Geopolitical Hotspots: Nagorno-Karabakh (Armenia and Azerbaijan)

Though the era of globalization has heightened concerns about terrorist groups, organized crime rings, and other non-state networks, geopolitics is still dominated by discussions of territorial control and influence. Sovereign states remain vitally interested in controlling territory in order to regulate resources and flows of people, and for the purpose of nationalist propaganda. In this post and others to come, I’ll highlight a few key geopolitical hotspots.

Though the breakup of the Soviet Union (1991) was remarkably peaceful, the Caucasus Mountains region was the main exception. In this cultural transition zone between Russian, Persian, and Turkish spheres, rugged topography and problematic Soviet-era borders have led to significant tensions in Georgia, southwestern Russia, and Azerbaijan.

With the fragmentation of the U.S.S.R., the old Soviet Socialist Republic borders were generally accepted to be the new boundaries of the 15 newly independent states. Overall, these borders have worked out fairly well. In the case of Armenia and Azerbaijan, though, 21 years have passed without resolution of a basic territorial dispute. In particular, the area of Nagorno-Karabakh, which extends well into Azerbaijan’s internationally-recognized territory, is claimed by Armenia.

The core geopolitical issue here is familiar. In simple terms, Nagorno-Karabakh has a population that is composed mostly of ethnic Armenians. The population in this disputed territory is predominantly Christian (in contrast to the Muslim majority for the rest of Azerbaijan), and they speak a distinct mother tongue. And, since the Soviet breakup, the government of Armenia has occupied Nagorno-Karabakh (and surrounding Azeri territories), claiming these areas on the basis of cultural ties (or irredentism).

For its part, the government of Azerbaijan has predictably resisted the loss of up to 20 percent of its sovereign territory. The recent case of Ramil Safarov has dramatically heightened tensions between the two countries, and between Azerbaijan and the West.

*** Did you like what you read here? You might be interested in the new book by this blog’s author, Failed States: Realities, Risks, and Responses.

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