Armenian President Warns Azerbaijan Clash could Morph into Full-Scale War

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In a meeting with ambassadors, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan stated that conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory could erupt into a regional war between his country and Azerbaijan, according to Reuters.

Armenia lost 20 troops during skirmishes with Azerbaijani forces, as members of the international community call for an immediate cease-fire. Nagorno-Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan, but retains a large number of ethnic Armenians.

Nagorno-Karabakh is an autonomous region, with its own Armenian-led government, but it is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan surrounds Nagorno-Karabakh in the southwest area, but authorities have little control as Armenian separatists rule the region. The international community is the only force preventing Azerbaijan from seizing full control of the territory, but authorities seem to be losing patience as the conflict escalates.

Azerbaijan and Armenia fought over Nagorno-Karabakh in the late 1980s, which subsequently caused the deaths of thousands of people while displacing many from their homes. Armenian separatists have since ruled the region, despite Azerbaijan’s claim to the land, and both sides agreed to a cease-fire in 1994, with the Armenian government siding with the separatists.

The cease-fire failed to stop periodic conflicts throughout the last two decades, and the latest skirmish suggests that the war never stopped between the Eurasian countries.

Armenia’s Status

Regardless of which side instigated the fight, a larger conflict would have a disproportionate impact on Armenia as the economy faces deeper hardship when compared to Azerbaijan. Armenia suffered immensely during the 2008 world economic crisis, and the Russian recession has forced many Armenians working in Russia to return to their homeland.

Armenia relies on foreign investment and remittances, and the economy is not strong enough to create domestic jobs for a variety of reasons. One reason is a lackluster agricultural sector stemming from infertile ground, although agriculture has improved in recent years. Armenia strengthened its manufacturing and technology output throughout the decades, but both sectors are not sufficient in reducing rampant poverty, and the tech sector will never reach its full potential due to poor intellectual property rights.

Among other factors, Armenia’s weak economic system will make it susceptible to outside influence.

Geopolitical Fallout

Geopolitics has reduced the region to a chessboard match between world powers.  Additionally, the world community is particularly interested in both countries because the region holds vital oil and gas routes that bypass Russia and frees many European nations from Russian energy dependence.

Turkey supports Azerbaijan, as both nations share cultural and ethnic ties, while the Russians assist the Armenians. Relations between Turks and Russians have faltered since Turkey shot down a Russian aircraft during Russia’s campaign efforts in Syria.

The Puppeteers

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict technically boils down to a proxy war between Turkey and Russia, but Armenia is most vulnerable because it borders Turkey and Azerbaijan, two nations that will forever remain hostile to Armenian interests.

Turkey and Armenia do not share diplomatic ties due to ongoing disputes regarding the Turkish genocide of Armenians during the early twentieth century. Moreover, the Armenians cannot fully rely on the Russians, as Moscow has sold weaponry to Azerbaijanis in the past, and Armenia has failed to benefit from its membership into Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).

For instance, Armenia must maintain high tariffs as part of its membership, preventing many foreign investors from taking an interest in the country, notes The Economist. Armenia has forged closer ties to the West, but Armenians will remain under Moscow’s control, while continuing to suffer in a stagnant world economy, and the looming threat of war further prevents Armenia’s potential as a rising nation.