Nation profile

Nagorno-Karabakh
Lernayin Gharabagh o Artsakh

General information
Population
150,932 inhabitants (2013 Artsakh census). In 2021, some 40,000 were refugees in Armenia
Area
11,458 km² (self-declared republic); 4,400 km² (1923-1991 Soviet boundaries); 3,200 km² approx. (controlled December 2020)
Institutions
Government of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) and National Assembly
Major cities
Stepanakert (capital), Martakert, Shushi (under Azerbaijani control)
State administration
Azerbaijan (de jure); independent from Azerbaijan (de facto) but with heavy dependence on Armenia and Russia
Territorial languages
Armenian
Official languages
Armenian
Major religion
Armenian Christianity
National day
2 September (Independence Day)

Presentation

Nagorno-Karabakh, or Artsakh, is an Armenian-majority territory which lies within the internationally recognized borders of Azerbaijan, from which it is de facto independent since 1991. The territory is ruled by the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, or Republic of Artsakh, which since its inception has been heavily dependent of Armenia in the economic, political and military fields. Since November 2020 it is a de facto Russian military protectorate, partially self-governed by the authorities of the Republic of Artsakh.

Formerly part of Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh was included in Soviet Azerbaijan in 1923, where it was granted the status of an autonomous oblast. Armenian leaders and intellectuals denounced, throughout the Soviet era, that the government of Azerbaijan was carrying out a policy of Azerbaijanization in their territory.

In the 1980s, a broad-based popular movement (the Karabakh Movement) called for Nagorno-Karabakh's reunification with Armenia. The Soviet Union did not meet the request and, in 1991, the government of Azerbaijan annulled Nagorno-Karabakh's limited autonomy.

The 1992-1994 war

As a result, Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians organized a self-determination referendum in December 1991 (99.98% votes for independence) and subsequently declared the sovereignty of their country. War immediately pitted an Armenia-Karabakh alliance against Azerbaijan. The armed conflict lasted until the 1994 ceasefire.

During the war, Karabakh annexed seven surrounding Azerbaijani districts that allowed it to have territorial continuity with Armenia and a direct, territorial link to Iran.

Non-Armenian population (some 500,000 people) was expelled from those districts, or fled them, during the war.

To that figure, 235,000 Armenians that were expelled from Azerbaidjan from 1988 and 1990, and 250,000 Azeris expelled from Armenia during the same period, must be added as victims of the Armenian-Azeri conflict.

The Republic of Artsakh

The Armenian authorities declared the unification of the former territories of the autonomous oblast —Nagorno-Karabakh proper— with the seven districts that had been conquered during the war, under the Republic of Artsakh, or Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. That republic has existed ever since as a de facto state, independent from Azerbaijan, but heavily dependent on Armenia.

Artsakh approved in referendum two democratic constitutions, the first one in 2006 and the second one in 2017, which self-define it as a sovereign state.

The 1994 ceasefire agreement has been violated thousands of times, mostly in skirmishes. The most serious breaches took place in 2016 and 2020.

In April 2016, during the Four Days War, a minimum of 200 people were killed, both combatants and civilians— while Azerbaijan captured some 8 to 20 square kilometres of territory formerly controlled by the Republic of Artsakh.

The 2020 war

On 27 September 2020, Azerbaijan launched, with Turkish support, a full-fledged offensive against the Republic of Artsakh, which Armenia defended from the attack. On 10 November Armenia saw itself forced to sign an armistice, faced with Azerbaijani military superiority. Under the deal, Artsakh lost between 70% and 75% of the territory it previously held, and Russia deployed soldiers inside the area held by the Armenian authorities.

More than 100,000 people fled Artsakh for Armenia. Russia reported in mid-December that 40,000 had returned to Artsakh along with the deployment of Russian peacekeepers. In mid-2021, Crisis Group reported that some 40,000 remained in Armenia.

Conflict has killed more than 5,000 people including both sides, according to Russian government sources.

Recognition

Karabakh has been acting as a de facto independent state from Azerbaijan, with very close links of dependence on Armenia and, since November 2020, on Russia.

No UN member state —not even Armenia— has recognized Nagorno-Karabakh independence in hopes that the various peace initiatives, above all under the OSCE aegis, that have been taking place bear fruit. Nagorno-Karabakh is recognised by Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transnistria.

In 2007, the OSCE unveiled a peace proposal (the Madrid Principles, updated in 2009 in L’Aquila) foreseeing the retreat of the Armenian forces from the Artsakh territories not belonging to the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, the keeping of a corridor linking Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, the return of those displaced, the approval of an interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh, and finally a vote on its final status. The proposal was not fully accepted by any part of the conflict.

Language

Armenian, which forms its own branch of the Indo-European family, is the language used by virtually the entire Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh. It is the only official language of the Republic of the Artsakh, and as such it is the medium of instruction in the country’s education system.

Prior to the 1992-1994 war, the districts surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh that were part of the Republic of Artsakh until the 2020 war were inhabited by populations that were mostly Azeri-speaking, alongside Kurdish and Armenian minorities.

Identity

The identity of the Armenian people of Nagorno-Karabakh is anchored in the idea of an Armenian nation shared with the rest of Armenians worldwide, particularly with those in the Republic of Armenia. At the same time, the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh also often manifest a strong, specific bond with the territory of Artsakh.

These two views translate into the constitutional preferences expressed by the population of Nagorno-Karabakh. According to a series of opinion polls 2011-2020, 30% to 55% of Karabakh Armenians said they favoured joining Armenia, while 35% to 55% said they preferred independence, with a growing trend towards this second option among younger people.

Both agreed however that Karabakh should not be part of Azerbaijan —even if it were granted an autonomous status.

POLITICS

President: Arayik Harutyunyan (since 2020).
Distribution of seats in Parliament (33 seats). 2020 election:
Free Motherland - 16
United Motherland - 9
Justice - 3
Armenian Revolutionary Federation - 3
Democratic Party of Artsakh - 2

(Last updated October 2021)