The Nagorny Karabakh conflict has lasted for almost three decades, resulting in war, mass displacement, and a state of ongoing instability – or ‘no war, no peace’. An internationally mediated peace process has fluctuated between moments of optimism and despair since it was established in 1994. A peace accord between Armenia and Azerbaijan remains elusive.
A dispute began in 1988 between Armenians and Azerbaijanis for control over Nagorny Karabakh – a territory within the boundary of Soviet Azerbaijan, inhabited by a local Armenian majority seeking unification with Armenia. Massive mutual expulsions of Armenians from Azerbaijan and Azeris from Armenia followed. Attempts at restoring Moscow’s control failed, and the Karabakh issue contributed significantly to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
From 1992–94 Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a bitter war over the disputed region. At least 25,000 people were killed and more than a million people were displaced from their homes. From the time the war ended, seven districts of Azerbaijan outside the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast remain wholly or partially occupied by Armenian forces.
Since the end of the war, there has been virtually no contact between ordinary people across the conflict divide and a whole new generation of Armenians and Azerbaijanis has grown up knowing almost nothing about each other. Nagorny Karabakh currently functions as a de facto independent state, unrecognised by the rest of the world but closely integrated with Armenia. There are no international peacekeeping forces on the ground. Instead the ceasefire is self-regulating with thousands of Armenian and Azerbaijani troops facing each other across the Line of Contact. Dozens are deaths are reported each year as a result of sniper fire and periodic skirmishes.
Tensions increased significantly along the Line of Contact and the regular border between Armenia and Azerbaijan in summer 2014, with at least 30 soldiers losing their lives and fears growing on either side that a return to full-scale violence was possible.
Following the 1994 ceasefire, an internationally mediated peace process was established, currently led by France, the Russian Federation and the United States under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Known as the ‘Minsk Group’, it has produced a number of proposals to resolve the conflict, none of which have proved acceptable to all stakeholders. The most recent proposal, known as the ‘Madrid principles’, has formed the basis for Armenian–Azerbaijani peace talks since 2007. Agreement on some ideas contained in the Madrid principles has allegedly been within reach at times, yet a permanent settlement to the conflict remains elusive.