A Short History of Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh)

8 October 2020


189 BC

The area today known as Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh) was originally one of the three main ancient provinces of Armenia. The historical roots of the region can be traced back as far as the 5th Century BC.



In 1724, Ottoman troops invaded the land which was controlled by Armenia and attacked the Artsakh Armenian population, who rose in defiance and began their struggle for independence.



In 1923, modern day Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh) was annexed by Stalin to the New Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan despite the fact that the majority of the population were ethnic Armenians who voted to reunite with Armenia and protested against Stalin’s decision.

However, the Soviet system did not accept national identity as a concept, therefore rendering self-determination irrelevant.



The current conflict’s modern origins can be traced back to February 1988, when ethnic Armenian residents of Nagorno Karabakh demanded the region be transferred from Azerbaijan to Armenia, both of which were controlled by the Soviet Union (USSR) at the time.

During the USSR’s perestroika reforms, the region voted to secede from Azerbaijan and form an independent Nagorno Karabakh Republic (NKR).

In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed, and Azerbaijan and Armenia declared independence.

Azerbaijan rejected Nagorno Karabakh’s (Artsakh) independence claim and attempted secession, instead announcing the area would be fully integrated within its borders.

Azerbaijan, supported at that stage by Soviet military force, then engaged in a process of ethnic cleansing, to rid the region of any ethnic Armenian peoples.



In early 1992, the political deadlock escalated into war.

Armenia and the self-proclaimed Nagorno Karabakh Republic were on one side and Azerbaijan was on the other.

The war continued until 1994 and ended with Armenia controlling much of the former Nagorno Karabakh Republic and a few areas around it, including the area of land between Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia.

The additional areas were then incorporated into the Nagorno Karabakh Republic despite them not being included in the original constitution.

The conflict left the former majority Armenian populated territory to the north now under Azerbaijan control and ‘cleansed’ of Armenians, with Azeri people being settled on the land.

Moreover, territory which was newly incorporated into Armenian control led to many members of the Azeri population either choosing to leave or being driven out.

By the end of the fighting an estimated 30,000 people had been killed.



As concessions to Azerbaijan, the Armenian people of Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh) did not join the Republic of Armenia after the war, but remained as an independent republic, outside of Armenia.

Furthermore, the Republics of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh) did not heavily push for international recognition of Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh). It was left as legally constituted under the Charter and Declarations of the UN. Two resolutions were passed by the General Assembly regarding its status as part of Azerbaijan, but such political decisions do not supersede its legal existence under the UN Charter.

Between 1994 and May 2009, 3,000 people were killed in repeated border skirmishes between the two sides.

Sporadic fighting continued in the following years, with dozens being killed every year.

The conflict descended into a war of attrition.


April 2016

In early 2016, a four-day conflict broke out which would later be come to known as the April War or 4-Day War.

The US State Department later estimated that the war had left a total of 350 combatants and civilians dead on both sides.

Sources reported 91 Armenian and 94 Azerbaijani soldiers killed, as well as 9 Armenian and 6 Azerbaijani civilians. Two Azerbaijani soldiers remain missing.

Whilst less than 1% of territory changed hands in the fighting, it was a significant moment as it was the first change to the line of control since 1994.


2017- July 2020

Sporadic fighting and border clashes occurred throughout this period, during which the Nagorno Karabakh Republic changed its primary official name to the Republic of Artsakh.

On 12th July, violence broke out again for a four-day period, this time along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border.

A total of 12 Azerbaijani and 4 Armenian soldiers were killed, as well as one Azerbaijani civilian.



Intensifying military offensives by Azerbaijan and Turkey against the historically Armenian land of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) are raising fears of another Armenian genocide.

Civilians in Stepanakert and elsewhere in Artsakh continue to be targeted, injured and killed as Azerbaijan rejects the calls of Armenia and the world for a ceasefire.

Under the UN Charter, Artsakh is a sovereign independent state and Azerbaijan with the support of the UK’s and USA’s NATO ally, Turkey, have invaded its territory and attacked its people, including civilians.

The European Court of Human Rights has condemned the activity of Azerbaijan and Turkey in not accepting the call for a ceasefire, thus endangering the life and safety of civilians, contrary to international law.


For more information about Nagorno Karabakh and our work in the region, click here.

For HART’s latest update on the fighting in Nagorno Karabakh, click here.

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