The self-declared Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, which has been seeking independence and international recognition for 32 years, announced on Thursday that it will cease to exist on January 1, 2024. The decision came after the region was defeated by Azerbaijan in a swift military operation last week.
The president of Nagorno-Karabakh, Samvel Shahramanyan, signed a decree to dissolve all state institutions and disarm the local forces. He said that the international community failed to stop the war and resolve the situation peacefully. He also expressed his gratitude to Armenia, which has backed the separatist movement since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Nagorno-Karabakh, which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, has been controlled by ethnic Armenians since a bloody war in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The conflict has been one of the longest-running and most volatile in the world, with periodic escalations and ceasefires.
The trigger for the latest fighting
The latest round of violence erupted when Azerbaijan mounted an effective blockade of a vital route into the enclave in December 2023. The Lachin Corridor is the only road that connects Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh, and it is a key artery for supplies and humanitarian aid. Azerbaijan accused Armenia of using the road to bring in military reinforcements, which Armenia denied.
Azerbaijan also said that it offered food and assistance several times via another road, but the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh refused it. The blockade caused severe shortages of basic items and medication in the region, as well as increased frustration and resentment among the population.
The situation was further complicated by the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, which had been the main mediator and peacekeeper in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Moscow’s attention and resources were diverted by its own military campaign, leaving a security vacuum in the South Caucasus.
The outcome of the military operation
On September 20, 2023, Azerbaijan launched a surprise attack on Nagorno-Karabakh, using drones, artillery, and special forces. The Azerbaijani army quickly overran several strategic positions and towns, including Shusha, the cultural capital of Nagorno-Karabakh. The local forces were unable to resist or retreat, and suffered heavy casualties and losses.
The same day, Azerbaijan declared victory and announced that it had reached an agreement with Nagorno-Karabakh to halt the fighting. According to the deal, Nagorno-Karabakh agreed to lay down its weapons, leave its combat positions and military posts, and disarm completely. The Armenian forces also agreed to withdraw from the territories of Azerbaijan that they had occupied since 1994.
The agreement was brokered by the command of Russia’s peacekeeping mission in Nagorno-Karabakh, which had been deployed since 2020 after a previous escalation that killed thousands of people. However, Russia did not officially endorse or guarantee the deal, leaving many questions unanswered about the future status and security of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The reaction of the parties involved
The announcement of Nagorno-Karabakh’s dissolution was met with mixed reactions from different parties involved in the conflict. Azerbaijan hailed it as a historic achievement and a restoration of its territorial integrity. President Ilham Aliyev said that his country had fulfilled its national dream and liberated its lands from Armenian occupation.
Armenia expressed its sorrow and solidarity with Nagorno-Karabakh, but also acknowledged its defeat and inability to protect its ally. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that Armenia had faced a difficult choice between continuing the war or accepting the terms of Azerbaijan. He also blamed Russia for abandoning its role as a mediator and partner.
The international community expressed its concern and regret over the outcome of the war and called for a peaceful resolution of the remaining issues. The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged both sides to respect human rights and international humanitarian law, and to ensure the return of displaced people and prisoners of war. He also reiterated his support for the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group, which has been trying to find a political solution to the conflict since 1992.
The fate of Nagorno-Karabakh’s residents remains uncertain, as many of them have fled their homes or face an uncertain future under Azerbaijani rule. Some have vowed to continue their struggle for independence and recognition, while others have accepted their defeat and expressed their willingness to coexist with their former enemies.