What is Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

what is NagornoKarabakh conflict


1. What is the status of this territory?

Yann Breault: Nagorno-Karabakh is an autonomous region, mainly populated by Armenians, which is historically part of the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic.

In 1991, the USSR collapsed. Azerbaijan, like all other Soviet republics, proclaims its independence. And it will try to abolish the status of autonomous region in Nagorno-Karabakh by sending militias.

Azerbaijan is very poorly armed militarily. It will face Armenian rebels who will not only push back the Azeri militias, but also occupy the fifth of the territory of Azerbaijan.

This conflict has left tens of thousands of people dead and some 200,000 refugees. The Azeri minority from Nagorno-Karabakh has been expelled. And in the villages which were later conquered by the Armenian rebels, there were ethnic cleanses. Tens of thousands of Azeris took refuge in Baku (capital of Azerbaijan).

The Armenian government has never formally recognized the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh, nor legally attempted to annex these territories.


In Nagorno-Karabakh, another aggravation of the conflict, already the second in 2020. This is the longest war in the territory of the former USSR, which began in the late 1980s and since then has claimed the lives of about 20 thousand people, making hundreds of thousands refugees. The self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) closely cooperates with Armenia; Azerbaijan insists that this is its territory (at the same time, Yerevan itself did not recognize the NKR). Exacerbations like the current one happen regularly, but this time Armenia announced mobilization (Azerbaijan – partial), and this in itself may indicate the seriousness of the situation. What caused the conflict? What can the current exacerbation lead to? And how is it correct: Karabakh or Artsakh? Meduza answers these and other major questions about the war in South Transcaucasia.

Nagorno-Karabakh is a region in the Caucasus, a de jure part of Azerbaijan. The population is 138 thousand people, the overwhelming majority are Armenians. The capital is Stepanakert. The population is about 50 thousand people.

According to Armenian open sources, Nagorno-Karabakh (ancient Armenian name: Artsakh) was first mentioned in the inscription of King Sardur II of Urartu (763-734 BC). In the early Middle Ages, according to Armenian sources, Nagorno-Karabakh was part of Armenia. After most of this country was occupied by Turkey and Iran in the Middle Ages, the Armenian authorities (meliks) of Nagorno-Karabakh maintained a semi-independent status.

According to Azerbaijani sources, Karabakh is one of the oldest historical regions of Azerbaijan. According to the official version, the term “Karabakh Arabagh” dates back to the 7th century and is interpreted as a combination of the Azerbaijani words “gara” (s) and “bag” (garden). Among other provinces, Karabakh Arab (Ganja in Azerbaijani terminology) in the XVI century. It was part of the Safavid state, later became an independent Karabakh Arab shop.

According to the Treaty of Kurekcha in 1805, the Arab shop, as a Muslim-Azerbaijani land, was subject to Russia. IN 1813 year Gulistan Peace Treaty of Nagorno Karabakh arabaghe became part of Russia. In the first third of the 19th century, according to the Treaty of Turkmenchay, the Treaty of Edirne, the artificial settlement of Armenians deported from Iran and Turkey began in Northern Azerbaijan, including Karabakh.

On May 28, 1918, the Independent State of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan (ADL) was established in Northern Azerbaijan, which retained its political power over the Arabian Peninsula. At the same time, the proclaimed Armenian (Ararat) Republic put forward its claims to Karabakh, which were not recognized by the RHR government. In January 1919, the ADR government created the Arab province of Karabakh, which included the inhospitable regions of Shusha, Javan Avanshir, and Ebra րաge.

IN July 1921, RKK (b) the decision of the Caucasian Bureau of the Central Committee of the Nagorno-Karabakh within the Azerbaijan SSR was included in arabaghn, rights of broad autonomy. In 1923, in the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, the Autonomous Region of Nagorno-Karabakh was established within Azerbaijan.

On February 20, 1988, the special session of the Regional Council of Deputies of the LSIM made a decision “on the petition addressed to the Supreme Soviets of the Armenian SSR to transfer the LSM from the USSR to the Armenian SSR.” Ally և The rejection of the Azerbaijani authorities has provoked protests by Armenians not only in Nagorno-Karabakh but also in Yerevan.

1991 On September 2, a joint sitting of the Shahumyan regional councils of the Nagorno-Karabakh Arabagh region took place in Stepanakert. The session adopted the Declaration on the Proclamation of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic within the borders of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region, the Shahumyan region and the Khanlar region of the former Azerbaijani SSR.

On December 10, 1991, a few days before the official collapse of the Soviet Union, a referendum was held in Nagorno-Karabakh, during which the overwhelming majority of the population, 99.89%, voted in favor of full independence from Azerbaijan.

Official Baku recognized this action as illegal and abolished the autonomy of Karabakh, which existed during the Soviet years. This was followed by an armed conflict in which Azerbaijan tried to seize the Karabakh region, while Armenian troops defended the region’s independence with the support of the Armenian Diaspora in Yerevan and other countries.

During the conflict, regular Armenian units occupied in whole or in part seven areas that Azerbaijan considered its own. As a result, Azerbaijan lost control of Nagorno-Karabakh.

At the same time, the Armenian side believes that a part of the Arabah remains under the control of Azerbaijan: the villages of Mardakert, Martuni regions, the whole Shahumyan region, Getashen sub-region, as well as Nakhichevan.

When describing a conflict, the parties give their loss figures that differ from those of the other party. According to the consolidated data, the losses of both sides during the Karabakh conflict amounted to 15-25 thousand killed, more than 25 thousand wounded, hundreds of thousands of civilians fled their homes.

On May 5, 1994 , through the mediation of Russia, Kyrgyzstan and the CIS Interparliamentary Assembly in the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek, Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia, the Bishkek Protocol, which remained in the history of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement, was signed and reached a ceasefire.

On May 12 of the same year, a meeting was held in Moscow between the Minister of Defense of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan (now the President of the Republic of Armenia) and the Minister of Defense of Azerbaijan Mammadrafi Mammadov հրաման Commander of the Defense Army Samvel Babayan և, during which the parties reaffirmed the commitment

The negotiation process for the settlement of the conflict began in 1991. On September 23, 1991, the Presidents of Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan and Armenia met in Yeleznovodsk. In March 1992, the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) was established, co-chaired by the United States, Russia and France. In mid-September 1993, the first meeting of the representatives of Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh took place in Moscow. During the same period, a closed-door meeting between the President of Azerbaijan Heydar Ali վարչապետ and the then Prime Minister of Nagorno Karabakh Robert Kocharyan took place in Moscow. Regular meetings of the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia have been held since 1999.

Azerbaijan insists on preserving its territorial integrity, Armenia defends the interests of the unrecognized republic, as the unrecognized LRH is not a party to the negotiations.

Nagorno-Karabakh Arab (Armenians prefer to use the old name Artsakh) is a small area in the Caucasus. The mountains, cut by deep gorges, turn into valleys in the east, small fast-flowing rivers, forests and steppes in the lower reaches along the mountain slopes, a cool climate without abrupt changes in temperature. Since ancient times, this area has been inhabited by Armenians, it has been a part of the authorities of different Armenian states, there are many monuments of Armenian history and culture in its territory.

At the same time, since the 18th century, a large Turkic population (the term “Azeris” was not yet accepted), a part of the Arab Khanate, which was ruled by a Turkic dynasty, the majority of whose population was Muslim Turks.

In the first half of the 19th century, as a result of wars with separate shops in Turkey, Persia, the whole of Transcaucasia, including Nagorno-Karabakh, left for Russia. After some time it was divided into provinces without nationality. Thus, Nagorno-Karabakh was part of the Elizavetpol province in the early 20th century, most of which was inhabited by Azeris.

In 1918, as a result of famous revolutionary events, the Russian Empire collapsed. Transcaucasia became an arena of bloody inter-ethnic struggle until time was limited by the Russian government (It should be noted that during the previous weakening of the imperial power during the 1905-1907 revolution, Karabakh became an arena of clashes between Armenians and Azeris). The newly created state of Azerbaijan claimed the entire territory of the former Elizavetpol province. The majority Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh wanted to either be independent or join the Republic of Armenia. The situation was accompanied by military clashes. Even when the two states, Armenia and Azerbaijan, became Soviet republics, the territorial dispute between them continued. It was decided in favor of Azerbaijan, but with reservations. Most of the territories with Armenian population were allocated to the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region (LAIM) as part of the Azerbaijani SSR. The reasons why the allied leadership made such a decision are unclear. As assumptions, the influence of Turkey (in favor of Azerbaijan) is put forward, the greater influence of the Azerbaijani “lobby” in the leadership of the union compared to the Armenian one, Moscow’s desire to maintain the source of tension to act as the supreme arbiter, etc.

During the Soviet era, the conflict was quietly ignited, either by petitions by the Armenian community to relocate Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, or by means of the Azerbaijani leadership to displace the Armenian population from the surrounding areas of the autonomous region. The abscess erupted as soon as the allied power weakened during the “perestroika”.

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict became a guideline for the Soviet Union. He clearly demonstrated the growing helplessness of the central government. He showed for the first time that the Union, which according to his anthem seemed indestructible, could be destroyed. In a sense, it was the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that spurred the collapse of the Soviet Union. Thus, its significance goes far beyond the region. It is difficult to say which way the USSR, and therefore the history of the whole world, would go if Moscow had the strength to resolve this dispute quickly.


The conflict started in 1987 with mass demonstrations of the Armenian population under the slogan of reunification with Armenia. The leadership of Azerbaijan, with the support of the union, unequivocally rejects these demands. Attempts to resolve the situation are reduced by holding meetings and publishing documents. In the same year, the first Azerbaijani refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh appeared. In 1988, the first blood was shed. Two Azeris were killed in a clash between Armenians and police in the village of Askeran. The information about this incident leads to the Armenian massacres in Sumgait, Azerbaijan. This is the first case of mass ethnic violence in the Soviet Union in decades, the first blow to the Soviet Union. Then the violence increases, the flow of refugees from both sides increases. The central government shows helplessness, making real decisions remains at the mercy of the republican authorities. The latter’s actions (deportation of the Armenian population, economic blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijan, declaration of Nagorno-Karabakh by Armenia as part of the Armenian SSR) aggravate the situation.

Hisotory of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh)


Artsakh (Karabakh) is an inseparable part of historical Armenia. In the Urartian period (9-6 centuries BC) Artsakh was known as Urtekhe-Urtekhin. Artsakh as a part of Armenia is mentioned in the works of Strabo , Pliny the Elder , Claudius Ptolemy , Plutarch , Dion Cassius  and other ancient authors. The rich preserved historical and cultural heritage is a vivid evidence of that.

After the division of the Kingdom of Greater Armenia (387), Artsakh became part of the Eastern Armenian Kingdom, which soon fell under the rule of Persia. At that time, Artsakh was part of the Armenian governorate during the period of the Armenian Marzpan, and then during the Arab rule. Artsakh was part of the Armenian Bagratuni Kingdom (9-11th centuries), then the Zakaryan Armenian government (12-13th centuries).

In the following centuries, Artsakh came under the control of other conquerors, remaining Armenian and having a semi-independent status. In the middle of the 18th century, Turkish nomadic tribes began to infiltrate the north of Artsakh, leading to clashes with local Armenians. The five (Khamsa) Armenian kingdoms that reached a certain sovereignty during that period are memorable, reaching their peak of prosperity and power at the end of the XVIII century. 1804-1813 At the end of the Russian-Persian war in 1813 According to the Gulistan Peace Treaty, Artsakh-Karabakh comes under Russian rule.

Pre-Soviet period

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict arose in 1917. As a result of the collapse of the Russian Empire in the Transcaucasia, three nation-states – Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia – were formed. Nagorno-Karabakh The population, 95 percent of whom were Armenians, convened their first congress, which declared Nagorno-Karabakh an independent administrative unit, elected a National Council and a government. 1918-1920 Nagorno-Karabakh had all the attributes of statehood, including the army and the legitimate authorities.

In response to the peaceful initiatives of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, the People’s Republic of Azerbaijan resorted to hostilities. 1918 from May to 1920 In April 1920, the armed units of Azerbaijan, supported by Turkey, carried out violence and massacres against the Armenian population (in March 1920, about 40,000 Armenians were massacred and deported in Shushi alone). However, this did not force the people of Nagorno-Karabakh to accept the rule of Azerbaijan.

1919 In August, Karabakh and Azerbaijan signed a preliminary agreement to prevent a military conflict, which agreed to discuss the status of the territory at the Paris Peace Conference.

The reaction of the international community is memorable. The League of Nations has rejected Azerbaijan’s application for membership on the grounds that it is difficult to determine the exact borders of the state – the territories that are under the sovereignty of that state. Among other contentious issues was the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. Due to the sovietization of the region, the issue was left out of the agenda of international organizations.


Nagorno Karabakh during the Soviet years (1920-1990)

The establishment of Soviet rule in the Caucasus was accompanied by the creation of new political order. Nagorno-Karabakh is also recognized by Azerbaijan as a disputed territory between Azerbaijan and Armenia. 1920 According to the agreement signed between Soviet Russia and the Republic of Armenia in August 1945, Russian troops were temporarily stationed in Nagorno Karabakh.

Immediately after the establishment of the Soviet regime in Armenia, in 1920. On November 30, 1945, the Revolutionary Committee of Azerbaijan (Revolutionary Committee – the main body of the then Bolshevik government) recognized the territories previously claimed by Azerbaijan – Nagorno Karabakh, Zangezur and Nakhichevan – as an integral part of Armenia.

The National Council of the Azerbaijani SSR, based on the agreement signed between the Revolutionary Committee of Azerbaijan and the governments of the Azerbaijani SSR and the Armenian SSR in 1921. By the declaration of June 12, 1945, Nagorno Karabakh was declared an inseparable part of the Armenian SSR.

Based on the statement of Soviet Azerbaijan on renunciation of claims to Nagorno Karabakh, Zangezur and Nakhichevan in 1921, the agreement between the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan. In June, Armenia also declared Nagorno-Karabakh an integral part of it.

The text of the decree adopted by the Armenian government was published in both the Armenian and Azerbaijani press (“Baku Worker”, organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan, June 22, 1921). Thus, the legal fixation of the annexation of Nagorno Karabakh to Armenia took place. In the context of the norms of international law (in the international legal sense), this was the last legal act on Nagorno-Karabakh during the communist regime.

Ignoring the reality, in 1921 The Caucasus Bureau of the Russian Communist Party convenes a plenary session in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, on July 4, 2012, during which Nagorno Karabakh will be confirmed as part of the Armenian SSR. However, at Moscow’s behest, with Stalin’s direct intervention, on the night of July 5, the previous day’s decision was reconsidered. This decision is an unprecedented legal act in the history of international law, when the party body of a third country (RC) determines the status of Nagorno-Karabakh without any legal basis or authority.

Azerbaijani և Armenian SSR in 1922 They were involved in the formation of the USSR in December 1923, and in only a part of the territory of Karabakh in 1923. By the decision of the Central Executive Committee of the Azerbaijani SSR on July 7, 1945, the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region was formed within the Azerbaijani SSR, which, in fact, did not resolve, but temporarily frozen the Karabakh conflict. Moreover, everything was done so that the Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Region did not have a common border with Armenia.

However, throughout the Soviet period, the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh never reconciled with that decision, and for decades continued to struggle for reunification with the Motherland.

Throughout its existence as a part of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region within the Azerbaijani SSR, the leadership of that republic has regularly and consistently violated the rights and interests of the Armenian population. Azerbaijan’s discriminatory policy towards Nagorno Karabakh was manifested in artificially halting the socio-economic development of the region, turning it into a raw material derivative of Azerbaijan, actively interfering in the demographic process for the expulsion of Armenians from the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, and destroying and assimilating Armenian monuments and cultural values.

Azerbaijan’s discrimination against Nagorno-Karabakh also had an impact on the population of Karabakh, becoming the main reason for its migration. As a result, the ratio of the population of Karabakh changed. If in 1923 Armenians made up 94.4% of the population of Nagorno Karabakh, then in 1989 According to the data, the number of Armenians decreased to 76.9%. The policy of evicting Armenians was more successful in another Armenian territory, Nakhichevan.

The people of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region և The Armenian SSR authorities have sent numerous appeals to the USSR central authorities to reconsider the decision to transfer Karabakh to the Azerbaijani SSR, which have been ignored or rejected, leading to persecution of the initiators. Among the mentioned applications are the 1945 decision of the Central Committee of the Government of the Communist Party of the Government of the Armenian SSR. Application to the USSR Government եին Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party, 1963 More than 2.5 thousand of the NKAO population, and in 1965 Letters with more than 45 thousand signatures addressed to the USSR leadership, 1977 The proposals of the NKAO working groups within the framework of the popular discussions of the new USSR Constitution.


An active period of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict

The current stage of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict began in 1988, when, in response to the demand for self-determination of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, the Azerbaijani authorities organized massacres and ethnic cleansing of the Armenian population throughout Azerbaijan, particularly in Sumgait, Baku and Kirovabad.

1991 A joint session of the People’s Deputies of the Nagorno Karabakh Regional ում Shahumyan Regional Councils with the participation of deputies of all levels took place in Stepanakert on September 2, 2010. The decision “Declaration on the Proclamation of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic” was adopted, by which the NKR was formed in the territory of the former NKAO ում Shahumyan region.

1991 On December 10, 1945, the people of Nagorno-Karabakh secured the independence of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic through a referendum, which fully complied with both the norms of international law and the letter and spirit of the laws of the then USSR. Thus, two equal state formations were formed in the territory of the former Azerbaijani SSR: the Nagorno Karabakh Republic and the Republic of Azerbaijan.

The policy of ethnic cleansing carried out by the Azerbaijani authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh, adjacent to Armenian-populated areas, turned into open aggression by Azerbaijan against large-scale military operations, which resulted in tens of thousands of casualties and significant material losses.

Azerbaijan has never heeded the calls of the international community, particularly the UN Security Council resolutions on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, to cease hostilities and hold peace talks.

As a result of the war, Azerbaijan occupied the entire Shahumyan region of Nagorno Karabakh, the eastern parts of the Martuni and Martakert regions. Adjacent areas came under the control of the Nagorno-Karabakh Armed Forces, which acted as a security buffer, blocking further Azerbaijani shelling of Nagorno-Karabakh settlements.

1994 In May, Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia signed a ceasefire, which, despite the violations, is still in force. Negotiations on the settlement of the conflict are being mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs (Russia, USA, France).


What is current Reason of Restarting this conflict in 2020

If tensions have been recurring for thirty years, the current situation in Azerbaijan is certainly important in triggering the latest clashes. This country, a large oil producer, is suffering from the collapse of prices. “With the Covid-19 crisis and the vertiginous drop in the price of a barrel of oil, the Azerbaijani government has every interest in diverting the attention of the population to Nagorno-Karabakh and unifying the nation around this conflict” , underlines Gaidz Minassian, professor at Sciences-Po and international expert associated with Ceri.

Delhi Magazine Team

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