Fierce fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia over a broken region continues, raising fears of a regional war in Russia and Turkey.
Two former Soviet republics have reported that dozens of combatants have been killed and hundreds injured in hostilities on Sunday.
On Tuesday, the two accused each other of firing directly into each other’s territory beyond the conflict zone, as civilian deaths escalated and fighting ensued on the third day.
As violence escalates, NBC News looks at the main players and what’s behind the recent fight.
What is Nagorno-Karbakh?
At the center of the conflict is Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous area slightly larger than Rhode Island. It is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but has actually been under Armenian control since the early 1990s.
Its allocation to Azerbaijan during the Soviet period was fought by its ethnic Armenian majority. The collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s led to a war and Nagorno-Karbakh attempted to declare independence.
The conflict killed some 30,000, displacing around 1 million before the cease-fire in 1994. Since then, Nagorno-Karbakh remains a ruptured region inside Azerbaijan.
There is a local leadership in Nagorno-Karbakh, but the region, home to about 150,000 people, is dependent on Armenia for financial support.
Long-running negotiations in mediation by Russia, the United States, and France have seen little progress, and there have been occasional skirmishes on the borders of the region.
Why fighting now?
Tensions between the two sides spread over the summer, into deadly clashes in July, leading to hostilities on Sunday.
The increase in July was believed to be a setback for Azerbaijan, which was reported to have lost a high-profile general in the fighting, said Kevork Oskanian, a political science research fellow at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom.
Oscaran said Sunday’s clashes could be an attempt to save Azerbaijan’s face.
But when the latest battle of battles began over the weekend, the roots of the conflict went back centuries.
Armenians saw Nagorno-Karbakh as the province of their ancient kingdom of Kalakh, the Oskanian said.
Meanwhile, the area has cultural significance central to Ezeris, which traces Shusha in modern Nagorno-Karbakh to the 18-century Karbakh Khanate.
While religion is used by both sides for propaganda purposes, in majority Christian Armenia and predominantly Muslim Azerbaijan, Oskanian said the conflict is almost exclusively about secular nationalism in both sides.
“On the Armenian side, you often hear the argument that this is a conflict over life and death, that if their side was lost, it would mean the destruction of the Qarabakh Armenians, and, perhaps, of Armenia” email. “Towards Azerbaijan, people speak with their feeling about the importance of Karabakh as to what it means to be Azerbaijan.”
What is the role of Turkey?
Turkey has cultural, economic and political ties with Azerbaijan, and the two countries also conducted major military exercises in July and August.
Turkey’s strong president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said that on Monday his country would stand “with all the resources and heart of Brother Azerbaijan”.
Turkey has tried to shore up domestic legitimacy at London’s Thinktank Chatham House by supporting Russia and the Eurasia Program partner Lawrence Broecker, the Turkish country.
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“It is a recent war experience in many regional theaters, and it also has a defense industry for new markets,” Broer said.
Armenia’s Prime Minister Pashinan calls on international community Preventing any possible interference by Turkey, Which, he said, would destabilize the region.
In what could have been a major cause of Tuesday’s violence, Armenia alleged that one of its war planes was shot down by a Turkish fighter jet, which killed the pilot, but Ankara denied any involvement.
Armenian authorities have also accused Turkey of being a NATO member who armed Syria with arms and weapons from Syria. Both Azerbaijan and Turkey deny it.
Turkey has been in a dispute with Armenia in the early 20th century, over the mass murder of 1.5 million ethnic Armenians by the Ottoman Empire centered in present-day Turkey, which Armenia considers a genocide. The Turkish government has categorically denied that the killings are a massacre.
Who else is involved?
Russia remained the most active international player and main mediator in the conflict.
Moscow tried to maintain good relations with both sides of the conflict and deepen its influence in the region, Oskanian said. The Kremlin also does not want the tension to come out and draw in external powers – especially Turkey, he said.
Brörs said the US remains one of the mediators in the conflict, with Nagorno-Karabakh not prioritized by Washington.
The recent flare-up has drawn US attention, however, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging both sides to stop the violence on Tuesday.
Reality TV star Kim Kardashian West, who has Armenian roots, has also commented, “urging diplomatic measures to prevent unnecessary escalation and tragedy”. In a series of tweets On Sunday, “stopping all aggressive use of force” from Azerbaijan.
What will happen next?
Experts say the worst case is war involving Russia and Turkey.
The conflict could destabilize the South Caucasus region – Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia – which serves as a corridor for the pipeline to transport oil and gas to the world’s markets.
But Broers and Oskanian said pipelines are not the primary consideration, although they may do so if conflict escalates.
“The oil and gas pipelines are very close to the current front line. As the Oscanians said, actually a few dozen kilometers.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.