Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the former Soviet Republic engaged in a protracted war with neighboring Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh. Nagorno-Karabakh, a region administered by the government in Baku, is fiercely contested by an overwhelming majority Armenian population and the government in Yerevan. Hostilities have recently threatened to spill out of the region and into other parts of both Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the resulting interest from European and Russian leaders has underlined the destabilizing potential of the conflict.

In the most recent peace talks, held in Paris this month, Haydar Aliyev—President of Azerbaijan—appeared to change the tone of the Azerbaijani position:

Few observers seriously believed that the Paris talks would yield significant progress, let alone a breakthrough, in resolving the conflict. But by the same token, neither was it widely expected that Azerbaijan would soften its negotiating position, as it did with regard to confidence-building measures.

That shift in the Azerbaijani rhetoric was, moreover, just one of several reasons why the meeting between the two presidents — their third within the past three months — may herald a new phase in the ongoing international effort to mediate a political solution that would at least partially satisfy all three parties to the conflict. (Liz Fuller and Richard Giragosian, RFE/RL, October 30)

In appearing to remain open to a resolution to the conflict, Aliyev is perhaps signaling a reprioritization of security concerns for the regime in Baku. Political leaders and writers have recently made statements reflecting a renewed sense of urgency for the government in addressing a potential rise in Islamic fundamentalist-inspired militancy in the South Caucasus. In the most public example yet of Azerbaijani participation in the war in Syria and Iraq, Azerbaijani professional wrestler Rashad Bakhshaliyev was reportedly killed while fighting for ISIS in Syria. The story of Bakhshaliyev’s death did not resonate with media in Europe nor the United States. However, among the few media reports outside of Azerbaijan that detailed the event, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty posted an article on the death of the wrestler last week:

Azerbaijani media sources are reporting that a  professional wrestler from Azerbaijan was killed while fighting for the Islamic State (IS) militant group. The wrestler, Rashad Bakhshaliyev, is reported to have joined IS in August after suddenly leaving Azerbaijan for Syria, taking his wife and child with him.

Bakhshaliyev’s wife provided the information about his death in a telephone call from Syria, according to Azerbaijani news site She said the former wrestler was killed “several days ago” but did not give details about where he died. (Joanna Paraszczuk, RFE/RL, October 17)

RFE/RL also cited Azerbaijani news sources, which pointed to a growing number of Azerbaijani-speaking militants taking part in the war. Most interestingly, the source noted Azerbaijani participation in the ongoing fighting this month in Kobani: