Nagorno-Karabakh, a region located in the South Caucasus, has been a focal point of contention between Armenia and Azerbaijan for over a century. The name “Nagorno-Karabakh” translates to “Mountainous Karabakh,” distinguishing it from the flatlands of “Lower Karabakh.”
Historically, both Armenia and Azerbaijan have laid claims to the region, with each nation viewing it as an integral part of their respective territories. The name Karabakh is derived from Azerbaijani words “gara” (black) and “bakh” (garden). The term “Nagorno-Karabakh” emerged in the early 1800s. While Azerbaijan views the entire region as a unified entity called “Karabakh,” the distinction between the mountainous and flat parts of the region is more pronounced in Armenian narratives.
The conflict’s roots can be traced back to the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917. Following the empire’s dissolution, the Republic of Northern Azerbaijan emerged, staking a claim on Karabakh. Armenia, too, asserted its rights over the region, leading to confrontations that persist to this day.
The Soviet Era and Beyond:
During the Soviet era, Nagorno-Karabakh was designated as an autonomous region under Azerbaijani control. Tensions flared in the late 1980s when the Armenian parliament declared the region’s incorporation into the Armenian SSR, a move that Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, vehemently opposed.
The early 1990s witnessed a full-blown war over the region, culminating in a peace agreement that rendered parts of the Caucasus as an unrecognized republic. While these territories are de facto controlled by Armenia, they are de jure part of Azerbaijan. Since then, the conflict has been termed “frozen,” but sporadic clashes continue to erupt.
In September 2023, Azerbaijan announced the commencement of “local anti-terrorist operations” in Karabakh. The objective of these operations, as stated by Azerbaijan, includes the restoration of constitutional order, cessation of large-scale provocations, disarmament and expulsion of Armenian Armed Forces from their territories, neutralization of military infrastructure, and ensuring the safety of Azerbaijani civilians.
Armenia, on the other hand, refuted claims of the presence of its armed forces in Nagorno-Karabakh. Local Armenian media reported that Russian “peacekeepers” had fled Karabakh and would not defend Armenia.
Ukraine’s official position, endorsed at the UN level, does not recognize the independence of Karabakh and opposes Armenia’s occupation of Azerbaijani territories. In 2016, the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs explicitly stated its commitment to “respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan.”
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains one of the most protracted and complex disputes in the post-Soviet space. Despite numerous attempts at mediation and conflict resolution, a lasting peace remains elusive. The region’s strategic importance, coupled with deep-seated historical grievances, ensures that it will continue to be a flashpoint in the South Caucasus for the foreseeable future.