Armenian MP says conflict with Azerbaijan could become a ‘global catastrophe.’ Here’s why

Click to play video: 'Armenia-Azerbaijan: What’s behind the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh?'
Armenia-Azerbaijan: What’s behind the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh?
Armenia-Azerbaijan: What's behind the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh? – Oct 9, 2020

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly referenced a Russian military base in Karabakh. The base is actually located in Armenia, near the Karabakh region.

Powerful allies are emerging as Armenians and Azerbaijanis clash over the embattled, disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenian member of Parliament Mikayel Zolyan told Global News the escalating conflict has all the makings of a “global catastrophe” that could lead to a third world war. Here’s a look at which countries are involved in the conflict and how.

People try to remove car tyres from a car shop on fire after shelling by Azerbaijan’s artillery during a military conflict in Stepanakert, the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Oct. 23, 2020. The Associated Press

What is the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?

To get a better understanding of how things escalated, it’s best to understand how they began.

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Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh, is an Armenian-controlled enclave located in the South Caucasus, close to a key energy pipeline that supplies oil and gas to the European Union. It was internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan by the United Nations in 2008, but Azerbaijanis haven’t held control over the region since the late 1980s.

Prior to the fall of the USSR in 1991, Nagorno-Karabakh was under control of the Soviet Union. Ethnic Armenians declared the territory’s independence that same year.

Read more: Heavy fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh continues as U.S. hosts peace talks

The conflict escalated again on Sept. 27, when Nagorno-Karabakh officials said 16 military members and several civilians had been killed in heavy clashes not seen in several years.

Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are backed by powerful foreign actors, whose full agendas remain unclear.

Almost immediately after the escalation on Sept. 27, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was quick to publicly voice Turkey’s support for Azerbaijan, describing the alliance as “one nation, two states” on Twitter. Since then, Turkey has steadily been providing Azerbaijanis with heavy artillery such as drones, long-range missiles and tanks — effectively weaponizing Karabakh, the militarized zone.

Russia has thrown its support behind Armenia. Despite supplying weapons to both Azerbaijanis and Armenians, Zolyan said Russia has taken on the role of peacekeeper, urging for de-escalation on both sides.

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Click to play video: 'Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: Armenia says Azerbaijan attacking civilian areas with cluster bombs'
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: Armenia says Azerbaijan attacking civilian areas with cluster bombs

Russia also has a military base located in Armenia, which Zolyan said is mostly just “a guarantee that Turkey will not attack Armenia directly.”

A Third World War?

Currently, Russia considers Karabakh a de facto Republic and is not legally obligated to fight for Armenia.

While highly unlikely, if Turkey did attack the Russian military base in Armenia or injure Russian soldiers, it could prompt Russia to take on a more aggressive role and bring in its allies.

A medical worker talks to a sick woman in a bomb shelter in Stepanakert, the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Oct. 22, 2020. The Associated Press

“Obviously we don’t want (that) to happen because we don’t want to be in the middle of a third world war,” Zolyan said.

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Zolyan accused Turkey and Azerbaijan of committing “genocide” due to recent evidence of shelling of civilian villages.

“There is killing of prisoners of war,” he told Global News, adding that remaining Armenians left in the region’s conflict zone will either be “massacred” or asked to leave by the Azerbaijani army .

“(Armenians) are defending their right to live. They are defending their homes. They have nowhere to go. So it’s an existential struggle for them. And, of course, those things are being aggravated by participation of Turkey,” he said.

Read more: Armenia accuses Azerbaijan of shelling historic cathedral amid conflict

“We want peace. We want peaceful negotiations. We are ready to stop the war any moment.”

Azerbaijan has accused Armenia of violating international law by not ceding the territory.

In a statement released Thursday, the Azerbaijani government said Armenia had fired ballistic missiles at several cities not located near the conflict zone, condemning them for perpetuating “new heinous crimes” against its population.

Click to play video: 'Azerbaijan’s president says Armenia leaving disputed region is only way for peace amid conflict'
Azerbaijan’s president says Armenia leaving disputed region is only way for peace amid conflict

Last week, the Armenians also fired at Ganja, Azerbaijan’s second largest civilian city.

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“The target of the Armenian armed forces was the peaceful population and civilian infrastructure,” the statement read.

“These attacks once again testify to Armenia’s attempts to expand the geography of the conflict zone and serve only to aggravate the situation.”

A neighbour comforts home owner, Lida Sarksyan, left, near her house destroyed by shelling from Azerbaijan’s artillery during a military conflict in Stepanakert, the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Oct. 17, 2020. The Associated Press

What’s happening now?

As of Saturday, 963 troops from Nagorno-Karabakh have been killed while 37 civilians have died, according to The Associated Press. The news agency said Azerbaijan — which has yet to report how many of its military have died — counted 65 civilian deaths and 300 injuries since the escalation on Sept. 27.

So far, the conflict has drawn in international actors such as Canada, Russia, Turkey and Iran while France, the U.S. and members of the European Union have called for de-escalation.

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Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said on Twitter Saturday he had spoken with his Greek counterpart about “ongoing security issues” in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, where he said “critical steps need to be taken to end violence.”

Read more: 2nd attempt at ceasefire frays as Armenia, Azerbaijan both report renewed shelling

While speaking at a press conference Oct. 9, Champagne said he’d asked Turkey to “stay out” of the conflict.

“The message was very clear that external parties should stay out because it’s already a very complex situation,” Champagne said.

Click to play video: 'Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: Champagne says Turkey sending ship to region is ‘not helpful’'
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: Champagne says Turkey sending ship to region is ‘not helpful’

“We deplore the loss of life and we need to make sure that no one is fuelling the conflict. Quite the opposite, the international community needs to be united in calling the parties back to the negotiating table, (to) respect the ceasefire and protect civilians.”

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Champagne has also suspended arms exports to Turkey while Canada investigated whether Turkey had used Ontario-made drone sensor technology to help make weapons that were used by Azerbaijanis against Armenians on the battlefield.

Azerbaijan’s national flag flies over destroyed houses in a residential area that was hit by rocket fire overnight by Armenian forces, on Oct. 22, 2020 in Ganja, Azerbaijan’s second largest city, near the border with Armenia. Aziz Karimov / The Associated Press

On Friday, United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Twitter he had separate meanings between Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders.

“Both must implement a ceasefire and return to substantive negotiations,” he tweeted.

One day later, the U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan issued a statement saying the embassy had received “credible reports of potential terrorist attacks and kidnappings against U.S. citizens and foreign nationals” in various locations across its capital city of Baku.

Russia, the U.S. and France co-chair the Minsk Group, which was set up by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. They issued a statement Oct. 5 condemning the “unprecedented and dangerous escalation of violence in and outside of the Nagorno-Karabakh zone,” and called for a cease-fire.

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Russia has since brokered two failed cease-fires between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, talks between the two state counterparts took more than 10 hours before resulting in a truce last Saturday. Armenian and Azerbaijan officials reported violations the next day.

As a result of the conflict, Canadian travel advisories have been put in place for both Armenia and Azerbaijan, asking travellers to avoid Nagorno-Karbakh and its surrounding areas, and advising Canadians to stay at least five kilometres away from Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan.

“Landmines buried along the border that have caused injuries and deaths‎,” a travel advisory for Armenia read.

— With files from The Associated Press

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