Arabs, Turks, Persians, Mongols. All were dominated by Nagorno-Karabakh. But only Azerbaijan ended more than two thousand years of Armenian presence in the region.

Armenians and Azeris have been fighting for control of the region for more than a century. The September 19 attack ends thousands of years of Armenian territory

The Nagorno-Karabakh region is currently at the center of media attention. The forced exodus of Armenians from the region after Azerbaijan’s invasion marked a new chapter in the region’s history marked by bloody conflict.

Located in the Caucasus, considered one of the natural borders between Europe and Asia, Nagorno-Karabakh has experienced countless wars over thousands of years. Arabs, Turks, Persians, and Mongols all dominated the region at one point or another.

Throughout this time, however, there was one constant: the Armenian presence. The consensus among scholars is that these people settled in the region in the 18th century. II BC and remained there for more than two thousand years.

In 1813, after a nine-year war between the Russians and the Persians, the Russian Empire of Alexander I came to control the region, marking the beginning of nearly two centuries of Russian sovereignty in the region.

Nagorno-Karabakh was part of the Viceroyalty of the Caucasus until the dissolution of the Russian Empire with the 1917 revolution. After a brief experience of union between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, the three countries became independent under the name Transcaucasian Federal Democratic Republic. With self-determination, conflicts arose between the Armenians and the Azeris.

Between 1918 and 1920, the two countries fought several wars over Nagorno-Karabakh. During this period, the control of the region changed several times: in the first two years, the administration was in charge of the Karabakh Council, supported by the local population, mostly Armenian. However, the Azerbaijani government had a powerful ally, Lieutenant General William Thomson, a high-ranking British Army officer who was appointed governor of Baku at the end of World War I and the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the region.

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Mainly concerned with securing Azerbaijan’s oil supplies to the United Kingdom, Thompson appointed Khosrov Bey Sultanov, Azerbaijan’s former defense minister, as governor-general of Karabakh, angering the region’s Armenian majority. The Karabakh Council, which de facto controlled the region, was eventually disbanded after the massacre. [massacre] It is estimated that at least 600 Armenians died in the Kaipolice organized by Sultanov.

Already under Azerbaijani control, battles and massacres continued, as in Shusha, while a common enemy approached the South Caucasus: the Red Army. With the bulk of the army sent west, the government of Baku surrendered in April 1920 when the Russians entered its territory. Later Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic was formed.

In September of that year in Armenia the scene of the invasion of the Trugos from the west and the Russians from the east was very dramatic. The Turks gained more than half of the territory occupied by Armenia, but were unable to overthrow the country’s government, the Red Cross captured the entire territory and achieved the surrender of the Yerevan administration to form the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic.

Stalin and the decision to define the future

At this time, about 90% of Nagorno-Karabakh’s population was Armenian. On July 4 and 5, 1921, the Cowbureau, a committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in the Caucasus, decided which republic would be given control of the region. On the first day, Armenia voted in favor of the region’s integration, with four votes in favor compared to three against. But, the next day the situation turned upside down.

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The last word belongs to Joseph Stalin, the most prominent Soviet leader at the time as the People’s Commissar for Nationalities of the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic. Stalin’s presence at the last meeting, though not as a formal member, is a sign of the moment’s importance. His ‘yes’ put Nagorno-Karabakh under Azerbaijani administration, the consequences of which are now being felt, with thousands of Armenian refugees leaving their entire lives behind.

The Soviets controlled the region with an iron fist. Nagorno-Karabakh’s elevation to an autonomous region gave local people some control. Peace, albeit tense, prevailed for about 70 years.

By the end of the 80s the Soviet Union had weakened and the conflict between the Armenians and the Azeris had rekindled. In early 1988, several peaceful protests took place in the regional capital of Stepanakert and Yerevan. The demand was simple: transfer jurisdiction over Nagorno-Karabakh to the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic.

The First War

On February 20 of that year, Nagorno-Karabakh local authorities voted in favor of uniting the region with Armenia, triggering the start of the First Nagorno-Karabakh War.

A few days later violence broke out in Askaran. Intent on causing chaos, a group of Azeris began marching towards Stepanagert, but were stopped by local police about 10 kilometers from the capital. These clashes led to the deaths of 50 Armenians and two Azeris, and more importantly, the radicalization of the population.

Armenian refugees flee their villages in Azerbaijan on December 1, 1988, fleeing fighting between Azeris and Armenians during the First Nagorno-Karabakh War (Getty Images)

The progressive disintegration of the Soviet Union led to the outbreak of pogroms. Massacres of Sumgait (1988) and Baku (1990) against Armenians, and Kugark (1988) against Azeris followed one another.

Military clashes began in 1991 with “Operation Ring”, during which five thousand Armenians were deported from Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia by the Soviet military and Azerbaijani police.

Russia and the West attempted to mediate the conflict in March 1992 with the creation of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, co-chaired by the United States, Russia and France. Peace talks are legal.

The conflict ended with the signing of the Bishkek Agreement on May 5, 1994. The war and massacres, such as the massive Kojali (1992) against the Azeris, and Maraga (1992) against the village’s Armenian population, finally ended six years later.

Azeri fighters in Shushi, 10 February 1992 (AP)

The outcome was favorable to the Armenians, and most of the region came under their control.

In total, 16% of the territory internationally recognized as Azerbaijani came under the control of Armenians, but was not integrated into the territory of Armenia: the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh was born later, which included the Nagorno-Karabakh region and some. Other territories in the west and south and have not received official recognition from any country.

A shift in the balance of power and a second war

In subsequent decades, the status quo was largely maintained, barring minor local conflicts such as 2008 and 2016.

However, by this time, the balance of power had shifted. Azerbaijan, using its enormous revenues from oil and natural gas, modernized and expanded its armed forces with the support of Russia, Turkey and Israel. Armenia, with very little money in its coffers, lacks the capacity for major investments in the defense sector and has ceded its sovereignty to Russia, a state party to a sort of NATO’s Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Six former Soviet countries.

Battling the world, especially the West, with the Covid-19 pandemic, Azerbaijan took the opportunity on September 27, 2020, to start the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War and launch an offensive on Artsakh.

Unlike the first conflict, the outcome favored the Azeris. In addition to the victory on the ground, the Ilham Aliyev-led country scored a major victory at the negotiating table.

Under the terms of a cease-fire agreement signed on November 9, 2020 and brokered by Vladimir Putin, Armenians were forced to cede control of several districts: Akhtam in the east and Kalpajar and Lachin in the west. With the loss of the latter, a dreaded outcome for the Armenians: the Artsakh region was separated from Armenia and completely surrounded by Azerbaijani troops.

However, the agreement offered some hope by establishing the Lachin Corridor, a corridor under the control of Russian peacekeeping forces, to ensure the continuity of goods between Armenia and Artsakh. But it didn’t last long.

Siege, Victory and Future

Minor skirmishes along the lines of communication were frequent. In December 2022, the first move of the final Azerbaijani operation to regain control of Nagorno-Karabakh will take place. At the behest of Baku, Azerbaijani environmentalists blocked the corridor, protesting illegal exploration of minerals in the area, in flagrant violation of an agreement signed two years ago. For months, humanitarian aid still entered Artsakh, but in April, Azeris completely blocked the road.

For almost 10 months, 120,000 Armenians, including 30,000 children, lived in inhumane conditions, with almost no food, electricity and natural gas. A coup d’état was effected on 19 September. Within a week, Azerbaijan managed to evict the local population from the territory, ending more than two thousand years of continuous occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh by Armenians.

A satellite image from Maxar Technologies shows a long line of vehicles leaving Nagorno-Karabakh on September 26, 2023 (Maxar Technologies via AP)

As Francis Fukuyama has theorized “the end of history” with the collapse of the Soviet Union, there are those who believe that this may be the end of the conflict between the Armenians and the Azeris. But Azerbaijan’s president, now a dictator elevated to a national hero for restoring the country’s territorial integrity, has made it clear he wants more.

“Nachivan is the native land of Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, in 1920, West Zangesur was taken back from Azerbaijan by the Soviet authorities, so the geographical connection between Azerbaijan and Naksivan was severed.

Statement by Ilham Aliyev The announcement was made during a joint press conference with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who visited Azerbaijan Naksivan on Monday to show support for regional allies and boost ties between the two countries.

Words are not innocent. Since Azerbaijan’s independence, the Baku regime has dreamed of connecting the Naxvivan excavations with the rest of the country. Along the way lies the region of Western Zangesur – to Armenians, Siunik -, internationally recognized as Armenia’s territory.

Is Aliyev preparing to invade Armenia? Only the future will tell.

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