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A Flash Point in the South Caucasus That The West Can't Ignore

A 24-year old territorial conflict could ignite a powder keg and wreak devastating havoc in Europe and the U.S.

Photo Credit: rferl.org

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between two former Soviet republics – Armenia, backed by Moscow and Azerbaijan, a U.S. supporter and ally in the war on terrorism – seems to be one that time and the international community have forgotten.

This potentially explosive conflict has been dragging on for the past 24 years, where a precarious state of no-war, but no-peace has been percolating, building an adverse energy source just waiting to explode and drag the region into unchartered and very dangerous territory.

A full-scale conflagration between financially cash-strapped Armenia and oil-rich Azerbaijan will undoubtedly pull in other players in the region and quite possibly beyond. It’s a conflict that could bring Russia, Turkey, Georgia and other states into a very dangerous escalation, and that could trigger unwanted reactions.

Photo Credit: rferl.org Photo Credit: rferl.org

There is the question of territorial claims and counter-claims by Armenia and by Azerbaijan over a piece of land that almost everyone agrees historically belongs to Azerbaijan, even if it was populated by large numbers of ethnic Armenians who lived peacefully side-by-side with Azerbaijanis.

At stake is the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjoining regions which make up 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territory.

Like any conflict this one too, carries a certain amount of baggage. And while the international community does not seem to be too preoccupied by the lack of results in trying to find a just and lasting solution to the conflict, logic dictates that they should be.

A resumption of hostilities in the South Caucasus would offer Moscow a good reason to enter and occupy one or more former Soviet republics. Russia, for example, might find it convenient to return if feels it wants to payback the West for economic sanctions imposed on Russia for its actions in Ukraine.

After a violent war a cease-fire was agreed upon and held more or less effectively for the past 24 years until the beginning of last August. That was when the “Contact Line” separating the two sides suddenly went "viral," with both sides taking heavy casualties. Breaches of the cease-fire occurred dozens of times a day. The situation reached alarming levels with rhetoric flying almost as fast as the mortar shells each side lobbed at the other.

Russian soldiers fire warning shots at the Belbek air base, outside Sevastopol, Ukraine, on Tuesday, March 4, 2014. Russian troops, who had taken control over Belbek airbase, fired warning shots in the air as around 300 Ukrainian officers marched towards them to demand their jobs back. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev) Russian soldiers fire warning shots at the Belbek air base, outside Sevastopol, Ukraine, on Tuesday, March 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

A question many pundits are asking if Moscow re-enters the area, what would be the reaction of some of the other players in the region?

Turkey, a major contender in regional politics is very supportive of Azerbaijan, with whom it shares a common cultural root. Turkish and Azerbaijani languages are very similar.

As President Barack Obama seeks regional support in America’s new war on Islamist terrorism, the Turkish capital Anakara, who’s support Washington is actively seeking, may use this conflict as a pressure point, telling Washington, “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours."

Ankara and Baku, Azerbaijan enjoy strong relations and Turkey’s newly elected President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, have both stated Turkey’s complete support of Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and stated that it would be Turkish policy to ensure that Azerbaijan recuperates all its occupied territories.

One does not have to be military strategist to conclude that in the event of a major confrontation how such a conflict would play itself out, or the damaging effects it could have on Europe’s stability and quite possibly even escalate the current tension between Moscow and Washington.

If the West are not too worried about what happens in the South Caucasus and falsely believe this does not concern them, they should think again because they are far more concerned than they realize.

As it stands there are already far too many flash points in the world today: North Africa, the Horn of Africa, the Middle East, and the post Soviet zone. And conflicts tend to impact the world’s economic and political order. What that means is the introduction of instability and of possible chaotic times.

And that is a real danger. By ignoring the potential hazards in the South Caucasus, Europe and the U.S. run the risk of allowing an impending time bomb to continue ticking away.

Granted, the U.S. has its plateful right now with everything that’s happening in the Middle East and the last thing Washington needs is another conflict to worry about. But ignoring the potentially explosive situation in the South Caucasus in of itself poses a serious threat to the region security and ultimately to Washington and its allies.

Claude Salhani is a journalist and political analyst specializing in the Middle East, the Caucasus, Central Asia and terrorism. You can follow him on Twitter @claudesalhani.

TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.

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