Rahmat Hajimineh, an Iranian university professor, believes that the ongoing conflict and tension in the Caucasus can prepare the grounds for such terrorist groups as Daesh (ISIL) to recruit new militants and continue their operations throughout the Middle East and beyond, because radical and extremist forces these days are taking advantage of instability in different parts of the world in a bid to survive and protect themselves.
What is Happening in Nagorno-Karabakh
On late April 1, clashes erupted on the line of contact between the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army and the Armenian Armed Forces on one side, and the Azerbaijani Armed Forces on the other side in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Defense Ministry of the Azerbaijan Republic announced in a Saturday statement that Armenian troops opened fire 127 times along the border over a 24-hour period using mortars and heavy artillery shells that struck civilian regions.
According to official statements from the sides involved, 18 Armenian soldiers and 12 Azerbaijani soldiers were killed during the clashes, and several pieces of military equipment from both sides were destroyed.
18 Armenian soldiers and 12 Azerbaijani soldiers killed
On Sunday, Azerbaijan said it had decided to “unilaterally cease hostilities” and pledged to “reinforce” several strategic positions it claimed to have captured inside the Armenian-controlled territory.
Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that, in response to pleas from international organizations, it will be unilaterally “suspending a counter-offensive and response on the territories occupied by Armenia.”
However, the truce failed to stop the fighting. Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian stressed that a “ceasefire would only be possible if the militaries of both sides return to the positions” that they held prior to the outbreak of hostilities.
Traditional Dispute between Azerbaijan, Armenia
Nagorno-Karabakh has been under the control of the Armenian military and separatists since a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan ended in 1994. Years of negotiations have brought little progress in resolving the dispute, though a fragile truce has been in place.
Ethnic Armenian separatists backed by Yerevan seized control of the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh region in a war in the early 1990s which claimed some 30,000 lives. The rival states have never signed a peace deal, despite the 1994 ceasefire.
Energy-rich Azerbaijan, whose military spending exceeds Armenia’s entire state budget, has repeatedly threatened to take back the breakaway region by force if negotiations fail to yield results. Armenia says it could crush any offensive.
Armenia says it could crush any offensive
The new fighting which broke out on Saturday has been the worst since 1994, said David Babayan, a spokesman for the region’s separatist president.
Fresh Round of Clashes: Implications for the Middle East
Rahmat Hajimineh, PhD., a university professor and Middle East expert, said in an interview with Fararu news website that the fresh round of conflicts in Karabakh between the Azerbaijan Republic and Armenia has a number of implications.
“First of all, despite two decades of ceasefire between Azerbaijan and Armenia, the recent clashes showed that the disputes between the two sides have remained in place through all these years like a fire under the ash,” he said.
“The efforts made so far had apparently just prevented all-out, serious conflicts between the two countries,” Hajimineh noted, underlining that the situation is best described as being neither at war nor at peace.
“Secondly, the resumption of clashes between the two countries indicated that territorial disputes, even in the third millennium, are still one of the major sources of tension between interested parties, particularly in underdeveloped regions,” the Middle East expert went on to say.
“territorial disputes are still a major source of tension, particularly in underdeveloped regions”
“And thirdly, the conflicts demonstrated the failure of international groups and organizations – like the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group – in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute,” Hajimineh added.
Therefore, he added, it has been shown that ultra-regional groups cannot end such conflicts without providing a comprehensive formula for the settlement of dispute based on the consent of both sides.
“The resumption of conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia thus shows that the disputes between them are still in place as they were in the early 1990s, and there is even a risk that they would continue or even worsen,” the Iranian university professor noted.
The Main Reason behind the Resumption of the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict
“The main reason [behind the ongoing conflicts] is the old historical and territorial dispute about the Karabakh region, which is claimed by both sides with nationalist attitudes,” Hajimineh said.
The nationalist approaches held by the two sides towards the issue, the pressures exerted by internal sides in both Azerbaijan and Armenia, and the attempts by the two sides to maintain their political legitimacy can be considered as the factors behind the continuation of crisis and dispute, he went on to say.
The nationalist dimensions of the dispute complicate its settlement
As a result, Hajimineh added, it can be said that the addition of a nationalist dimension to the territorial dispute has made its settlement more complicated, since any provocative move on the front line between the two sides’ military forces would lead to tension and conflict.
Continued Clashes to Destabilize Iran’s Borders
Asked about the stance Iran should take towards the crisis, Hajimineh noted that the exacerbation of conflict between Iran’s two northern neighbors, Azerbaijan and Armenia, would definitely result in instability along Iranian borders.
Therefore, as the Iranian Foreign Ministry has reacted to the issue, Iran should focus on the peaceful settlement of the dispute within a peaceful group framework, without resorting to force, he said.
“Given the geopolitical significance of the crisis-hit areas, increased insecurity in the region can definitely have negative consequences for Iran’s national security in the long-term,” Hajimineh underlined.
Increased insecurity in the region can definitely have negative consequences for Iran’s national security
“It is thus expected that Iran pursues an active diplomacy to help resolve the conflict peacefully in a bid to establish sustainable peace in the region,” the Middle East expert told Fararu.
Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict to Help Daesh Recruitment
The university professor further referred to the possible benefits the ongoing clashes would have for terrorist groups, including Daesh, saying that radical and extremist groups have been seen to find more room for emerging and expanding in those regions where there is a security vacuum, and with a high level of tension.
“Given the growth of extremism and radicalism, and the operation of such groups as Daesh in the Middle East, any return to conflict and tension can prepare the grounds for their activities and recruitment,” he said.
Conflict and tension can aid terrorist activities and recruitment
“Today, we are witnessing that extremist and radical forces are using fluid movement tactics in insecure geographical areas to protect themselves,” Hajimineh asserted.
If tensions run high in the region in this period of time, it would benefit extremists and radicals, at least in the sense that global attention would be diverted from the fight against terrorism and their activities in Syria and Iraq, he noted.
Russia Expected to Intervene in the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict
“Given past experience, and the active role traditionally played by the Kremlin in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, and also considering the recent role Russia played in Ukraine and Syria, the Russians are again expected to try to take the initiative in this region, which is regarded as their backyard, and is of great significance to Moscow,” he said.
“However, given the major role played by the Minsk Group in settling the crisis, Russia is trying not only to prevent the exacerbation of the conflict through the Minsk Group, but also to reinforce its multilateral diplomacy in this case – as in the Syrian crisis – in co-operation with other players,” Hajimineh stated.