Nagorno Karabakh sees the worst flare-up of fighting in nearly three decades
The new outbreak of heavy fighting in Nagorno Karabakh has begun on the morning of September 27, with the Armenian side reporting Azerbaijani missile attacks on military and civilian positions in the separatist region including its de facto capital, Stepanakert.
Although a lack of credible information from the battlefield, hostilities seem to be fiercest in nearly three decades with various yet nonconfirmed information about the direct involvement of the Turkish army and already confirmed information about pro-Turkish fighters from Syria and Libya.
Although neither side has claimed responsibility for recent fighting, as Joshua Kucera claimed for Eurasianet, “it followed a week of accelerating rhetoric from Baku that appeared aimed at making a case for war to the international community”. Also, the presence of Azerbaijani and Turkish journalists on the frontline shortly after the beginning of Azerbaijani offensive, indicates that the operation was prepared in advance by Baku and Ankara.
Although several incidents of bombing and reconnaissance in Armenia and Azerbaijan excluding Nagorno Karabakh have been reported, the bulk of the fighting remains to be confined to the territory controlled by Armenian separatists. Azerbaijani offensive supported by modern UAVs of Turkish and Israeli origin seems to be focused mostly on lowland areas of Fuzuli and Jabrayil regions in the Southern part of the contact line.
Gaining control of these two regions, outside of rugged and mountainous Nagorno Karabakh, might be the strategic aim of current Azerbaijani offensive. “Although Azerbaijan’s leader, Ilham Aliyev, has vowed to take all territory currently under Armenian control outside the boundaries of the Republic of Armenia, the Azerbaijani military simply does not have sufficient military superiority to attain such maximalist aims. Even with Turkish support, it is more realistic they will only be able to recapture the outer lying buffer territories that once belonged to Azerbaijan“, writes Michael Kofman for Russia Matters.
Meanwhile, evidence has piled up about more direct involvement of the Turkish military and pro-Turkey Syrian mercenaries in the fighting. On October 1 French President Emmanuel Macron has said that France has confirmed that Syrian fighters are joining the Nagorno-Karabakh theatre of combat.
Russia, the traditional power in the region, seems to be focusing on diplomacy in an attempt to further balance between Yerevan and Baku.
Richard Giragosian, one of the leading experts on the region, has recently outlined three possible scenarios of further development with the first one being de-escalation and disengagement, as a result of a military standoff. In the second scenario, fighting and combat operations will continue, with localised and limited military attacks and counterattacks contributing to a sustained cycle of ongoing warfare. In a last and worst-case scenario, Azerbaijani offensive escalates and expands as Turkey and Russia would be compelled to intervene in support of the rival sides directly.