Key West Talks
For the Resolution of the Karabakh Conflict

Title: History of the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict
Date Released:
March 30, 2001
Source: U.S. Department of State

In the late l8th century, several khanates, including Karabakh, emerged in the south Caucasus to challenge the waning influence of the Ottoman Empire. After the Russian Empire eventually took control over the region in 1813, Azerbaijani Turks began to emigrate from Karabakh while the Armenian population of mountainous (nagorno) Karabakh grew. With the 1917 Russian Revolution, Azerbaijan and Armenia each declared independence and sought control over Karabakh during the Russian Civil War. In 1923, after the Bolshevik takeover of the Caucasus, Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) was made an autonomous region within the Azerbaijani Soviet Republic. Soviet control temporarily quieted ethnic tensions.

By the 1980s, NK's population was about 75% ethnic Armenian, with most Azerbaijanis living in the district and city of Susha. During the glasnost of the late 1980s, there was a push for a change in NK's status. In 1988, Armenian demonstrations against Azerbaijani rule broke out in both NK and Armenia, and the NK Supreme Soviet voted to secede from Azerbaijan. In 1990, after violent episodes in NK, Baku, and Sumgait, Moscow declared a state of emergency in NK, sent troops to the region and forcibly occupied Baku. In April 1991, Azerbaijani militia and Soviet forces targeted Armenian paramilitaries operating in NK; Moscow also deployed troops to Yerevan. However, in September 1991 Moscow declared it would no longer support Azerbaijani military action in N-K. Armenian militants then stepped up the violence. In October 1991, a referendum in N-K approved independence.

The violence increased dramatically after the withdrawal of Soviet troops. Over 30,000 people were killed in the fighting from 1992 to 1994. In May 1992, Armenian and Karabakhi forces seized Susha (the historical, Azerbaijani-populated capital of the region) and Lachin (thereby linking NK to Armenia). By October 1993 Armenian and Karabakhi forces eventually succeeded in occupying almost all of NK, Lachin and large areas in southwestern Azerbaijan. As Armenian and Karabakhi forces advanced, hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijani refugees fled to other parts of Azerbaijan. In 1993 the UN Security Council adopted resolutions calling for the cessation of hostilities, unimpeded access for international humanitarian relief efforts, and the eventual deployment of a peacekeeping force in the region. The UN also called for immediate withdrawal of all ethnic Armenian forces from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. Fighting continued, however, until May 1994 when Russia brokered a cease-fire.