That’s why we don’t want to bore you with details about these well-known conflicts. We shan’t patronise you with yet more ill-informed punditry about the trajectory of these wars. We would rather like to provide some ill-informed punditry about an almost totally unknown possibly soon-to-be-war. Amid the world’s most rapid arms race, this particular potential conflict is unlikely to draw in the Guardian‘s foreign affairs correspondent any time soon, but it’s one we should all be watching.
The name of this exciting, obscure shitfight? Why, Nagorno-Karabakh, thanks for asking. Yes, that’s right, Nagorno-Karabakh. Surely you know where that is, don’t you, erudite reader?
All right, so it’s not that well-known as a potential conflict scenario, but here’s the skinny: N-K is an area within Azerbaijan that is not controlled by the Azeris. It is, instead, de facto independent and populated largely by ethnic Armenians. There used to be some Azeris there (maybe up to a quarter of the population), but most of them left after the intense sh*tfight that was the Caucasus during and after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. N-K played a key role in this, acting as a driver and catalyst for the Armenian-Azerbaijani war in the early 1990s.
This helps to explain why there is little love lost between Armenia and Azerbaijan. In fact, since the 1990s, progress on resolving the dispute has been slower than the No. 76 bus. Now, there are signs that even the stalled peace process is coming unstuck: recently there has been a spate of shootings along the Karabakhi boundary that is being dubbed a ‘sniper war‘. At least 40 Azerbaijanis have been killed this year in sniper attacks according to Armenian defence sources, although an Azerbaijani newspaper claimed only 13 had died.
And the two countries have been tooling up over recent years. Over the past decade, Azerbaijan, buoyed by oil and gas revenue, has increased its defence budget by about 2,500%. Armenia has struggled to keep up, but still managed about a 600% increase. To put that into context, the US, which has fought two major wars since then and reacted to the 9/11 attacks, has seen about a 100% increase in its defence budget.
Does it matter? Well, not on a global strategic scale, but on a local level, certainly. An Armenian-Azerbaijani war might implicate Russia to some extent, given its continued supply of arms to both sides and its 4,000-strong base in Armenia. As part of the terms for the free leasing of the Gyumri base, Moscow has pledged to support Armenian territorial integrity, although this does not cover Nagorno-Karabakh. Turkey also has a complicated relationship with the southern Caucasus given its
genocide of the difficult history with the ethnic Armenians. But even without Russian or Turkish involvement, surely we should all care about stateless populations and the possibility of a war that, last time around, killed up to 40,000 people.