John Kerry Met with Azerbaijan’s President Days Before Dispute in Nagorno-Karabakh Region

Nagorno-Karabakh, Disputed Territory (TFC) On the morning of April 5th, Armenian separatists and Azeri defense ministry announced a ceasefire in the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. But with such a complex and fragile history will this ceasefire hold? With foreign interests involved (including that of NATO members), and corruption exposed due to the recently leaked Panama Papers, this ceasefire is not likely to last.

On March 30th, 2016, Secretary John Kerry met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to discuss “a range of bilateral and regional issues.” Kerry commended Aliyev’s efforts to become a regional trade hub by helping to establish the Southern Gas Corridor.  The Southern Gas Corridor is made up of three branches which run from Azerbaijan, through Georgia, and into Turkey (an ally of Azerbaijan)– allowing the European market to completely bypass Russia (and Armenia).  With Turkey set to enter the EU, this essentially creates a streamline from the Caspian Sea into Europe. Prior to the creation of the pipeline, Russia was one of Europe’s largest natural gas suppliers. Kerry ended the meeting by affirming U.S. support for Azerbaijan’s “territorial integrity” in the region and commending the Azeri president for his support towards NATO efforts in the past.

Gas isn’t the region’s only valuable resource. The newly leaked Panama Papers reveal corruption surrounding the Chovdar gold mine in Azerbaijan. This can help provide a glimpse into the current disputes between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Internationally recognized as Azerbaijani territory, the Nagorno-Karabakh territory has a growing GDP thanks to precious metals, oil, transportation, construction, and of course: foreign investments and international trade. Although Nagorno-Karabakh is technically part of Azerbaijan, most of the population is Armenian. So when Azerbaijan’s goal is to privatize Nagorno-Karabakh’s resources, create tax breaks for foreign investors, and thus become a player in the international market, of course the Armenian population is going to retaliate. And they have been: prior to the ceasefire, hundreds of Armenians have reportedly been joining the conflict. On the Azerbaijan side, hundreds of ISIS fighters have reportedly returned to Nagorno-Karabakh to fight– conveniently traveling from Syria through Turkey, of course– according to Russian sources.

So yes, Armenia and Azerbaijan have a long and complex history of disputes in the Nagorno-Karabakh region surrounding religious differences and territory; but the issue we’re looking at today runs a lot deeper than that. Azerbaijan stresses that Armenia must be a part of the long-term global economic plan for the region. With Russian and NATO investment in the region including that of Turkey, the United States, and now the EU, this is most likely not the last dispute we’ll see in this region.