Does Armenia have a brother country

Domestic conflicts

Dr. Uwe Halbach

has been a research assistant at the Science and Politics Foundation in Berlin since 2001 and previously worked at the Cologne Federal Institute for Eastern and International Studies since 1986. His research areas are the Caucasus, the politics of Russia in the post-Soviet area and Islam in Russia and the CIS area.

In September 2020, the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which had been smoldering since 1994, over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is predominantly populated by Armenians, escalated into an open war. After Armenia had lost considerable territory and under massive pressure from Russia, both parties agreed to a ceasefire.

Armenian flags fly over fresh graves at the Yerablur Military Cemetery near Yerevan, capital of Armenia, November 20, 2020. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa, TASS | Alexander Ryumin)

Current development

In 2020, the worst military conflict between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces since the end of the first Karabakh War in 1994 alarmed international politics. On September 27, a real war began along the approximately 200 km long armistice line from 1994 ("line of contact"). Azerbaijan launched - allegedly in response to Armenian military advances - a comprehensive "counter-offensive" aimed at the "liberation of all occupied parts of the country", i.e. the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and the seven districts in its vicinity that were occupied by Armenian troops.

The "second Karabakh war" was fought at a significantly higher military level than the first war from 1991 to 1994. In the last ten years there has been considerable militarization and armament on both sides of the conflict. Especially the economically far more powerful Azerbaijan was supplied with modern weapons by third countries such as Russia, Israel and Turkey. The use of state-of-the-art weapons, such as unmanned missiles (UAV), shaped the war. As a result of the war and the propaganda on both sides, the mutual enemy images, which radiate strongly in the Armenian and Azerbaijani diaspora communities abroad, hardened even further.

The war also represents a new quality in terms of regional coverage. Numerous media and agencies reported that Turkey has provided military support to Azerbaijan and has deployed mercenaries from Syrian militias on the Karabakh Front. [1] In view of the intense fighting near the Azerbaijani-Iranian border, Iran saw itself challenged in terms of security policy. Tehran feared that nationalist mobilization would spill over to the large Azerbaijani minority in northern Iran. Russia warned the international community against the involvement of third countries in the war, which mainly related to the role of Turkey. Despite its strategic partnership with Armenia, Russia emphasized neutrality towards the conflicting parties and, together with France and the USA, advocated a ceasefire. The agreements turned out to be fragile.

In October three conventions on ceasefire and return to negotiations within the OSCE were violated by the immediate continuation of the fighting. As a result, Russia single-handedly brokered an agreement with Armenia and Azerbaijan on the cessation of fighting, which on November 10 led to the provisional end of the six-week war. The agreement was preceded by considerable land gains by the Azerbaijani armed forces, which reached as far as Shusha, a strategically relevant fortress town in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The nine-point "peace agreement" demanded, among other things, the cessation of fighting, the return of all districts in the vicinity of Nagorno-Karabakh previously controlled by Armenian troops to Azerbaijan, the stationing of Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh, the return of refugees under the supervision of the UN Refugee organization. The outcome of the six-week war was seen as a triumphant victory in Azerbaijan and a traumatic defeat in Armenia. The fighting left around 4,000 people dead, according to the most cited estimate.

Causes and Background

The conflict dates back to the period of disintegration in the former Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is predominantly inhabited by Armenians, sought its separation from the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan under the influence of a national movement in Armenia. In 1988 she applied for her transfer from the Azerbaijani to the Armenian union republic and declared herself independent in 1991. As a result, the internal ethno-territorial conflict turned into a regular war between the independent states of Armenia and Azerbaijan. It is estimated that between 20,000 and 30,000 people died and triggered the largest refugee movement in the South Caucasus. [2] On the Azerbaijani side, the UN refugee organization recorded more than 700,000 refugees and internally displaced persons (IDP). The government in Baku gives this figure even higher. At that time around 400,000 Armenians from Azerbaijan fled to Armenia.

The "Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh" supported by Armenia, since 2017 "Republic of Artsakh" is not recognized by the international community as an independent state. According to the last census from 2005, the Armenian proportion of the population of around 150,000 is almost 99%. The conflict is not only about Nagorno-Karabakh, but also about seven Azerbaijani provinces in its vicinity. The areas had been fully or partially occupied by Armenian troops since 1994. The majority of Azerbaijani internally displaced persons come from there. A large part of the Armenian civilian population (allegedly 90,000) fled from Nagorno-Karabakh itself under the current war conditions in October 2020. After the November 10th agreement, several thousand returned. Before the agreement was concluded, four of the seven provinces had already been retaken by Azerbaijani troops, and three more - Lachin, Kelbadjar and Aghdam - were then returned to Azerbaijan. Nagorno-Karabakh itself also lost part of its territory.

The external actors in the conflict environment include, in particular, Russia and Turkey. Russia has a "strategic partnership" with Armenia. Turkey supports its "brother country" Azerbaijan. This constellation is not that clear, however: Russia was the main supplier of arms to both sides of the conflict. It is closely linked to Armenia in terms of security policy and maintains a military base there with around 5,000 soldiers. But Azerbaijan also obtained most of its imported weapons from Russia. At the same time, Russia is a main mediator in the conflict within the Minsk-OSCE group.

Turkey's increased military interference on the part of Azerbaijan challenges Russia as a "power of order" in the South Caucasus. It strengthens Ankara's influence in the neighboring region and corresponds to the great power policy pursued under President Erdogan in recent years from Libya via the Middle East to the South Caucasus.

Processing and solution approaches

The Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has been mediating in the conflict to which Germany belongs since 1992. Since 1997 it has been led by three co-chairs: USA, Russia and France. In 1994 the Minsk Group was able to broker a ceasefire between the conflicting parties. However, a sustainable state of peace was not achieved. There were repeated exchanges of fire and violent incidents along the ceasefire line, killing an average of two to three dozen people a year. In April 2016, five days of fighting claimed around 200 lives.

The "Madrid Principles" have been on the negotiating table since 2007. They provide six central principles ("basic rules") for conflict resolution:
  1. The return of five of the seven provinces around Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijani sovereignty;
  2. an interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh (until the final solution), which guarantees security and self-determination for its people;
  3. a corridor between the Republic of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh;
  4. the future regulation of Nagorno-Karabakh's status through legally binding expressions of will by the conflicting parties;
  5. the right of all displaced persons and refugees to return to their hometowns as well
  6. international security guarantees and peacekeeping.
After the escalation in April 2016, the conflict mediators called for international observation on the ceasefire line to be stepped up, which until then had only comprised an OSCE team of six people.

The implementation of the "basic rules" remained controversial between the conflicting parties. Azerbaijan called for the withdrawal of Armenian troops from the occupied territories as a prerequisite for further steps to resolve the conflict. But since Baku declared diplomatic conflict mediation to be unsuccessful and increasingly considered a "military conflict solution", the Armenian side was not ready to withdraw its troops. For them, the occupied Azerbaijani provinces in the vicinity of Nagorno-Karabakh were considered a "safety buffer".

OSCE mediation in the conflict is taking place at a high diplomatic level. Civil society forces are not sufficiently involved in the process. In an authoritarian state such as Azerbaijan, non-governmental organizations have a difficult time, and this is especially true for actors who are committed to a dialogue with the opposing party. But also on the Armenian side, peace policy forces encounter considerable reservations. There is a high level of distrust and an extremely low level of willingness to compromise on both sides. These mental barriers hardened further through the "April War" of 2016. After the change of power through the "Velvet Revolution" in Armenia, there was a brief relaxation phase in 2018, during which a willingness to compromise was signaled in Yerevan and Baku. But at the beginning of 2019 the tone became rougher again, and the fronts hardened again.

The history of the conflict

With their historical narratives about the disputed territory, both parties to the conflict go back deep into history. One side regards the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is called "Arzach" in Armenian, as "ancient Armenian", while the other side regards it as part of the territorial prehistory of today's Azerbaijan. [3] In 1921 the area was subordinated to Azerbaijan by the "Caucasian Office" of the Bolsheviks and in 1923 it was added to the Azerbaijani Soviet Republic as an autonomous area. The Armenian request to revise this decision was made repeatedly during the Soviet period, but did not lead to a serious conflict until the transition from the Soviet to the post-Soviet period.

Encouraged by the reform period under General Secretary Gobachev, a national movement formed in Armenia in 1987, which made Nagorno-Karabakh a central concern. The first conflict on nationalities and politics unfolded on the non-Russian periphery of the ailing multi-ethnic state. The trigger was the application made in February 1988 by the Armenian majority of the population of the "autonomous region" for a transfer from the Azerbaijani to the Armenian union republic. The application was rejected by both the Azerbaijani republic leadership in Baku and Moscow.

In this conflict the helplessness of the central Soviet power in the face of secessionist tendencies became evident. In 1988 there were demonstrations with hundreds of thousands of participants in the Armenian capital Yerevan. In Azerbaijan, national dissidentity had until then been limited to a few smaller circles. In response to the Armenian advance, a broader national movement grew up there too. With the nationalist mobilization in both camps, a spiral of violence set in motion, which in September 1991 culminated in a full-blown war between Azerbaijani and Armenian military units.


Also, Eva Maria (2010): Nagorno-Karabach - Struggle for the "black garden", in: Gumppenberg, Marie-Carin von / Steinbach; Udo (ed.): The Caucasus. History-Culture-Politics, Munich: Beck-Verlag, pp. 113-124.

Broers, Laurence (2019): Armenia and Azerbaijan. Anatomy of a Rivalry, Edinburgh University Press.

De Waal, Thomas (2003): Black Garden. Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War, New York 2003.

Halbach, Uwe / Smolnik, Franziska (2013): The dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh. Specific characteristics and the conflicting parties, Berlin: Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP Study 2/2013).

International Crisis Group: Digging out of Deadlock in Nagorno-Karabakh, Europe Report No. 255, 20 December 2019.

Kohrs, Michael H (2005): History as a political argument. The 'Historikerstreit' about Nagorno-Karabakh, in: Adanir, Fikret / Bonwetsch, Bernd (ed.): Ottomanism, Nationalism and the Caucasus, Wiesbaden.

de Waal, Thomas (2020): "Time for an Armenia-Azerbaijan History Ceasefire", Carnegie Europe, 02.25.20.


Reports and analyzes of the International Crisis Group on the Caucasus.

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