The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict has been largely unknown for the general public outside the Caucasus until recently when the conflict reignited in September 2020 after a 30-year stalemate and the news on the subject matter became worldwide news on the most popular international news outlets. As a political enthusiast, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is very interesting to analyse because of its uniqueness and the Politics and Governance program at Tallinn University has allowed me to gain the necessary tools to do so.
The conflict first began in 1988 until 1994 because of a territorial dispute between Azerbaijan who wanted to keep their territorial integrity and Armenians living in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict who wanted to join the Republic of Armenia. The conflict ended with a rather decisive victory of Armenia additionally taking control over 7 additional regions besides Nagorno-Karabakh.
Until 2020 the conflict was in low intensity with rather minor clashes taking place. So why did the conflict reignite after 30 years?
Firstly, we have to look at who began the conflict or to whom the conflict was necessary or beneficial? Although Azerbaijan has denied starting the conflict we can obviously see which side was the most active in the given conflict and to whom the conflict was rather beneficial/necessary and the obvious answer is Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan wanted to return the land they believed to be under illegal occupation by illegal forces in order to uphold the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. While Armenia didn't need the war to say it lightly since they
have already accomplished what they wanted 30 years ago and even more although it doesn´t necessarily mean that Armenians didn´t “provoke” the conflict although it is unlikely.
If we look at it from the perspective that Azerbaijan wanted the conflict, then why now?
There are rather many possible reasons.
Firstly, there are still many refugees in Azerbaijan that actually are a huge burden on Azeri society. Many of them still live in appalling conditions throughout the country many of them in public spaces such as schools, hospitals or in public houses in bad conditions. These refugees and the conditions they are living in and the fact that 30% of Azeri territory is under occupation to this day was a constant reminder to Azeri society of the loss of the first Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Upholding constant frustration in society over the inaction of the Azeri state and the inability to resolve the conflict for 30 years. But also due to the pandemic dissatisfaction with the government of Azerbaijan was at an all-time high. Many people lost their jobs and livelihoods. Many believe that Azerbaijan used the conflict to return the popularity and the support of the people to the government.
Secondly, large financial resources were invested in the military by the government of Azerbaijan. Large quantities of arms were acquired from different countries. When it comes to the military aspect the military budget of Azerbaijan is much larger than the budgets of its neighbours even if we take into account that Azerbaijan is a larger country in comparison the military budget of Azerbaijan is 2.267 billion dollars while the Armenian military budget is only 634 million dollars. People wanted to know why they waste so much money and resources disproportionately on maintenance of such a large military especially since there was a notion that the world is moving away from conventional warfare. The government was unable to solve the conflict for 30 years with diplomatic means in a way pushing the government to actually make use of the expensive army and the acquired arms.
Thirdly it was the best time for Azerbaijan to act. As mentioned before Azerbaijan established a rather powerful army with modern technologies and arms acquired from countries such as Turkey, Russia and Israel. Azerbaijan had immense support from Turkey which is a powerful regional power and therefore it was essential to winning the war. Contrary to most believes Turkey has supported Azerbaijan in the first conflict as well the only difference is that today Turkey is a powerful regional powerhouse that has its own growing military complex and militaristic ambitions such as in Syria. Turkey is trying to expand their power and grip in the region and is willing to go into Russia's “backyard” today more than in the first conflict.
Most countries that were on the side of Armenia in the first conflict didn't take action in the second conflict. Russia didn't really take any action in the second conflict contrasting the first conflict when Russia gave full-scale military support to Armenia which is believed by many political analysts as a decisive factor in the first conflict. Russian officials only assured that they wouldn´t allow any actions against the mainland of Armenia but they wouldn´t act in Nagorno-Karabakh because internationally Nagorno-Karabakh is considered a territory of Azerbaijan. Many believe that this happened for two reasons firstly because of Pashinyan´s governments distancing from Russia and leading Armenia towards Westernisation and Russia in a way punishing Armenia for such actions. Secondly due to the established strategic importance of Azerbaijan in the region and in Russian energy security which contrasts Azeri importance in the region in the first conflict and therefore Russia didn't want to be in an open conflict with Azerbaijan and didn't really want to lose Armenia as well. In the first conflict, Iran supported Armenia due to the fear that if a powerful Azerbaijan would be established in the North of its border it would increase independence and reunification movements in the North of Iran which is called “South Azerbaijan” because between 10 and 20 million Azeris live in the given region of Iran. But in this conflict, Iran kept a more neutral stance. The foreign policy of Azerbaijan established good or good enough relations with strategically important states while Armenia was left with mostly support from their own diasporas around the world which obviously was not enough since Azerbaijan won.
In conclusion we can see that frozen conflicts have to be taken seriously and compromises really have to be found diplomatically when it comes to such conflicts since every frozen conflict is a potential time bomb that might explode at any time no matter for how many decades the conflict has been frozen and Azerbaijan has evidently shown that conventional warfare is still a tool that can used in order to achieve political goals.
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