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In Nagorno-Karabakh, an old war resurfaces

Photo: EPA / David Ghahramanyan/ NKR Infocenter/ Pan Photo

A little known and long-running conflict in the Caucasus is having its deadliest flare-up in years: Armenia and Azerbaijan have been fighting for more than a week in Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnically Armenian enclave of around 150,000 people inside Azerbaijan.

“We call on the sides to protect civilians and the key infrastructure and services they need to survive, and abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law,” said Martin Schüepp, ICRC's Eurasia regional director in Geneva in a press statement .

The territory declared independence in 1991 but is not internationally recognized. The two sides fought over the territory as the Soviet Union collapsed, in a war that left an estimated 30,000 people dead and more than a million displaced. Since 1994, a fragile truce has largely kept the peace, although there have been outbursts of violence, including fierce clashes in 2016. The official death toll is now more than 100, but the two sides have different numbers, with shelling and drones reportedly in the mix.

There's a new and potentially dangerous element to the decades-old conflict: International powers are starting to take an interest. Turkey has thrown its support behind Azerbaijan, although it denies reports that Turkish security companies have brought fighters from Syria to Nagorno-Karabakh. And Russia has a military base in Armenia, but also retains ties with Azerbaijan.

The UN secretary general has voiced extreme concern , condemning the use of force and calling on both sides to de-escalate tensions and return to meaningful negotiations. But so far, calls for a ceasefire have gone unheeded, although Armenia has said it “ stands ready ” for talks.