Nagorno-Karabakh (NKR) is a landlocked region between Azerbaijan, in which it lies, and its neighboring country, Armenia. This region has had the longest-running conflict in the former Soviet Union, intensifying and expanding since it first began in 1988. Karabakh is a largely Armenian populated area in Azerbaijan, which is why Armenia called for the reunification of Armenia with Nagorno-Karabakh. The word Karabakh has a Turkic and Persian origin meaning “black garden,” while Nagorno is a Russian word meaning “mountain.” However, the Armenians refer to the region as Artsakh, which is an ancient word for the region.

The conflict has roots that date back over a century. Tension between Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks and Azeri’s has always made it difficult for the two countries to live in peaceful coexistence, especially in the early 20th century. Once Soviet control loosened toward the end of the 1980s, Armenian-Azeri problems erupted into violence when Karabakh’s parliament voted to join Armenia. During the fighting, 20,000 to 30,000 people are estimated to have died.[1] The fighting allowed Armenia to gain control over the region as well as occupy 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory outside Karabakh, linking the region and Armenia. After the break-up of the Soviet Union, in late 1991, Karabakh declared itself an independent republic, escalating the hostility between the two countries.

The tension between the two neighboring countries resulted in a bloody seven year war. The conflict “ended” with a ceasefire that was signed in 1994, leaving the region in the hands of ethnic Armenians. During the war, more than one million people were displaced because the ethnic Azeri population fled Karabakh and Armenia in fear for their lives and ethnic Armenians fled the rest of Azerbaijan. [2]

After the war, the regions economy was nearly destroyed, leaving the region vulnerable and in need of humanitarian assistance. Therefore, the U.S. Congress has provided humanitarian assistance to the people of Nagorno Karabakh since 1998. Through various humanitarian organizations, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has implemented critical humanitarian projects, including construction of homes and water supply projects in villages as well as renovations of schools in various provinces. [3]

NKR Representative to the US, Robert Avetisyan, stated during an interview, “Many issues have been solved, yet much more remains to be done, and we hope that a continued and enhanced US involvement will allow further improvement of people’s lives in NK thus strengthen the regional security and stability.” However, Azerbaijan’s blockade continues to cripple the region since it impedes on reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts. Representative Avetisyan noted that the “End of blockade by Azerbaijan will only improve our economic situation and open new possibilities for development.”

A major concern for the region is the human and religious rights violations that are occurring. In 2005, a centuries-old Armenian cemetery in Julfa, Nakhijevan, was destroyed and hundreds of historical khachquars (Armenian cross-stones) were demolished, turning the cemetery into a military zone with internationally restricted access. Additionally, an Azeri military officer, Ramil Safarov, axed to death his sleeping Armenian course-mate during a NATO-sponsored training program in Budapest, Hungary in 2004. This case became very prominent in the region and the United States because the officer was extradited to Azerbaijan from Hungary to serve his sentence; however, instead he was immediately pardoned, promoted in rank, rewarded financially, praised as a hero and used as propaganda. This case is very controversial because it happened during a NATO event, therefore, it has been brought forward to the U.S. Congress on multiple occasions in order to receive justice for the Armenian soldier. “All these are evidences that independent and internationally recognized Artsakh Republic is the only way to provide a secure and stable South Caucasus, with all the human rights respected, and all potential threats eliminated” proclaimed Representative Avetisyan.

Both sides have had soldiers killed due to breaches of the ceasefire in the past several years. The current situation is very fragile and the conflict can easily spiral out of control, causing another war that would be detrimental to all parties involved. Since neither side is willing to compromise or give up control of the territory, outside countries such as Russia, France and the United States have attempted to negotiate a deal. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Minsk Group, which is co-chaired by those three countries, has had little success, stalling negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan.[4]

The United Nations Security Council drafted four resolutions calling on Armenia to pullout from the neighboring country’s seven territories it currently occupies, however, Armenia has not yet implemented any of the resolutions, exacerbating relations with Azerbaijan. Additionally, the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Anne Brasseur, stated that diplomatic efforts must be improved for the Karabakh conflict and that PACE is ready to support and work with members of both delegations in order to “foster dialogue and help build an atmosphere of trust, which is essential for making progress.”[5]

Karabakh currently functions as a sovereign state with their own government and constitution, however, no other government or country has recognized Karabakh’s status as a sovereign nation. Representative Avetisyan stated, “the struggle now is for the international recognition of independence rather than for the independence itself.” Several U.S. states passed a bill recognizing Nagorno-Karabakh and recommending U.S. Congress to do the same, including California, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.[6] However, the U.S. is hesitant to make such claims due to its partnership with Azerbaijan. U.S. has many interests in Azerbaijan, such as the vital transport link for U.S. troops based in Afghanistan as well as oil and gas pipelines that export energy from Azerbaijan to the West. Representative Avetisyan explained “Since proclaiming independence, the biggest challenge remains a comprehensive and multifaceted aggression by neighboring Azerbaijan. Baku rejected to respect our rights and chose the military way of solving the issue.” Therefore, it is necessary for the U.S. to place international pressure on Azerbaijan by passing legislation acknowledging NKR’s independence.

Stability in the Caucasus region is extremely important and in order for that to be accomplished, there needs to be a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh regional dispute. Relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia cannot continue the way they currently are because it is causing political strife and jeopardizing the lives of all the individuals in that region. It is important for the United States to recognize Russia’s role in prolonging the conflict because Russia has a significant influence in Armenia by providing troops on the ground but also arming Azeri militants. Therefore, Russia cannot be removed from the equation since they play a big role in the solution process as well.[7]




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