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Why Azerbaijan-Armenia Dispute Draws Big Powers In

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A short war in 2020 between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh was part of a conflict that has flared repeatedly in the three decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union. With backing from Turkey, Azerbaijani forces regained control of seven adjacent districts that had been occupied by Armenians since the initial conflict in the early 1990s. Azerbaijan also took over part of Nagorno-Karabakh itself, a territory largely populated by Armenians but which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. While a truce brokered by Russian President Vladimir Putin halted fighting then, energy-rich Azerbaijan and landlocked Armenia haven’t reached a final peace agreement, and deadly border clashes broke out again in September.

Today’s Armenia and Azerbaijan are situated in an area that for centuries had fluid borders, with both suffering partition and brutality at the hands of the much larger Russian, Ottoman and Persian empires. The two communities began to fight each other as those empires collapsed toward the end of World War I and they sought to form independent states, with Russia backing Armenia and Ottoman Turkey supporting Azerbaijan in what amounted to a proxy war. Nagorno-Karabakh was a center of tension from the start, because the mountainous region hosted a mixed community of Armenians and Azeris and was seen by both nations as central to their national histories and identities.