Date : 07/10/2023
Relevance: GS Paper 2 - International Relations
Keywords: Autonomous region, USSR, Silk route, International North-South Transport Corridor, Ottoman Empire
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has long been considered one of the "frozen conflicts" in the world. Recently, this conflict has once again come to the forefront, with significant implications for India.
- The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has deep historical roots and is characterized by the region's complex demographics and geopolitical factors. Nagorno-Karabakh, which is officially recognized as part of Azerbaijan, is primarily inhabited by ethnic Armenians who share strong cultural, social, and historical ties with Armenia. Essentially, Nagorno-Karabakh is an enclave of ethnic Armenians within Azerbaijan, and this ethnic divide is also marked by religious differences, with Armenians being Christians and Azeris being Muslims. The region is connected to Armenia through the 5-kilometer-long Lachin Corridor.
- The history of Nagorno-Karabakh has been marred by conflicts and power struggles involving regional powers dating back to the medieval period. Imperial Russia, the Ottoman Empire (modern-day Turkey), and the Persian Empire (Iran) have all vied for influence in the region. When Czarist Russia gave way to the Soviet Union in 1921, Nagorno-Karabakh became part of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic.
- In 1923, the USSR established the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, which had a population consisting of 95 percent ethnic Armenians, within the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic.
Eruption of Conflict:
- Tensions over Nagorno-Karabakh flared up again in 1988, as the Soviet Union began to unravel. The regional legislature of Nagorno-Karabakh passed a resolution expressing its desire to join Armenia, despite its geographic location within Azerbaijan. When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991 and Armenia and Azerbaijan gained independence, Nagorno-Karabakh officially declared itself an independent entity.
- This declaration led to a devastating war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, resulting in the deaths of approximately 30,000 people. By 1993, Armenia had gained control of Nagorno-Karabakh and occupied an additional 20 percent of Azerbaijan's territory.
- In September 2020, a new conflict erupted, resulting in Azerbaijan regaining control of some territory around Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia brokered another ceasefire, deploying peacekeeping forces along the critical Lachin Corridor. However, Azerbaijan's desire for further concessions prevented a lasting peace deal. Reports suggest that Turkey, Pakistan, and even foreign fighters were involved in supporting Azerbaijan.
Impact on Armenia and Azerbaijan:
- In December 2022, Azerbaijan imposed a blockade on the Lachin Corridor, leading to severe shortages of essential supplies such as food, fuel, and water in Nagorno-Karabakh. Former Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno Ocampo, raised concerns about the possibility of Azerbaijan committing genocide in Nagorno-Karabakh, particularly through the use of starvation as an "invisible genocide weapon."
- On September 19, after an agreement to reopen the Lachin Corridor for aid deliveries raised hopes of alleviating the crisis, Azerbaijan initiated an "anti-terrorist" operation in Nagorno-Karabakh and claimed to have regained complete control over the region. While Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev received praise in his country, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan faced protests at home. The future of the approximately 120,000 Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh remained uncertain, with reports of many leaving and seeking refuge in Armenia due to fears of persecution.
- India's Neutral Position: India has consistently maintained a neutral stance in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, refraining from taking sides. In 2020, as the conflict erupted, India emphasized the importance of achieving a lasting resolution through peaceful diplomatic negotiations. In a recent statement, India reiterated its stance, encouraging the parties involved to pursue long-term peace and security through dialogue and diplomacy while prioritizing the well-being of civilians in the region.
- India's Ties with Armenia: India shares deep-rooted historical ties with Armenia that date back millennia. It is believed that Armenians accompanied Assyrian warrior queen Semiramis during her invasion of India in 2000 BC. Indian settlements were established in Armenia in 149 BC by two princes, Krishna and Ganesh, who fled from Kannauj. During the Mughal Empire, Armenian traders visited Agra, where Emperor Akbar, rumored to have had an Armenian wife, Mariam Zamani Begum, granted them privileges and religious freedom. In the 16th century, Armenian communities emerged in Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai, and Agra. Presently, the Armenian community is primarily settled in Kolkata.
- India's diplomatic relationship with Armenia includes the establishment of an embassy in 1999, a treaty relationship, and visits from three Heads of State. High-level interactions have occurred, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting his Armenian counterpart in New York in 2019, followed by the External Affairs Minister's visit to Yerevan in 2022. Armenia has openly supported India's position on resolving the Kashmir issue bilaterally and backs India's aspiration for a permanent seat in the expanded UN Security Council. In 2022, India's agreement to supply Armenian armed forces with military equipment worth $250 million was seen as a sign of support for Armenia.
- India's Relations with Azerbaijan: India's historical connections with Azerbaijan are more recent. The 'Ateshgah' fire temple near Baku, an 18th-century monument with deeper historical roots, contains inscriptions in Devanagari and Gurmukhi. It serves as evidence of the hospitality Indian merchants enjoyed on the Silk Route in Azerbaijani cities such as Baku and Ganja. Following the Soviet Union's collapse, India recognized the independence of both Armenia and Azerbaijan and established diplomatic ties.
- However, the proximity of Azerbaijan to Pakistan has posed challenges to India-Azerbaijan relations. Despite some historical visits by Indian leaders, including former President Dr. S. Radhakrishnan and former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, high-level visits have been infrequent. In recent years, Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu visited Baku for the NAM Summit in 2019, accompanied by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. Former External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj also visited Azerbaijan for the NAM ministerial meeting in 2018.
- Strategic Significance for India: The region, due to its geographical location, holds vital importance for India's connectivity plans, particularly through the South Caucasus region. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are members of the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), which India is keen to develop. India supports Armenia's proposal to include Iran's Chabahar port in INSTC. Tensions in the region directly impact India's efforts to establish alternative trade routes bypassing Pakistan, serving as a gateway to Europe and Russia through Central Asia and Iran. India faces the challenge of finding a way to navigate these complexities effectively.
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict carries considerable significance within the context of India's foreign policy, primarily due to the historical connections it maintains with both Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as its strategic interests in the South Caucasus region. India's steadfast commitment to a neutral stance and its prioritization of diplomatic avenues for resolution underscores its unwavering dedication to promoting peace and stability in this volatile region. Furthermore, the evolving dynamics of the conflict, particularly in terms of its potential impact on regional connectivity, demand meticulous and thoughtful analysis as India continues to shape its foreign policy approach in this complex geopolitical landscape.
Source- The Indian Express