The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, a long-standing dispute over territory and sovereignty, continues to pose a threat to regional stability and human well-being in the South Caucasus region. The conflict began in the early 20th century, when the region became part of the Soviet Union, with a predominantly Armenian population. Tensions simmered during the Soviet era, but the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan, resulting in a brutal war between 1988 and 1994.
The ceasefire brokered by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) did little to address the underlying issues, leaving the status of Nagorno-Karabakh in limbo. In late 2020, the conflict escalated with a 44-day war between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces, resulting in thousands of casualties and significant displacement of civilians. The war ended with a Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement, which deployed Russian peacekeepers to the region and changed territorial control.
The ceasefire agreement of November 2020 dramatically altered the situation on the ground, ceding several territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan, including the strategic city of Shusha. This led to significant challenges for both sides, as thousands of ethnic Armenians were displaced from territories that had been under their control for decades. Azerbaijan faced the daunting task of reintegrating these areas into its governance.
Humanitarian concerns persist, with displaced civilians struggling to rebuild their lives and communities. Concerns about unexploded ordnance and landmines littering the conflict zone pose a grave danger to residents and returnees.
Efforts to find a lasting resolution in Nagorno-Karabakh remain uncertain due to recent changes on the ground and complex challenges faced by Armenia and Azerbaijan. Efforts must focus on fostering dialogue, reconciliation, and cooperation between the two sides, with international actors supporting these endeavours and working towards a negotiated settlement that respects the rights and aspirations of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia has been a source of regional tension for decades, rooted in historical and ethnic grievances. The conflict’s complexity is further exacerbated by political manoeuvring and geopolitical interests. The Nagorno-Karabakh region, with a predominantly Armenian population but located within Azerbaijan’s borders, became a focal point of contention in 1923 when Joseph Stalin, then commissar of nationalities in the Soviet Union, established it as an autonomous region within the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. This decision sowed the seeds of future conflict.
The Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict is a multifaceted issue influenced by historical, ethnic, religious, political, and geopolitical factors. Understanding the complexities of this conflict is crucial for peace and reconciliation. As the international community continues to grapple with this protracted dispute, it is essential to address these underlying factors while working towards a sustainable solution that respects the rights and security of all parties involved. The issue of Armenia’s recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh remains complex and multifaceted. Despite not officially recognizing the region, Armenia continues to support it. The conflict’s complexity is balancing internal concerns, international repercussions, and the desire for justice and self-determination. The world watches closely as Armenia navigates its path towards lasting peace.
Eighty-five thousand Karabakh Armenians have made the difficult journey to Armenia, enduring several days of traffic jams and food shortages. The road was expected to be closed, but people had to make their way through the road, gasping their cars multiple times. A young child in Goris shared that it took them 100 hours to get through.
Despite this, many more people are still waiting on the Armenian side, waiting to register, receive first aid, and get food. Local doctor Zhaklin Avetisyan treated patients in Kornidzor, describing the situation as particularly bad for children, who mostly had a cold. Most seriously injured people have already made it across the border, but many are still falling through the cracks. In Goris, NGO staff and volunteers are ready to help, providing relief for many Karabakhis who have been living under an Azerbaijani blockade for over nine months. The situation is particularly dire for children, who are mostly cold and drenched.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has announced plans to provide housing for 40,000 displaced families in Karabakh, which is enough for the entire population. However, details are limited due to most refugees having temporary host family arrangements or nowhere to go. The Armenian government will allocate 360 million drams (about $256) to regional governors to purchase essential goods and a one-time handout of 100,000 drams (about $256) to each person who fled.
However, absorbing this many people in such a short period would be a difficult challenge for any government, let alone Armenia, with its meager population of less than three million. The Canadian government will be spending $2.5 million on humanitarian aid, USAID administrator Samantha Power will be pledging $11.5 million, the EU is pledging €5 million, and Spain is offering an unspecified commitment. Armenian society, at home and in the diaspora, is mobilizing to help. Karas foods, an Armenian restaurant chain, will provide free food to 1,000 people from Karabakh every day.
Since the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, over 100,000 Russians have fled to Armenia, causing a shortage of housing and leaving little space for Karabakh Armenians. Many are looking for new homes in Russia due to the shortage of housing. For example, 21-year-old Harutyunyan, who is the only working member of his family, is currently living in a summer villa with no running water.
Sisters Greta and Marieta, who survived the 1988 anti-Armenian pogrom in Sumgait, Azerbaijan, have been kicked out of their homes again. Greta, a non-commissioned officer with the Artsakh Defence Force, was stationed between Stepanakert and Shusha during the fighting. After the war ended, she packed her belongings and took a picture of her home, fearing Azeris would take the photos and make fun of them.
For those planning to settle in Armenia, the impact of their presence on domestic politics is a concern. Many Armenians, especially those from Karabakh, have a bitter contempt for President Ilham Pashinyan, who has repeatedly repeated his statements. However, researcher Poghosyan believes that Armenians from Karabakh will need time to settle in Armenia before significantly affecting local politics. He believes that there is no real domestic threat to Pashinyan until Spring 2024.
Armenia’s Ambiguous Stance: The Ongoing Debate Over Nagorno-Karabakh Recognition
The Nagorno-Karabakh region, also known as Artsakh, has been a contentious issue for decades, with Armenia and Azerbaijan claiming it as their own. The 2020 war ended with a ceasefire agreement brokered by Russia, but it did not provide a clear resolution to Nagorno-Karabakh’s status. Armenia, a close ally of Nagorno-Karabakh, has long supported the region’s quest for self-determination, providing military and financial aid during the war. However, Armenia has refrained from officially recognizing Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state.
The main reason behind Armenia’s reluctance to formally recognize Nagorno-Karabakh is the fear of further escalating the conflict with Azerbaijan. The 2020 war had devastating consequences for both countries, and Armenia is concerned that recognizing Nagorno-Karabakh could reignite hostilities and lead to more bloodshed.
The international community’s response to Nagorno-Karabakh’s recognition is also a factor, as most countries, including the United States, the European Union, and China, consider it part of Azerbaijan’s territory. Armenia’s leaders are aware that formal recognition could isolate the country diplomatically and harm its relationships with key partners.
Despite Armenia’s official stance, there are calls within the country for a change in policy, with advocates arguing that recognizing Nagorno-Karabakh would provide justice to the people of Artsakh and strengthen the region’s position in future negotiations. The debate over Nagorno-Karabakh recognition has also stirred discussions about conflict resolution and self-determination movements worldwide.
Unpacking the Conflict: Why is Azerbaijan Fighting Armenia?
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is primarily fueled by deep-seated ethnic and religious differences. Armenia, a predominantly Christian country, has a long history of religious and cultural persecution, which has been exploited by nationalist leaders and external actors to fuel the conflict. The fear of ethnic and religious persecution has contributed to the intransigence of the conflict.
Political factors have also played a significant role in the conflict. Both countries gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and the Nagorno-Karabakh issue became a central point of contention. The self-declared Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, backed by Armenia, asserted its independence, leading to a full-scale war in the early 1990s. Since then, multiple ceasefires and peace negotiations have been attempted, but the conflict has never been fully resolved.
Geopolitical interests have also played a role in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Azerbaijan has gained support from Turkey and Israel, while Armenia has strong ties to Russia, which maintains a military presence in Armenia. These external alliances have provided the conflicting parties with military and diplomatic backing, making it even more intractable.
International Support for Armenia and Azerbaijan in Ongoing Conflict
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, a disputed territory within Azerbaijan’s borders, has been ongoing for decades. Armenia and Azerbaijan have received support from various international actors, including Russia, Iran, France, the United States, Turkey, Israel, Pakistan, and Iran. Armenia has maintained strong cultural and historical ties with Russia, which operates a military base in Armenia and supplies the nation with military equipment. Iran maintains neutrality while diplomatically engaging with both sides. France has a sizable Armenian diaspora, contributing to the strong political and cultural ties between the two nations. The French government has supported Armenia diplomatically, advocating for a peaceful resolution and condemning the use of force.
The United States, home to a significant Armenian diaspora, has expressed support for Armenia’s right to self-determination and provided humanitarian assistance. However, the U.S. has also maintained relations with Azerbaijan, complicating its stance. Turkey, Azerbaijan’s closest ally, has provided political support to Azerbaijan and has even been accused of providing military assistance during the 2020 conflict. Israel has developed a strong strategic partnership with Azerbaijan, primarily centred on energy cooperation and arms sales. Pakistan has voiced support for Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, aligning with its stance against Armenian control of Nagorno-Karabakh. Iran, despite maintaining a neutral stance, has historical tensions with Azerbaijan due to its large ethnic Azeri population.
International support for Armenia and Azerbaijan is not limited to these countries. Various international organizations, such as the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), have been actively involved in mediation efforts. The path to resolving this longstanding conflict will require diplomatic skills and international cooperation to balance the interests of the involved parties and promote stability in the South Caucasus region.
Armenia’s Territorial Losses: Unpacking the Consequences
Armenia has experienced significant territorial losses due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, a long-standing dispute over the predominantly Armenian-populated region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The conflict escalated into a full-scale war, leading to significant changes in the territorial control of both countries. Armenia’s most substantial loss was the return of parts of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijani control, as per a ceasefire agreement brokered by Russia.
The Lachin Corridor, a strategic land bridge connecting Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh, was also ceded to Azerbaijani control, limiting Armenia’s direct access to the region. Kelbajar, a district in western Nagorno-Karabakh, was also returned to Azerbaijani control, highlighting the historical and strategic significance of the region for both sides. Aghdam, a district between Nagorno-Karabakh and the Azerbaijani mainland, was also returned to Azerbaijani control.
These territorial losses have had profound implications for Armenia, both domestically and internationally. Humanitarian concerns have arisen from the displacement of civilians, particularly ethnic Armenians, leading to a refugee crisis. Political turmoil has ensued, with protests demanding the resignation of then-Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. Armenia’s strategic position in the South Caucasus has been weakened, with the loss of the Lachin Corridor causing direct land connections between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.
International diplomacy has also been reshaped by the conflict, with Russia emerging as a key broker and regional powers like Turkey and Iran influencing the outcome. The future of Nagorno-Karabakh remains uncertain, with ongoing tensions and unresolved issues in the region.