Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict Explained

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Historical Perspective
  • Both countries form part of the trans-caucasian region connecting western Asia to eastern Europe.
  • Azerbaijan became part of the Soviet Union in 1918 only to gain independence in May 1991.
  • Armenia held a referendum to proclaim independence from the Soviet Union on Sept 21, 1991.
Conflict Zone
  • Both countries are engaged in a military conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The conflict began with the breakdown of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and lasted till approximately 1994. Though Nagorno-Karabakh's 95% population is ethnically Armenian it is located within Azerbaijan.
  • Nagorno-Karabakh is a disputed territory, internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but mostly governed by the Republic of Artsakh, a de facto independent state established on the basis of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic.
  • Armenia is a Christian majority, while Azerbaijan is a Shia Muslim majority country. This is also considered as one of the reasons for continued hostility between the two neighbours.

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Timeline
  • 1920: Nagorno-Karabakh established as an autonomous region within Azerbaijan by the Soviet Union
  • 1991: A referendum was held in which the Nagorno-Karabakh region officially declared that it would not join either of the countries. War erupted between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the region.
  • 1994: Russia mediated a cease-fire which has remained in place since, though violated periodically.
  • 2016: In April 2016, the region again witnessed a military clash between the two countries, which was known as the Four Day War.
  • 2020: Tensions escalated at the border between the two countries and resulted in the death of at least four Azerbaijani soldiers.

Impact of the Conflict

Destabilize the Region: Renewed tensions threaten to reignite a military conflict between the countries and destabilize the South Caucasus region. This may cause social unrest in the region which is already suffering from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Civilians Vulnerable: In this disputed region, there are many civilian settlements, residents of these settlements would be directly impacted and displaced if any large-scale conflict broke out.

Economic Impact: This could also disrupt oil and gas exports from the region, since both countries are at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, and Azerbaijan is also a significant oil and gas exporter to both the continents. This may even lead to higher oil prices globally.

International Involvement: Russia has closer ties with Armenia while Turkey supports Azerbaijan, and Iran has a large Azeri minority. These big players are bound to get involved as the conflict deepens further this would destabilize the region.

Indian Perspective

India -Azerbaijan:

Historical 

  • India has historical ties with Azerbaijan from the times of the silk road
  • Hindu temples as a symbol of the old connections are also found in Baku. ('Ateshgah’ fire temple)
  • One of the very few European nations which form part of NAM

Economic and trade

  • Over the years, India’s bilateral trade with Azerbaijan has increased substantially from around US$ 50 million in 2005 to around US$ 1,093 million in 2019.
  • The important items of direct and indirect imports from India are mobile phones, rice, drugs, kali and natrium bromide, parts boilers for central heating, rice in the husk, centrifugal liquid-pumps, agricultural tractors and forestry tractors, heat exchange units, human vaccine, the meat of large horned livestock.
  • The primary import of India from Azerbaijan is crude oil.
  • ONGC Videsh Ltd had acquired shares in the development project of the Azeri-Chirag-Gunashli (2.72%) oil field and the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline (2.36%).

Cultural exchanges

  • The cultural exchange over-ages between Azerbaijan and India have led to close cultural affinity and shared traditions.
  • World-renowned Azerbaijani poet Nizami Ganjavi had a profound influence on eminent Indian poets like Amir Khusrau.
  • Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore is well known in Azerbaijan and his Birth Anniversary is regularly celebrated by local organizations. 
  • A Cultural Exchange Programme (CEP) was signed between India and Azerbaijan in 2018.

Cooperation in capacity building and education

  • The Government of India offers a number of fully-paid training courses to professionals from Azerbaijan every year Under Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC).
  • Azerbaijani diplomats are also trained under the Professional Course for Foreign Diplomats (PCFD) in India. 

Indian Community

  • The Indian community which is in the 4th/5th place in Azerbaijan, in terms of numerical strength, is very active both professionally and socially and has integrated well with the local population.

Strategic

  • Azerbaijan forms part of the International North-South Transit Corridor (INSTC), a multimodal network of ship, rail, and road route for moving freight between India, Iran, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Russia, Central Asia and Europe.
  • Azerbaijan is a dialogue partner of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
  • However, Azerbaijan has voiced support in favour of Pakistan's position on Kashmir issue.

India-Armenia 

Historical 

  • According to literary evidence, Indian settlements in Armenia existed as early as 149 BC. Thomas Cana is said to be the first Armenian to have landed on the Malabar coast in 780 AD.

Economic and Trade

  • Indian exports consist of foodstuffs (meat), electrical equipment, cut and polished diamonds, optical equipment, plastics, pharmaceuticals, and other chemical goods and cars, while Armenia’s exports include non-ferrous metals, raw-rubber, books, and textiles.

International Cooperation

  • In recent years, Armenia supported India’s candidature at the UNESCO, International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and UN Board of Auditors, International Telecommunication Union Council, the inclusion of Yoga in the “Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO” and ICJ.

Defence

  • Armenia bought the Indian SWATHI military radar system in March 2020.

Armenians in India

  • Armenians played an important role in Indian history. They migrated from Armenia, in face of growing religious persecution in the 16th century and thrived as traders.
  • In 1715 it was Armenians who helped British establish themselves in Bengal.

Indian Community in Armenia

  • The Indian community in Armenia is small and consists largely of over 800 students pursuing medical and engineering education. 
  • In recent years Armenia has witnessed an increasing flow of Indian labour migrants.

Strategic

  • Armenia has voiced support in favour of India on Kashmir Issue.
  • For Armenia, close relations with India are vitally important as India provides a counterbalance to the rival strategic axis between Azerbaijan, Pakistan, and Turkey.

India's stance on the Conflict:

  • India believes that any lasting resolution of the conflict can only be achieved peacefully through diplomatic negotiations.
Are there any similarities between the Kashmir and Nagorno-Karabakh?
  • Pakistan has been trying to draw similarities between the Kashmir Issue and Nagorno-Karabakh, this is one of the reasons why it has not recognised or established diplomatic relations with Armenia. However, Each conflict has its own history and false equivalence can not be drawn, Kashmir’s dispute is different as the state acceded to India under its former king Maharaja Hari Singh in 1948. It is Pakistan which illegally controls that territory.
Should India support Armenia?
  • By backing Armenia’s stand, India would be endorsing the right to self-determination. There is an accepted interest in territorial integrity involved in the conflict. India’s backing of Armenian secessionist's demands could have diplomatic repercussions on the issue of Kashmir. On the other hand, India and Azerbaijan have friendly relations and growing bilateral cooperation.
Way Forward
  • The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's Minsk Group, co-chaired by the United States, Russia, and France, has been working to permanently settle the dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia since 1994. 
  • The group must intervene to de-escalate the crisis and prevent any further loss of life.
  • The growing Pakistan-China axis and belligerent Turkey under Erdogan has significant influence in the south Caucasus region which can be a cause of concern for India in the near future. It is important to strengthen our ties with both the countries in consonance with a non-aligned stance and call for peace in the region.



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