Azerbaijan and Armenia’s Complicated History

By Justin Higginbotham

October 19, 2020

  As conflicts between Azerbaijan and Armenia grow today, we must look back at a long history of conflict and violence between the two nations to understand the situation. On May 28, 1918, both Armenia and Azerbaijan declared their nations’ independence. When drawing their nations’ borders, they both laid claim to an area of land known as Nagorno-Karabakh, both nations strongly believed they had ownership of the region. As disputes raged on, they quickly escalated into violent conflicts, beginning what we know now simply as the Azerbaijani-Armenian war. War raged on for two years until 1920 where both nations joined the Soviet Union, putting a stop to the conflicts for a time, but not to the disputes. As the USSR declared Nagorno-Karabakh an Autonomous Oblast, a sense of temporary relative peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia was created and lasted until 1988 where the Armenian ethnic group of Autonomous Nagorno-Karabakh voted to be absorbed into Armenia.

    After nearly 70 years of peace, war struck again in 1988 as the conflict known as the Nagorno-Karabakh War began. Atrocities and war crimes took place on both sides, the most notable of which being The 1991-1992 Siege of Stepanakert, where Azerbaijan bombed Armenian civilians and put in place blockades to deprive the Armenians of resources. This was met with what is called today as the Khojaly Massacre, a conflict in which 161 unarmed fleeing Azerbaijan civilians were gunned down by Armenian forces. 

    As Nagorno-Karabakh was occupied by Armenia, violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan rose again for six years until May 1994 where both nations agreed upon a ceasefire. The two nations agreed to peace talks including several world powers that many criticize as having had imperialist intent with their mediation between the two former Soviet states. Despite a number of small skirmishes, an uneasy peace lasted until July 2020 where conflict struck again at the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. This September all tension seemingly broke as Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Nagorno-Karabakh all declared martial law and prepared for war, violence erupts along the Nagorno-Karabakh Azerbaijani border and conflicts only grow as the situation quickly escalates. It is important the world watches the extremely volatile situation especially closely to see whether it escalates into another full-blown war.

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