Going way back, the Armenia province of ancient Artsakh was part of the Greater Armenian Empire (331 BC–428 AD), and despite Roman and Persian rule and then invasions by successive Muslim – Arab, Turkic, Persian – armies, the Armenians usually wrestled back some control.
But in 1805, Nagorno-Karabakh became a ‘protectorate’ of expanding Tsarist Russia.
More occupiers came during the First World War. Turkish troops moved in (they’d already massacred Armenians in Turkey) and the British followed the Ottoman surrender.
By 1918-20, Armenia and Azerbaijan had plunged into wars and massacres before Bolshevik Russia seized them BOTH.
So, things stayed relatively calm for decades – despite the resentful mix of Christian Armenians and Muslim Azeris across Karabakh; since the people of the USSR were one big Soviet family.
But come 1991, muddled policy about who ‘owned’ Karabakh merged with the collapse of the Soviet Union, thrusting this fragile region back into ethnic violence and then war.
Recent Nagorno-Karabakh Wars
Armenia decisively won the first Karabakh War (1991-94).
It claimed 30,000 lives.
Not only did Azerbaijan lose Nagorno-Karabakh – territory internationally recognized as theirs – but also surrounding areas, resulting in about 1 million Azeris being displaced and fleeing to Azerbaijan.
I traveled Nagorno-Karabakh when it was the Artsakh Republic, an autonomous region / country that existed for 3 decades (but really an extension of Armenia. Yet, Artsakh issued their own separate tourist visa).
However, in 2020, another chapter began with a blistering offensive by Azerbaijan that smashed the Armenian military in Karabakh and forced major concessions, including the return of the Azeri historic city of Susha.
It was a humiliating reversal for Armenia and the separatist enclave. Yet it wasn’t the end of Artsakh, and they kept control of central Karabakh.
Azerbaijan, it seemed, had some unfinished plans.
Despite peace agreements that Russian troops guaranteed – in September 2023 for a few short days, the Azeri military took total control to where, in less than a week, 100,000 (out of 120,000) ethnic Armenians fled Nagorno-Karabakh to the homeland.
They feared ethnic cleansing.
Each side has a history of such unpleasantness.
The Armenian Republic of Artsakh agreed to dissolve itself by 1 January 2024, and so ends another chapter of bloody Nagorno-Karabakh.
For now, Azerbaijan gets the happy-ever-after story.
But maybe Armenia will return to write the epilogue?
Travels in Nagorno-Karabakh / Artsakh Republic – 2011