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Nagorno – Karabakh conflict

The Armenian political context of the celebrations of the centenary is not at all favourable. For a start, the dormant conflict in Nagorno Karabakh is in a worrying season of reawakening.

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Nagorno Karabakh is a region located in the west of Azerbaijan, close to the border with Armenia and is de facto, an independent republic. Inhabited by a large Armenian majority, it declared independence from Azerbaijan in 1992, following the break-up of the Soviet Union.
Considered by Armenia as part of its territory, the region was, in previous years, the scene of deep ethnic cleansing perpetrated by both belligerents. It caused conflict between the two Caucasian states which lasted until 1994, and has not yet found a final and peaceful solution. From time to time, the conflict flares up and last year’s was the worst event of its kind since the end of the war with 70 deaths and the downing of a military helicopter. Since the start of this year, there have been about 20 deaths.

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The latent recommencement of hostilities is bringing about a high degree of militarisation of society. Under increasing Azeri pressure, Armenia, having emerged as the winner in the agreements that ended the conflict of the nineties, fights tooth and nail to maintain the status quo of Nagorno Karabakh, frequently yielding to the temptation to occupy parts of Azeri territory. Those same lands that were once negotiable have today, in the bellicose and nationalistic rhetoric, become essential to the very existence of the Armenian nation.
While it seems daily more difficult to cede even a centimetre, keeping control of those provinces seems a further risk in what is increasingly described as the “powder-keg of the Caucuses”. Perhaps the most tangible element is the forty thousand-strong military presence along the more that 200Km-long dividing line between the parties at war. The majority of these are new inexperienced recruits, something that, together with the escalation of the armaments deployed in recent years, makes every small incident a possible casus belli.

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Early in the year, the Armenian defence minister, Seyran Ohanyan, sent out instructions transferring from the supreme commander to the commanders in the field the decision to open fire. And the words of President Sargsyan, pronounced last summer when he said: “Armenia has missiles with a range of 300 kilometres which, in a short time, can turn any fertile region into a ruin”, sound threatening. It must be remembered that, according to studies carried out in 2014, Armenia is third among 152 countries in the arms race according to the Global Militarisation Index, an index that measures the amount of military equipment in relation to the size and characteristics of the country.

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The Nagorno Karabakh crisis must also be seen in its changeable geopolitical framework due to the conflict between Russia and the West following the crisis in Ukraine that developed into open war. Armenia is, in fact, the best ally of the Kremlin in the turbulent area of the Caucuses. The Moscow-Yerevan axis places the country in a crucial position in the region. Already last year, when Moldovia and Ukraine were signing important agreements with the European Union, Armenia turned its back on Europe and chose the Union of Eurasia under Russia, of which it is a member since the start of this year.
The recognition of the fidelity of Armenia which has Russian military bases on its territory – underscored by the presence of Putin at the celebrations of the anniversary of the genocide – is expressed in financial aid and political support, as well as a venal but not indifferent discount on the price of gas from the average European price of 450 dollars to the 170 dollars agreed last January. (D.E.)

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