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explainer

Since September, a conflict in the Caucasus has killed hundreds of people and risks opening a new front in the war of influence between Turkey and Russia. Here’s a primer

Stepanakert, Oct. 6: An elderly man walks past destroyed buildings in the main city of the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, the subject of ongoing fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan.ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images/AFP/Getty Images

For years, Armenia and Azerbaijan’s dispute over a rocky region of the South Caucasus was considered a “frozen conflict” left over from the last days of the Soviet Union. Now, it’s a series of escalating battles that have killed hundreds of people and tested old alliances between Turkey, which Armenia alleges is aiding Azerbaijan for its own ends, and long-time military partners such as Canada. The Globe and Mail’s senior international correspondent, Mark MacKinnon, has been following the conflict and how it figures in a larger struggle for supremacy between Turkey and Russia. Here’s a primer on who’s fighting and why.


Latest headlines

Turkey accuses Canada of ‘double standards’ over suspension of arms exports

Ottawa suspends export permits for targeting gear allegedly used in Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict

Armenia, Azerbaijan accuse each other of launching attacks as Iran works on peace plan

Canada needs to pick a side as Nagorno-Karabakh tensions rise, Armenian PM says


Where is Nagorno-Karabakh?

RUSSIA

IRAN

LIBYA

EGYPT

0

800

KM

GEORGIA

Caspian

Sea

RUSSIA

Tibilisi

ARMENIA

AZERBAIJAN

Yerevan

Baku

Nakhchivan

55

0

KM

NAGORNO-KARABAKH

Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are former Soviet republics that have long disputed ownership of the region.

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN;

OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS; HIU

RUSSIA

IRAN

LIBYA

EGYPT

0

800

KM

GEORGIA

Caspian

Sea

RUSSIA

Tibilisi

ARMENIA

AZERBAIJAN

Yerevan

Baku

Nakhchivan

55

0

KM

NAGORNO-KARABAKH

Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are former Soviet republics that have long disputed ownership of the region.z

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN;

OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS; HIU

GEORGIA

RUSSIA

Tibilisi

Caspian Sea

ARMENIA

Baku

AZERBAIJAN

Yerevan

TURKEY

Nakhchivan

RUSSIA

NAGORNO-KARABAKH

Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are former Soviet republics that have long disputed ownership of the region.

55

0

KM

IRAN

LIBYA

EGYPT

0

800

IRAN

KM

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS; HIU

Nagorno-Karabakh is an enclave of about 4,400 square kilometres in Azerbaijan. Most of its inhabitants are ethnically Armenian, but when the recently formed Soviet Union took over Armenia and Azerbaijan in the 1920s, a divide-and-rule strategy put Nagorno-Karabakh under Azerbaijani control. As the USSR broke up at the end of the 1980s, Armenia and Azerbaijan reclaimed their independence and the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh heated up: Over three years, a war with Armenian separatists killed nearly 30,000 people. A Russian-brokered ceasefire in 1994 was more or less the end of major armed conflict in the region until this past September, when Armenian and Azerbaijani forces began firing at each other. It’s escalated into deadly land and air battles and the shelling of civilians.


The combatants compared

An Azerbaijani child with face painted in the colours of the national flag takes part in a demonstration in Istanbul on Oct. 4.OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images/AFP/Getty Images

Azerbaijan

  • Leader: President Ilham Aliyev
  • Capital: Baku
  • Country’s population: 10 million
  • Azerbaijanis in Canada: 6,400 (2016 census)
  • Profile: Azerbaijan is a Muslim-majority Turkic state on the Caspian Sea that’s spent most of its post-Soviet history under the authoritarian rule of one family, the Aliyevs. Its abundant fossil-fuel deposits have made the country rich since the 1990s, giving it an advantage in the race against Armenia for bigger military budgets.

A boy stands by an Armenian flag during a demonstration in support of Armenia outside of the U.S. embassy in the Cypriot capital, Nicosia, on Sept. 30.Petros Karadjias/The Associated Press/The Associated Press

Armenia

  • Leader: Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan
  • Capital: Yerevan
  • Country’s population: Three million
  • Armenians in Canada: 63,000 (2016 census)
  • Profile: Armenia is a landlocked country with its own form of Christianity that’s been ruled over the centuries by the Persian, Ottoman and Russian empires. Since the fall of the USSR, it’s developed into a democratic, albeit poor, nation. Unemployment has been steadily high since the 2008-09 financial crisis, and it’s depended heavily on international aid and help from Armenian diasporas abroad.

A woman in Yerevan shows a sticker with the flag of Nagorno-Karabakh, essentially the Armenian flag but with a white arrow pointing left, or westward, to symbolize the hope of eventual union with Armenia.AFP via Getty Images/AFP/Getty Images

Nagorno-Karabakh

  • Leader: Arayik Harutyunyan
  • Capital: Stepanakert
  • Region’s population: 150,000
  • Profile: Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized internationally as part of Azerbaijan, but its local government, sometimes called the Republic of Artsakh or Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, runs its own military and claims to be an independent state. No UN member states, including Armenia, recognize it as such.


Turkey vs. Russia

A demonstrator in Istanbul wears the colours of the Turkish flag at a protest against Armenia on Oct. 4.Murad Sezer/Reuters/Reuters

Azerbaijan has a powerful ally in Turkey, and the current conflict is seen as part of a proxy war between Ankara and one of its historic regional rivals, Moscow. The two countries are already backing opposite sides in Syria and Libya’s civil wars. In the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, “Turkey’s military personnel and the Turkish armed forces are directly engaged in the hostilities,” the Armenian Prime Minister told The Globe in late September, claiming Turkey sent Syrian mercenaries to the conflict zone (which Azerbaijan denies). Russia, meanwhile, is bound by a treaty to protect Armenia.


Where does Canada stand?

Francois-Philippe Champagne is Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press/The Canadian Press

The Trudeau government has expressed concern for the events in Nagorno-Karabakh, and like the United States, Britain and France, it’s calling for an end to hostilities. It’s also suspended permits for the export of Canadian-made targeting equipment to Turkey as it investigates claims that Azerbaijan used the technology in Turkish-made drones to attack Armenian forces. It’s rare for Canada to suspend arms-export permits, especially to a fellow NATO member like Turkey, which has accused the Trudeau government of “double standards” influenced by “anti-Turkish groups in the country.”


Compiled by Globe staff

With reports from Mark MacKinnon, Steven Chase, The Associated Press and Reuters


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