Armenia and Azerbaijan Are Stuck Perpetually Between Peace and All-Out War

Armenia and Azerbaijan Are Stuck Perpetually Between Peace and All-Out War
A convoy of Azerbaijani tanks moves toward Agdam, Azerbaijan, Aug. 2, 2014 (AP photo by Abbas Atilay).

After years of “frozen conflict” over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan erupted into brief, full-scale fighting in April 2016. Since then, the two sides have steadily been engaged in isolated attacks with increasingly advanced weaponry. While avoiding open conflict, they remain poised for another bout of combat and appear incapable of resolving their longstanding dispute over the territory, which is controlled by Armenian-backed separatists but still internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. In an email interview, Audrey Altstadt, professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and the author of “Frustrated Democracy in Post-Soviet Azerbaijan,” explains the roots of the conflict, how both populations continue to beat the drum of war, and why Russia is the most likely candidate for keeping the peace.

WPR: What is at the heart of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and why have the sides been resistant to negotiations and a permanent settlement?

Audrey Altstadt: Both Armenia and Azerbaijan lay claim to the region of Nagorno-Karabakh and consider it historical patrimony and a cradle of culture. Although both sides claim that their possession of the land dates from pre-Islamic and even pre-Christian times, the modern dispute sharpened in the late-19th century, under Czarist rule, when national movements developed among both peoples. The current iteration of the dispute goes back to the 1920s when local Bolshevik authorities created an autonomous region for the Armenian population that was concentrated in the area. At the time, the region was known as the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region, or NKAR, and was part of Azerbaijan, which gave guarantees of cultural autonomy to Armenians. But Armenians wanted the NKAR to be part of Armenia.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article as well as three free articles per month. You'll also receive our free email newsletter to stay up to date on all our coverage:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having your own personal researcher and analyst for news and events around the globe. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of 15,000+ articles
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday
  • Weekly in-depth reports on important issues and countries
  • Daily links to must-read news, analysis, and opinion from top sources around the globe, curated by our keen-eyed team of editors
  • Your choice of weekly region-specific newsletters, delivered to your inbox.
  • Smartphone- and tablet-friendly website.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.

More World Politics Review