed by either side.

As Azerbaijan has a strong Turkish culture, it is one of six recognised Turkic states and has close ties to Turkey. Although Turkey does not border Azerbaijan, it does have a significant land border with Armenia which was closed in 1993 to support Azerbaijan in the conflict.

On the 27th September 2020, fighting once again broke out over the enclave. Both sides are disputing who started the violence, but within only five days of fighting, over a hundred people had died. Both sides quickly mobilised their military forces with Azerbaijani missiles hitting Armenian forces all over the enclave. Neither side seemed willing to back down, with Azerbaijan enlisting the help of their fleet of Israeli kamikaze drones and TB2 drones produced by Turkey. The fighting shows a significant shift from a conflict that was once brutal and bloody, to a more technological style of fighting. Both sides have used their drones heavily to minimise the loss of expensive planes, of which Armenia and Azerbaijan have 52 between them. However, these drones seem to remove the cost of waging war by being expendable and far cheaper than a plane and a pilot. The drones are susceptible to anti-aircraft fire but if they can successfully destroy a few silos in return, it seems to make sense. It was previously thought that drones would suffer heavily from anti-aircraft fire but this small conflict shows that this sentiment may not be true everywhere. Larger scale conflicts between superpowers may see drones being less effective due to the prevalence of anti-aircraft fire and the superior budget to maintain high-tech warplanes, such as the F35 Lighting II used by the US and its allies, that are more effective and easier to mobilise quickly given the relative infancy of drone warfare.

The war has not just been waged in the real world. The new class of drones have cameras on that allow them to capture their feats of destruction and both sides have been using this to showcase their military strength. Turkey is a very powerful country when it comes to their propaganda machine and Azerbaijan have taken its teachings to heart by creating a music video featuring helicopters, tanks, missile launchers, and drones, interlaced with footage of successful bombing raids against the Armenians. It is performed by local musicians and has bizarrely got them dressed in military uniforms and holding guns.

So what next? A ceasefire was brokered and was due to start on midnight, Saturday the 17th of October. An Armenian spokesperson said that the ceasefire was broken after just four minutes. This prompted Azerbaijan to state that Armenia broke it after two minutes. The ceasefire was brokered by Russia, an ally to both sides. It seems likely that the fighting will slowly simmer down and hopefully, a peaceful agreement can be made. Turkeys role in the fighting is largely safe, they should be able to continue supplying weapons and Syrian fighters to support the Azerbaijanis without fear of being attacked by Armenia. NATO article 5 ensures that if Armenia were to attack Turkey, the twenty-nine other member states would declare war back on Armenia, a sure suicide mission.

A new, Russian-brokered peace deal has now been negotiated and with a large military force backing it, it seems likely that this one will last. The deal outlines the transition of power and land in the region, Azerbaijan will retain areas it gained during the recent conflict whilst Armenian forces will conduct a three-stage withdrawal of troops over a span of three weeks.

Armenians are protesting for the removal of their leader, only put into power in 2018 amid large protests. Given the amount of land lost by Armenia during this most recent bout of fighting, continuing this war does not seem like it would be beneficial and I believe that the Armenian public should see that Azerbaijan have the upper hand. Even though they have lost a large chunk of land, Armenia have been spared the killing blow by this deal.