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Towards the eastern outskirts of Europe lies the mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian enclave in southwestern Azerbaijan. The territory is culturally significant to both nations. So much so, that the neighboring states have been tussling over it for nearly three decades. The latter half of this year witnessed the most intense fighting in the region since the First Nagorno-Karabakh War (1992-94).
The collapse of the USSR in 1991 sent shock waves reverberating around the world, notably in the Caucasus. Nagorno-Karabakh had been an autonomous province with a regional parliament since 1921. Yet, in the post-Soviet period, its electorate - dominated by ethnic Armenians - voted overwhelmingly in favor of uniting with Armenia, which many perceived as the ancestral homeland.
Azerbaijan blocked Armenian attempts to annex the region and a bloody 2-year war ensued. The Armenians – underpinned by Russian military support – ultimately prevailed. In the ceasefire agreement of 1994 they consolidated their control over Nagorno-Karabakh and an additional 14% of surrounding Azeri territory (Eurasianet).
From this point, although Nagorno-Karabakh remained a nominally independent republic, it is openly backed by Armenia and a deep tension has characterized Azerbaijani-Armenian relations ever since. From 2015, the International Crisis Group recorded 292 incidents along the Line of Contact (LoC), a border separating Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan.
Outbreak of War
Tensions flared up again in July when border forces skirmished in Tovuz, over 100 miles north of Nagorno-Karabakh. Soon after, nationalist demonstrators flocked to Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, and pressured the government into a full-blown declaration of war on 27 September.
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