Azerbaijan - International Disputes
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The Nagorno Karabach conflict
Azeri-Armenian cease-fire line - Daqliq Qarabaq / Nagorno KarabakhAzerbaijan continues to live under the shadow of an unresolved 12-year-old conflict with Armenian separatists over its Nagorno-Karabakh region. This region was incorporated into Azerbaijan in 1921, under the orders of Stalin. Encouraged by the mood of Perestroika and Glasnost, in February 1988 the Nagorno-Karabagh Regional Assembly formally requested that the region be transferred to neighbouring Armenia. Moscow rejected this request.
Khodzhaly: massacre of Azeri civiliansBy the end of February 1988, the situation became worse with incidents between Armenians and Azeris in Sumgait. Soviet troops were called in to restore order. In November 1988 violence once again broke out in several cities. Tens of thousands of Azeris and Armenians were expelled from both republics, massacres occured, and with the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, the situation had escalated into full-scale war. By the time of the ceasefire was  signed in May 1994 there were over 20,000 dead, and over a million refugees. The Karabakh Armenians have declared independence (Artsakh)  and seized almost 20% of the country's territory, creating almost 1 million Azeri refugees in the process.

Armenians leave Baku (Jan. 1990)Both sides have generally observed the Russian-mediated cease-fire. Armenia supports ethnic Armenians in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan in the long-standing, separatist conflict against the Azerbaijani Government. Negotiations have been long but inconclusive.

Azeri POWs released by the Armenians return to Baku (July 2000)The Armenians seem to be willing to return to Azerbaijan most territories they currently occupy around, south and east of Nagorno-Karabakh, including the towns of Fizuli, Agdam and Jebrail, but they insist in keeping a corridor around Lechin connecting the province to mainland Armenia. The Armenians also want to keep Kelbajar, which has gold mines nearby. It has been speculated that in compensation the Armenians may offer Azerbaijan a narrow corridor connecting Azerbaijan to Nakichevan, along the Iranian border.
Border with Georgia
Baku, Azerbaijan: fountain at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Gyanjlik sq. - photo by N.MahmudovaLarge stretches of the border between Azerbaijan and Georgia were never marked in Soviet times, leaving a number of ambiguos situations to be solved. In a very un-Caucasian way so far this has been an issue tackled mostly at the negotiation table, although without great progress, maybe because the stakes are low.

Most areas in dispute are very low profile, except a stretch of border in Agstafa rayon. The David Gareja monastery complex is located  on the half-desert slopes of Mount Gareja. Part of the border passes through the top of the 813-meter-high Udabno / Keshishdag ridge, which harbors cave monasteries on its top and also on the northern (Georgian-controlled) and southern (Azerbaijani-controlled) slopes.  Part of the complex is also located on the Azeri side of the border, in Agstafa rayon. The complex, which contains a rich collection of cave frescoes, has been a site for conflict as well as for contemplation, ever since construction began in the 6th century. Azerbaijan claims th monastery of Bertubani, which features frescoes of the legendary 12th-13th century Georgian Queen Tamara and her son, Giorgi IV is on its territory. To hold on to the churches on Georgian territory, Tbilisi has proposed giving Azerbaijan an as yet publicly unspecified section of Georgian land near the Azerbaijani border. Azerbaijani officials, however, say that they are unwilling to consider the exchange.  The monastery complex, which has withstood attacks by Tamerlane and Shah Abbas alike, holds strategic significance for both Azerbaijan and Georgia. From the Udabno ridge, both Azerbaijani and Georgian territory can be easily monitored.
Sharing the Caspian Sea
dividing the CaspianThe way of sharing the Caspian Sea is not yet clearly determined among Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan, with conflicting criteria being suggested for the division. In fact two totally different international law perspectives on the Caspian existed until recently. Russia and Iran viewed the Caspian as a lake with common resources. Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan considered the Caspian as a sea with national sectors (click map on the right).
At stake in the ongoing debate: oil and natural gas fields, transport routes and fishing rights. As governments wrangle for control of resources, corruption thrives in unstable bureaucracies, fuelling black market economies and traffic in illegal arms and drugs. In Azerbaijan the so-called unofficial trade is thought to account for half of the economic activity.

Since December 1998 Russia and Iran are no longer insisting on the inviolability of the sea’s former status based on the 1921 and 1940 Soviet-Iranian agreements (meaning indivisibility of the sea, including its seabed, and the impossibility of foreign firms acting without the consent of all the countries of the region).

The question now is what should be divided and how. Kazakstan and Russia are in favour of dividing the Caspian seabed alone, while the sea’s waters remain in common use. On the contrary, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan are in favour of dividing both the sea’s bed and its waters. Iran takes a special position: while advocating joint use of the seabed and the water, Tehran supports full division of the Caspian if the other littoral states agree to take this step.

Caspian sea - Central Azeri section of Azeri-Chirag-Gunashli oil field - crude oil from ACG is exported through the pipeline Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline - flares - photo by L.McKayAzerbaijan remains locked in disputes with Turkmenistan and Iran over competing claims to overlapping fields. Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan have traded harsh words over the Kyapaz-Serdar, Khazar, and Osman fields, while Azerbaijan has objected to Iran's decision to award Royal Dutch/Shell and Lasmo a license to conduct seismic surveys in a region that Azerbaijan considers to fall in its territory. In July 2001, tensions flared in the South Caspian when a British Petroleum (BP) ship, licensed to explore Azerbaijan's Araz, Alov, and Sharg concession, was ordered to leave the area by an Iranian gunboat, since Iran considers the area, which it calls Alborz, to be a part of the Iranian sector of the sea.

On the terrain the Caspian problem has already caused several incidents, mostly involving on one side Iranian Navy and Air Force and on the other ships carrying out marine survey or other vessels linked to oil and gas exploitation. The main point of attrition has been Azerbaijan's Araz, Alov, and Sharg concession, which Iran calls Alborz and considers to be a part of the Iranian sector of the sea. The stakes are high in this 'great game' for power and influence, oil and gas, and above all money, billions of dollars of it, beneath the Caspian, this is why Russia is building up a naval force for the inland sea.

See also: Environment, Ports
Summary of disputes in the Caucasus
Today, as in the past, The Caucasus is an agitated neighbourhood to live in. Old and new disputes ensure that the area will be making the headlines in years to come, for all the wrong reasons. Currently these are the main issues:

Conflicts in the Caucasus1 - Chechnya / Russia conflict, also affecting Ingushetia and Dagestan
2 - Ingushetia / North Ossetia border dispute
3 - Strong separatist trend in Kalmukia
4 - Azerbaijan / Armenian dispute over Nagorno-Karabach
5 - Georgia / Ossetia dispute
6 - Georgia / Abkhazia dispute
7 - Balkar independence movement in Kabardino-Balkaria
8 - Karachay-Cherkessia tension between Karachays and Cherkesses
9 - Dagestan: ethnic tension between Avars and Laks

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