The two former Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan on Wednesday stepped back from the brink of a third war in as many decades over the mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
A day after Azerbaijan launched a deadly offensive on the ethnic Armenian separatists in control of the region the two sides agreed to a ceasefire.
AFP looks at the issues surrounding one of the frozen conflicts born out of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
– Two wars –
At the heart of three decades of tensions is the mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
After the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenian separatists seized Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijan, along with adjacent Azeri areas. The move, supported by Armenia’s government in Yerevan, was never recognised by the international community.
A 1988-1994 war left 30,000 dead and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.
Despite a ceasefire mediated in 1994 by France, Russia and the United States, fighting erupted frequently.
In the autumn of 2020, more than 6,500 people were killed in a six-week war, which ended with a Russian-brokered ceasefire.
Armenia had to hand back large tracts of territory that the separatists had seized in the 1990s but tensions continued, culminating in this week’s offensive by Baku.
– Revolts and dynastic rule –
Armenia has been rocked by political and economic instability since it gained independence from the Soviet Union.
The country’s post-Soviet leadership repressed opposition to its rule and was largely beholden to the interests of Russia.
In 2018, street protests brought current Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to power.
He cracked down on corruption and introduced popular judicial reforms but infuriated many Armenians by agreeing in 2020 to return parts of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan.
Turkic-speaking Azerbaijan, on the Caspian Sea, has been under the authoritarian grip of a single family since 1993.
Heydar Aliyev, a former officer of the Soviet security services, the KGB, ruled the oil-rich country until October 2003. He handed over power to his son, Ilham, weeks before his death.
Like his father, Ilham has quashed all opposition to his rule but Azerbaijan’s victory over Armenia in the 2020 Karabakh war boosted his popularity.
– Great power play –
Turkey, with ambitions to be a regional powerbroker in the Caucasus, has thrown its weight behind historical ally Azerbaijan.
Their alliance is fuelled by a mutual mistrust of Armenia, which harbours hostility towards Ankara over the massacres of some 1.5 million Armenians by Turkey during the dying days of the Ottoman Empire.
More than 30 countries have recognised the killings as genocide, though Ankara fiercely disputes the term.
Russia, which maintains close ties with Armenia, is the major powerbroker in the region. After the 2020 war Moscow deployed 2,000 peacekeepers to Nagorno-Karabakh.
Yerevan relies on Russian support and military guarantees because its own defence budget is overshadowed by Azerbaijan’s spending on arms.
But bogged down in its Ukraine war, Russia is loosing its influence on the post-Soviet space — and Moscow’s failure to help Yerevan in the face of the Azerbaijani threat has fuelled anti-Russian sentiment among Armenians.
– Oil versus celebs –
In recent years Azerbaijan has used its oil wealth to try to boost its standing on the world stage.
It has invested in massive sponsorship deals including the Euro 2020 football championship, in which it hosted games.
Azerbaijan has also cashed in on the war in Ukraine to try to replace Russia as a major supplier of gas to Europe.
Armenia, for its part, has a vast and influential diaspora that fled during the Ottoman-era repressions.
Reality TV star Kim Kardashian, the late singer Charles Aznavour, and pop star and actress Cher all trace their roots to Armenia.