The fate of 120,000 ethnic Armenians who live in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh remains uncertain as tensions escalate between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
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The region, which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but is de facto controlled by the breakaway Republic of Artsakh, has been the scene of two wars and sporadic clashes since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The latest outbreak of violence occurred on September 19, 2023, when Azerbaijan launched a military offensive against Armenian forces, claiming to restore its territorial integrity. The attack was met with strong resistance from the Armenian side, which accused Azerbaijan of violating the ceasefire agreement signed in 2020 with the mediation of Russia. The fighting lasted for a day and resulted in dozens of casualties on both sides, before a new ceasefire was announced on September 20, 2023.
The 2020 ceasefire deal, which ended the Second Karabakh War, was seen as a major victory for Azerbaijan, which managed to reclaim about a third of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts that had been occupied by Armenia since the First Karabakh War in the early 1990s. The deal also provided for the deployment of about 2,000 Russian peacekeepers to the region to prevent further Azerbaijani advances and to guard the Lachin corridor, the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia. However, the deal was widely criticized by the Armenian public and political opposition, who viewed it as a humiliating capitulation and a betrayal of the Karabakh Armenians. The deal also sparked protests and political turmoil in Armenia, which led to the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in June 2021 and his replacement by Robert Kocharyan, a former president and a hardliner on the Karabakh issue.
The situation in Nagorno-Karabakh deteriorated further in December 2022, when a group of Azerbaijani-backed activists blockaded the Lachin corridor, demanding the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers and the recognition of Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over the region. The blockade caused severe humanitarian and economic problems for the Karabakh Armenians, who rely on the corridor for their access to food, medicine, fuel and other supplies.
The blockade also increased the isolation and vulnerability of the Republic of Artsakh, which is not officially recognized by any country, including Armenia. The international community has called for an end to the blockade and for a peaceful resolution of the conflict through dialogue and negotiations. However, both sides have shown little willingness to compromise or to engage in constructive talks.
The latest clashes have raised fears of a new war in Nagorno-Karabakh, which could have serious regional and global implications. The conflict has drawn in external actors such as Turkey, which supports Azerbaijan militarily and diplomatically, and Russia, which has close ties with both Armenia and Azerbaijan but favors Armenia on the Karabakh issue. The conflict also poses a challenge for the United States and the European Union, which have expressed concern over the situation and have urged both sides to respect the ceasefire and to resume dialogue under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group, a mediation body co-chaired by France, Russia and the United States.
The future of Nagorno-Karabakh depends largely on the willingness and ability of these actors to exert pressure and influence on both sides to end their hostilities and to find a lasting political solution that respects the rights and interests of all parties involved.