Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave in the South Caucasus, has existed under a fragile ceasefire for twenty years. A situation of 'no war, no peace' has become the status quo, leaving the area economically and politically isolated. Despite this, the pioneering Rehabilitation Centre, supported by HART, has become an internationally recognised medical facility and is challenging the stigma associated with disability.
During the 1920s the Nagorno-Karabakh region was assigned to Azerbaijan by Stalin. Armenians and Azerbaijanis lived together relatively peacefully until conflict broke out in 1988, as the USSR was dissolving. The conflict included the attempted ethnic cleansing of the Armenian population of the region. In May 1994 a ceasefire was brokered, but a formal peace treaty has never been agreed.
The ceasefire has been violated regularly throughout its twenty-year history, with around 30-40 deaths annually. These occur mainly along the 160km front line, where opposing military forces are permanently situated in close proximity. These clashes pose a serious threat to peace, with potential for escalation and miscalculation high. Clear measures are needed to prevent further casualties, including the withdrawal of snipers by both sides, as advocated by the NKR Government. In April 2016 tensions sparked into full conflict in what is sometimes referred to as the 4 Days War, resulting in the deaths of over 200 soldiers and several civilians.
Increasingly divisive and aggressive rhetoric, the proliferation of arms and the harassment of individuals promoting cross-border dialogue pose further threats to peace. International Crisis Group reported in September 2013 that “terms like “Blitzkrieg”, “pre-emptive strike” and “total war” have gained currency with both sides’ planners”. Nagorno Karabakh can no longer be considered a “frozen conflict”.
Efforts to foster a lasting peace, including greater international engagement, increased dialogue and confidence-building measures, are urgently needed.
A team from HART visited Nagorno Karabahk in September 2016. You can read the report from our visit, which is available here.