Armenia, Azerbaijan and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

The recent histories of Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as the domestic politics and foreign relations of both countries, are inextricably bound up with the conflict between them over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh(Karabakh for short).

Background

Nagorno-Karabakh is a landlocked region in the South Caucasus and is surrounded entirely by Azerbaijan.

Violent clashes between Armenians and Azerbaijanis occurred in Baku in1905 and again in 1918. A more direct precursor of the current conflict was the fighting between the independent Armenian and Azerbaijani republics of1918-20 over three disputed border areas—Nakhichevan and Zangezur as well as Karabakh.

Background

The communist authorities in the Soviet Union kept nationalism firmly in check. Nonetheless, the cleavages over Nagorno-Karabakh simmered beneath the surface. With the beginning of the Soviet Union’s dissolution in the late1980s, the question over the region re-emerged. Accusing the Azerbaijani Socialist Soviet Republic (SSR) of conducting forced Azerification of the region, the majority Armenian population, with 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 Azerbaijani villages. The resulting distrust ensured an Armenian majority.

In February 1988, Karabakh Armenians began demonstrating in their capital, Stepanakert, and in Yerevan, asking for unification with the Armenian republic. When a large group of Azeris marched from Agdam against the Armenian populated town of Askeran, the first direct confrontation with civilian casualties between Armenians and Azeris occurred. Large groups of refugees left Armenia and Azerbaijan because of the outbreak of violence against the minority populations of the respective countries. As of November1989, the region was administered from Azerbaijan.

1990-94 Nagorno-Karabakh War and aftermath

Armed clashes began in early 1990. Soviet army units acting in support of the Azerbaijan authorities exchanged fire with militias defending Armenian villages on the outskirts of Karabakh. Local Armenian and Azerbaijani paramilitary groups began to form and clash with one another. Azerbaijan blockaded road, rail, and energy links with Armenia that still continue today. Nakhichevan was blockaded by Armenia.

Escalation to all-out war took place in 1991. Between April and August, troops of the Soviet army and the Azerbaijan interior ministry, overcoming the resistance of local militias, deported the inhabitants of a score or so of Armenian villages around the edges of Karabakh. This operation prompted Armenians to expand their paramilitary forces and improve coordination among them.

Winter of 1991-92: Stepanakert was besieged and under heavy bombardment from Shusha, an Azerbaijani town situated on high ground overlooking Stepanakert.

February-May 1992: The tide of battle turned when Armenian forces capturedKhojali, an Azerbaijani town on Karabakh’s eastern edge, massacring several hundred refugees. In May 1992 they captured Shusha, and proceeded to take control of the Lachin area, which lies between Karabakh and Armenia. With the “Lachin corridor” as a supply route, Karabakh was no longer isolated from Armenia. Lachin’s Azerbaijani and Kurdish population fled, as did those Azerbaijanis still remaining in Karabakh itself.

June-September 1992: The Azerbaijanis counter-attacked. They recaptured several villages, but failed to make any decisive strategic gains. In September 1992, the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh declared itself an independent state, a move dictated by Armenia’s reluctance, out of diplomatic considerations, formally to annex the territory.

Spring of 1993: The allied armed forces of Karabakh and Armenia made further dramatic advances. In addition to securing control of the whole of Karabakh, they occupied surrounding territory to the east, west, north, and south. The whole of southwestern Azerbaijan down to the border with Iran—eight provinces covering a sixth of the country’s territory—was now in their hands. The roughly 600,000 Azerbaijanis who lived in the newly conquered areas fled to other parts of Azerbaijan or over the border into Iran, bringing the total number of refugees generated by the conflict to well over a million.

Fighting also spread along the whole border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, including the border between Armenia and Nakhichevan.

The UN Security Council passed four resolutions in 1993 calling on(Armenian) occupying forces to withdraw from Azerbaijani areas.

May 1994: A ceasefire was arranged with Russian assistance.

Since then: There have been frequent exchanges of fire along the line of contact, with killed and wounded on both sides.