Nagorno-Karabakh, which is located on the eastern side of Armenian Highlands, is part of one of the least known territorial controversies in the world. However, with 4,400 square kilometers and an estimated population of 138,000, this land dispute is an important one to discuss.
The conflict began in 1917, when three ethnic republics—Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia—were formed. Nagorno-Karabakh, which was 95% Armenian, convened its first congress and declared itself as an independent political unit with an army and legitimate authority. In 1920, Azerbaijan carried out massacres, killing and deporting about 40,000 Armenians. The problem about the status of Nagorno-Karabakh was discussed, and in the 1920s, after the Soviet rulers took over, control was put under the ruling of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan. An ethnic problem is the main cause of the land dispute. For the past 100 years, Armenia wants Nagorno-Karabakh to be part of its country, because this disputed land has an ethnically Armenian majority. The Nagorno-Karabakh parliament has spoken out about this. A vote in the 1980s elicited that the disputed area wants to join Armenia as well. Since, however, the disputed land is enclosed in the boundaries of Azerbaijan, Azeris only view it natural that the territory should be under their rule. This shows another major cause of the territorial dispute. Azerbaijan has a strong desire for more land, which will in end effect give the country more power. Giving up Nagorno-Karabakh is therefore against their goals as a nation.
The results of this territorial dispute have been far-reaching. When the Soviet Union loosened control in 1988, Armenians began to vocalize their unhappiness. This friction between them and Azerbaijan finally erupted in a war. Between 20,000 and 30,000 people died and more than one million fled their homes—ethnic Azeris fled Karabakh and Armenia, while ethnic Armenians fled the rest of Azerbaijan. A Russia-initiated ceasefire was signed in 1994, in which Azerbaijan lost 14% of its territory. Since then, commando raids and other sporadic acts of violence have occurred from both sides, because neither side is content with the 1994 treaty. It is said that the clashes in 2014 have been the worst since 1994. Actions have spread to the Armenia-Azerbaijan border and civilians have become frequent targets.
There is a peaceful potential outcome for this disputed territory. If Azerbaijan were given back districts around Nagorno-Karabakh in exchange for the republic’s right to decide its own status, conflict might end. However, Armenia and Azerbaijan are not ready to bend and find a resolution to this century-old problem. Armenia believes that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement can only happen, if both parties recognize the territory’s right to self-determination. Furthermore, Armenia believes that it should be under the land jurisdiction of the Armenian side. Finally, Nagorno-Karabakh should be internationally secured, so that violent acts are less likely to happen. Azerbaijan does not believe in these principles and is unwilling to compromise. Similarly, Armenia does not want to participate in the give-and-take negotiation. Both states are too spiteful and angry to come together and discuss the future of Nagorno-Karabakh. The international community could potentially step in and act as the middleman between the two countries; however, it is not definite that they would listen to and comply with an organization like the UN.
The territorial dispute of Nagorno-Karabakh is a serious problem that has not been solved for the past century. Armenia and Azerbaijan are fighting over ethnic and political power problems. Neither party is willing to negotiate. Violent wars and attacks has plagued the area, and despite ceasefires, this is only getting worse. There are solutions to the dispute, but mediation is necessary to make that solution a reality.
To learn more about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, watch this documentary about the violent acts that took place between November 1991 and February 1992.