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The heart of the Armenia – Azerbaijan conflict is Nagorno Karabakh, which is referred to as a disputed region by the international community and sometimes also called an enclave, plus the seven surrounding areas which were dominated by the Armenian population until the end of the last war and are de jure recognize as part of Azerbaijan. The conflict is mostly referred to as the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict in the international media, which is quite arguable as the disagreement between those two parts is for the sovereignty of “Artsakh”.

During the war, Nagorno Karabakh, backed by the Republic of Armenia, lost some territories to Azerbaijan. On the 44th day of the war, on November 9, a ceasefire agreement was signed between Armenia and Azerbaijan and brokered by the Russian government. According to it, the warring sides will keep control of their currently held areas within Nagorno-Karabakh, and Armenians were also required to hand over some other territories. Armenians were forced to leave their homes in those areas, while in some parts, they even burnt their houses not to leave them to Azerbaijanians.

Armenians kept the Stepanakert, the land recognized by them as the capital city of Artsakh and some neighboring areas. However, the conflict was not solved anyway, as the status for Nagorno Karabakh still remains unclear. In fact, it’s an extremely complicated conflict, and the reasons for which are rooted as early as the beginnings of the 20th century.

Nagorno Karabakh War Map
Nagorno Karabakh War Map

How it all started?

One of the reasons why Armenians and Azerbaijanis ‘dislike’ each other can be considered to their religious beliefs – Armenians adopted Christianity, while Azerbaijan is a Muslim country. However, if we explore deeper, the problem is primarily territorial – similarly to other well-known conflicts like the Israel-Palestine conflict. The Caucasus is a mountainous region in southeast Europe that has strategic importance, so across times, different powers tried to invade and take control over it. This means that there was always something to fight for.

Let’s go back in history and start from 1918 when the two countries Armenia and Azerbaijan, declared their independence. At that time, the territory that Armenians called Artsakh also became the arena of brutal wars between Armenia and Azerbaijan. It is stated on the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs website that Artsakh, as a part of Armenia, is mentioned in the works of such ancient historians as Strabo, Pliny the Elder, Claudius Ptolemy, Plutarch, Dio Cassius. 

As in the course of its history, Armenia lost and regained many of its territories, Artsakh too was not an exception. So it was conquered by various invaders keeping its semi-independent status. Azerbaijan, in its turn, appeals to the history, claiming that it’s their historical lands and that Nagorno Karabakh was part of the Muslim khanates of Ganja and Karabakh. 

After the 1918-1920 conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan for the Nagorno Karabakh territories has ended, the League of Nations declared the territory as a disputed region which was accepted by all the parties of the conflict, including Azerbaijan. This means that Azerbaijan did not have control over Nagorno Karabakh at that time when it was declared as the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic.

After the Sovietization of Armenia and Azerbaijan, the Soviet ruler Joseph Stalin, for a particular reason, gave the Armenian-populated disputed regions of Nagorno Karabakh to Soviet Azerbaijan. This caused an uproar among Armenians, leading to the creation of the Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Region within Soviet Azerbaijan on 7 July 1923. 

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the majority of the Armenians on those territories voted for independence and declared the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh, which was rejected by the already independent Azerbaijan Republic. Thus, the conflict took another phase which resulted in a war between 1988-1994, during which Armenian forces took control of Nagorno Karabakh and occupied seven surrounding districts to act as a “security zone”. 

In 1994 a Russian-brokered ceasefire was established, which, though meant to be permanent, has been violated several times. The deadliest violation occurred in 2020, which led to fierce fighting from September 27-November 10.

Map of the Armenian occupied districts between 1994-2020. The former NKAO is shown in pink and pre-2020 Azerbaijani-held territory in yellow. 1. Kalbajar 2. Lachin 3. Qubadli 4. Zangilan 5. Jabrayil 6. Fuzuli 7. Agdam
Map of the Armenian-occupied districts between 1994-2020. The former NKAO is shown in pink and pre-2020 Azerbaijani-held territory in yellow.
1. Kalbajar 2. Lachin 3. Qubadli 4. Zangilan 5. Jabrayil 6. Fuzuli 7. Agdam

2020 Nagorno Karabakh War

According to political and martial analysts, this conflict was somehow different from the previous ones. It stands out with the use of sophisticated drones by Azerbaijan and powerful, long-range rocket artillery on both sides. Meanwhile, Turkey offered direct support to Azerbaijan, and according to Armenia, it brought Syrian mercenaries to fight against Armenian forces. However, Turkey and Azerbaijan denied the presence of mercenaries. 

The attacks took place not only in the front lines but both sides used weaponry and hit cities inside Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Karabakh. As a result, not only soldiers were killed, but also several civilians got injured or killed. In early November, Azerbaijan captured the second largest city of Nagorno Karabakh, Sushi, and cut a key access road essential for military transportation. 

Destroyed Ghazanchetsots Church in Shushi
Destroyed Ghazanchetsots Church in Shushi

On November 9, Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan, Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a ceasefire agreement according to which warring sides will keep control of their currently held areas within Nagorno-Karabakh, while Armenia returned the surrounding territories it occupied in 1994 to Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, Armenia agreed to open a transport corridor for Azerbaijan through Armenia to the Azerbaijani region of Nakhichevan.

However, the Armenia – Azerbaijan conflict is not still solved as Azerbaijan wants to control the whole territory of Nagorno Karabakh, while Armenians consider that it’s not a war for Nagorno Karabakh or for their “historical lands”, Instead, the main target is the achieve the full Armenian nation. 

Destroyed buildings in a residential area in Ganja
Destroyed buildings in a residential area in Ganja

The possible solutions for the conflict

In 1992, the OSCE Minsk Group was created to encourage peaceful negotiations for the final resolution of the conflict over the Nagorno Karabakh. It has three co-chair countries, including Russia, the USA, and France. Despite more than two decades of negotiations, little or no progress has been made on this issue. 

However, there were some documents and principles proposed as a result of negotiations during the different periods of time. These include Madrid principles, and also Kazan document and “Lavrov’s plan” based on those principles. Three core elements of the negotiations were the return of the territories that Armenian forces occupied during the 1988-1994 war to Azerbaijan, the determination of the final status of the Nagorno Karabakh, and the existence of a corridor between Armenia and Karabakh to ensure the land communication between them. However, all of these plans were rejected by either of the two countries. 

The negotiations continued after the Armenian Velvet Revolution in 2018 between Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev but again gave no effect. Even the last war did not provide the final solution for the conflict as the status of Nagorno Karabakh is still not determined.

A possible solution is that the international community or Azerbaijan recognizes the NK independence and provides security for the area populated by Armenians. However, this does not seem to happen in the near future. Plus, recently, Azerbaijani Human Rights Defender Ahmet Şahidov has posted on his Twitter account that “In June Khankendi (this is how they call Stepanakert) will be completely under the control of the Azerbaijani army – either peacefully or by force”. 

On the other hand, if Azerbaijan takes control over the Stepanakert and the remaining areas surrounding it, it will mean a real threat to the Armenian people and the Armenians living in Stepanakert. With all these factors, it seems that the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, for the time being, is a riddle without a solution or at least, peaceful resolution.

Tatevik Chukhuryan