Nagorno Karabakh – David versus Goliath

Hardly anyone living outside the former Soviet Union would have ever heard of a region called Nagorno Karabakh, located deep inside the Southern flank of the Caucasus Mountains. Yet, during the early 1990s, it was the scene for a bloody battle which killed 35,000 people. Like many other post-Soviet military conflicts, this one also remained hidden from the Western public eye. The conflict ended after the 1994 ceasefire agreement, but occasional gunfire still claim the lives of soldiers on both sides. Peace Accords, started many years ago under the supervision of Russia (pro-Karabakh) and Turkey (pro-Azerbaijan) remains stalled. The threat of a new conflict is looming in the horizon, and both sides continue building up their arsenal.

The trouble in Karabakh was started by the Soviet shortsightedness, which awarded the Christian Armenian region of Nagorno Karabakh to the Muslim majority Azerbaijan. During the Soviet regions, Karabakh enjoyed a great deal of autonomy and the ethnic tensions were quite low. However, during the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Azeri government suspended the autonomy and special powers of the minority region and started resettlement of the Muslim majority there. Tensions flared up and resulted in riots and massacres. Pogroms were directed at the Armenian population living in Baku and other Muslim majority areas, which were immediately followed by retaliations in the Christian majority areas. Ethnic kin from Armenia joined the rebels in Karabakh. Likewise, mercenaries from Chechenya, Afghanistan and Turkey fought on the Azeri side. The Azeri side was the better armed and the more numerous side. On the other hand, the Armenians were highly skilled and experienced. By 1994, the Azeris were completely defeated and they lost 14% of their total area to the Karabakh Defence Forces. 30,000 Azeris and 5,000 Armenians died in the battle. Karabakh and the neighboring regions which once belonged to Azerbaijan now remains under the control of NKR (Nagorno Karabakh Republic).

So far, the peace talks haven’t yielded any concrete results and this has increased the magnitude of Azerbaijan’s frustration. Azeri leaders are constantly saying that they are better armed and more prepared than they were during the 1990s and they can successfully defeat the less numerous Nagorno Karabakh Defence Army. Azerbaijan recently bought a lot of foreign weaponry with the excess oil revenue (which is decreasing, as of 2011). The Nagorno Karabakh Armenians, who depend on the assistance from Armenia and the greater Armenian Diaspora across the world, are no less aggressive. This time they are saying that they are going to conquer Baku (the capital of Azerbaijan). Although the total population of NKR is only about 140,000, they maintain a very strong and experienced army of 20,000. It needs to be seen whether they will be able to defeat Azerbaijan (having a population of 9 million) for a second time.

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