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The Conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan Research Paper

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Updated: Jan 9th, 2020

A Brief Introduction of the regions


The mountainous landlocked republic of Armenia was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1922. Before that, Armenia had gone through a series of wars and divisions, during and after the World War I. In the 14th century, Armenia was divided amid the Persian and Ottoman Empires and it was under these empires that Armenians would suffer the greatest. The Ottoman Empire was governed under a Muslim socialist rule, and Christian Armenians found themselves being discriminated by other Islamic groups.

This made the Armenians under the Ottoman Empire push for equality, demanding justice and more rights. Under Sultan ‘Abdu’l-Hamid II, who later came to be known as the Red Sultan or Bloody Sultan, massacres against the Armenians were organized and within a span of two years between 1892 and 1894, more than 280,000 Armenians were killed. This came to be known as the Hamid massacre, (Hellen 66).

During World War I, the Russian empire and the Ottoman Empire had an altercation, in their Caucasus and Persian Campaigns. There were sharp differences among them and since the Armenians were weary and had formed a resistance against the Ottoman Empire, most of them drifted towards the Russian army.

The new ottoman administration in Constantinople was despondent with the turn of events and begun treating the Armenians with open suspicion and on the April 24 1915, the Ottoman government arrested a group of Armenian intellectuals. According (Sullivan 2001) “ The Tehcir Law was later to be passed on the 25th of May that same year which led to the state supported killings of a large number of Armenians living in Anatolia. This came to be known as the Armenian genocide”.

Under the soviet rule of Vladimir Lenin, Armenians began enjoying more freedom from oppression, which had been the norm under the Ottoman Empire. They received security, food and medicine from the state and enjoyed a period of relative peace and stability. This was however not long lived.

After Vladimir Lenin’s death, Joseph Stalin ascended to power and unlike Lenin, Stalin was not benevolent to the Armenian people. He executed a large number of Armenians during the Great Purge. In 1923, Stalin had also separated Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia and had now become a district under Azerbaijan. This self-governing district has now become one of the region’s most contested areas that have led to clashes and fatalities between the Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers, (Chorbaijan 42).


Azerbaijan was greatly contested by the Muslim and Christian faiths in the Middle Ages. Unlike Armenia, Azerbaijan went through numerous headship regimes in form of dynasties. Many dynasties during this period ruled including among others the , the Sassanids, the Shaddadids, the Sallarids, and the . tribes from like the dynasty later took on the role of leadership. In subsequent years, the Azerbaijan area was again briefly ruled by Zand, Qajars and Afshar that happened to be Iranian dynasties, (Chorbaijan 85).

These dynasties paved way for the Persian khanates emergence. The khanates exercised power over their colonies through the international trade route between Europe and central Asia. They were often warring with other dynasties over territory and this led to an increasingly weak khanate army.

According (Cheratin 96) “The Khanate army was later on absorbed in the Russian Army due to its small size”. In a sense, Russia was responsible for the expansion of Azerbaijan. It extended its dominance towards the north across the Arax River, taking over territories that were occupied by Iran. This region also came to be part of the modern Azerbaijan republic.

Nogornij Karabach

This is a land locked enclave and it was and still is by location, part of Azerbaijan but has been a source contention between Armenia and Azerbaijan from as far back as 1917. This enclave shares no border with Armenia and this territory was part of the Soviet Union captured in 1805.

The Russian tsar created an Armenian province but did not include Nogornij Karabach as part of the province. The first conflict over the region was witnessed in 1917 where the Bolshevik Revolution provoked ethnic violence. In 1921, there was a push by the Armenians living in Nogornij Karabach to make the region be part of Armenia (Hellen 155).

The then ruler, Stalin disagreed by saying that there was a need to unite Muslims and Christians of the soviet region and supported the ties that Nogornij Karabach had with Azerbaijan. Stalin declared the region autonomous to please turkey in 1923, but stated it was still part of Azerbaijan and the soviet constitution of 1936 supported this view. In 1987, Armenians living in the Nogornij Karabach region handed a petition to the Russian government to be allowed to be joined by Armenia, (Vicken 83).

This led to the Azeri living in the region to demonstrate in 1988 and it happened that some of the protester died in the demonstration. Nogornij Karabach region annexed it- self from Azerbaijan in July 12 1988. Azerbaijan referring to Soviet Union’s constitution which stated that borders of a country could not be changed without its consent, called the move by the Nogornij Karabach parliament illegal, (Potier 102).

The conflict threatened to escalate therefore Moscow was forced to deploy interior troops in some of the most volatile regions and imposed martial law on them. Later on in November 1989, Russia deployed army troops to guard the region. Soviet officially declared that Nogornij Karabach was part of Armenia on December 1 1989 and this caused retaliation by the Azerbaijan popular front.

They began a rail blockade of Armenia and Nogornij Karabach, cutting of their food supply and fuel deliveries. This was followed by the January 1990 anti- Armenian violence in Baku and Sumgait, which was later followed by the occupation of Baku by the soviet army killing and wounding a good number of the Azeri. Lter on in September 1991 Moscow withdrew its support for the Azerbaijan military activities in Nogornij Karabach, (Hellen 201).

Soon after, on 26th November that same year, Azerbaijan nullified Nogornij Karabach’s autonomous status and declared that the region was part and subject of the Azerbaijan government. In December that same year, Nogornij Karabach had a referendum that showed that a majority of the enclave’s citizens wanted independence. The Azeri in Nogornij Karabach however boycotted the referendum. The Nogornij Karabach republic was officially declared as an independent state on January 6 1992, but so far, it has never been recognized.

Beginning of the conflict

War between Armenia and Azerbaijan for the control over Nagorno Karabakh first surfaced in February 1988. Popularly known as the “Nagorno-Karabakh war” this armed conflict took place in Nogornij Karabach between the Azerbaijan republic and the majority Armenian occupants of the region baked by the Armenian government.

Though Nogornij Karabach had an already formed government in place, it had inclined to be associated to and unified with the republic of Armenia. Both these republics were under the soviet rule, but as the disintegration of the Soviet Union drew near, both of these nations wanted to unify themselves and occupy a larger territory, (Vicken 91).

What begun as a peaceful resistance by the Armenians living in Nogornij Karabach culminated in the ethnic cleansing of both Armenians and Azerbaijanis living in the region as conflict erupted between the ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijanis. The recursor for the ethnic cleansing was the referendum vote by Armenians in Nogornij Karabach to be independent but more impotently was the February 20th 1988 autonomous Nogornij Karabach’s parliament vote to be unified to Armenia. The dissolution of the Soviet Union also played as a catalyst as the region declared succession from Azerbaijan chorbijan, (Knot 98).

This happened when Azerbaijan declared independence from the Soviet Union and attempted to remove the powers held by the government of Nogornij Karabach thus creating ground for a separatist movement by the Armenian majority. By late 1992, it was a full-scale war with more than one million displaced persons from both the Armenian and Azerbaijan tribes. By the time the war ended, only because Russia intervened and brokered a peace deal in May 1994, the Armenian republic had captured most of Nogornij Karabach and a small part of Azerbaijan’s territory as well.

Causes of the Nogornij Karabach war

The major cause of the war was the fall of the Soviet Union. Even though the conflict about the Nogornij Karabach was present prior to the early nineties, the disbandment of the Soviet Union played a crucial role. As both Armenia and Azerbaijan republics sought to be independent after the fall of the USSR, the question of which nation the Nogornij Karabach region belonged to surfaced once again. Azerbaijan republic had previously ruled that it was under them but the Armenia republic and more importantly, the autonomous government of the Nogornij Karabach region declared that it was part of Armenia, (Vicken 163).

Attempts by the Azerbaijan in November 1991 to remove the powers that were held by the autonomous government of Nogornij Karabach were also a stimulus for the war. In removing the enclave government’s power, a variety of movements against the Azerbaijan rule begun to form. Autonomists, secessionists and separatists movements begun to resist the move by the Azerbaijan government to interfere with the running of the Nogornij Karabach region. The Armenian occupants of the region complained of ‘’forced Azerification,’’ and abolishing the autonomous status of the region was an attempt to stop this complaining.

The referendum held by Nogornij Karabach Armenians on December 10 1991 played a vital role that led to the conflict. After the Azerbaijan parliament had abolished the enclave’s autonomous status, in November, the referendum was taken a month later by the enclave’s Armenians to counter the abolishment of their autonomous status, The parliament of the enclave at about the same time also had a vote and was unanimous about wanting to be associated with Armenia. (Kaufman 201).

Another cause for the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nogornij Karabach was due to the influx of the number of the Azerbaijanis living in the region. The Azerbaijan government was accused of trying to manipulate the region by systematically adding their fellow Azerbaijani to the enclave so as to influence it. Azerbaijan’s Communist Party General Secretary Heyward Aliyev was accused of trying to influence the region by also reducing the Armenian population while cleverly adding the Azerbaijan population, (Potier 74).

As the disagreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nogornij Karabach region, Turkey closed its borders with Armenia. Their reason was that the disagreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan would become a threat to regional security. This acted as a catalyst that brought Russia to side with Armenia and the US government denied aid to the Azerbaijan government.

The involvement of Afghanistan guerillas by the Azerbaijani in the attack of the Armenian counterparts also caused the conflict to escalate. The Azerbaijan troops called on Afghanistan guerrillas and mercenaries who were used in the advancing of the Azerbaijan interests. They attacked the Armenian soldiers situated in Nogornij Karabach and also the Armenian civilians in the enclave. The ethnic cleansing by both Armenia and Azerbaijan was another step taken towards the war that was coming.

After the referendum where the Armenian majority living in Nogornij Karabach voted for independence from Azerbaijan, there were violent actions against Armenians living in Azerbaijan and the worst hit were the Sumgait and Baku. In retaliation, Azerbaijanis living in Armenia were all chased away except from Nogornij Karabach. What resulted was a large number of displaced people both of Armenian and Azerbaijan roots, (Potier 33).

The conflict was further deepened when Russia provided political and military support for Armenia. It was suspected that Russia was taking advantage of the conflict to divide and rule the strained region, (Croissant 79). It has been recently discovered that since the beginning of the war, Russia has provided more than one billion dollars worth of weapons that include missiles, ammunition, armored vehicles, and battle tanks. These weapons are transported through Armenia to the battle lines in Azerbaijan.

It is also good to remember and state as a factor that the policy introduced by soviet president Gorbachev also heightened the conflict between the Armenia and Azerbaijan republics. Critical screening of the glasnost policy of openness seems to suggest that this was actually the portal by which the Armenian and Azerbaijan conflict emerged. In 1985, president Gorbachev introduced this policy and within a short time, the suppressed animosity amongst the Armenian and Azerbaijan people came to the surface.

The Armenian argument

Armenia up to date still argues that Nogornij Karabach belongs to the republic of Armenia. They still have an official declaration for war on Azerbaijan even though Russia and the international committee brokered a peace treaty. Nogornij Karabach appointed a committee that was responsible for coming up with a process by which the enclave will be incorporated into Armenia. The said committee has also been the driving force of the Armenia’s nationalist movement which is opposed to the domination of a socialist republic like Azerbaijan. To solidify their stand, the Armenian parliament passed a resolution on 1st December 1989 declaring that the former resolution that declared Armenia as the rightful principal over Nogornij Karabach had not been annulled.

This was followed by another decree on July 8th 1991 by the Armenian parliament which declared that it did not recognize any document by Azerbaijan or the international community that stipulated that Nogornij Karabach was an independent republic or part of Azerbaijan.

The reason for this was that if Nogornij Karabach was in fact an independent entity, then invading Azerbaijan would lead to a declaration of war that would involve Turkey and Russia, both of which are allied to either country. It further affirms that Azerbaijan will never rule the Nogornij Karabach territory again. During the war, Armenia claimed that it never at any one time provoked Azerbaijan, (Potier 74).

It was only engaging in defending its Armenian brothers and sisters in Nogornij Karabach in what was a blatant attack of its people. To add on, it should be noted that Armenia still funds most of the Nogornij Karabach’s budget. The overall view is however that of a battle of faiths i.e. Azerbaijan is an Islamic republic and Armenians were basically fighting for preservation of their Christian culture which could have been dissolved had the Azerbaijanis been allowed to rule over and live with their Armenian counterparts living in Nogornij Karabach.

The Azerbaijan argument

Azerbaijan has always maintained that Nogornij Karabach is located inside Azerbaijan, and shares no common border with Armenia. Azerbaijan further argue that prior to the conflict, Armenia deported some 240,000 Azerbaijanis. Armenia then went ahead and took over the whole region of Nogornij Karabach adding on the surrounding states belonging to Azerbaijan, there by capturing the whole of that area. All Azerbaijanis that were living in these regions which belong to Azerbaijan were forced to seek refuge further into Azerbaijan. The Azeri see themselves as the original inhabitants of Nogornij Karabach and the Armenians are claimed to have come much later during the Russian campaign. They consider the declaration of the Nogornij Karabach enclave as an independent state an insult to Azerbaijan territorial integrity because the enclave is located within the borders of Azerbaijan, (Stuart 115).

They accuse Armenia of ethnicity and separatist ideology, which seems to support the notion that all tribes live independent of one another. They further accuse Armenia of expansionism claiming that their underlying reason for the war is actually to gain control over more land and give an example of Zangezur that was taken over by Armenia in the early 1900s. Further more, Azerbaijan accuses Russia of aiding Armenia which by fact was interfering with the affairs of an independent state by taking over the Nogornij Karabach territory. The ties between Russia and Azerbaijan have further been strained after it was discovered that Russia did indeed provide arms and ammunition to the Armenians.


The war for the control of the Nogornij Karabach enclave by Armenia and Azerbaijan has been one of the longest conflicts witnessed in the new era. Its roots stretch back to 1917 when the first conflict for the landlocked piece of land fist surfaced. Various arguments were and are still put forward by both sides of the divide. Most of the arguments have solid support and make sense. A cease-fire came into effect on May 4th 1994 that saw the end to the violence.

Up to date, there are still powerful emotional and ethnical undercurrents that run deep in the region. The UN, Russia, United States of America, Turkey and the European Union are all among the group of countries and institutions that have been vocal in the avocation of a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Regional stability has been slowly restored but the scars of the war are evident in Armenia, Nogornij Karabach and Azerbaijan. The war left all the three regions with serious economic tribulations and that is evident in the infrastructures of all the three regions, (Stuart 123).

It easy to see that Armenia was in a sense the victim of this atrocious and trying time. It all begun in 1923 when Stalin annexed the Nogornij Karabach region from the rest of Armenia in a move that was allegedly supposed to please Turkey. These actions were what led to the Nogornij Karabach war that led to more than a million displaced people.

It is also worthy to note that if the Nogornij Karabach region was truly within the Azerbaijan jurisdiction and totally subject to it, who could explain the presence of a Armenian majority in this region an the greater funding of its budget?

Looking at the bigger picture, this war in a sense was fought by two religions, Christianity and Islam. The Azerbaijan Muslims looked at Nogornij Karabach region as one of its own.

Christian Armenians looked at the enclave as part of their republic, and rightly so, because the number of Armenians living in Nogornij Karabach far exceeded the number of Azerbaijanis. In fact one of the grievances that Armenia gave during the war is that they were fighting for the preservation of their Christian culture which they feared would be tainted.

Work Cited

Hellen S. Russian and Eastern Europe. London, libraries unlimited. 2001.

Chorbaijan L. The Caucasus knot , Chicago, Bios. 1994.

Stuart J. Kaufman. Modern Hatreds, Michigan, Croos-books. 1989.

Vicken C. War and peace in Caucasus. Chicago, Kniff press 2009.

Corrisant P. The Armenian Azerbaijan conflict, New York, Conrad. 1998.

Potier T. Conflict in Negorno Karabakh. Ohio, Sniff. 2001.

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