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Asia

'No solution in sight' in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

Fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region has resumed. Caucasus expert Uwe Halbach dates the territorial conflict back to the Soviet Union era.

DW: Mr. Halbach, in a nutshell: what is the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict about?

Uwe Halbach: It is one of several territorial conflicts that developed during the transitional period between the Soviet and post-Soviet eras. This particular conflict broke out in 1988, when the parliament of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which had been subordinated to Azerbaijan in 1923, demanded to be assigned to the Republic of Armenia. This then developed into an intense conflict between the two republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan. So this is a territorial conflict which originated from the Soviets' territorial organization.

What is, today, the official status of the Nagorno-Karabakh region? According to the United Nations, the region continues to be a part of Azerbaijan.

Indeed. No single nation has thus far recognized Karabakh as an independent state, not even the Republic of Armenia which, after all, has close ties to Karabakh and has supported this whole development.

Why not even Armenia?

If it did, Armenia would have torpedoed the whole negotiation process which surrounds this conflict and which has been maintained within the OSCE since 1992. Armenia didn't want that. It subordinated itself to the negotiation process, and official recognition of Karabakh by Armenia would have disrupted this process - it would have eliminated Armenia from this process, as it were. However, in various crisis situations Armenia now and again threatened to recognize Karabakh as an independent state.

Deutschland Uwe Halbach

Uwe Halbach: 'Like a World War I trench'

A cease-fire was implemented after the war in the early 1990s. Why was it broken at this particular point in time?

It is not unraveling just now. Previously, it was broken almost every year. The 1994 cease-fire never led to a real, lasting armistice. It put an end to the state of war, but it didn't really bring about a state of peace. The 1994 cease-fire line has been likened to a World War I trench, because at this cease-fire line snipers from both sides are facing each other. Almost every year, it saw gun battles and incidents of violence which claimed around one or two dozen lives annually. However,

the incident we're witnessing now

is the most serious one since 1994.

To what extent are Russia and Turkey involved in the conflict - both of them being regional superpowers which regard themselves as respective protecting powers?

Obviously, the conflict is now being correlated to the Russian-Turkish conflict in the Syrian crisis, which emanated from Turkey's shooting down of a Russian warplane at the end of November 2015.

Both nations are involved in the Karabakh conflict. Turkey is clearly backing Azerbaijan. Russia has close ties with Armenia in the area of security policy. Russia has a military base there, and it has around 5,000 troops deployed in Armenia. On the other hand, Russia's position is not one-sided, because Russia is a major arms supplier for Azerbaijan - Azerbaijan receives 80 percent of its sophisticated heavy weapons from Russia.

So Russia is playing a rather ambivalent role here, whereas Turkey is clearly backing the Azerbaijani side and bearing a historical grudge against Armenia.

Do you see a possible solution, and, if so, who would have to play a part in it?

At this point I don't see a real solution. At the moment, damage limitation is the name of the game. It is important not to let this recent incident get out of hand and snowball into a second Karabakh war. The international community is now working towards this. The OSCE, which is examining the conflict, will convene on Tuesday, and currently all external players who were brought in as go-betweens are in a state of anxiety.

Dr Uwe Halbach, of the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs, is an expert on the Causasus region.

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