In the Wake of Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: Current Challenges to Regional Peace and International Law


The territorial conflict of over 30 years between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh escalated in the late 1980s and early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, concluding with the forcible displacement of over 120,000 ethnic Armenians from the territory in September 2023. This long-lasting conflict, also involving Russia and Türkiye, marked by four major wars and numerous documented and undocumented violations of international law, has resulted in multifaceted consequences that currently impede the establishment of peace and sustainability in the region.

This blog post is dedicated to indicating the complexities of the situation’s aftermath and exploring the intricate path towards achieving reconciliation between Armenia and Azerbaijan. What are the possible obstacles that impede the establishment of sustainable peace in the region? This question will be addressed along with analysis on the complex dimensions of the current situation.

An Overview of the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Did It Begin and Evolve?

According to historical sources, throughout the decades, the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh was recognised as an integral part of historic Armenian, having a predominantly Armenian ethnic population and cultural heritage. However, during the establishment of the Soviet Socialist Republics, a political decision was made by the Soviet authorities to declare Nagorno-Karabakh as an autonomous administrative region within the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic in 1923, despite over 94% of its population being ethnic Armenian. Although the Armenian population complained about this decision, the status quo of the territory remained unchanged.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the establishment of the Republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh declared its independence in accordance with the fundamental right to self-determination (UN Charter, Art. 1(2), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Art. 1), leading to the formation of the Artsakh Republic on 2nd September 1991. The journey towards independence began with local military escalations in 1988, transforming into a large-scale war with Azerbaijan, which concluded with the Bishkek ceasefire trilateral Protocol signed in 1994, brokered by Russia. Since the ceasefire, the border has become heavily militarised, with low-intensity fighting continuing until the 2010s, de facto maintaining the ceasefire protocol. The situation seriously deteriorated in April 2016, with a four-day escalation that resulted in hundreds of casualties, albeit having a minor effect on the front line. In the aftermath, the conflict remained frozen. Although there were efforts for a peaceful resolution of the conflict, including with the involvement of the international community, with the support of the OSCE Minsk Group, co-chaired by Russia, France, and the USA, they have not succeeded.

Recent Military Escalations: Witnessing the Forced Displacement of the Indigenous Population or “Ethnic Cleansing” in Nagorno-Karabakh

On 27th September 2020, Azerbaijan launched a large-scale war, known also as the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War or the 44-Day War, against the Armenian military and the Artsakh Republic. Numerous pieces of evidence also indicated the formal involvement of Türkiye, including via Turkish drones and Syrian mercenaries in the war, providing military support to Azerbaijani aggression. Following the capture of Shushi, the second largest city of Nagorno-Karabakh, by Azerbaijani soldiers, the intensive war ended with a trilateral ceasefire agreement signed on 9th November 2020, brokered by Russia. While this agreement paused ongoing military activities, it also significantly increased Russian influence in the territory. According to the agreement, around 2000 Russian peacekeepers were deployed along the Lachin corridor connecting Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. However, despite their presence, from a long-term perspective, the situation has not stabilised around the border in the forthcoming period. The fragile agreement was violated with numerous incidents, leading to Azerbaijani forces intervening in internationally recognised Armenian sovereign territory in May 2021.

The situation became significantly tense after December 2022, following the blockade of the Lachin Corridor, also known as the “road of life”, which connected the Nagorno-Karabakh region to Armenia and the rest of the world. After the establishment of a border checkpoint, Azerbaijan completely halted all types of humanitarian transportation and the movement of people and goods in violation of the prohibition to use starvation as method of warfare, an established norm of customary international law, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Art. 11 and 12). This resulted in a humanitarian crisis in the territory, creating an existential threat for over 120,000 ethnic Armenians Nagorno-Karabakh. Despite the interim measures indicated by the European Court of Human Rights and the International Court of Justice, calling on Azerbaijani authorities to restore the freedom and security of movement of persons and goods along the Lachin Corridor, the road remained blockaded until September 2023.

While Russian peacekeepers were present, on 19th September 2023, Azerbaijan initiated a large-scale 24-hour heavy bombardment of the territory, which led to a ceasefire agreement based on the surrender of Artsakh authorities and complete disarmament. In these circumstances, when the safety of the ethnic population was no longer guaranteed, they were forced to flee from the entire territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Although Azerbaijani authorities rejected claims of ethnic cleansing, numerous international bodies, including the European Parliament, adopted a resolution declaring that the “forced exodus” of Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh “amounted to ethnic cleansing”.

An Overview of Current Challenges in Pursuing Peaceful and Sustainable Solutions in the South Caucasus

While the displacement of the population from Nagorno-Karabakh and the formal dissolution of the Artsakh Republic might suggest that the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has been resolved, there remain multifaceted challenges hindering long-term peaceful and sustainable solutions in the South Caucasus. Along with the tensions with Russia, these challenges are among the reasons why Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s joint statement on achieving peace and signing a peace treaty, as well as the implementation of Armenia’s project called “Crossroads of Peace” still has not materialised.

Although it was agreed by both States that the delimitation of the shared border should take place after the conclusion of a peace treaty, there are still many points of dispute, including the so-called enclaves, transport links, and other issues that remain unclarified. Contrary to the internationally recognised principle of State sovereignty, Azerbaijan demands a “Zangezur corridor” or transportation corridor with Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic through Armenia, without Armenian border or customs checks.

Moreover, throughout recent years, Azerbaijani armed forces have attacked both military and civilian populations located in the sovereign territory of Armenia. These troops have taken control over strategic positions deep inside Armenia. In violation of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter and fundamental principles of international law, they continue to maintain unlawful control of these territories, also threatening the peaceful lives of civilian populations living across the border. This situation serves as one of the core obstacles toward the achievement of peace in the region, as demonstrated by the recent incident on 13th February 2024, where Azerbaijani troops, located within Armenian territory, opened gunfire, resulting in the deaths of four Armenian soldiers and the wounding of one soldier.

Along with the official statements around the establishment of peace in the region, the Azerbaijani authorities consistently presents demands for additional territories from Armenia, even proposing the inclusion of the entirety of Armenia as part of Azerbaijan and developing the narrative of “West Azerbaijan”. The actions of Azerbaijani authorities raise doubts about their genuine willingness to establish peace with Armenia.

Regarding the establishment of peace in the region, there is no discourse on providing strong guarantees for the displaced ethnic population from Nagorno-Karabakh, respecting, protecting, and implementing their fundamental right to return to their homes, as highlighted by the European Parliament. According to customary international humanitarian law, displaced persons have the right to voluntary return in safety to their homes or places of habitual residence as soon as the reasons for their displacement cease to exist. However, without strong guarantees that the lives and other fundamental rights of the Armenian ethnic population would be protected and respected, in line with the 28th UN Guiding Principle on Internal Displacement, the right to return would remain unimplemented, thus impeding the establishment of sustainable peace in the region.

Moreover, it can be observed that not only is there no discourse on developing a strategy for implementing this right, but Azerbaijani authorities are also intentionally deepening epistemical and ethical obstacles to achieving reconciliation. In violation of the UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (Article 4), the European Parliament’s Resolution, and the International Court of Justice’s Provisional Measure on refraining from destroying Armenian cultural heritage, Azerbaijan is systematically destroying the cultural heritage of the Armenian population left in Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan has destroyed cemeteries and churches, and further dismantled Shushi’s iconic Ghazanchetsots Cathedral. More recently, Azerbaijani authorities destroyed the iconic Nagorno-Karabakh’s parliament building, which had symbolic importance for the Armenian population and was shaped like a traditional Armenian church.


Although the joint statement of Armenia and Azerbaijan on the willingness to sign a peace treaty sets a precedent and could have a groundbreaking effect towards the establishment of peace in the South Caucasus, it must be implemented with real steps strengthening the prospects of signing such a treaty. Considering the current scope of multifaceted obstacles, based on international practice, such a treaty should have strong guarantees with enforcement mechanisms to ensure the long-term sustainability of the established peace in the region.

Arnold Vardanyan, LLM (Edinburgh), PhD, is an Assistant Professor and Lecturer at the Faculty of Law, Yerevan State University, Armenia. This piece has been prepared in the framework of the presentation to be delivered during the 13th Annual Conference of the Cambridge International Law Journal on the Intersection of Peace and Sustainability in International Law.