Nagorno-Karabakh profile

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Map of Nagorno-Karabakh

The landlocked mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh is the subject of an unresolved dispute between Azerbaijan, in which it lies, and its ethnic Armenian majority, backed by neighbouring Armenia.

In 1988, towards the end of Soviet rule, Azerbaijani troops and Armenian secessionists began a bloody war which left the de facto independent state in the hands of ethnic Armenians when a truce was signed in 1994.

Negotiations have so far failed to produce a permanent peace agreement.

The conflict has roots dating back well over a century into competition between Christian Armenian and Muslim Turkic and Persian influences.

Populated for centuries by Christian Armenian and Turkic Azeris, Karabakh became part of the Russian empire in the 19th century.

The two groups lived in relative peace, although acts of brutality on both sides in the early 20th century live on in the popular memory.

After the end of World War I and the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, the new Soviet rulers, as part of their divide-and-rule policy in the region, established the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region, with an ethnic Armenian majority, within the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan in the early 1920s.

As Soviet control loosened towards the end of the 1980s, smouldering Armenian-Azeri frictions exploded into violence when the region's parliament voted to join Armenia.

During the fighting, in which between 20,000 and 30,000 people are estimated to have lost their lives, the ethnic Armenians gained control of the region.

They also pushed on to occupy Azerbaijani territory outside Karabakh, creating a buffer zone linking Karabakh and Armenia.

With the break-up of the Soviet Union, in late 1991, Karabakh declared itself an independent republic, further escalating the conflict into a full-scale war. That de-facto status has not been recognised elsewhere.

While Armenia itself has never officially recognised the region's independence, it has become its main financial and military backer.


A Russian-brokered ceasefire was signed in 1994, leaving Karabakh as well as swathes of Azeri territory around the territory in Armenian hands.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Ethnic Armenian militia gained control in a conflict which claimed up to 30,000 lives

During the fighting, in which more than one million fled their homes, the ethnic Azeri population - about 25% of the total before the war - fled Karabakh and Armenia while ethnic Armenians fled the rest of Azerbaijan.

Karabakh is the Russian rendering of an Azeri word meaning 'black garden', while Nagorno is a Russian root meaning "mountainous". The ethnic Armenians prefer to call the region Artsakh, an ancient Armenian name for the area.

Since the truce, a simmering stalemate prevailed until September 2020, when Azerbaijani launched an offensive that recaptured territory around Karabakh and advanced onto the region itself before another Russian-brokered ceasefire.

Russia, France and the US co-chair the OSCE's Minsk Group, which has been attempting to broker an end to the dispute.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Troops parade in Stepanakert to mark the 20th anniversary of what Nagorno Karabakh calls its independence

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