Monday marks a year since the latest large-scale clashes erupted in the Karabakh region last fall on Sept. 27, 2020, when Armenian army launched attacks on civilians and Azerbaijani forces, violating several humanitarian cease-fire agreements.
The spark of last year's conflict -- known as the second Karabakh war, or the patriotic war -- reshaped the geopolitical image of the Caucasus and was the last straw that ended Azerbaijan's tolerance in the region.
Relations between the former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan and Armenia have been tense since 1991, when the Armenian military occupied Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Upper Karabakh, a territory internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, and seven adjacent regions -- Lachin, Kalbajar, Aghdam, Fuzuli, Jabrayil, Qubadli, and Zangilan.
In July last year, Armenian cease-fire violations killed 12 Azerbaijani troops -- including high-ranking officers -- and wounded four others, further angering Azerbaijan, which was by now at the end of its patience. One elderly Azerbaijani civilian had also been killed.
On Sept. 21, 2020, clashes in the same region flared up again when a soldier of the Azerbaijani army was killed and another wounded.
By that time, there were four UN Security Council and two UN General Assembly resolutions as well as decisions by many international organizations referring to the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict and demanding the withdrawal of the occupational Armenian forces from Nagorno-Karabakh and the seven other occupied regions.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group -- co-chaired by France, Russia and the US -- was formed on March 24, 1992 to find a peaceful solution to the conflict, but to no avail. The co-chairs of the Minsk Group, who visited both countries periodically and met with the authorities, did nothing more than warning the parties to abide by the cease-fire each time.
Referring to the Armenian army's large-scale military provocations on the frontline early on the morning of Sept. 27 last year, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev clearly stated that those trying to intimidate Azerbaijan "will regret it."
Aliyev called the provocations "another manifestation of Armenian fascism."
He emphasized that Armenia's military provocations against Azerbaijan had recently become regular.
Azerbaijani officials blamed the world for its silence over the Armenian attacks, noting that Armenia continued its attacks because there was no world reaction to its aggression.
But, Ankara from the early hours of the conflict strongly condemned Armenia's attacks and reiterated its full support to Baku.
- 'Implementing UN resolutions on its own'
In fact, according to Azerbaijani officials, Azerbaijan, which patiently waited for justice for three decades, was now "on its own" implementing the relevant UN resolutions to drive the occupying forces from its lands.
On the afternoon of the first day of clashes, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry announced the news the nation had been awaiting for nearly three decades -- the country's army had liberated the first six border villages from Armenian occupation.
The ministry also pledged that if Armenian forces surrendered, prisoners of war and civilian hostages would be treated in line with the Geneva Convention and other international legal norms.
Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated that Turkey fully stands by Azerbaijan and lamented the international community's "double standards" by not condemning Armenian aggression.
He said Armenia's latest violations along the border with Azerbaijan had shown that it is the "biggest threat to regional peace."
"Turkey will always stand by Azerbaijani Turks by all means in their struggle to protect their territorial integrity," Turkish National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar told his Azerbaijani counterpart Zakir Hasanov during a phone call.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara "stands with Azerbaijan on the field and at the negotiation table."
Pakistan also threw its weight behind Azerbaijan following Armenia's border violations and attacks in the region.
"Pakistan stands with the brotherly nation of Azerbaijan and supports its right of self-defense," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
"We support Azerbaijan's position on Nagorno-Karabakh, which is in line with several unanimously adopted UN Security Council resolutions," it added.
Both Turkey and Pakistan repeatedly denied the presence of their armies in Azerbaijan fighting against Armenia.
- World reactions pour in
The world, which could not manage to end the illegal occupation of Azerbaijani lands for some 30 years, started demanding an end to the armed clashes. Calls to end the hostilities were pouring in from around the world and various international institutions.
On Sept 27, 2020, Russia's Foreign Ministry called on the neighboring countries "to immediately cease fire and start negotiations in order to stabilize the situation."
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell in a statement called for an "immediate cessation of hostilities, de-escalation and for strict observance of the cease-fire" between Yerevan and Baku.
“The parties should immediately end clashes,” James Appathurai, the NATO secretary general’s special representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, said in a statement.
Condemning the use of force and civilian deaths, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on the parties to immediately stop fighting, de-escalate tensions and return to "meaningful" negotiations without delay.
The UN Security Council also threw its weight behind Guterres' call to end the fighting.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration in the US seemed not to be very willing to stop the violence in the Caucasus.
"We will see if we can stop it," President Donald Trump told reporters at a White House press conference, adding that the US has "a lot of good relationships in that area."
On Sept. 28 last year, French President Emmanuel Macron phoned Azerbaijani President Aliyev and expressed his concern over the clashes on the Armenia-Azerbaijan frontline, saying the problem should be resolved through negotiations.
Aliyev told Macron that the Armenian administration deliberately disrupted the negotiation process and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan's statement that "Nagorno-Karabakh is Armenia" had dealt a serious blow to the process.
Later, Macron voiced solidarity with Armenia in its conflict with Azerbaijan, saying: "It was determined that the attacks ... came from Azerbaijan."
- Terrorist groups in Karabakh
Azerbaijani officials claimed that Armenia brought and weaponized terrorist groups to the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, including the PKK and the so-called Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia, or ASALA.
The PKK is responsible for some 40,000 deaths -- including women, children, and infants -- in its decades-long terror campaign, while ASALA is responsible for the murder of dozens of Turkish diplomats in targeted terrorist assassinations.
Mercenaries of Armenian origin from Syria have been identified among Armenia's casualties in Karabakh, Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry has said, adding that he Armenian side concealed this from both the local and international community.
Azerbaijan has found support for its position in Ankara, with the Turkish defense minister saying: "Armenia must stop its attacks immediately and send back the mercenaries and terrorists they brought from abroad."
According to sources that have requested anonymity due to restrictions on speaking to the media, Armenia struck a covert deal with the YPG/PKK terror group at the end of July 2020 before it started attacking civilian Azerbaijani settlements.
Over the past few months prior to the escalation of clashes, Armenia brought some 300 YPG/PKK terrorists from Middle Eastern countries to Nagorno-Karabakh to train Armenian militias, said the sources.
The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US, and the EU, with the YPG being its Syrian offshoot.
The first armistice between Baku and Yerevan, reached on Oct. 10, 2020, was violated within 24 hours as Armenian missile attacks on the Azerbaijani city of Ganja claimed civilian lives.
Another truce on Oct. 17, 2020, was also violated by Armenia troops.
A US-brokered temporary humanitarian cease-fire between Azerbaijan and Armenia -- to exchange prisoners and bodies -- went into effect on Oct. 26. However, it was also short-lived, as Armenian forces once again violated the truce only a few minutes after it went into effect.
Besides other towns and villages, Baku's liberation of the strategic city of Shusha on Nov. 8 signaled that victory was imminent. Shusha, also known as the pearl of Karabakh, had been occupied by Armenian forces on May 8, 1992.
On Nov. 10 last year, the two countries signed a Russian-brokered agreement to end the fighting and start work towards a comprehensive resolution of the dispute.
During the six weeks of fighting, Azerbaijan liberated several cities and some 300 settlements and villages after nearly three decades of occupation.
The cease-fire is seen as a victory for Azerbaijan and a defeat for Armenia. In line with the agreement, Armenian forces withdrew from Azerbaijani territory and Russian peacekeeping forces were deployed in the region.
On Jan. 11, the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia signed a pact to develop economic ties and infrastructure to benefit the entire region. It included the establishment of a trilateral working group on Karabakh.
A joint Turkish and Russian center to monitor a cease-fire deal between Azerbaijan and Armenia has since become operational in Karabakh on Jan. 30.
Despite the Nov. 10 deal ending the conflict, the Armenian army violated this agreement several times, as well, killing several Azerbaijani soldiers, according to the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry.