NAGORNO-KARABAKH, Azerbaijan — The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict dates back to 1987. Yet, 29 years later, the 9.6 million-strong population of Azerbaijan is still reeling from the tumultuous events that plagued Eastern Europe throughout the 1990s, and the consequences of the dissension still remain indelible.
The foundation of the refugee crisis of Nagorno-Karabakh was in Mikhail Gorbachev’s Glasnost and Perestroika reforms in Eastern Europe, which was introduced to assuage Soviet control and pressure among many Soviet Republics. Therefore, Armenia seized on the slackening soviet grip as an opportunity to take over the Nagorno-Karabakh region as a means of “ethnic cleansing”.
The region was internationally-recognized as a part of Azerbaijan. But within the next few years, the conflict drew international attention, with the United Nations as a key decision-maker. Khojaly, Sumgait and Khankadi were the epicenters of the conflict.
The clashes between the Armenians and the Azerbaijanis resurfaced once again at the beginning of 2016. This resurgence, known as the “four-day war”, marked the first collapse of the armistice signed between Azerbaijan and Armenia in 1994.
Moreover, 1.2 million people were displaced during the peak of the conflict and more than 20,000 Azerbaijanis were killed in the crossfire. This marked the beginning of the refugee crisis of Nagorno-Karbakh.
The region is now recognized as having a large number of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) – one of the highest IDP caseloads in the world, according to the UNHCR. These people remain the most vulnerable group in Azerbaijan.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), known as the Minsk Group, is a body that was specially commissioned to regulate the refugee crisis of Nagorno-Karabakh, along with ceasefire negotiations. It is currently being chaired by Germany, but works on the basis of rotating the presidency.
Despite the fact that Armenia and Azerbaijan individually accuse each other of aggravating the conflict, the confidence-building measures proposed by the OSCE are the most viable method to reach a long-term solution.
A report by Azer News highlighted that more than $3.8 billion had been spend supporting the needs of both IDPs and refugees since the beginnings of the conflict. This kind of spending puts a significant amount of pressure on the government budget.
In October, discussions on this topic were held between President IIham Aliyev and Ali Hasanov, the Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the State Committee for Work with Refugees and IDPs.
The Azerbaijani government remains a key player in trying to monitor the situation and improve the lives of the lives of IDPs. Funds have been allocated towards more spending on infrastructure, the provision of residential areas, employment opportunities and loans.
The debilitating refugee crisis of Nagorno-Karabakh has been a problem since its beginnings, bu the mass exodus of refugees from North Africa to Europe has only intensified the pressure on the region. For example, Armenia currently shelters over 20,000 Syrian refugees.
Along with continued aid, the best hope for the refugees in this conflict is the mediated talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan. It is hoped that the OSCE Minsk group, which represents Russia and the U.S. among others, will yield results in the near future.
– Shivani Ekkanath