Thousands have been killed in the latest round of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Fighting intensified in late September as Azerbaijan, bolstered by Turkish support and Syrian mercenaries, launched an all-out offensive against the line of contact in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The presence of Syrian mercenaries has been officially denied by Turkey and Azerbaijan, but mounting open source evidence has confirmed their presence on the frontlines.
The fighting is slowly creeping from villages mostly abandoned during the war in the 1980s and 1990s in what was once a de facto buffer zone towards more densely populated areas. As the conflict drags on and evidence of war crimes makes its way onto social media, U.S. officials and politicians are being increasingly vocal about stopping the Turkish-supported Azerbaijani offensive.
On Friday, National Security Advisor to U.S. President Trump Robert O’Brien, speaking in California, commented on the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, highlighting Turkey’s role in fanning the flames of the conflict.
“Despite Turkish denials that they’ve made to me personally, there are credible reports in the open source press that Turkey’s deployed fighters from Syria’s opposition Syrian National Army into the conflict,” said O’Brien.
“[Azerbaijan] have technical assistance and advisory support from Turkey. And so far, that’s given Azerbaijan an edge.”
The potential for a ceasefire, though seemingly an impossible achievement given the state of the bellicose rhetoric coming from Baku and Yerevan, was not totally out of reach, according to O’Brien.
“It’s hard to envision a long-term settlement that does not involve multinational armed peacekeeping forces or observers,” he said, adding that any peacekeeping forces should not include Minsk Group co-chairs [U.S., France, and Russia] or neighboring countries.
O’Brien was clear that Turkey should play no role in achieving a settlement or in peacekeeping operations, remarking that, “Any sort of Turkish mediation or peacekeeping role is a non-starter for the U.S. as well as for Armenia.”
He went on to say that the U.S. was working with Scandinavian countries to put together a peacekeeping force to oversee an eventual ceasefire.
First, however, a ceasefire would have to be agreed and adhered to. So far, three ceasefires brokered by Russia and the U.S. have been violated, sometimes within an hour of goning into effect.
“Both sides must agree to a ceasefire and they must come to the negotiating table without preconditions,” said O’Brien. “This is particularly true of the Azerbaijanis, who have been the most hesitant about an unconditional ceasefire today.”
Member of the U.S. Congress are also increasingly vocalizing their support for a ceasefire, some even advocating for the recognition of the Artsakh Republic, the largely unrecognized government of Nagorno-Karabakh.
On 23 October, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ-6) introduced House Resolution 1203 “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives supporting the Republic of Artsakh at all levels of civil society and government and recognizing the people of Artsakh’s inalienable right to self-determination.”
The resolution currently has 37 co-sponsors, both Democrats and Republicans.
War crimes by Azeri forces continue to mount. Azerbaijan has now shelled a maternity hospital being used to treat COVID-19 patients, a historic church, and numerous other civilian structures throughout Artsakh. @StateDept must condemn these heinous acts. https://t.co/ZERPlUl0gb
— Rep. Frank Pallone (@FrankPallone) October 29, 2020
Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a decades long dispute over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. From 1988 to 1994, a war was fought between the majority ethnic Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh backed by Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan. By the wars end, Armenian was in full control of the territory with few exceptions, including areas of Azerbaijan outside Nagorno-Karabakh connecting the enclave with Armenia.
In July of this year, clashes erupted after an Azerbaijani patrol attempted to cross the border and were met with fire from Armenian forces. Artillery and drone strikes were exchanged between the two sides for days, resulting in over a dozen casualties.
Turkish involvement in the conflict has escalated the levels of violence, with the recent fighting the deadliest since the outbreak of war in the 80s.
With a population more than three times that of Armenia’s and a modernized army equipped with drones, loitering munitions, and guided munitions purchased from Turkey and Israel with its vast oil wealth, Azerbaijan is much better positioned in the conflict.
Turkish involvement has been key to Azerbaijan’s success.
Turkish military exports to Azerbaijan increased six-fold in 2020, with $77 million in sales of drones and other equipment in September alone according to figures compiled by the Turkish Exporters’ Assembly.
Turkey’s military exports to its ally Azerbaijan have risen six-fold this year, with sales of drones and other military equipment rising to $77 million last month alone before fighting broke out over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, according to exports data.
Most of the purchases came shortly after the skirmishes in July of this year.
In August, Turkey and Azerbaijan held large-scale military exercises in Azerbaijan which involved nearly a dozen Turkish F-16 jet fighters. Several apparently stayed behind in an effort to “deter Armenian attacks”, according to Azerbaijan’s 17-year President Ilham Aliyev.
Armenian officials, however, have claimed that a Turkish F-16 shot down an Armenian Su-25 ground-attack aircraft in late-September.