Border clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan have left 155 soldiers from both sides dead in the biggest outbreak of fighting between the neighbors and long-time adversaries in two years, fueling fears of more animosity.
Here’s a look at the years-long conflict between the two countries and the latest clashes.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT?
Armenia and Azerbaijan have been at odds for more than three decades in a conflict over the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The mountainous region is part of Azerbaijan but is under the control of ethnic Armenians, who have been supported by Armenia since the end of the separatist war in 1994.
The territory in the southern Caucasus covers an area of about 4,400 square kilometers (1,700 square miles), which is about the size of the US state of Delaware.
During the Soviet era, the predominantly Armenian region had an autonomous status within Azerbaijan. Long-simmering tensions between Christian Armenians and predominantly Muslim Azerbaijanis, fueled by memories of the 1915 massacre of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks, simmered as the Soviet Union crumbled in its final years.
Fighting began in 1988 when the region bid to join Armenia, and following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, hostilities escalated into full-scale war, killing around 30,000 people and displacing around 1 million.
When the war ended with a cease-fire in 1994, Armenian forces not only held Nagorno-Karabakh itself, but also vast areas outside the territory.
International mediation efforts over the following decades failed to produce a diplomatic settlement.
On September 27, 2020, Azerbaijan launched an operation called “Iron Fist” to regain control over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Strong support was provided by NATO member Turkey, which has close ethnic, cultural and historical ties with Azerbaijan.
In six weeks of fighting involving heavy artillery, rockets and drones that killed more than 6,700 people, Azerbaijani forces pushed Armenian forces out of areas they controlled outside the separatist region and seized large swaths of Nagorno-Karabakh proper.
A peace agreement brokered by Russia on November 10 allowed Azerbaijan to regain control of territories occupied by Armenian forces outside Nagorno-Karabakh for nearly three decades, including the Lachin region, which is the main road from Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia. . Armenian forces also agreed to surrender control of large parts of Nagorno-Karabakh.
According to the agreement, Russia sent about 2,000 troops to the region to perform peacekeeping duties.
The agreement sparked years of protests in Armenia, where the opposition condemned it as a betrayal of the country’s interests and called for the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. Pashinyan withstood the pressure, defending the deal as the only way to prevent Azerbaijan from seizing all of Nagorno-Karabakh.
AND THE NEW MILITARY ACTIONS?
Sporadic clashes between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces have erupted repeatedly in the area, but the fighting that began on Tuesday was the heaviest since the 2020 peace accord.
Both sides blamed each other for starting the hostilities, with Armenia accusing Azerbaijan of an unprovoked attack and Baku saying it was responding to shelling by Armenian forces.
Armenia said at least 105 of its soldiers were killed, while Azerbaijan said it lost 50.
Russia moved quickly to help negotiate a cessation of hostilities, but the cease-fire it tried to broker has failed to hold and clashes continue.
Late Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin held a phone conversation with leaders of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a grouping of several former Soviet states that includes Moscow, including Armenia. The leaders agreed to send a fact-finding mission to the conflict area, which includes senior officials of the group.
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