On the morning of September 27th, 2020, fighting broke out between the militaries of Armenia and Azerbaijan along their shared border, notably in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. Clashes are still ongoing and both sides appear to have taken heavy casualties. The area of hostilities has seen various claims of ownership, as well as fierce fighting over the last 200 years.
Up until 1813, the region of Karabakh (including modern day Nagorno-Karabakh) was under the control of the Persian Empire. After the Russo-Persian War (1804-1813) and the subsequent Treaty of Gulistan (1813), the region was ceded to the Russian Empire, under Tsar Alexander I. During the early Soviet years starting in 1918, control over the region flipped back and forth between Armenia and Azerbaijan, due to sporadic fighting between the two nations and a British military mission to the region, among other reasons. This back and forth went on until the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast was established in the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) on July 7th, 1923. The situation in the area remained calm with only minor incidents until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Following this collapse, a referendum on independence from Azerbaijan was passed by the majority Armenian population in the region, which led to the Nagorno-Karabakh War, with Armenia fighting against Azerbaijan until 1994. The war ended with an Armenian victory and the establishment of the Republic of Artsakh, a satellite state of Armenia. The country is recognized only by Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transnistria; all non-UN member states with little international recognition themselves.
Since the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh War (referred to as the Artsakh Liberation War in Armenia) in 1994, low intensity clashes have continued. The deadliest incident between the warring factions to date, nicknamed the Four Day War, occurred in April 2016 and led to the deaths of 91 Armenian servicemen. The fighting that has been ongoing for the past few days stems from clashes that broke out earlier this year, on July 12th. Armenia claimed five soldiers were killed and 35 wounded in action as a result of those. Small scale hostilities and ceasefire violations have been continuing since July, killing another Armenian soldier on September 16th.
According to the press secretary for the President of Artsakh and the Armenian Defense Ministry, fighting began at 08:03 am local time when Azeri artillery and aircraft began firing at civilian infrastructure on the Artsakh side, which was followed seven minutes later by an Azeri offensive that included armored vehicles, infantry, and air power. Artsakh and Armenia both declared martial law and announced a total mobilization of their militaries. Additionally, Armenia also restricted males from leaving the country, with few exceptions. Georgia, which borders Armenia to the north and according to the 2014 census had around 168,000 ethnic Armenians, has restricted Armenians trying to join the fight as volunteers from traveling to the south. Azerbaijan has claimed that ethnic Armenians from the Middle East, particularly Syria, have joined the fight as mercenaries as well. Armenia acknowledged that Azeri forces had taken some territory early in the fight, but stated that said territory was retaken shortly after. According to the Armenian government, 85 servicemen of both Armenia and Artsakh have been killed, with an estimated 120 having been wounded, as well as one Su-25 close air support jet that was shot down by the Azeri military. According to Azerbaijan, 560 servicemen of Armenia and Artsakh have been killed or wounded, with 34 vehicles of various types destroyed, as well as 18 UAVs shot down. Armenia contests the accuracy of these claims.
It’s not clear why Azerbaijan launched the offensive when they did. The offensive comes after reports claimed that units of the Turkish-led Syrian National Army were deployed to assist Azeri forces; but linking the two is purely speculation. There are no signs that the fighting is going to slow down and it appears that this round of hostilities will be worse in terms of casualties than the Four Day War. It’s important to note that due to the fluid nature of the situation some of this information could be outdated by the time this article is released.