FACTBOX: History of Nagorno-Karabakh

TASS-FACTBOX. On September 28, 2023, the president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), Samvel Shahramanyan, signed a decree...

TASS-FACTBOX. On September 28, 2023, the president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), Samvel Shahramanyan, signed a decree on the termination of its existence from January 1, 2024. The population is ordered to consider the reintegration conditions proposed by Baku and decide on their own whether to stay.


The territory of the present-day Karabakh was part of Great Armenia (Artsakh) from the beginning of the 2nd century B.C. and was one of its provinces. In 822 an independent Armenian Principality of Khachen was proclaimed in Artsakh, which 22 years later recognized the power of Ashot I Bagratuni, who claimed himself king of Armenia. After the loss of centralized Armenian statehood in 1045, Khachen principality remained one of the regions where Armenian rule was preserved. In the 16th-17th centuries Khachen principality lost its independence, and in the middle of the 18th century its territories became a part of Karabakh khanate, after which a significant part of the Armenian population left the region.

The territory of the present-day Nagorno-Karabakh became part of the Russian Empire in the early 19th century as a result of the Russian-Persian war of 1804-1813. After that, some of the Muslims who inhabited Karabakh emigrated to Persia. At the same time, Armenian families returned from Persia to the lands of the former khanate, as well as to the territories of the former Nakhichevan and Erivan khanates.

In 1822 Karabakh khanate was transformed into a governorate of the same name of the Russian Empire, in 1840 it became Shusha uezd of the Caspian region. In 1846 the uezd became a part of Shemakha Governorate (from 1859 - Baku Governorate), and in 1867 - Elizavetpol Governorate.

After the overthrow of the monarchy in 1917, Karabakh was under the jurisdiction of the Transcaucasian Commissariat, remaining a de facto independent region governed by an inter-ethnic council. In 1918, an independent Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was proclaimed in Transcaucasia, claiming the territories of the former Baku and Elizavetpol provinces. In 1919, the Congress of Karabakh Armenians recognized Azerbaijan's jurisdiction over the region. In May 1920, after the establishment of Soviet power in Azerbaijan, Karabakh was occupied by units of the Red Army.

On July 4, 1921, the Kavbiuro (an organization set up by the Bolsheviks in April 1920 as the regional body of the Russian Communist Party) decided to transfer the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia. However, the very next day the issue was reconsidered in favor of Azerbaijan, "based on the need for national peace between Muslims and Armenians."

From 1921 the region was part of the Azerbaijan SSR as a broad autonomy, and from 1923 as an autonomous region (NKAO).

The majority of the population of Nagorno-Karabakh were Armenians (94% according to the 1926 census, 77% according to the last Soviet census of 1989)

Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’s proclamation and the 1991-1994 armed conflict

On February 20, 1988, the NKAO addressed the USSR leadership, as well as the Azerbaijan and Armenian SSRs’, with a request to consider the issue of transferring the region to Armenia, but the Union leadership regarded this request as a manifestation of nationalism.

On July 12, 1988, Nagorno-Karabakh declared its secession from the Azerbaijan SSR. Armed clashes broke out in the region. On January 15, 1990, the USSR authorities imposed a state of emergency in the NKAO and the surrounding areas. Since September 1988, armed clashes began between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. In January 1989, by decision of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, direct administration by the Union leadership was introduced in the NKAO. On December 1, 1989, the councils of the Armenian SSR and NKAO adopted a resolution on the reunification of the republic and the region. However, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR recognized it unconstitutional in January 1990.

In 1991, during the parade of sovereignty and the formation of new sovereign states, Nagorno-Karabakh de jure became part of the independent Republic of Azerbaijan. However, on September 2, 1991, the region proclaimed itself the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) within the USSR. This triggered an open armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over control of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Karabakh conflict was the first major armed clash in the post-Soviet space.

Having conducted a number of large-scale offensive operations, the NKR defense forces established nearly total control over the autonomy (92,65% of the territory of the former NKAO), as well as occupied fully or partially seven Azerbaijani border districts (about 8% of Azerbaijan's territory). In turn, Azerbaijan retained control over parts of the Martuni, Martakert and Shahumyan districts of the NKR.

According to various estimates, the Azerbaijani side's losses amounted from 4,000 to 11,000 killed during the conflict, while the Armenian side's losses ranged from 5,000 to 6,000.

Hostilities stopped after the signing of an agreement calling for a ceasefire in the conflict zone (Bishkek Protocol, May 5, 1994) and an agreement on an indefinite ceasefire (May 9, 1994).

Post-1994 situation in the region

Throughout the following years, the region remained a proclaimed republic, not recognized by any UN member state. The political process of conflict settlement, which was conducted, among other things, within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group (since 1992; Russia, the US and France), did not yield any results. The sides accused each other of violating the ceasefire. Localized incidents involving the use of firearms occurred on the border. From time to time, major armed clashes broke out in the conflict zone.

Armed clash in 2020

In 2020, the situation in the region sharply escalated. Armed clashes that began in July escalated in September into full-scale hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan involving the use of military equipment. According to Azerbaijan, about 3,000 country's troops and 100 civilians became victims of the hostilities. According to the Armenian side, about 4,000 people were killed during the armed clashes.

The conflict was halted after Russian President Vladimir Putin, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan signed a Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire agreement on November 9, 2020. The Azerbaijani and Armenian forces remained in their positions, with Russian peacekeepers stationed in the region. A number of districts around the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic including Kalbajar, Aghdam and Lachin were brought under Baku's control.

In continuation of the settlement process, on January 11, 2021 in Moscow, the leaders of Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan signed a new joint statement, which provided for the unblocking of all economic and transport communications in the region.

On November 26, 2021 in Sochi, the leaders of the three countries agreed to take steps to increase the level of stability and security on the Azerbaijani-Armenian border. They also discussed the need to establish a bilateral commission on its delimitation and subsequent demarcation.

In 2022, Yerevan and Baku agreed to conclude a peace agreement. On April 6, 2022 in Brussels, Ilham Aliyev and Nikol Pashinyan held a meeting mediated by the head of the European Council Charles Michel. Following the meeting, they instructed their foreign ministers to begin preparations for negotiations on a peace treaty. However, the draft document has not been agreed upon.

On September 13-14, 2022, a major armed conflict occurred on the Azerbaijani-Armenian state border involving artillery and large caliber weapons. The sides accused each other of escalation.

Statements on mutual recognition of territorial integrity

On October 6, 2022, in Prague, following a meeting with the participation of European Council President Charles Michel and French President Emmanuel Macron, Nikol Pashinyan and Ilham Aliyev reaffirmed their countries' commitment to the UN Charter and the 1991 Alma-Ata Protocol, through which both sides recognize each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty (Armenia recognizes Azerbaijan's territory of 86,600 square kilometers, including Nagorno-Karabakh, and Azerbaijan recognizes Armenia's territory of 29,800 square kilometers). Besides, they agreed to invite a civilian mission of the European Union to the Armenia-Azerbaijan border.

On May 17, 2023, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan during the Council of Europe summit in Reykjavik confirmed that Armenia recognizes the sovereignty of Azerbaijan within its borders on the territory of 86,600 square kilometers, which includes Nagorno-Karabakh (under the condition of ensuring the security of the Armenian population in the region).

Events of September 2023

On September 19, 2023, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry announced the beginning of "anti-terrorist measures of local nature" in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Yerevan, in turn, accused Baku of "large-scale aggression" and said that the Armenian Armed Forces were absent in Karabakh.

Russia called on the sides to stop the bloodshed and return to a political and diplomatic settlement. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated that Moscow has urged Baku and Yerevan to honor the trilateral agreements, taking into account the realities and Armenia's recognition of Azerbaijan's sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh.

On September 20, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry announced that an agreement had been reached with the participation of the Russian peacekeeping contingent to suspend anti-terrorist activities in Karabakh. On the same day, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in a message to the people of Armenia that the country "takes note" of the Karabakh authorities' decision to negotiate with Azerbaijan. At the same time, he emphasized that "the Republic of Armenia did not participate in [preparing] the signed text on Karabakh and was not a party to the discussions." On September 19, large-scale protests demanding the resignation of the republic's authorities began in Yerevan.

On September 21 and September 25, representatives of the Karabakh Armenian population and Azerbaijani authorities met in Yevlakh and Khojaly to discuss, among other things, the reintegration of the Armenian population. As of September 28, more than 65,000 refugees arrived in Armenia from the region.

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Local Glob: FACTBOX: History of Nagorno-Karabakh
FACTBOX: History of Nagorno-Karabakh
Local Glob
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