OP No. 22 – “Nagorno-Karabakh: An Unresolved Conflict Whose War Games Threaten Western Energy Security” (November 2012)

Regional tensions between Azerbaijan and neighbouring Armenia exploded with the collapse of the Soviet Union, culminating in the Armenian invasion of Nagorno-Karabakh in 1988.   It is estimated that between 20,000 and 35,000 people – the majority of them Azeris – lost their lives during half a decade of conflict, and that more than one million people fled their homes.   20% of Azerbaijan’s territory, including a large amount of land outside of Nagorno-Karabakh, is now under Armenian military occupation.

This largely forgotten conflict remains unsolved to this day, and nearly 600,000 Azeri IDPs continue to live in temporary accommodation, sometimes near the frontline.   (Their existence is the subject of a recent and deeply moving documentary film, “The Waiting”, by acclaimed British filmmakers Andrew Thompson and Lucy Bailey, about which we have published a review.)   The United Nations Security Council has four times called for the unconditional withdrawal of Armenian military forces from Nagorno-Karabakh but to date no steps have been taken to implement its resolutions.

CIC’s Occasional Paper no. 22, “Nagorno-Karabakh: An Unresolved Conflict Whose War Games Threaten Western Energy Security”, published today, raises new concerns, widely shared among Western experts on the Caucasus region, that the unstable situation has the potential to seriously threaten Western energy needs.   Indeed, as the title of this paper suggests, the stand-off between Azerbaijan and Armenia appears to be escalating with the announcement by Armenian officials that they, if threatened, would launch strategic attacks on Azeri energy facilities.

The paper explores the strategic situation, raises the very real prospect of a drift to war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and questions the lack of progress made in over 20 years of peace talks led by the OSCE’s Minsk Group.   It now seems that it is down to its co-chairs – Russia, the United States and France – to take decisive action they have too long avoided to defuse the growing threat to peace in the region.