Armenia declared martial law and general mobilization after clashes with Azerbaijan in the Nagorno Karabakh region resulted in civilian deaths. The two sides exchanged accusations about initiating the attack, so what do we know about the disputed territory between the two countries?
The Nagorno-Karabakh region is located within the territory of Azerbaijan and is predominantly Armenian, and it is supported by neighboring Armenia.
The word Nagorno in Russian means heights, while Karabakh means black garden in Azeri language.
And ethnic Armenians prefer to use the old Armenian name for the region “Artsakh”.
In 1988, near the end of the Soviet rule, the Azerbaijani forces and Armenian separatists entered a bloody war that ended with the signing of the armistice in 1994, but negotiations failed to lead to a permanent peace treaty until this moment, and this conflict remains one of the “frozen conflicts” of the post-Soviet era.
The roots of the conflict go back more than a century ago, when the region was the scene of competition for influence between Armenian Christians, Turkic Muslims and Persians.
The area was inhabited for centuries by Armenian and Azeri Christians, and it became part of the Russian Empire in the nineteenth century.
Its residents lived in relative peace, although some brutal acts of violence committed by elements on both sides in the early twentieth century are still stuck in the memory of their children.
After the end of the First World War and the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the new Soviet regime established then – within a policy of divide and rule in the region – an autonomous region in Nagorno Karabakh inhabited by an Armenian majority within the borders of the former Azerbaijan Soviet Republic in the early 1920s.
With the decline of Soviet grip in the late 1980s, disputes between Armenians and Azerbaijanis developed into violent acts after the region’s parliament voted in favor of joining Armenia.
It is estimated that the conflict between the two sides resulted in the death of between 20 thousand and 30 thousand people, and the Armenian majority took control of the region, and then sought to occupy an adjacent area within the territory of Azerbaijan to create a demilitarized zone linking Karabakh with Armenia.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in late 1991, Karabakh declared itself an independent republic, escalating the conflict into all-out war. The “de facto” state was not recognized from abroad, even by Armenia itself.
Although Armenia did not formally recognize the region’s independence, it remained its main financial and military supporter.
A ceasefire was signed with Russian mediation in 1994, bringing Karabakh and swaths of Azerbaijani lands in this enclave under Armenian control.
During the conflict, which resulted in the displacement of more than a million people, ethnic Azeris (who represented about 25% of the population) fled Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, while the Armenians fled Azerbaijan. The people of the two ethnic groups have not been able to return to their homes since the end of the war.
Soldiers on both sides were killed during separate incidents of violations of the armistice. And the closure of the borders between Turkey and Azerbaijan caused severe economic problems for Armenia, as it is a landlocked country.
Since the truce was reached, matters have been running at a dead end between the Azeris, who are bitter about losing a land they see as their right, and the Armenians who are not willing to give it up.
Russia, France and the United States hold the presidency of what is known as the Minsk Group – within the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – which is making efforts to mediate in order to end the conflict.
Breaches For a truce
During the referendum held in December 2006 by Azerbaijan that Azerbaijan considered illegal, the region approved a new constitution.
Some signs of progress appeared from time to time during intermittent meetings between the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Significant progress was made during the talks between the two leaders in 2009, but it did not continue, and since then there have been several serious violations of the armistice, most notably the killing of dozens of soldiers from both sides in mutual hostilities in April 2016.
On Sunday, clashes broke out between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces, and an Azerbaijani helicopter was shot down, and there were reports of civilian casualties on both sides of the border.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan accused Azerbaijan of launching air and artillery attacks on his country’s forces, while Azerbaijan said it was responding to artillery shelling by Armenia along the border.