The war of Nagorno-Karabakh is considered as the first local armed conflict in the post-soviet territory. The Nagorno-Karabakh military conflict, in the result of which Nagorno-Karabakh declared its independence, lasted from autumn 1991 until May 1994. The involved parties in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict had a diametrically opposed opinion about the war – Armenia calls the events of the war as Nagorno-Karabakh’s liberation, while Azerbaijan called it the occupation of its land.
The initial phase of the Nagorno-Karabakh war was more successful for Azerbaijan. Its Armed Forces, using the equipment and munition left by the soviet forces 4th army, forced Armenians out of the Shaumyan region (the territory under the control of Azerbaijan). But soon after, the military superiority and discipline shown by the Armenian supported Nagorno-Karabakh Forces allowed them to repay and strengthen their control not only over Nagorno-Karabakh, but also to occupy the surrounding Azerbaijan territories.
After several attacks, retreats and counter-offensives, Nagorno-Karabakh took over in its control all of Azerbaijan’s north-west regions until the border with Iran; it formed approximately 16% of the former Azerbaijan SSSR territory.
In the result of the war, Azerbaijani were forced to leave the Nagorno-Karabakh territories populated by them, but Armenians were forced to leave the territory that was under Azerbaijan’s control.
On 9 May 1992, Nagorno-Karabakh Forces occupied the ancient state capital Shusha; this day is celebrated as victory day in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Despite the military superiority of the Armenian supported Nagorno-Karabakh, both parties involved in the bloody war had exhausted themselves. On 5 May 1994 in Kyrgyzstan’s city Bishkek, between Armenian, Azerbaijani and Nagorno-Karabakh’s Ministers of Defence a protocol was signed, on the basis of which, on 12 May 1994, the parties stopped the warfare thereby ensuring a fragile truce in the restless region. The mediators of the signed agreement were OSCE Minsk group, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, as well as CIS interparliamentary assembly. Only in the beginning of April 1016, new open warfare broke out in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone. These four-day long collisions can also be described as intense and especially cruel.
The sources for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict can be found in the past, they are basically resting on the ethnical and religious distinctions. On the one side, there are Armenians, who are Christians and on the other side, there are Azerbaijani, who are Muslim. The situation in Nagorno-Karabakh has been tense for centuries. Relatively peaceful it was only during the soviet years.
The Nagorno-Karabakh as the territory for Armenia and Azerbaijan’s conflict first appeared in 1918, when both countries gain their independence. The territorial dispute was not settled until 1920, when Armenia and Azerbaijan were included in the Soviet Union’s territory, practically losing their independence. In December 1920, Azerbaijan’s Bolshevik government resigned from their previous complaints regarding Nagorno-Karabakh and other Armenian populated territories, at the same time recognising this territory as part of Armenia’s SSR. However, later Azerbaijani government revived their complaints and asked Moscow for assistance. On 3 July 1921, the Caucasus bureau of Russian Federation Communist Party’s Central Committee voted to include Nagorno-Karabakh in the Soviet Armenia’s territory, however, two days later a new session of the Caucasus bureau took place, where the decision was changed, and Nagorno-Karabakh was given to Azerbaijan. The bureau also established that Nagorno-Karabakh were to given territorial autonomy while in the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan. In real life, this resolution was introduced in 1923.
For the next 70 years, Nagorno-Karabakh stayed in the Azerbaijan SSR territory with official autonomous rights. Due to the lack of investments, Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous regions was an underdeveloped agrarian region. The limited employment options and real Armenian discrimination in order to get a job, promoted Armenians to emigrate. At the same time, inflow of Azerbaijani was observed.
In the period between 926 and 1979, the number of Armenians in the region decreased from 95% to 76%, but the number of Azerbaijani grew from 5% to 23%. The Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians were not able to get education in their native language, it was forbidden to teach Armenian history in the local schools. The cultural link between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia was basically broken. Regarding the economic development, Nagorno-Karabakh was behind Armenia. Many Armenians believed it to be an assimilation policy, implemented purposefully by the Azerbaijan government. But at the same time, it can be considered as natural consequences of the soviet totalitarian regime, who did not see the protection of minorities as a priority.
The idea to merge Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia was popular between the Armenian intelligence. However, the small part of the intelligence that allowed themselves to speak openly about it during the rule of Nikita Chruschtschow and Leonid Brezhnev received harsh reaction from the communist regimes in both Armenia and Azerbaijan. The situation changed after Mikhail Gorbachev came to power, announcing the perestroika, also known as the restructuring policy.
With the decrease in political restrictions, Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenians tried to deliver information about their problems to the international and soviet leaders.
In 1988, all district councils of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, with the exception of the Azerbaijani populated Shusha region, accepted a resolution that appealed on the region’s transition from Azerbaijan to Armenia.
On 20 February 1988, the Nagorno-Karabakh region People’s Government session addressed the Armenian Supreme Council, Azerbaijani Supreme Council and SSSR Supreme Council with a request to add the region to Armenia. However, the soviet leaders did not want to perform any changes in the region borders, being justifiably afraid that such changes wold lead to an out of hand collapse of the Soviet Union. That is why it was axiomatic that in July 1988, the SSR Supreme Council Presidium declined the Nagorno-Karabakh’s request to be added to Armenia.
In the international arena, the Armenian announcements about the self-determination rights were received with caution. The West saw the Nagorno-Karabakh crisis as a complication that would create obstacles for the Mikhail Gorbachev’s reform.
After violence against Armenians in Azerbaijan (outside Nagorno-Karabakh), Azerbaijani in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh grew, the number of Armenian and Azerbaijani refugees considerably increased. By the end of 1988, the violence acts in the Armenian and Azerbaijani conflict reached its highest point.
On 12 January 1989, The Supreme Council of the Soviet Union introduced provisional control in Nagorno-Karabakh. The emergency situation was also introduced partly in Armenia’s territory, but not in Azerbaijan. It was implemented under the management of Arkady Volsky, who was the personal representative of Mikhail Gorbachev and the Nagorno-Karabakh Specific administration committee. This Moscow decision provoked an opposite effect and, despite the increased presence of soviet security forces, the conflict between Armenians and Azerbaijani continued, both sides did not recognize the legitimacy of Moscow’s direct administration.
Moscow did not try to implement a more balanced position in the conflict issue, the affiliation of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan was not questioned. Furthermore, the central power was not able to stop or prevent the Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia’s blockade, implemented by Azerbaijan, which was introduced in 1989.
Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh started to develop their own political structures. In summer 1989, they elected Congress of people authorized representatives for the Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region; only local soviet Armenian parliamentarians were represented there. On 24 August 1989, the congress elected the National Council with 78 members, its Presidium became the first official government of Nagorno-Karabakh.
In autumn of 1989, the sharply growing violence in Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as the situation in Baku and Erevan, threatened by the communist regime, made Moscow to settle for another turn in the implemented policy regarding Nagorno-Karabakh. On 28 November 1989, The Supreme Council of the Soviet Union made a decision to stop the Special-use administration activity in Nagorno-Karabakh and return it again to Azerbaijan’s control, thus renewing the situation of 1988.
As an answer to that, Armenia SSR Supreme Council and Nagorno-Karabakh National Council declared the Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region as a part of the Armenia’s SSR.
On 13 January 1990, in Baku, approximately 250 000 people participated in a protest demonstration against the Nagorno-Karabakh independence movement. The protester groups started mass pogroms, directed towards Armenians. Slowly, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict grew into a wide scale war between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh Force formations; Armenia actively supported Nagorno-Karabakh.
In 1991, Armenia’s efforts to leave the Soviet Union were clearly noted. Whereas, in Azerbaijan a strong desire to separate itself was not noticed in that time. Thereby, the situation made Moscow to take the stance against Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
In summer of 1991, Soviet Forces, with the support from Azerbaijani Ministry of Internal Affairs Forces and police, attacked the Armenian village that was next to Nagorno-Karabakh. The so-called operation The Ring was cancelled only after the Moscow putsch in August 1991. The authorised use of Soviet Armed Forces in the repression of the conflict only increased the confrontation and practically led to an expanded warfare (that followed the civil war terms) in the SSSR territory. The Soviet Union was moving fast towards its collapse.
A month after the unsuccessful state revolution in Moscow, Armenia held a referendum to leave SSSR; on 23 September 1991, its independence was declared. During this time, the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh substantially changed. The local political elite did not insist on merging with Armenia; an idea for Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence was introduced.
On 2 September 1991, The Council of Nagorno-Karabakh region declared the former autonomous region as the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, also including the Azerbaijan Shaumyan region, populated by Armenians.
On 26 November 1991, in response to that, Azerbaijan annulled the autonomous status of Nagorno-Karabakh.
On 10 December 1991, the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh held a referendum for independence. On 6 January 1992, after the Parliament election, accepted the Declaration of Independence. Because of these events, the military conflict began between Azerbaijan and Armenian supported Nagorno-Karabakh.
Directly in the Nagorno-Karabakh war were involved Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan. In both side of the conflict, mercenaries from Russia, Chechnya, Afghanistan and other countries were involved. Turkey was supporting Azerbaijan in the war. Ankara provided Azerbaijan with military experts that rendered support in the Azerbaijan Armed Forces military exercises. Officially, Russia stayed neutral during the Nagorno-Karabakh war, but in reality, not only allowed the former Soviet army’s military expert involvement in the war on both Armenian and Azerbaijani side (they worked as military councillors and soldiers-mercenaries), but also provided both sides with military equipment.
In the first half of 1992, Armenian subordinate units were located in Nagorno-Karabakh, the total numerical strength of which was 6000 soldiers, around 3500 local civil guards and around 2500 Armenian volunteers. Armenia had the special-use regiment of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, where the numerical strength was 2700 (it later went under the control of Ministry of Defence) and volunteer units, who had 10 000 people.
The Forces in Armenia defended the frontier area, as well as soldier rotation to Nagorno-Karabakh. These formations in their equipment (before Armenia received the military equipment from Russia) had approximately 30 armoured vehicle units and 12 helicopters.
In the beginning of the war, Azerbaijan had the Special Purpose Mobility Unit OMON soldiers and other internal affair structures operating in Nagorno-Karabakh and in its surroundings. Also, Azerbaijani National army battalions were established, in which, for example, in February 1992, were 6000 soldiers. In total, the Azerbaijan grouping in Nagorno-Karabakh had 18 000 soldiers. In summer of 1992 (before receiving the military equipment of Russia) Azerbaijan Forces had approximately 140 armoured vehicle units, 4 tanks and 4 multiple launch artillery systems Grad.
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict had destructive consequences. It is estimated that in the Nagorno-Karabakh war, Azerbaijan lost approximately 11 000 people, including 30 000, who were injured. Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh lost around 6000 people and 20 000 were injured. The total number of refugees was over one million.
In the result of the war, Nagorno-Karabakh Armed Forces with the support from Armenia occupied the whole Nagorno-Karabakh and its surrounding regions, that in total makes 16% of the Azerbaijan territory.
Several Nagorno-Karabakh cities and villages are no longer populated. In the Nagorno-Karabakh regions, there is still undeveloped infrastructure, low economic activity and restricted options of services.
It has been more than 20 years since the agreement for the ceasefire regime made between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh came into power in 1994, however the situation in the conflict zone is still strained and there is a high risk for the warfare to start again.
According to the OSCE data, in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, 300-400 people die from sniper bullets, artillery shootings, reconnaissance and diversion group activities every year.
In 2014, OSCE Minsk group’s USA Co-President, James Warlick, offered proposals that display the USA opinion in the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. In the basis of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict regulation that has been developed by Warlick, are the principles, included in the Helsinki Final Act, which include not to apply force or force threats, territorial integrity and people’s right to self-determination.
Warlick’s developed conditions foresee that parties will agree on the Nagorno-Karabakh provisional status, the final legal region status to be established in the future; in the former Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region’s territory, self-government and safety is guaranteed; the occupied territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh need to returned into Azerbaijan’s jurisdiction and the Azerbaijani sovereignty needs to be renewed over them; there has to be build a corridor via Lachin region that would connect Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan (Nagorno-Karabakh is separated from Armenia with a narrow land territory that belongs to Azerbaijan – Lachin corridor); the corridor must be wide enough so one can move around it safely, but it cannot take over the whole Lachin region; the truce agreement must recognize the right of every refugee and person moved within the country to return in their previous places of residence; the truce agreement must include international security guarantees, including the peace keeping operations that need to hold loyalty of all parties involved.
At this moment, there still have not been found conditions to solve the conflict. From the option of international rights, Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is an example of contradictions between two fundamental principles. From one side, the people right on self-determination (Nagorno-Karabakh is based on this principle) and from the other side, the principle of territorial integrity (Azerbaijan is based on this principle).
Taking into account the Nagorno-Karabakh’s geopolitical location and the factors involved in the conflict, there remains threats of the conflict turning into a regionally wide war, where regional players, such as Russia, Turkey, Iran etc. can be pulled in the middle of it. But the conflict resolution in a peaceful manner, would give Azerbaijan right to solve the issue regarding of people forcefully moved, open additional economic opportunities as the region’s centre of trade. On the other hand, Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh wold have a chance to escape the international isolation, people to stop dying in the line of fire. But in reality, Azerbaijani, Armenian nor Nagorno-Karabakh elites are not ready to achieve a peace settlement that needs compromise from all the involved parties. The frozen conflict is also beneficial to Moscow as it offers opportunities to put pressure upon both Erevan and Baku.
The complicated situation in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone can be confirmed by the collisions that happened in April 2016 (between 2 and 5 April); they were the most serious incidents that had happened during the last 22 years since the truce regime came into power in 1994.
The parties involved in the conflict accused one another in the escalation of the situation. Azerbaijan the happening warfare characterised as the liberation of its land, but Armenia directed the attention of international society towards the aggression implemented by Baku and not applying to the truce regime.
The most serious battles happened towards the Nagorno-Karabakh north-east (Terter region) and south-east (Fuzuli region). Baku informed that they have managed to take over control in several strategic peaks and Nagorno-Karabakh populated areas, getting back approximately 5% of the Nagorno-Karabakh territory. Whereas, Nagorno-Karabakh admitted that Azerbaijan managed to regain control over the three important peaks, approximately 300-400 m², in the border sections with Iran.
After the information provided by Nagorno-Karabakh, in the period between 2 and 5 April 2016, it lost 29 soldiers and 101 were injured. Five civilians and six volunteers lost their lives, 26 people are considered to be lost without a trace. After the information provided by Azerbaijan, it lost 31 soldiers. But in reality, the number of people lost by both parties involved in the conflict are considerably larger.
The used literature:
Cīrhers, Kristofs. Postpadomju kari. Rīga: Zvaigzne ABC, 2012.
The used internet sources:
Armenian-Azeri Tensions and the Nagorno-Karabakh Question;
Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh);
Results of a two-day standoff on April 2-5th;
Армян убивают в Карабахе израильским оружием;
Армяно-азербайджанский конфликт в Нагорном Карабахе: перезагрузка;
История Нагорного Карабаха;
Карабах вспыхнул снова;
Карабахский конфликт 1988 – 2006;
Краткая история Карабахского конфликта;
Нагорный Карабах: факты против лжи;
Общие сведения о Нагорном Карабахе;
Путешествия / Осень в Закавказье. Нагорный Карабах. Эхо войны;