Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) at a Glance
The landlocked mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh is the subject of an unresolved dispute between Azerbaijan, in which it lies, and its ethnic Armenian majority, backed by neighbouring Armenia.
In 1988, towards the end of Soviet rule, Azerbaijani troops and Armenian secessionists began a bloody war which left the de facto independent state in the hands of ethnic Armenians when a truce was signed in 1994.
Negotiations have so far failed to produce a permanent peace agreement, and the dispute remains one of post-Soviet Europe's "frozen conflicts."
The conflict has roots dating back well over a century into competition between Christian Armenian and Muslim Turkic and Persian influences.
Populated for centuries by Christian Armenian and Turkic Azeris, Karabakh became part of the Russian empire in the 19th century.
Nagorno-Karabakh falls within the lands occupied by peoples known to modern archaeologists as the Kura-Araxes culture, who lived between the two rivers Kura and Araxes.
The ancient population of the region consisted of various autochthonous local and migrant tribes who were mostly non-Indo-Europeans.
According to the prevailing western theory, these natives intermarried with Armenians who came to the region after its inclusion into Armenia in the 2nd or, possibly earlier, in 4th century BC. Other scholars suggest that the Armenians settled in the region as early as in the 7th century BC.
In around 180 BC, Artsakh became one of the 15 provinces of the Armenian Kingdom and remained so until the 4th century. While formally having the status of a province (nahang), Artsakh possibly formed a principality on its own — like Armenia's province of Syunik. Other theories suggest that Artsakh was a royal land, belonging to the King of Armenia directly.
Tigran the Great, King of Armenia, (ruled from 95–55 BC), founded in Artsakh one of four cities named "Tigranakert" after himself. The ruins of the ancient Tigranakert, located 30 miles (48 km) north-east of Stepanakert, are being studied by a group of international scholars.
In 387 AD, after the partition of Armenia between Byzantium and Sassanid Persia, two Armenian provinces Artsakh and Utik became part of the Sassanid satrapy of Caucasian Albania, which, in turn, came under strong Armenian religious and cultural influenceAt the time the population of Artsakh and Utik consisted of Armenians and several Armenized tribes.
Armenian culture and civilization flourished in the early medieval Nagorno-Karabakh. In the 5th century, the first-ever Armenian school was opened on the territory of modern Nagorno-Karabakh—at the Amaras Monastery—by the efforts of St. Mesrop Mashtots, the inventor of the Armenian alphabet.
St. Mesrop was very active in preaching Gospel in Artsakh and Utik. Overall, Mesrop Mashtots made three trips to Artsakh and Utik, ultimately reaching pagan territories at the foothills of the Greater Caucasus. The 7th-century Armenian linguist and grammarian Stephanos Syunetsi stated in his work that Armenians of Artsakh had their own dialect, and encouraged his readers to learn it.
In the same 7th century, Armenian poet Davtak Kertogh writes his Elegy on the Death of Grand Prince Juansher, where each passage begins with a letter of Armenian script in alphabetical order. The only comprehensive history of Caucasian Albania was written in Armenian, by the historian Movses Kaghankatvatsi.
Karabakh (including modern-day Nagorno-Karabakh), became a protectorate of the Russian Empireby the Kurekchay Treaty, signed between Ibrahim Khalil Khan of Karabakh and general Pavel Tsitsianov on behalf of Tsar Alexander I in 1805, according to which the Russian monarch recognized Ibrahim Khalil Khan and his descendants as the sole hereditary rulers of the region.
However, its new status was only confirmed following the outcome of the Russo-Persian War (1804-1813), when through the loss in the war, Persia formally ceded Karabakh to the Russian Empire per the Treaty of Gulistan (1813), before the rest of Transcaucasia was incorporated into the Empire in 1828 by the Treaty of Turkmenchay, which came as an outcome of the Russo-Persian War (1826-1828).
In 1822, 9 years after passing from Iranian to Russian control, the Karabakh Khanate was dissolved, and the area became part of the Elisabethpol Governorate within the Russian Empire. In 1823 the five districts corresponding roughly to modern-day Nagorno-Karabakh, was 90.8% Armenian.
Nagorno-Karabakh has a total area of 4,400 square kilometres (1,699 sq mi).Approximately half of Nagorno-Karabakh terrain is over 950 metres (3,120 ft) above sea level. The borders of Nagorno-Karabakh resemble a kidney bean with the indentation on the east side. It has tall mountain ridges along the northern edge and along the west and a mountainous south.
The part near the indentation of the kidney bean itself is a relatively flat valley, with the two edges of the bean, the provinces of Martakert and Martuni, having flat lands as well. Other flatter valleys exist around the Sarsang reservoir, Hadrut, and the south. The entire region lies, on average, 1,100 metres (3,600 ft) above sea level.
Notable peaks include the border mountain Murovdag and the Great Kirs mountain chain in the junction of Shusha Rayon and Hadrut. The territory of modern Nagorno-Karabakh forms a portion of the historic region of Karabakh, which lies between the rivers Kura and Araxes, and the modern Armenia-Azerbaijan border. Nagorno-Karabakh in its modern borders is part of the larger region of Upper Karabakh.
Nagorno-Karabakh’s environment vary from steppe on the Kura lowland through dense forests of oak, hornbeam, and beech on the lower mountain slopes to birchwood and alpine meadows higher up. The region possesses numerous mineral springs and deposits of zinc, coal, lead, gold, marble, and limestone.
The major cities of the region are Stepanakert, which serves as the capital of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, and Shusha, which lies partially in ruins. Vineyards, orchards, and mulberry groves for silkworms are developed in the valleys
Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast in the Soviet era
The present-day conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh has its roots in the decisions made by Joseph Stalin and the Caucasian Bureau (Kavburo) during the Sovietization of Transcaucasia. Stalin was the acting Commissar of Nationalities for the Soviet Union during the early 1920s, the branch of the government under which the Kavburo was created.
After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Karabakh became part of the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic, but this soon dissolved into separate Armenian, Azerbaijani, and Georgian states.
Over the next two years (1918–1920), there were a series of short wars between Armenia and Azerbaijan over several regions, including Karabakh. In July 1918, the First Armenian Assembly of Nagorno-Karabakh declared the region self-governing and created a National Council and government. Later, Ottoman troops entered Karabakh, meeting armed resistance by Armenians.
After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, British troops occupied Karabakh. The British command provisionally affirmed Khosrov bey Sultanov (appointed by the Azerbaijani government) as the governor-general of Karabakh and Zangezur, pending final decision by the Paris Peace Conference.
The decision was opposed by Karabakh Armenians. In February 1920, the Karabakh National Council preliminarily agreed to Azerbaijani jurisdiction, while Armenians elsewhere in Karabakh continued guerrilla fighting, never accepting the agreement. The agreement itself was soon annulled by the Ninth Karabagh Assembly, which declared union with Armenia in April.
In April 1920, while the Azerbaijani army was locked in Karabakh fighting local Armenian forces, Azerbaijan was taken over by Bolsheviks. On 10 August 1920, Armenia signed a preliminary agreement with the Bolsheviks, agreeing to a temporary Bolshevik occupation of these areas until final settlement would be reached.
In 1921, Armenia and Georgia were also taken over by the Bolsheviks who, in order to attract public support, promised they would allot Karabakh to Armenia, along with Nakhchivan and Zangezur (the strip of land separating Nakhchivan from Karabakh). However, the Soviet Union also had far-reaching plans concerning Turkey, hoping that it would, with a little help from them, develop along Communist lines.
Needing to placate Turkey, the Soviet Union agreed to a division under which Zangezur would fall under the control of Armenia, while Karabakh and Nakhchivan would be under the control of Azerbaijan. Had Turkey not been an issue, Stalin would likely have left Karabakh under Armenian control. As a result, the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast was established within the Azerbaijan SSR on 7 July 1923.
With the Soviet Union firmly in control of the region, the conflict over the region died down for several decades. With the beginning of the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the question of Nagorno-Karabakh re-emerged.
Accusing the Azerbaijani SSR government of conducting forced Azerification of the region, the majority Armenian population, with ideological and material support from the Armenian SSR, started a movement to have the autonomous oblast transferred to the Armenian SSR. The oblast's borders were drawn to include Armenian villages and to exclude as much as possible Azerbaijani villages. The resulting district ensured an Armenian majority.
In August 1987, Karabakh Armenians sent a petition for union with Armenia with tens of thousands of signatures to Moscow.
War and secession (The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic)
A restored Armenian T-72, knocked out of commission while attacking Azeri positions in Askeran District, serves as a war memorial on the outskirts of Stepanakert.
On 13 February 1988, Karabakh Armenians began demonstrating in their capital, Stepanakert, in favour of unification with the Armenian republic. Six days later they were joined by mass marches in Yerevan. On 20 February, the Soviet of People's Deputies in Karabakh voted 110 to 17 to request the transfer of the region to Armenia.
This unprecedented action by a regional Soviet government brought out tens of thousands of demonstrations both in Stepanakert and Yerevan, but Moscow rejected the Armenians' demands. On 22 February 1988, the first direct confrontation of the conflict occurred as a large group of Azeris marched from Agdam against the Armenian populated town of Askeran, "wreaking destruction en route".
The confrontation between the Azeris and the police near Askeran degenerated into the Askeran clash, which left two Azeris dead, one of them reportedly killed by an Azeri police officer, as well as 50 Armenian villagers, and an unknown number of Azeris and police injured. Large numbers of refugees left Armenia and Azerbaijan as violence began against the minority populations of the respective countries.
On 29 November 1989, direct rule in Nagorno-Karabakh was ended and the region was returned to Azerbaijani administration. The Soviet policy backfired, however, when a joint session of the Armenian Supreme Soviet and the National Council, the legislative body of Nagorno-Karabakh, proclaimed the unification of Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia.
In 1989, Nagorno-Karabakh had a population of 192,000. The population at that time was 76 percent Armenian and 23 percent Azerbaijanis, with Russian and Kurdish minorities. On 26 November 1991 Azerbaijan abolished the status of Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, rearranging the administrative division and bringing the territory under direct control of Azerbaijan.
On 10 December 1991, in a referendum boycotted by local Azerbaijanis, Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh approved the creation of an independent state. A Soviet proposal for enhanced autonomy for Nagorno-Karabakh within Azerbaijan satisfied neither side, and a full-scale war subsequently erupted between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh, with the latter receiving support from Armenia.
According to Armenia's former president, Levon Ter-Petrossian, the Karabakh leadership approach was maximalist and "they thought they could get more."
The struggle over Nagorno-Karabakh escalated after both Armenia and Azerbaijan attained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. In the post-Soviet power vacuum, military action between Azerbaijan and Armenia was heavily influenced by the Russian military. Furthermore, both the Armenian and Azerbaijani military employed a large number of mercenaries from Ukraine and Russia.
As many as one thousand Afghan mujahideen participated in the fighting on Azerbaijan's side. There were also fighters from Chechnya fighting on the side of Azerbaijan, as well heavy artillery and tanks provided to Armenia by Russia. Many survivors from the Azerbaijani side found shelter in 12 emergency camps set up in other parts of Azerbaijan to cope with the growing number of internally displaced people due to the Nagorno-Karabakh war.
By the end of 1993, the conflict had caused thousands of casualties and created hundreds of thousands of refugees on both sides.
By May 1994, the Armenians were in control of 14% of the territory of Azerbaijan. At that stage, for the first time during the conflict, the Azerbaijani government recognized Nagorno-Karabakh as a third party in the war, and started direct negotiations with the Karabakh authorities. As a result, a cease-fire was reached on 12 May 1994 through Russian negotiation.
The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is a territorial and ethnic conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts, which are de facto controlled by the self-declared Republic of Artsakh, but are internationally recognized as de jure part of Azerbaijan. The conflict has its origins in the early 20th century.
Under the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin decided to make the Nagorno-Karabakh region, historically Armenian and with a majority-Armenian population, an autonomous oblast in Soviet Azerbaijan. The present conflict began in 1988, when the Karabakh Armenians demanded that Karabakh be transferred from Soviet Azerbaijan to Soviet Armenia. The conflict escalated into a full-scale war in the early 1990s.
A cease-fire signed in 1994 provided for two decades of relative stability, which significantly deteriorated along with Baku’s increasing frustration with the status quo, at odds with Yerevan’s efforts to cement it. A four-day escalation in April 2016 marks the worst fighting to date since the cease-fire. Since then, the danger of resumed large-scale hostilities has greatly increased.
Background of the Conflict
With Perestroika and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1989, ethnic tensions between Armenians and Azerbaijanis increased in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
As of 2017, public opinion on both sides has been noted as "increasingly entrenched, bellicose and uncompromising". In this context, mutual concessions that might lower tensions in the longer term could in the shorter run threaten internal stability and the survival of ruling elites, hence leaving little incentive for compromise.
Nagorno-Karabakh War (1988–94)
The Nagorno-Karabakh War, also known as the Artsakh Liberation War in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, was an armed conflict that took place in the late 1980s to May 1994, in the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in southwestern Azerbaijan, between the majority ethnic Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh backed by the Republic of Armenia, and the Republic of Azerbaijan.
As the war progressed, Armenia and Azerbaijan, both former Soviet Republics, entangled themselves in a protracted, undeclared war in the mountainous heights of Karabakh as Azerbaijan attempted to curb the secessionist movement in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The enclave's parliament had voted in favor of uniting with Armenia. A a referendum, boycotted by the Azerbaijani population of Nagorno-Karabakh, was held, whereby most of the voters voted in favor of independence. The demand to unify with Armenia, which began anew in 1988, began in a relatively peaceful manner.
As the Soviet Union's dissolution neared, the tensions gradually grew into an increasingly violent conflict between ethnic Armenians and ethnic Azerbaijanis. Both sides made claims of ethnic cleansing and pogroms conducted by the other.
Inter-ethnic clashes between the two broke out shortly after the parliament of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) in Azerbaijan voted to unify the region with Armenia on 20 February 1988. The circumstances of the dissolution of the Soviet Union facilitated an Armenian separatist movement in Soviet Azerbaijan.
The declaration of secession from Azerbaijan was the final result of a territorial conflict regarding the land. As Azerbaijan declared its independence from the Soviet Union and removed the powers held by the enclave's government, the Armenian majority voted to secede from Azerbaijan. In the process they proclaimed the unrecognizedRepublic of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Full-scale fighting erupted in the late winter of 1992. International mediation by several groups, including the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), failed to bring resolution. In the spring of 1993, Armenian forces captured territory outside the enclave itself, threatening to catalyze the involvement of other countries in the region.
By the end of the war in 1994, the Armenians were in full control of most of the enclave and also held and currently control approximately 9% of Azerbaijan's territory outside the enclave. As many as 230,000 Armenians from Azerbaijan and 800,000 Azerbaijanis from Armenia and Karabakh have been displaced as a result of the conflict.
A Russian-brokered ceasefire was signed in May 1994 and peace talks, mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group, have been held ever since by Armenia and Azerbaijan. Some clashes occurred in the years following the 1994 ceasefire.
Facts About Artsakh
The territory is recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but the population is mainly ethnic Armenian
War followed 1991 declaration of independence; up to 30,000 killed, more than one million fled their homes
Relations continued to be strained after 1994 ceasefire; a serious flare-up of hostilities in April 2016 claimed dozens of lives
The two groups lived in relative peace, although acts of brutality on both sides in the early 20th century live on in the popular memory.
After the end of World War I and the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, the new Soviet rulers, as part of their divide-and-rule policy in the region, established the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region, with an ethnic Armenian majority, within the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan in the early 1920s.
As Soviet control loosened towards the end of the 1980s, smouldering Armenian-Azeri frictions exploded into violence when the region's parliament voted to join Armenia.
During the fighting, in which between 20,000 and 30,000 people are estimated to have lost their lives, the ethnic Armenians gained control of the region.
They also pushed on to occupy Azerbaijani territory outside Karabakh, creating a buffer zone linking Karabakh and Armenia.
With the break-up of the Soviet Union, in late 1991, Karabakh declared itself an independent republic, further escalating the conflict into a full-scale war.
That de facto status has not been recognised elsewhere. While Armenia itself has never officially recognised the region's independence, it has become its main financial and military backer.
Ceasefire in Artsakh
A Russian-brokered ceasefire was signed in 1994, leaving Karabakh as well as swathes of Azeri territory around the enclave in Armenian hands.
During the fighting, in which more than one million fled their homes, the ethnic Azeri population - about 25% of the total before the war - fled Karabakh and Armenia while ethnic Armenians fled the rest of Azerbaijan. Neither population group has been able to return home since the end of the war.
Karabakh is the Russian rendering of an Azeri word meaning 'black garden', while Nagorno is a Russian word meaning "mountainous".
The ethnic Armenians prefer to call the region Artsakh, an ancient Armenian name for the area.
Both sides have had soldiers killed in sporadic breaches of the ceasefire.
The closure of borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan has caused landlocked Armenia severe economic problems.
Since the truce, a simmering stalemate has prevailed. Azeris resent the loss of land they regard as rightfully theirs, while the Armenians show no sign of willingness to give it back.
Russia, France and the US co-chair the OSCE's Minsk Group, which has been attempting to broker an end to the dispute.
Signs of Thaw
In a December 2006 referendum, declared illegitimate by Azerbaijan, the region approved a new constitution. Nonetheless, there have since been signs of life in the peace process, with occasional meetings between the Armenian and Azeri presidents.
Significant progress was reported at talks between the leaders in May and November 2009, but progress stalled, and since then there have been a number of serious ceasefire violations.
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Our combined Armenia and Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh) tours will give you an in-depth view of the region and unrecognized country.
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