Nagorno Karabakh is at the center of a long conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which have fought two wars over this Caucasus enclave with an Armenian majority, but recognized as part of Azerbaijan.
Considered a central region of its history by Armenia, Nagorno Karabakh – meaning Mountainous Karabakh or Upper Karabakh in Russian – has changed hands many times over the centuries.
Integrated into the Armenian kingdom in ancient times, this region came under Arab influence in the Middle East before a revolt returned it to Armenian rule.
After a period of Persian influence, the Khanat of Karabakh, then a Turkish state, was incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1813.
Armenia and Azerbaijan then fought over the territory in a civil war after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.
Although populated mostly by Armenians, Nagorno-Karabakh was integrated into the Soviet republic of Azerbaijan in 1921 by Stalin with a statute of autonomy beginning in 1923. That status remained unchanged until the last years of the Soviet Union.
This land enclave is still essentially populated by Armenians of Christian confession, according to official data, and has about 120,000 inhabitants spread over a mountainous territory. A third of the population lives in Stepanakert, the capital.
The war of the 1990s led to significant population displacements, with 700,000 Azerbaijanis fleeing Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh and 230,000 Armenians fleeing Azerbaijan.
Interethnic violence has broken out since 1988. After the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Nagorno Karabakh organized a referendum boycotted by the Azerbaijani community and then proclaimed its independence from Azerbaijan with the support of Armenia. This independence was not recognized by any other UN member state.
With the departure of the Soviet army from the region, an escalation of violence led to open war. Some 30,000 people died until the ceasefire negotiated by Russia on May 17, 1994.
Although it has its own institutions and government, Nagorno-Karabakh is supported politically, economically and militarily by Armenia.
A new conflict broke out in the fall of 2020, causing 6,500 deaths in six weeks before a Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement.
The war ended with a crushing defeat for Armenia, forced to cede important territories around the enclave and a part of the region, especially the city of Chucha, to Azerbaijan.
Despite the presence of Russian interposition forces, armed incidents between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces have occurred frequently, with each side accusing the other of being responsible.
Tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia resumed at the end of 2022, when Azerbaijan set up checkpoints before blocking circulation in the Lachin corridor, the only road leading from Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, causing serious shortages of food and medicine in the enclave.
In July, Armenian diplomacy called for redoubling “international efforts” to end the blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh and reopen the corridor, and expressed fears that “ethnic cleansing” would occur in the region.
Despite separate mediations by the European Union, the United States and Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan were unable to reach an agreement on a peace agreement.
This Tuesday, Azerbaijan launched “anti-terrorist operations” in Nagorno Karabakh, after the death of four police officers and two Azerbaijani civilians due to mine explosions and accused Armenian separatists of an act of “terrorism.”