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Review of the Year: Azerbaijan takes the upper hand in Nagorno-Karabakh

Armed conflict erupted in the Caucasus in September 2020. It would last 44 days, leave more than 5000 people dead and redefine the map of the Caucasus.

It was over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh: internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but controlled by ethnic Armenians since a separatist war in 1994.

Conflicting explanations of the outbreak

What provoked the latest conflict was a matter of dispute: there’d been clashes over recent years but not on this scale.

Two weeks into the fighting – the leaders of each side gave Euronews their side of the story.

“We regret that civilians are being killed,” said Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev. “And of course, we were not the source of this attack. They attacked our cities and villages and we had to respond. But our response is primarily is on their military positions”.

“We have not attacked anyone,” said Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. “Our actions and the actions of Karabakh are only for self-defence. We have not and do not have the purpose to kill anyone. Our only purpose is to protect the Armenian people from another genocide. It is a self-defence purpose.”

Russia brokers ceasefire

It was Azerbaijan who got the upper hand in the fighting – and Russia, traditionally close to the Armenians – who stepped in to stop the contest. In November Vladimir Putin brokered a ceasefire agreement, signed by both sides, in separate ceremonies.

“We proceed from the premise that the agreements reached will create the necessary conditions for a long-term and full-scale settlement of the crisis around Nagorno-Karabakh on a just basis and in the interests of the Armenian and Azerbaijani peoples,” he said.

Russian peacekeepers and Russian and Turkish observers were sent in to oversee the ceasefire, the construction of highways and the free movement of people. Territorially, the deal consolidated Azerbaijani gains: a part of Nagorno-Karabakh itself and three territories around it, taken back from Armenian control.

Pashinyan faces calls to resign

Azeris celebrated what they saw as a victory, but in the Armenian parliament, frustrations exploded.

Opposition anger was directed towards Nikol Pashinyan, who was labelled as a traitor and called on to resign.

According to the Armenian government, some 90,000 ethnic Armenians have been displaced by the conflict. In areas which have been handed over to Azerbaijan, they burnt their homes to the ground before leaving, to ensure they wouldn’t fall into Azeri hands.

The peace agreement has “frozen” the status quo but has certainly not resolved what is one of the world’s oldest conflicts.

The deal ratified the growing Russian and Turkish influence in the region. France, which has a large Armenian community and had a major role in previous negotiations, was sidelined.

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