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Nagorno-Karabakh: Why Are They Fighting?

Nagorno-Karabakh: Why Are They Fighting?

Azerbaijan and Armenia have been at loggerheads for decades over the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous region inhabited almost entirely by ethnic Armenians but which is located within Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized borders.

The Soviet government designated the territory an autonomous region within Soviet Azerbaijan in the 1920s. Under Moscow’s iron rule, violence between the Armenians and Azerbaijanis that predated their incorporation into the Soviet Union was kept largely in check.

But as the Soviet Union began to wobble in the late 1980s, simmering tensions boiled over into a six-year war after Nagorno-Karabakh sought to formally join Armenia. The region’s self-styled government declared unilateral independence in 1991, and an estimated 30,000 people died in the conflict before Russia brokered a cease-fire in 1994.

The territory occupies some 4,400 square kilometers of land, and Armenian forces control buffer zones surrounding the breakaway region.

Nagorno-Karabakh has maintained de facto autonomy since the cease-fire, while Azerbaijan maintains its claim to the region.

Internationally mediated negotiations by the Minsk Group co-chaired by France, Russia, and the United States and organized under the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have failed to yield a resolution to the so-called frozen conflict.

Cross-border violence has remained constant in the two decades since the 1994 cease-fire but has not escalated into a full-scale war.

-- Carl Schreck, Luke Johnson