Despite the exponential rise of the far-right and a growing threat of terrorism, it is popularly believed that Europe has never seen such peace in the twenty-first century. This belief is partly true – the devastating conflict of both World Wars and the fall of the USSR cemented the twentieth century as bloody – and the EU has no doubt influenced this peace between nations. Yet, ethnic and geographical conflict is ongoing on the fringes of this continent, at the border of the Nagorno-Karabakh region between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Last month, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was once again brought into the news with Armenian Arsenal player Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s refusal to play in the 2019 Europa League Final held in Baku, due to personal fears for his safety.
What is happening?
Media coverage of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains minimal, so it is difficult to ascertain happenings without on-the-ground investigation. The area, which lies in Western Azerbaijan, is 95% ethnically Armenian, and had been part of Armenia until Stalin decided to make it an autonomous oblast of Soviet Azerbaijan.
During the fall of the USSR in 1991, Nagorno-Karabakh declared itself de facto independent as the Armenian Republic of Artsakh: this has never been internationally recognised. War raged between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces until a ceasefire in 1994. Since then large-scale hostilities conflict have simmered reaching another climax in 2016 during the April War, where over 350 troops from both sides died in four days.
Is this a European issue?
Armenia and Azerbaijan are not ‘officially’ European, but they are members of the Council of Europe. They lie west of the Ural Mountains (often seen as the border between Europe and Asia) and have expressed interest in joining the EU. The issue is a humanitarian one, with over 600,000 internally displaced Azerbaijanis and Armenians and an estimated 30,000-40,000 deaths since 1988.
What does the future look like?
With no diplomatic relations between the neighbouring countries, they are still at war.
Representatives from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia have held talks in recent years but progress has stalled since 2016. Now, focus must concern the safety and wellbeing of refugees impacted by this conflict, alongside a promotion of sustainable peace based on mutual concession. These are both concerns which the EU could push for.
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Image courtesy of Leyla Abdullayeva via Twitter.