Nagorno-Karabakh: the origins of the conflict

Nagorno-Karabakh: the origins of the conflict

If Nagorno-Karabakh is a small mountainous enclave corresponding to the size of the Hautes-Pyrénées, it has been coveted by Armenia and Azerbaijan for more than a century. And for good reason: the region which is populated by around 120,000 Christian Armenians is located on Azerbaijani territory.

Nagorno-Karabakh, a coveted territory since the end of the tsarist empire

In the 19th century, this region was attached to the Russian Empire which wished to expand towards the Caucasus. But following the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 leading to the fall of the tsarist regime, the territory was coveted by its two neighbors, both newly independent: Armenia and Azerbaijan. A dispute which remained unresolved since the USSR took control of the two states in 1920. Moscow then decided to grant this enclave to Azerbaijan in 1921. Two years later, Nagorno-Karabakh was granted the status of a region. autonomous within the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic despite Armenian protests.

New start with the fall of the Soviet Union

In 1991, Azerbaijan and Armenia gained independence. At the same time, the inhabitants of Nagorno-Karabakh voted for self-determination of their region, a decision not recognized by the international community or even Armenia. Yerevan still supports the separatists of Nagorno-Karabakh on the political, military and economic levels.

A large-scale war breaks out between Armenia and Azerbaijan, leaving nearly 30,000 dead. In 1994, a ceasefire was declared between the self-proclaimed republic of Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan. Armenia takes control of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven Azerbaijani districts around the territory. But no peace treaty has been signed and the region will regularly be subject to tensions between the two states.

Resurgence of conflict in 2020

Until then frozen, the conflict resumed on September 27, 2020. Azerbaijan relaunched hostilities by invading the region with the support of Turkey. In six weeks, Baku recovered the districts lost in 1994 and then controlled almost a third of Nagorno-Karabakh. The fighting left nearly 6,500 dead. In November 2020, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan signed an agreement to end hostilities under the aegis of Russia, Armenia’s ally. Azerbaijan is committed to guaranteeing the safety of travel along the Lachin corridor, the only access still linking Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia.

In the Lachin corridor, a blockade raises fears of a humanitarian crisis

In December 2022, against a backdrop of intense tensions between the two states, Baku decided to close access to the Lachin corridor, leading to serious shortages of food and medicine. Yerevan then fears an “ethnic cleansing” of the region.

A lightning offensive from Baku

On September 19, 2023, Azerbaijan bombed the Stepanakert region, capital of Nagorno-Karabakh. In less than 24 hours, the separatists of Nagorno-Karabakh capitulated, currently leading to the exodus of more than half of the inhabitants towards Armenia.

According to Le Figaro, the authorities fear that Azerbaijan will not stop at Nagorno-Karabakh. In focus: the Armenian region of Syunik, in the south of Armenia, along the border with Iran. Annexing this territory would allow Baku to connect to Turkey and thus realize a very old pan-Turkish dream by developing a continuum from Turkey to the Caspian Sea: the Zanguezour corridor.

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