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Different Continents, Different Humanitarian Problems: Nagorno-Karabakh region

Tensions are rising at the border of Azerbaijan and Armenia

In the ‘Different Continents, Different Humanitarian Problems’ series of articles, we take a look at the issues that do not just affect an individual country, but an entire region. Today, we highlight the slumbering war that is going on in the Nagorno-Karabakh region in Central Asia.

Humanitarian Problems in the Nagorno-Karabakh region
Conflict comes in many different forms. Often we hear about escalating stories from the Middle East or Africa. In the Nagorno-Karabakh region in the South Caucasus, there is a very different kind of conflict. Civilians are stuck in an uneventful clash in an area that is neither in full war nor genuine peace. More than 20 years ago a ceasefire formally ended fighting between ethnic Azeris and Armenians in the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

But the former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan and Armenia have regularly traded allegations of violence around their shared border. A strange situation has arisen where villagers in the Caucasian enclave are recognized as part of Azerbaijan but controlled by ethnic Armenians. They cannot get back to their old peace-time existence. At the same time, it is impossible to stay on a perpetual war footing. So what happens is that they are stuck in a no-man’s land, as conflict sputters on around them. But it wasn’t always like this.

An 82-year old ethnic Armenian, Lida Sargsyan, still remembers a time when Azeris and Armenians lived side by side peacefully. "We used to live normally together," she recalled in an interview with Reuters. "The Azeris were living in our houses; we were living in their houses." But that was a long time ago. The region was still bound together under the Soviet Union until war erupted in 1991. By the time a truce was agreed three years later, approximately 30,000 people had been killed - including three of Sargsyan's sons - and a million people had been displaced.

In the past three years, the conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh region has intensified. Efforts for a permanent solution have all failed. People there are fearful that war over the enclave is now closer than at any time since the ceasefire in 1994.

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