Armenia And Azerbaijan Are Still Fighting Over This Piece of Land And Its People

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Jeroencommons

Last weekend, on the 20th anniversary of the end of the Armenian-Azeri war over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory, the Minsk group: the United States, Russia, and France, urged the two governments to show the “political will needed to achieve a lasting and peaceful settlement” to their conflict, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports.

The landlocked mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh is geographically part of Azerbaijan, but the majority of its population is ethnic Armenian.

Even though the war ended 20 years ago, the peace process has been sporadic and lukewarm, at best. The Minsk group OSCE, which was created in 1992 to broker peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan, has so far been unsuccessful in its mission. 

We take a look at what all the fighting is about.

The war began in 1988, but its seeds were sown in the 1920s:

After the end of World War I and the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in the early 1920s, the Soviet Union, as part of its 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. Before this, Christian Armenians and Turkic Azeris lived together in relative peace, according to the office of the republic in Washington, DC’s website.

As Soviet control loosened towards the end of the 1980s, the region’s parliament voted to join Armenia. Violence broke out in 1988.

More than one million people were displaced, and 20,000 to 30,000 people died in the conflict. The Armenians routed the Azeris to gain control not only of the disputed region, but also some Azerbaijani territory outside it. The region declared itself an independent republic, although this has not been internationally recognised, the BBC reports.

A truce was finally brokered by Russia in 1994, but Karabakh retained control of the disputed land and the Azeri territory it had captured. 

All attempts at lasting peace and ceasefires have failed so far:

Azerbaijan wants the land they believe is rightfully theirs back, while Armenia is unwilling to do so, given that the demographic makeup of the region favours it. The Karabakh region itself also wants to retain the right of its people to self-determination.

When the war ended in 1994, Russia, France, and the U.S. formed the OSCE’s Minsk Group, which has been attempting to broker an end to the dispute. But negotiations are at a tenuous stalemate so far, Armenia Now reports.

A report by the OSCE Minsk Group states the tenets of a peace treaty as including the return of territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijani control, an interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh providing guarantees for security and self-governance, and the future determination of the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh through a legally binding referendum, among other things.

While the Armenian and Azeri presidents have met for negotiations on a few occasions, and some progress was made in 2009, progress has since stalled, and a number of soldiers have been killed in ceasefire violations on both sides.

The Armenian government has claimed that while both Yerevan and Karabakh have agreed to a referendum, Azerbaijan has not, a statement from the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs says. Azerbaijan has repeatedly threatened to use force to get back Karabakh if negotiations fail, but Yerevan has warned of large-scale retaliation if Baku launches any military action, AFP reports.

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