Armenia - Azerbaijan: Crisis profile - What's going on in Nagorno-Karabakh?

from AlertNet
Published on 23 Mar 2005
By Theresa Freese

TBILISI (AlertNet) - With over a million people displaced and about 30,000 killed, conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh remains one of the most intractable problems unleashed by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Today Nagorno-Karabakh, a large chunk of the southwestern part of Azerbaijan, is controlled by neighbouring Armenia, which seized the territory by force in 1992.

Armenia has ignored numerous U.N. resolutions calling for the withdrawal troops, and a peace settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan remains elusive. The conflict stands at a stalemate, broken only by occasional cross-border incidents.

Numbers are uncertain, but according to the United Nations, more than 500,000 displaced Azerbaijanis live in squalid refugee camps around Azerbaijan, more than 200,000 Armenians live in similar conditions in Armenia and a dangerous no man's land full of mines and snipers separates Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijan.

Where exactly is Nagorno-Karabakh?

Nagorno-Karabakh, located in Azerbaijan, is in the South Caucasus, a region consisting of three states -- Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan -- nestled between the oil-rich Caspian Sea and the Black Sea.

Only a six-mile strip of land called the Lachin corridor, controlled by Armenian troops, connects Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia.

What sparked the conflict?

The roots of the conflict pre-date the creation of the Soviet Union.

Violent clashes in 1905 and 1918 evolved into fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over three contested border areas, Nagorno-Karabakh, Nakhichevan and Zangezur.

In 1921, Nagorno-Karabakh was incorporated into Soviet Azerbaijan as the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Province, leaving tension over the territory to simmer throughout the Soviet period.

As both Soviet republics embraced nationalism and political demonstrations turned violent, minority populations within each republic fled ethnic discrimination. Armenia and Azerbaijan witnessed a total population swap of some 1,000,000 inhabitants. Nagorno-Karabakh saw most of its minority Azerbaijani inhabitants -- around 25 percent of its total population -- flee to other parts of Azerbaijan.

In 1988, the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians voted to secede and join Armenia. Azerbaijan attempted to prevent Nagorno-Karabakh's secession by force, and when Armenia and Azerbaijan proclaimed independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh's future escalated into a war between the two states.

Armenian forces invaded Nagorno-Karabakh in 1992 and occupied seven adjoining districts in Azerbaijan, creating a corridor -- the Lachin corridor -- connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia proper. Armenia renamed the province the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and declared it independent on January 6, 1992.

Nevertheless, the international community, including Armenia, does not recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state.

Through Russian mediation, in 1994 Azerbaijan and Armenia signed a cease-fire agreement. Azerbaijan, by that point, had lost some 15 percent of its territory.

What is Nagorno-Karabakh like today?

Politically, socially, and economically Nagorno-Karabakh behaves like an autonomous Armenian province.

With a growing population of approximately 200,000, Nagorno-Karabakh has become ethnically homogenous: 95 percent of residents are Armenian, and Assyrians, Greeks, and Kurds constitute the remaining 5 percent.

Armenians rely on free movement and trade between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia proper, and Nagorno-Karabakh's first elected leader, Robert Kocharian, is now Armenia's president.

Is there a solution to the conflict?

In 1993, the U.N. Security Council adopted four resolutions calling for the withdrawal of Armenian occupying forces and reaffirming the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, with Nagorno-Karabakh as an integral part of the country.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) Minsk Group, an ad hoc body co-chaired by Russia, the U.S. and France is responsible for negotiating a final peace settlement.

To date, however, no peace agreement has been achieved, and the U.N. resolutions have not been implemented. There are no international peacekeepers on the ground; instead, Armenian and Azerbaijani forces maintain a heavy presence along the front line. Finally, with no political solution in sight, internally displaced people and refugees are unable to return to their homes.


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