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Understanding Nagorno-Karabakh

The logo for Assyria TV

CMES researcher Svante Lundgren has been interviewed on Assyria TV about the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The interview aired on 27 September 2023 on Assyria TV, which is an independent news organisation registered in Sweden. Below are some excerpts from the interview translated into English.

The conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region is long and complicated. It is a classic territorial conflict where two states lay claim to the same territory.

In 1920-21 the entire region came under Soviet control. The Soviet regime decided that Nagorno-Karabakh should be part of Azerbaijan even though more than 90% of its population was Armenian. Nagorno-Karabakh was given the status of an autonomous region within the Soviet republic Azerbaijan.

In 1988 a movement was established in Nagorno-Karabakh with the goal of having the region transferred from the Soviet republic Azerbaijan to the Soviet republic Armenia, but the Soviet regime was opposed to this. The tensions between Armenians and Azerbaijanis increased, there was a lot of anger in Azerbaijan and several pogroms against Armenians.

In 1991 both Azerbaijan and Armenia became independent states as the Soviet Union collapsed. Nagorno-Karabakh held a referendum, its population voted for independence, and an independent republic was proclaimed. Since then, Nagorno-Karabakh has functioned as a de facto state with an elected president, government, parliament and state institutions. However, the autonomous region has never been formally recognized by any other states, not even Armenia. Armenia has continued to support Nagorno-Karabakh, but has never offered any formal recognition.

Between 1991 and 1994 a war raged between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which was won by Armenia. As a result, Armenia came to control Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas, something that Azerbaijan has never accepted.

On 27 September 2020, Azerbaijan attacked Nagorno-Karabakh with its full military strength, resulting in a war that lasted for 44 days. Azerbaijan managed to conquer some of the Armenian held areas and Armenia was forced to give up some of the land in the areas surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh. Part of the area that originally constituted Nagorno-Karabakh remained under Armenian control, with an Armenian population of about 120 000. In this conflict, Putin's Russia waited to intervene and let Azerbaijan win before a peace settlement was forced. Since 2020, Azerbaijan has been waiting for an opportunity to conquer the remaining areas under Armenian control.

In September 2023, Azerbaijan once again attacked Nagorno-Karabakh and the government in Nagorno-Karabakh capitulated. This has meant the end of Nagorno-Karabakh as an Armenian enclave. The entire Armenian population in Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan is expected to leave as a result. In the period before the attack, the Armenian government had increasingly moved towards the West and had voiced sharp critique against Putin and Russia. It is obvious that Russia has supported Azerbaijan in their endeavor - Russia was informed about the attack beforehand and most likely gave their go ahead.

The international community has condemned Azerbaijans behavior, but no sanctions have been implemented. The EU condemned the Azerbaijani blockade of the Lachin corridor but also signed a gas deal with Azerbaijan. As such, Europe is paying for Azerbaijani gas with Armenian blood. The interest from Swedish media during the blockade has been minimal and the level of knowledge about the conflict has been low. 

Watch the interview in Swedish (the interview starts at 1:10)

Svante Lundgren's research profile