A shooting war broke out in the summer of 2020 between two nations that were once part of the Soviet Union. They became independent after the USSR fell apart in 1991.
Armenia and Azerbaijan began fighting in a semi-independent enclave known as Nagorno-Karabakh. This region is located within the borders of Azerbaijan and so is nominally a part of that nation’s territory.
However, this enclave remains disputed territory because Armenia has long held the region rightfully belongs to them. Although located within Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh is home to a majority Armenian population.
It’s important to note that Armenia is a majority Christian nation, and Azerbaijan is majority-Muslim. This difference in religion has been a source of friction and war between these two ethnic groups for centuries dating back to the Crusades of the Middle Ages.
The last conflict between these two nations broke out in 2016, which resulted in the Four Day War. This conflict was a breach of a 1994 cease-fire agreement. More than 200 people died in the 2016 incident.
The current conflict has claimed the lives of 1,746 Armenian soldiers, while Azerbaijan reports the loss of 2,783 of its troops.
While these may seem like a minor conflict in a remote corner of the world, the Nagorno-Karabakh unrest has the potential to send ripple effects throughout the entire region and may even affect the price of oil. This region is oil-producing, and disrupting supplies could influence global markets.
A greater danger is that this on-again-off-again war could draw in more considerable powers and result in a more dangerous conflict that could destabilize the region. That’s because powerful allies with their interests back both nations. Azerbaijan is backed by Turkey, a majority-Muslim country that is also a member of NATO.
Turkey has been a long-time antagonist of the Armenians. Turkey has been accused of promulgating an all-out genocide of Armenians in 1915, an incident that was recently officially acknowledged by official United States policy.
Although the role of Russia is somewhat ambiguous – it sells weapons to both nations – the Kremlin can be said to more generally favor the interests of Armenia, placing it at odds with Turkey.
Turkey and Russia are already supporting opposing sides in Libya and Syria. Thus, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict holds the potential to create more significant problems on the world stage.