Grievances between Armenia and Azerbaijan date back to the genocide, when Azerbaijan – assisted by the Ottoman Empire and later the Republic of Turkey – massacred 30,000 Armenians in Baku.
After the occupation of the South Caucasus by the Bolsheviks in the early 1920s, Stalin – then Commissar for Nationalities – separated the region of Artsakh (known as Nagorno-Karabakh) from Armenia to appease Turkey by placing it under the control of the Azerbaijani SSR.
For 70 years under Soviet Azeri occupation, the cultural, political, religious rights of the indigenous Armenian community of the region were systematically violated.
In the late 1980s, Armenians gathered in the hundreds of thousands to demand Artsakh’s unification with Armenia. Azerbaijan, in response, initiated a wave of pogroms that resulted in the forced displacement of over 400,000 Armenians living throughout Azerbaijan.
In response, the Armenians of Artsakh declared their independence following a referendum.
Azerbaijan responded by waging a full-scale war during which the government engaged in human rights violations including wholesale massacres, the targeting of civilians and blocking the provision of humanitarian assistance to besieged populations.
Armenian forces were successful in fending off the onslaught, and a ceasefire was signed in 1994.
In the years since the war, Azerbaijan has routinely violated the ceasefire and sought the capture of Artsakh by force, repeatedly obstructing the OSCE peace efforts – refusing to withdraw snipers and heavy artillery, and denying access to ceasefire monitors.
The largest single ceasefire violation occurred in 2016, when Azerbaijan attempted the full-scale invasion of Artsakh, resulting in over a hundred casualties on both sides.
On the morning of September 27th, Azerbaijan began a series of coordinated aerial and missile attacks on Artsakh, including the shelling of civilian populations resulting in the deaths of two, including a child.
The assault comes just months after Azerbaijan initiated an aggressive confrontation against the Republic of Armenia in the Tavush region, again targeting civilian populations and infrastructure.
Evidence of Turkey and Azerbaijan’s mobilization had been reported for weeks prior to this latest act of belligerency, with Azerbaijan mobilizing reservists, commandeering civilian vehicles for military use, and Turkey’s contracting and transporting of Syrian mercenaries to Azerbaijan. The carefully coordinated nature of the assault contradicts Azerbaijan’s claims that it was retaliating to alleged Armenian aggression.
Turkey has played an increasingly active and unprecedented role in supporting Azerbaijan’s aggression, with Turkey’s President Erdogan committing Turkey’s full support to Azerbaijan, and calling for the overthrow of the Armenian government.
The government of Armenia also reported that a Turkish F-16 fighter jet shot down an Armenian Su-25 – a major escalation and the first time Turkey has initiated a strike against Armenia.
86 Armenian soldiers, most of whom are 19-21 in age, have been killed, in addition to at least 5 civilians as a result of Azerbaijan’s targeting of civilian populations.
This is the largest single ceasefire violation since the ceasefire was brokered in 1994.
Turkey’s Support for Azerbaijan
With Azerbaijan’s key ally Turkey in a strengthened regional position – seemingly immune to international criticism and able to engage in cross-border confrontations with impunity – Azerbaijan has been emboldened.
Turkey’s government has issued several statements of support for Azerbaijan’s recent aggression, vowing to “avenge” Azerbaijani losses. While Turkey has always supported Azerbaijan, in many ways its regional proxy, its rhetoric surrounding the recent fighting is far more inflammatory than what has previously been seen. With an increasing Turkish military presence in the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan – including planned live-fire war games scheduled for the beginning of August – and deepening military cooperation between the two states, Turkey’s increased interest in the conflict represents a major barrier to peace.
“The pain of the Azerbaijani Turk is our pain. We want you to know that any kind of difficulties that you feel there [in Azerbaijan] are felt here [in Turkey] very deeply. The blood of our Azerbaijani brothers will not remain unavenged,” – Turkish Defense Ministry
“Turkey will continue, with all its capacity, to stand by Azerbaijan in its struggle to protect its territorial integrity,” – Turkish Foreign Ministry
Turkey has played an increasingly active role in this most recent attack on Artsakh instigated by Azerbaijan, including in its planning and coordination – having contracted Syrian mercenaries and transported them to Azerbaijan ahead of the assault. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has publicly made calls for the overthrow of Armenia’s government. Turkey has also been providing logistical support to Azerbaijan, including in the transfer of military personnel and assets to Azerbaijan in preparation for the assault. The two countries held joint live-fire war games throughout August in Nakhichevan, near the border with Armenia. Turkish F-16s have been reported to be operational and in use by Azerbaijan in its assault.