An independent Nagorno-Karabakh: a potential solution to the ongoing Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict

31 July 2019
Photo of President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, and Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan.

How a small region in Western Asia became the centre of a multi-national conflict

Nagorno-Karabakh is a relatively small mountainous region that has become the heartbeat of an ongoing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.[1] It is situated in southwest Asia, sandwiched between Turkey and Azerbaijan.[2]

Armenia and Azerbaijan were borne out of the Transcausaian Federation as separate countries in the early 20th Century, but found themselves under the control of the Soviet Union.[3] Professor of government and politics at the George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government, Mark Katz notes that Stalin’s strategy with Nagorno-Karabakh was a “divide and rule” one.[4] Despite the region’s majority Armenian population, Stalin enclosed it within Azerbaijan’s borders, fostering animosity between the two nations. Division between the Azeris and the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh Armenian population produced armed conflict to prevent the nations from rallying together in opposition to Soviet rule.[5]

When the Russian socialist state began to crumble, tensions manifested themselves violently.[6] In 1988, the Nagorno-Karabakh region declared its desire to become part of Armenia, thereby rejecting the authority of Azerbaijan.[7] A 6-year war ensued that would claim the lives of approximately 30,000 people and cause instability and displacement for hundreds of thousands of victims.[8] In 1991, Nagorno-Karabakh made a bold attempt to assert its independence via a referendum in December,[9] and while it remains a de facto independent nation, no country has formally recognised it as an autonomous country.[10]

A ceasefire was tentatively declared in 1994,[11] but this has not been a secure guarantor of peace. Patriotism in both countries plays a major role in precluding peaceful resolution.[12] One out of every six in Nagorno-Karabakh is a member of the military and people maintain that they are defending not just a piece of land, but their home.[13]

The present situation

  1. In April 2016, the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh once again descended into a four day war and caused approximately 200 deaths.[14]
  2. Russia maintains a vested interest in the ongoing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. It keeps both countries reliant on its arms and weaponry.[15]
  3. The Velvet Revolution of 2018 saw a change in Armenian politics. Nikol Pashinyan, the new prime minister of Armenia, has replaced semi-autocratic leadership, and represents an opportunity for change.[16]

Perhaps such a turn towards a more liberal democracy will encourage a shunning of violent tactics.[17]

What would it take to recognise Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state?

Before we can secure peaceful negotiations and diplomatic relations, a reliable and secure ceasefire needs to be reached.  Senior Fellow with Carnegie Europe specializing in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus region, Thomas de Waal ,cited in the Guardian in  wake of the Four Day War between Azeri and Armenian forces, said that “(t)he problem with the geography of this conflict is that if the ceasefire breaks down there are no peacekeepers and even if you don’t have a full-scale war there could be low-intensity fighting which completely destroys the peace process.”[18] If peaceful dialogue has not been established before the international community recognises Nagorno-Karabakh as independent, there could be serious consequences. Opposition (especially from Azerbaijan, who will fight against Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence) could escalate at the announcement, driving the rivaling nations into further conflict.[19]

A reason why little headway has been made in this conflict resolution is a lack of willingness to compromise. Nikol Pashinyan has stated: “there is no land to hand over to Azerbaijan”, while Azerbaijan leader, Ilham Aliev maintains the complete opposite stance on the matter.[20] Yet the OSCE Minsk Group,[21] which combines delegates from Russia, France and the US, continues to work to solve the Nagorno-Karabakh issue cannot make progress as each country contributes to “kabuki negotiations.” Thomas de Waal attributes the term to a former diplomat, describing it as when “…each side strikes poses and does just enough to keep the OSCE mediators in a job, but no serious work is done or real progress is made.”[22] He also suggests that Azerbaijan must consider an independent Nagorno-Karabakh. Once an  ‘exchange’ takes place, Nagorno-Karabakh can potentially work towards independence.[23]

In summary of the points above, a solution to this drawn-out conflict perhaps lies with an independent Nagorno-Karabakh.

Photo of two patients at the Lady Cox Rehabilitation Centre in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Hope for the future

Hope for the future is found in creative initiatives like the 25 Voices Project, an exhibition that features photographs and stories celebrating the hopes and dreams of 25 ordinary people in Karabakh.[24] Another example is HART’s key partners, the Lady Cox Rehabilitation Centre in Nagorno-Karabakh, continues to fight the stigma of disability, a relic of Soviet propaganda. As disability was highly stigmatised in the Soviet Union, people with disabilities were denied recognition and their accessibility needs were not catered for.[25] The Centre aims to disrupt negative notions surrounding disability in the region and provide opportunities for independence and joy in the lives of disabled people.[26]

If you wish to donate to The Lady Cox Rehabilitation Centre in Nagorno-Karabakh, please visit the HART website and put a reference to “The Rehab Centre.” For more information about Nagorno-Karabakh and HART’s work there, visit this site.


[1] For an overview of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, see:

[2] Source: CIA World Factbook. See: and also see:

[3] Source: NowThisWorld – Why do Armenia and Azerbaijan Hate Each Other? See:

[4] Source: Katz, M. “Collapsed Empires,” in Chester Crocker, Fen Osler Hampson, and Patricia Aall, eds., “Managing Global Chaos” (Washington: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1996)

[5] Source: Conflict Analysis Research Centre – Mapping the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict. See:

[6] Source: BBC – Nagorno-Karabakh profile. See:

[7] Source: Global Conflict Tracker – Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict. See:

[8] Source: The Economist – The Conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. See:

[9] Source: Global Conflict Tracker – Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict.

See: and also see:

[10] Source: Conciliation Resources – History: Nagorny Karabakh Conflict. See:

[11] Source: BBC – Nagorno-Karabakh profile. See:

[12] Source: Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict: patriotism prevails on both sides. See:

[13] Source: DW News – Nagorno-Karabakh: On the front line | Focus on Europe. See: and Source: Euronews (in English) – Nagorno-Karabakh: a time-bomb in the Caucasus? See:

[14] Source: Thomas De Waal, Carnegie Europe. See:

[15] Source: The Washington Post – At long last, peace might be possible between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Here’s what’s needed. See:

[16] Source: Aftermath of the 2018 ‘Velvet Revolution’ in Nagorno-Karabakh.

See: Also see: Congressional Research Service – Armenia’s Velvet Revolution. The phrase “semi-autocratic” comes from here. Link:

[17] Source: The Washington Post – At long last, peace might be possible between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Here’s what’s needed. See:

[18] Source: The Guardian – Nagorno-Karabakh: Azeri-Armenian ceasefire agreed in disputed region. See:

[19] Previous devastating conflict concerning the Nagorno-Karabakh region occurred, for example, during the Four Day War in 2016. See:

[20] Source: The Jamestown Foundation, Global Research and Analysis – Pashinyan Stiffens Armenia’s Posture Toward Karabakh. See: and see:

Ideas about lack of compromise are also mentioned here: Italian Institute for International Political Studies: What Does 2019 Hold for the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict?. See:

[21] For more information about the OSCE Minsk Group, visit:

[22] Source: Thomas De Waal, Carnegie Europe. See: For further information also see: and

[23] Ibid.

[24] For more information about The 25 Voices Project, follow these links: and

[25] For more about stigma surrounding disability in the Soviet Union, see HART’s corresponding blog:

[26] To learn more about paintings created by the patients at the Centre, follow this link:


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