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Case Number: 10

Case Mnemonic: NAGORNO

Case Name: Nagorno War

Case Author: Kathy Lalazarian, Summer, 1997



1. The Issue

The collapse of the former Soviet Union was accompanied by many conflicts over its vast terrain; one of which being the dispute over the territory called Nagorno-Karabakh, located in Azerbaijan. This Armenian diaspora houses an Armenian population that is being forcably expelled from their enclave. This war, which began in 1988, is the longest running conflict housed in the former Soviet Union, as well as the first territorial dispute to spawn nationalist movements.

2. Description

The region of Nagorno-Karabakh had historically been considered as a region for both Armenian and Azeri nationalism (Hunter, 97). Under Iranian rule (pre-Soviet era) this enclave gave Armenians a sense of independence. For the Azeris, the region became important culturally and nationalistically. (Hunter, 97). Under Soviet rule, however, the region became integrated economically with Azerbaijan.

Confusion continued over territorial integrity in 1920 when the Armenians refused to accept the decision of the Ottoman and British policies of making Karabakh part of Azerbaijan. The Bolsheviks in 1920 added to the geopolitical angst of the region by rearranging the borders and giving the areas of Nakhichevan, Karabakh, and Zangezur to Armenia. The decision was reversed shortly thereafter, however, and Azerbaijan quickly reclaimed the territory. An agreement was then reached in 1923, allowing the region autonomy within Azerbaijan. This "marriage" of the two regions has been a point of contention throughout the Cold War era, and differences had begun to emerge dominantly in 1988.

The war between Armenia and Azerbaijan may have resulted from the "not so stringent" attitude due to glasnost. On February 20, 1988, the local assembly of Nagorno-Karabakh called a resolution to transfer the region from Azerbaijani to Armenian jurisdiction. In 1990, Mikhail Gorbachev, who had originally been sympathetic to the Armenian cause, reversed his opinion, and shifted toward the Azerbaijani position (Goldman, 154). Rising nationalism in both Armenia and Azerbaijan was prevalent as a result of this move, as well as several anti-Armenian riots that had occurred in Azerbaijan. The movement for independence in Azerbaijan first gained momentum in 1988, to counter the rising Armenian nationalism in Nagorno-Karabakh (Hunter, 58). As a result, anti-Armenian riots had broken out in the Azeri city of Sumgait, which some had characterized as pogroms (Hunter, 99). These riots were the catalyst for the commencement of full-fledged war between the two republics.

What followed was a forced population transfer. Hundreds of thousands Armenians and Azeris who had been living outside of their own republic had lost their homes and possessions as they fled back to their native lands, either forcibly, or in fear of anticipated violence. The end of 1991 brought with it not only the fall of Communism, but an open and ugly war between two republics.

2. Location

Armenia is a country of 11,600 square miles. It is bordered by Turkey on the West, Azerbaijan on the East, Georgia on the North, and by Iran and Azerbaijan on the south.

Azerbaijan has an area of 33,440 square miles (86,600 sq km) and is bordered by Russia on the north, Georgia on the northwest, Armenia on the west, Iran on the south, and the Caspian Sea on the east. Azerbaijan, situated on the western coast of the Caspian Sea, occupies one of the Asian continent's strategic crossroads between East and West.

3. Duration: In Progress(1988-94)

Open warfare began in February, 1988. A ceasefire has been in effect since May of 1994.

4. Location

Continent: Mideast

Region: Mideast Asia

Country: Armenia

5. Actors: Armenia and Azerbaijan

II. Environment Aspects

6. Type of Environmental Problem: Deforestation

The United States, Russia, and Turkey all have an inherent interest in creating a stable region without conflict in the Caucasus. The region lies in the path of a proposed pipeline, (see Caspian oil case), and regional stability is a prerequisite for the construction of the pipeline. An end to this conflict may see industrialization of the region due to the pipeline; however, it will also see exploitation of the natural resources in the area. If the conflict resumes, on the other hand, the death toll will rise.

The exodus of Azeris from Armenia undermined a large proportion of Armenia's agriculture, as many of the Azeris were farmers.

By accepting the Russian bartered cease fire in 1994, Armenia had been rewarded financially by Russia. Armenia had used some of the money Russia had given the country to reactivate the Medsamor nuclear power plant to supply heat and energy to the country (see ARMENIA)

7. Type of Habitat: Temperate

8. Act and Harm Sites:

Act Site       Harm Site           Example

Azerbaijan     Armenia             Deforestation due to war

III. Conflict Aspects

9. Type of Conflict: Interstate

The area of Nagorno-Karabakh is now controlled by Armenian forces, and a ceasefire sponsored by OSCE has been in effect since May of 1994. Russia and the United States, however, refuse to recognize the region's autonomy, causing the area to be unstable, politically. In December of 1996, after talks with the Armenian foreign minister, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov had said that "Russia believes that conflict over the ethnic- Armenian enclave can only be resolved by respecting Azerbaijan's territorial integrity" (Soghom). Primakov had said that he supports Nagorno-Karabakh's right to self-determination and local self-rule, but only within Azerbaijan. Armenia had refused to agree to a demand from Azerbaijan that the OSCE formerly endorse Azerbaijan's territorial integrity, which would include the ethnic- Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenians feel that if Nagorno-Karabakh remains in Azerbaijan, the Armenians will face extinction (and are reminded of the genocide of 1915 at the hands of the Turks, who were exterminating Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire's eastern provinces). Azeris claim that the loss of Karabakh is a blow to their independence.

10. Level of Conflict: High

11. Fatality Level of Dispute (military and civilian fatalities)

III. Environment and Conflict Overlap

12. Environment-Conflict Link and Dynamics:

Causal Diagram

13. Level of Strategic Interest

14. Outcome of Dispute:

IV. Related Information and Sources

15. Related ICE and TED Cases

TED Cases





ICE Cases









16. Relevant Websites and Literature


Artsakh On-Line


Horizon Online

NKR Factbook


The Armenia/Azerbaijan Initiative

Azerba ijan


Goldenberg, Suzanne. Pride of Small Nations: the Caucasus and Post-Soviet Disorder, 1994.

Hunter, Shireen T. The Transcaucasus in Transition: nation building and conflict, Washington, D.C.; The Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1994.

Huttenbach, Henry R. "Post-Soviet Crisis and Disorder in Transcaucasia" Political Culture and Civil Society in Russia and the New States of Eurasia, 1995.

Soghom, Mardiros. "Russia Says Nagorno-Karabakh Must Remain Part of Azerbaijan" Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty 09 December 1996.

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November, 1997