GZERO Media logo

War in the South Caucasus?

Russia and Turkey are major outside players in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. Art by Annie Gugliotta

The long-simmering conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over a region called Nagorno-Karabakh erupted over the weekend, with more than 50 killed (so far) in the fiercest fighting in years. Will it escalate into an all-out war that threatens regional stability and drags in major outside players?


What's the background? For years, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been at odds over the rugged highlands of Nagorno-Karabakh. In the dying days of the USSR, the two sides fought a bloody six-year war to control the enclave, which was part of Muslim-majority Azerbaijan but mainly populated by ethnic Armenian Christians.

The conflict ended in 1994 with over 30,000 dead, more than one million displaced, and a fragile truce that left Nagorno-Karabakh as a de facto independent state, supported by Armenia but not recognized by other countries, including Azerbaijan. Low-level clashes have persisted ever since — including deadly skirmishes in 2016 — and both governments often use the conflict to stoke nationalist flames at home.

Although the trigger for the latest violence is still unclear, bilateral tensions have been rising since mid-July, when 16 soldiers died in border clashes. That violence sparked an uproar in Azerbaijan, where thousands of Azeris took to the streets calling for the army to "recapture" Nagorno-Karabakh. Now, both sides are accusing each other of throwing the first punch, and have declared martial law.

A war over the enclave would resonate far beyond the region. The South Caucasus, where Armenia and Azerbaijan are located, has enormous strategic importance because it is crossed by two major energy pipelines that carry Azeri oil and Caspian Sea gas to Turkey and Europe.

Two outside players — Turkey and Russia — are on opposite sides of the conflict. Turkey has close relations with fellow Turkic Azerbaijan, and historically there is little love lost between Ankara and the Armenians. Moreover, Azerbaijan is Turkey's main oil supplier. Turkey has denied reports that it has sent 4,000 Syrians to fight on behalf of the Azeri army, but Turkish President Recep Erdogan's moves here merit close attention.

Russia is the dominant player in the region. But although it sells weapons to both Azerbaijan and Armenia, Moscow keeps troops garrisoned in Armenia and is, technically, treaty-bound to defend the country. If things escalate further, Vladimir Putin will have to decide whether to honor that obligation. Doing so could quickly put Ankara and Moscow on opposite sides of another nasty war (they already back different sides of the civil war in Libya.)

Finally, Iran also has a stake. It borders both countries, and Azeris are Iran's largest ethnic minority. Although Tehran has traditionally backed Yerevan, and often bickers with Baku over energy and security in the Caspian Sea, the Iranians offered to mediate when the latest tensions began two months ago. Will they try again now?

Urbanization may radically change not only the landscape but also investors' portfolios. Creating the livable urban centers of tomorrow calls for a revolution in the way we provide homes, transport, health, education and much more.

Our expert guests will explore the future of cities and its implications for your wealth.

Learn more.

In a national referendum on Sunday, Chileans overwhelmingly voted in favor of a new constitution. But, why are people in this oasis of political stability and steady economic growth in South America willing to undo the bedrock of the system that has allowed Chile to prosper for so long?

More Show less

"Instead of simply embracing China, we have to draw clear lines about where China can legitimately pursue its interests and where we are going to push back." According to Anne-Marie Slaughter, who was a top State Department official under President Obama, a President Biden would do well to avoid blaming Beijing for the pandemic. There will be plenty else, aside from pointing fingers, for the two countries to worry about. She talks to Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

Watch the episode: How a "President Biden" could reshape US foreign policy

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. This is the last week before elections, have only lasted for two years, cost billions of dollars. We're sick of it. We're ready. We're ready to get past this. What do we think is going to happen?

Well, let's be clear. Biden is way ahead, and it's hard for incumbents to lose. They tended to win in the United States. They need to be unpopular and unlucky to lose, but Trump does seem to be checking both of those boxes. He's never been enormously popular. He has a pretty narrow base that is very strongly supportive of him, some 38 to 42% back and forth, but a narrow band, which has been pretty consistent for most of them the last four years, but he's also been massively unlucky. Unlucky, how?

More Show less

We live on an (increasingly) urban planet. Today, for the first time in human history, more than half of the world's population (55 percent) lives in cities. By 2050, that figure will rise to more than two-thirds, with close to 7 billion people living in urban areas. Cities have always been centers of opportunity, innovation, and human progress. But they are also often on the front lines of the major political and social challenges of the day. Here are three areas in which that's true right now.

More Show less
UNGA banner

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's Newsletter: Signal

Cities on the frontlines

Living Beyond Borders Articles

The Graphic Truth: Urbanization around the world

Living Beyond Borders Articles

The Graphic Truth: Where will the next megacities be?

Living Beyond Borders Articles