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Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

In a December 1991 referendum boycotted by local Azerbaijanis, Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh approved the creation of an independent state and quickly named their long-time leader, Robert Kocharian, as its president. A Supreme Soviet (legislature) was elected, and Nagorno-Karabakh appealed for world recognition. (No country recognizes the legitimacy of this new government except Armenia).

As a strong supporter of Armenia and its efforts to obtain Nagorno-Karabakh, Kocharian began to rise in prominence. He became famous while he worked to solicit funds from Armenians living in other countries to rebuild the road that leads from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital, Stepanakert. He felt this Lachin Corridor would be a major start in bringing the enclave back under Armenia’s rule. Soon after Kocharian came into power, Armenian separatists declared control of the region and parts of Azerbaijan, displacing almost 1 million Azerbaijanis but providing the means to open the Lachin Corridor. The result was a bloody war. By June 1992, ethnic Armenians had expelled all ethnic Azerbaijanis from the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

No resolutions to the conflict emerged during 1992, despite a number of attempted cease-fires. At the same time the attacks were launched on the Azerbaijani land surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh, an attack also was launched on the Azerbaijani enclave of Nakhichevan, the small, separated region of Azerbaijan located on the western border of Armenia. While troops of the former Soviet army remained stationed along the border with Turkey and Iran, an increasing number of clashes between Armenian and Azerbaijani militias were erupting in the northern portion of the region. Subsequently, Azerbaijan mounted a counterattack in Nagorno-Karabakh and by early July had recaptured most of its northern sector. However, the land returned to Armenian control in the next few months.

In 1993, Armenian forces defeated the Azerbaijani army in several confrontations in Nagorno-Karabakh, which led to Armenian control of the region and of adjacent areas. Armenia enforced a blockade of Nakhichevan. In return, Azerbaijan prohibited any goods to enter Armenia from Azerbaijan. It also enlisted Turkey as an ally in the blockade. Since Armenia received most of its petroleum from Azerbaijan and Turkey, the blockade was the first real advantage for Azerbaijan in the war for the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Initial cease-fire agreements failed to hold until a May 1994 agreement was reached by Russia and the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), but negotiations to resolve the conflict continued unsuccessfully and sporadic fighting and shelling continued. More than 1.2 million Azerbaijanis have left the region for Azerbaijan.

In May 1995, Armenia withdrew from negotiations, charging Azerbaijan involvement in a Georgian Azerbaijani bombing that severed a pipeline carrying vital gas supplies to Armenia from Turkmenistan.

In May 1997, Turkey and Azerbaijan issued a joint declaration condemning Armenian aggression in Nagorno-Karabakh and asking Armenia to withdraw its troops from the region. In September 1997, the OSCE proposed a “phased approach” as a political solution. Azerbaijan accepted the idea while Armenia endorsed it as a basis for further talks. Nagorno-Karabakh, however, did not accept it and demanded that all issues be resolved simultaneously. For the next four years, the negotiations remained at a standstill. Azerbaijani, Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenian leaders have worked with international groups, but neither side was willing to change its position. In April 2002, Azerbaijani president Aliyev hinted that Azerbaijan might consider resuming military action if Armenia refused to make negotiating concessions. Armenian forces and forces of the “Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh” continue to occupy 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s territory. Exchanges of fire occur frequently along the border, causing both military and civilian casualties.


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