Ethnic Conflict in the Post-Soviet World: Case Studies and Analysis

By Leokadia Drobizheva; Rose Gottemoeller et al. | Go to book overview

THE CAUCASUS

13.

Ethnic Conflict in
Nagorno-Karabagh

AUDREY L. ALTSTADT

A bitter struggle over mountainous (Nagorno)-Karabagh, a territory in western Azerbaijan, erupted in 1987. In September 1992, when several of the chapters in this volume were presented at an international conference in Prague, that bloody conflict had already escalated from, in the words of one observer, a "feud among neighbors" to a serious regional war. 1 All parties to the conflict seemed to believe they had more to gain on the battlefield than at the conference table and were plainly willing to go on fighting. As a result, all presented nonnegotiable demands that thwarted efforts to begin talks or achieve a cease-fire. As the final revision of this chapter was being prepared in the fall of 1994, conditions on the ground had changed radically: two governments had been forced from power in Azerbaijan, Armenian forces had achieved their military aims and occupied nearly 20 percent of Azerbaijan's territory, and a cease-fire remained in effect since May 1994. Russia had successfully and with impunity interfered in military and political affairs in the region and appeared on the verge of consolidating its role as self-proclaimed "peacekeeper" in these former Soviet republics.

In view of these events, the details of the war, legal arguments, and attempts at resolution described in this chapter may seem moot. But, on the contrary, the record of these events and ideas will not soon be forgotten by the parties involved in this territorial dispute. Indeed, the arguments advanced during the struggle over Nagorno-Karabagh will certainly shape future negotiations toward a resolution of the present war. They will inform subsequent discourse on the "justice" of whatever settlement is reached and, perhaps, underlay future conflict involving this or other territories in the region. Moreover, the story of this war in Nagomo-Karabagh represents the failure of conflict-resolution efforts in the face of commitment to battlefield success and the ending of war through military victory rather than mediation. For those reasons, the story of Nagorno-Karabagh, told here only in part, contains many lessons for historians, conflict-resolution specialists, negotiators, and policymakers.

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