For the past 20 years, Azerbaijan and Armenia have been disputing the sovereignity of the Nagorno-Karabakh region — an area that, thanks to Soviet history, is geographically part of Azerbaijan, but features a majority ethnic Armenian population.
The two countries waged a brutal war over the disputed region in 1988 where 20,000 to 30,000 people died, and in 1992 the OPEC Minsk group was set up to broke peace between the two countries.
Recently, things haven’t been going too smoothly.
One big factor in that is the case of Ramil Safarov, an Azerbaijani soldier who, while taking part in a NATO-sponsored English class in Hungary, crept into a dorm-room and used an axe to kill an Armenian soldier. Safarov spent 8 years in jail in Hungary, before returning home earlier this year. To Armenia’s disappointment and anger, Safarov, a convicted axe-murderer, was given a hero’s welcome.
Hungary had assumed Safarov would serve at least 25 years, the New York Times reports. Instead, he received “a pardon, a new apartment, eight years of back pay, a promotion to the rank of major and the status of a national hero”.
Last week Al Jazeera’s Sarah Kendzior reported that Safarov had become a “Facebook hero”, with over 59,000 “likes” on his fanpage. The page that Kendzior refers to appears to have been deleted, but a new one has sprung up — and has over 32,000 likes.
The Safarov affair has heightened tensions between the groups, and a number of analysts now believe that a cross-border skirmish — like the one that killed 9 people in June — could lead to a broader conflict between the two states. Reuters today released a big article on the potential for war between the nations, concluding that Armenia does not have the firepower of oil-rich Azerbaijan, but has pledged to wage an “asymmetrical” war, with air strikes and mass destruction.
Crucially, Reuters reports, both countries are in collective security agreements with military giants — Azerbaijan with Turkey, and Armenia with Russia. Oil companies that rely on Azerbaijani pipelines would also have a lot to lose from the war.
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