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Nagorno- Karabakh conflict

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is an unresolved ethnic and territorial conflict between the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts between Armenia and Azerbaijan, de facto controlled by the self-declared Republic of Artsakh, but internationally known as part of Azerbaijan jurisdiction. The Nagorno-Karabakh landscaped mountain region which is approximately 4,400 sq. Km, traditionally consist of Christian Armenian and Muslim Turkish population. The conflict has its origins in the early 20th century. Under the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin decided to make the Nagorno-Karabakh region an autonomous oblast of Soviet Azerbaijan.

In 1988, towards the end of Soviet rule, the current conflict began when the Karabakh Armenians demanded that Karabakh region, be transferred from Soviet Azerbaijan to Soviet Armenia. After a truce signed in 1994, Azerbaijani troops and Armenian secessionists began a bloody war that left the de facto independent state in the hands of ethnic Armenians. So far, negotiations have failed to produce a permanent peace agreement, and the dispute remains one of the frozen conflicts of post-Soviet Europe. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is rooted in competition between Christian Armenian and Muslim Turkic and Persian influences, dating back over a century.

Karabakh became part of the Russian empire in the 19th century, populated for centuries by Christian Armenian and Turkic Azeris. The two groups lived in peace, although at the beginning of the 20th century, acts of brutality on both sides persisted in popular memory. After the end of World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the new Soviet rulers established the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region, with an ethnic Armenian majority, within the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan in the early 1920s, as part of their divide-and-rule policy in the region. As Soviet control loosened towards the end of the 1980s, when the region’s parliament voted to join Armenia, smouldering Armenian-Azeri frictions exploded into violence.

The ethnic Armenians gained control of the region during the fighting in which, around 20,000 and 30,000 individuals lost their lives. Outside Karabakh, they also pushed on to occupy Azerbaijani territory, creating a buffer zone linking Karabakh and Armenia. Karabakh declared itself an independent republic in late 1991, with the break-up of the Soviet Union, further escalating the conflict into a full-scale war. That de facto status elsewhere has not been recognized. Although Armenia itself has never officially recognized the independence of the region, it has become its principal financial and military supporter.

A ceasefire signed in 1994 provided for two decades of relative stability, which together with Azerbaijan’s growing frustration with the status quo, has deteriorated significantly, contrary to Armenia’s efforts to cement Armenia as a de facto independent region, relying heavily on Armenian support. But no member of the United Nations, including Armenia, recognizes it. The ethnic Azeri population-about 25 per cent of the total pre-war population-fled Karabakh and Armenia during the fighting, in which more than one million people fled their homes. Whilst the ethnic Armenians fled the rest of Azerbaijan. Since the conflict, neither population group has been able to return home.

The Russian rendering of an Azeri word meaning ”black garden” is Karabakh, and Nagorno is a Russian word meaning ‘mountainous.’ The ethnic Armenians prefer to call the area Artsakh, the region’s ancient Armenian name. Both sides have had soldiers killed in sporadic ceasefire violations. Closing the borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan has caused economic problems for landlocked Armenia. Azeris resent the loss of land they rightfully regard as theirs, while the Armenians show no sign of willingness to return it. Russia, France and the US co-chair the Minsk Group of the OSCE which has been trying to broker an end to the dispute.

The region’s current escalating tension is the worst seen in the long-running conflict since 2016, when at least 200 individuals, including soldiers and civilians, were killed in clashes. The fighting began on Sunday morning and both nations blame each other for the violence. It has sparked international calls for diplomacy, amid fears that regional powers in the strategically important Caucasus region could be drawn into the conflict. Turkey has already declared its support for Azerbaijan, while Russia, which has an Armenian military base, has called for an immediate ceasefire. Armenia accuses Turkey of providing Azerbaijan with direct military support, a claim denied by Azerbaijan.

By Jumana Jabeer

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