Saturday, October 03, 2020

Where is Nagorno-Karabakh, and why is it always at war?

Most people are probably not too sure exactly what and where Nagorno-Karabakh is. The region hit the news back in the late 80s/early 90s, when a nasty but ultimately inconclusive war broke out there, and how it is in the news again as Armenia and Azerbaijan face off again over the disouted territory.

Deep in the Caucasus Mountains, between the Black and Caspian Seas, Nagorno-Karabakh is a tiny region (about the size of, say, Trinidad, or the state of Rhode Island, or Prince Edward Island in Canada), with a population of about 150,000.  By an accident of history, you might say, it is technically (under international law) entirely located within the Muslim-majority Turkic country of Azerbaijani, but its population is over 90% Christian ethnic Armenian. 

When Armenia and Azerbaijan split from the imploding Soviet Union in the late 1980s, the Soviets gave control of the area to Azerbaijan, presumably based on the fact that it is geographically within Azerbaijan territory. But the ethnically-Armenian population objected and the regional parliament voted to become part of Armenia, leading to full-scale war between the two newly-independent countries. A cease-fire was brokered by Russia in 1994, but nothing was really settled. Since then, Nagorno-Karabakh has been essentially a self-declared republic, run by Armenians and backed by the Armenia government (and Russia), but still located wholly within Azerbaijan. 

Realistically, then, "peace" was never going to last, and it is no real surprise that hostilities have broken out again. It is one of those intractable geopolitical situations that has no obvious solution.

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