What’s Going on in Nagorno-Karabakh?


Dozens have died in the disputed region’s worst clashes in decades. (BBC)

Use today’s quick-and-easy MapMaker Interactive map to better understand the conflict.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit, including today’s MapMaker Interactive map.

Dusk settles over Stepanakert, capital of the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh in western Azerbaijan. Photograph by Alex Webb, National Geographic
Dusk settles over Stepanakert, capital of the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh in western Azerbaijan.
Photograph by Alex Webb, National Geographic

Discussion Ideas

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  • Dozens have died in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Where is Nagorno-Karabakh? Check out today’s MapMaker Interactive map for some help.
    • Nagorno-Karabakh is an isolated, forested region in the Lesser Caucasus Mountains. It’s a beautifully evocative, poetic name: “Karabakh” means “black garden” in Azeri, while “nagorno” means “mountain” in Russian.
      • The Caucasus region, stretching between the Black and Caspian Seas, is one of the traditional boundaries between Europe and Asia.
    • Politically, the region is dominated by the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, an Azerbaijani region occupied by Armenians. According to Nat Geo magazine, “This is the insurgent nation of Nagorno-Karabakh: forever Armenian in the eyes of its 130,000 embattled residents. A breakaway province of Azerbaijan, according to international law. An independent state since 1991 by its own unilateral declaration, diplomatically recognized by no foreign government. And the setting of a six-year conflict that killed as many as 25,000 Azeris and 5,000 Armenians before an uneasy truce, still broken regularly by gunfire, was declared in 1994.”


  • What nations are in conflict over the region?
    • The belligerents in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict are Azerbaijan and Armenia.
      • Azerbaijan: The region is a part of Azerbaijan and the country is fighting to keep it that way. According to the BBC, Azeris “want an unconditional return of all occupied areas of Azerbaijan and refuse to talk directly to the Karabakhi Armenians.”
      • Armenia: The region is populated by Armenians, and Armenia supports the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic with both military and financial assistance. Armenians prefer to call the region “Artsakh.”


  • Do Karabakhis want to be an independent nation or part of Armenia?
    • Possibly neither. According to a 1998 BBC article, “Karabakhi Armenians say they are prepared to be part of Azerbaijan, but only with, as they call it, ‘horizontal’ links to the government in Baku. Furthermore they want to keep control of the so-called ‘Lachin corridor‘ that links them to Armenia and have security guarantees from Armenia.”


  • How did the conflict start?
    • The situation stretches back to the early 1900s, when territorial disputes were augmented by religious conflict. Most Armenians are Christian, while Azeris are generally secular, but somewhat impacted by Shi’ite Islam influences from nearby Turkey and Iran.
    • The conflict developed into a war in the late 1980s, when the Nagorno-Karabakh parliament voted to secede from Azerbaijan and join Armenia. The war ended in 1994, when a Russian-brokered peace treaty essentially left the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic an Azeri region in Armenian hands.


  • So the conflict started in the early 1900s, but only erupted in violence nearly a hundred years later? What happened in between—peace and freedom?
    • Not quite. The Soviet Union happened. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan were Soviet Socialist Republics until 1991. Soviet leaders governed Nagorno-Karabakh itself as the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast. (An oblast is an administrative division similar to a state or province.) When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast was incorporated into the new Republic of Azerbaijan.


  • Why does this conflict matter to the international community?


  • How has the international community reacted to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
    • Russia, the regional powerhouse, will likely be a crucial part of any long-lasting cease-fire. It has also “sold arms to both sides, [and] called for an immediate ceasefire and for both sides to exercise restraint.”
    • “The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) issued a statement condemning the violence saying there is no alternative to a peaceful negotiated solution of the conflict and that war is not an option.”
    • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry immediately called for an “ultimate resolution” to the conflict.



BBC: Nagorno-Karabakh violence: Worst clashes in decades kill dozens

Nat Geo: Where is Nagorno-Karabakh? MapMaker Interactive map

BBC: Nagorno-Karabakh profile

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