Sep 28, 2020 - World

Dozens killed as fighting rages in disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region

Boys play on a street next to a building destroyed by war in Shushi, Nagorno-Karabakh, in 2015. Photo: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

Fighting has continued for the second day over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, with at least 59 soldiers and civilians reported dead.

The backstory: The mountainous region of around 150,000 people is populated mainly by ethnic Armenians but lies within the borders of Azerbaijan. The countries have both claimed the territory since the collapse of the Soviet Union, fought a war over it from 1992-1994, and stood on the precipice of further conflict since.

  • The violence is the worst the region has seen since 2016, and began with coordinated air and missile attacks on Sunday from Azerbaijan, which claimed Armenian forces had been preparing an attack (Armenia denies that).
  • Both sides have signaled that they are prepared for war, including by declaring martial law. Calls for calm have come from Brussels, Washington, Moscow and Tehran.

They both have powerful friends.

  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has vowed to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Azerbaijan, and today demanded that Armenia end its "occupation" of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia claims Turkey is providing Azerbaijan with weapons, including drones.
  • Armenia's economy and security are heavily dependent on Russia, a fellow Orthodox Christian state. Vladimir Putin spoke yesterday with Armenia's prime minister and called for an end to the fighting. Russia's foreign minister also spoke with his Turkish counterpart.

Where things stand: Previous skirmishes, though numerous, have left the stalemate largely unaltered. So has a peace process overseen by the U.S., France and Russia.

Worth noting: "According to the casualty lists so far, most of those killed hadn’t even been born when the conflict first started," writes Foreign Policy's James Palmer.

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