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The contested Nagorno-Karabakh region, a mountainous and heavily-forested patch of land (in South Caucasus), is at the heart of a decades-long armed standoff between neighbours Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Under international law, Nagorno-Karabakh is recognised as part of Azerbaijan. But the ethnic Armenians who make up the vast majority of the population reject Azerbaijani rule. They have been running their own affairs, with support from Armenia, since Azerbaijan’s forces were pushed out in a war in the 1990s.
What is the conflict?
- The status of the region has been disputed at least since 1918, when Armenia and Azerbaijan became independent from the Russian empire.
- In the early 1920s, Soviet rule was imposed in the south Caucasus and the predominantly Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh became an autonomous region within the then-Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, with most decisions being made in Moscow.
- But decades later, as the Soviet Union started to crumble, it became apparent that Nagorno-Karabakh would come under the direct rule of the government in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku. The ethnic Armenians did not accept that.
- In 1988, the Nagorno-Karabakh legislature voted to join the Armenian republic, a demand strongly opposed by both the Azerbaijani Soviet government and Moscow.
- After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Yerevan-backed Armenian separatists seized the territory, home to a significant Azerbaijani minority, as well as seven adjacent Azerbaijani districts. At least 30,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands were forced from their homes in the fighting.
- Despite an internationally-brokered ceasefire agreed in 1994, peace negotiations have stalled and clashes erupt frequently around Nagorno-Karabakh and along the Azerbaijan-Armenia border.
- In April 2016, dozens of people from both sides were killed in the most serious fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh in years.
OSCE Minsk Group
- The OSCE Minsk Group was created in 1992 by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE, now Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)) to encourage a peaceful, negotiated resolution to the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh.
- The Minsk Group is headed by a co-chairmanship consisting of France, Russia and the United States. Furthermore, the Minsk Group also includes the following participating states: Belarus, Germany, Italy, Portugal, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Turkey as well as Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The main objectives of the Minsk Process are as follows
- Providing an appropriate framework for conflict resolution in the way of assuring the negotiation process supported by the Minsk Group;
- Obtaining conclusion by the Parties of an agreement on the cessation of the armed conflict in order to permit the convening of the Minsk Conference;
- Promoting the peace process by deploying OSCE multinational peacekeeping forces.
- Surprisingly, the conference at Minsk that was scheduled to happen after the Helsinki Additional meeting of the CSCE Council in the year 1992 has not happened till this date. The decision to deploy multilateral peacekeeping forces as an essential part of the overall settlement of the conflict was decided in the Budapest Summit of the co-chairmanship (i.e. France, Russia and the United States) in the year 1994.
- Criticism – Azerbaijanis have long distrusted the OSCE’s Minsk group, co-chaired by Russia, France, and the United States. All three countries have large Armenian diasporas, while Russia and Armenia are strategic allies, something Azerbaijan argues is grounds for them to consider it as favouring the Armenians in the conflict. Many Azerbaijanis accuse the Minsk Group of not being effective and fair in their work.
Ramifications for India
- India has good ties with both Armenia and Azerbaijan. The North-South international transport corridor goes from Mumbai to Chabahar via Azerbaijan to Moscow, something crucial for India’s connectivity plans.
- In fact, in 2018, the then Indian External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj had visited Fire Temple in Baku in Azerbaijan. The temple was once used by Hindu and Zoroastrian communities, probably by visiting merchants from India as a place of worship.
- But when it comes to Armenia, it backs India on some key several fronts. In the year 2019, Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan said,”In the Kashmir issue we fully defend the Indian position and it is our firm position.”
- Pakistan is the only country in the world that does not recognise Armenia. Islamabad’s close ties with Azerbaijan and Turkey have a substantial role in this decision.
- Like Turkey, Islamabad doesn’t recognise the Armenian Genocide during World War 1. During the world war one, Ottomans or present-day Turkey killed 1.5 million ethnic Armenians. Turkey continues to deny the genocide till this date but a number of countries including the US, Russia recognise it.