Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (2023)

Facts at a Glance 

  • Demographics (Sources: Britannica, December 2023; BBC News Profile, December 2023)
  • Capital: Khankendi/Stepanakert
  • Area: 1,700 sq mi 
  • Population: 120,000 (2022 figure) 50-1000 Ethnic Armenians (October 2023)
  • Languages: Armenian, Russian
  • Life expectancy: 75 years

Nagorno-Karabakh is a mountainous region nestled between Lower Karabakh and Syunik in the South Caucasus on the border of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, landlocked within the Turkic state of Azerbaijan. Governance of the area was long disputed, as 95 percent of the region’s constituents were ethnic Armenians. The First Armenian Assembly of Nagorno-Karabakh declared the region self-governing in 1918 and created a national government. In 1923, the Soviet Union established the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (an autonomous region within the state), home to a majority ethnically Armenian population, within the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. Historically, the international community recognized Nagorno-Karabakh as a region of southwestern Azerbaijan. 

Between 1991 and September 2023, most of Nagorno-Karabakh was independently governed by the internationally unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. These decades were punctuated with violence, two Karabakh Wars, and broken ceasefires. In the first war (1992-1994), ethnic Armenians fought to secede from Azerbaijan, and as a result, 700,000 Azerbaijanis were expelled from the area. Eight years later, Azerbaijan initiated the second 44-day war (2020), retaking most of the area. At the end of the second Karabakh War, Armenia returned to Azerbaijan all the occupied territory outside of Nagorno-Karabakh. Fighting again broke out among troops along the Armenian-Azerbaijan border in the fall of 2022, with fatalities among troops on both sides.

A few months later, in December 2022, a nine-month Azerbaijani blockade of the Lachin corridor began restricting food, water, and basic humanitarian supplies, culminating in an Azeri military strike and fighting on September 20-21, 2023, and the surrender of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Within 24 hours, Azerbaijan seized the region. Over the next few days, most of the 120,000 ethnic Armenians fled to Armenia. Rather than risk living under Baku’s peaceful integration plan as citizens of Azerbaijan amidst Azeri ethnic hatred cultivated by the present authoritative regime and fearing a repeat of the alleged atrocities by Azerbaijani forces during the 2020 war, including the killing and torture of citizens, ethnic Armenians fled abandoning their ancestral lands. 

As of the end of 2023, only a very small number of ethnic Armenians remain in Nagorno-Karabakh. The Azerbaijani military offensive of September 21, 2023, and the subsequent immediate diaspora of ethnic Armenians from the region, also referred to as Artsakh, decreased the population from 145,043 (2015) to an estimated 50 to 1,000 Armenians, according to the European Union mission that visited the region in October 2023. Most of the Armenian population in Nagorno-Karabakh was Christian, the majority belonging to the Armenian Apostolic Church. Almost the entire ethnic Armenian population has now relocated to Armenia proper despite assurances from Azerbaijan that Armenians remaining in Nagorno-Karabakh will be integrated as equal citizens and that there will be a reconciliation process. Aljazeera reported Artsakh cities are completely deserted. The self-declared Nagorno-Karabakh government says it will cease by January 2024. 

In the last months of 2023, displaced Armenians continued to live in temporary housing, hotels, or with relatives. The Armenian government provided monthly stipends for displaced families to help with housing and education. As of December 2023, it seemed unlikely that ethnic Armenians would return to Nagorno-Karabakh. Journalist Rayhan Demytrie reports, “Long-term of course, there are problems to be solved. In our conversations with displaced people, nobody is planning to go back.” 

The Standing Committee on Protection of Human Rights and Public Affairs of the National Assembly (NA) of Armenia submitted proposals for supporting forcibly displaced Karabakh Armenians to the EU delegation. Proposals included steps for preserving Armenian historical and cultural heritage registered in Nagorno-Karabakh, the need for early and accurate recording of inventory of lost property by residents forcibly displaced, compensation,  enrolment of students forcibly displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenian Universities, and establishment of privileges and long-term tuition for them. 

Discussions of goodwill gestures continue between Armenia and Azerbaijan. On December 13, 2023, the two nations exchanged military personnel, including 32 Armenians held prisoner since 2020 and two Azerbaijani soldiers held since September 2023. Troop withdrawals from the shared border are still under consideration. 

Prior to September 21, 2023, proposed U.S. legislation was introduced in the House (HR 5683) to protect and provide humanitarian assistance to Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh suffering and starving due to actions taken by the government of Azerbaijan in blockading the Lachin Corridor, the only access from the Artsakh region to Armenia. A second bill (HR5686) was also proposed to prevent ethnic cleansing against ethnic Armenians.

Many Christian churches, monuments, and relics dating back to the fourth century B.C. remain in the Artsakh region. Some were desecrated and feared endangered by cultural genocide even before the September 2023 crisis. The World Council of Churches and other groups, including the Caucasus Heritage Watch, called for the protection of Armenian cultural heritage and access to these ancient Armenian heritage sites, now at greater risk of destruction and cultural falsification under Azerbaijani control with the removal of the Armenian population. Lori Khatchadourian, associate professor of Near Eastern Studies (A&S) and co-director of Caucasus Heritage Watch, explains, “We estimate 200-300 Armenian cultural heritage sites will be endangered.”

More CMEP resources on Armenia:

Armenia at War: The survival of the church in the oldest Christian state. Three Part Webinar Series, Wednesday, September 20, 27, and October 4. 

Introduction to the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict of 2020: Armenia and Azerbaijan at War,

With Olesya Vartanyan from The Crises Group. 

Churches for Middle East Peace Condemns Aggression Against Armenians, The Armenian Church. September 13, 2022. 

Articles and Statements

Armenia and Azerbaijan exchange prisoners at the border. Reuters, December 13, 2023. 

Armenia, Azerbaijan discuss withdrawal of troops from shared border, no decision yet – TASS The Jerusalem Post, December 13, 2023. 

Statement on the consequences of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. World Council of Churches, November 13, 2023.                                                                                          

Proposals are being submitted to the EU delegation regarding for support for forcibly displaced Armenians from Karabakh., November 1, 2023.    

Guarantee right to return to Nagorno-Karabakh: After traumatic exodus focus talks with Azerbaijan on rights. Human Rights Watch, October 5, 2023. 

Up to 1000 ethnic Armenians left in Nagorno-Karabakh, UN says – BBC News 

October 2023

Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict by the Center for Preventative Action, Global Conflict Tracker, October 26, 2023. 

Armenia on Verge of Signing Peace Deal with Azerbaijan PM says, Politico, October 26, 2023. 

Azerbaijan holds first joint drills with Turkey since Karabakh victory, Reuters, October 23, 2023

Joint Statement on the Situation in Nagorno-Karabakh. The United States Joined the Following Joint Statement at the 54th Session of the Human Rights Council U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Geneva, October 11, 2023. 

As Azerbaijan claims final victory in Nagorno-Karabakh, arms trade with Israel comes under scrutiny CNN October 4, 2023. 

Azerbaijan moves to reaffirm control of Nagorno-Karabakh as the Armenian exodus slows to a trickle after a weeklong exodus of over 100,000 people Associated Press, October 2, 2023 

Armenia accuses Azerbaijan of “ethnic cleansing” in Nagorno-Karabakh region as 65,000 “forcefully displaced.” CBN News, September 28, 2023. 

Azerbaijan arrests the former head of separatist government after recapturing Nagorno-Karabakh. Associated Press, September 27, 2023.         

Armenia/Azerbaijan: Civilian population, whether leaving or staying, must be protected, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), September 26, 2023. 

Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenians start to leave en masse for Armenia. Reuters. September 25, 2023. 

Congressional Armenian Caucus Calls for UN Mandate and Peacekeeping Mission for Artsakh’s Christian Armenians Armenia National Committee of America,  September 21, 2023. 

Geneva (ICRC) – Nearly 70 metric tons of humanitarian supplies crossed the Lachin road on Saturday 23 September on an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) convoy. International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), September 23, 2023. 

Azerbaijan halts Karabakh offensive after ceasefire deal with Armenian separatists, Reuters. September 20, 2023. 

Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh agree to disarm, Reuters. September 20, 2023.

What’s at stake for Nagorno-Karabakh as both sides in the decades-old conflict agree to hold talks, Associated Press. September 20. 

Azerbaijan/Armenia: ICRC calls for civilians to be protected, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), September 19, 2023. 

Hundreds of Armenian Heritage Sites at Risk in Nagorno-Karabakh, College of Arts and Sciences, Cornell University, September 1, 2023.

ANCA Welcomes Introduction of Amendments Prohibiting U.S. Military Aid to Azerbaijan Armenia National Committee of American August 31, 2023

Explainer: Tensions high over isolated Azerbaijan region, Associated Press, January 21, 2023. 

Armenia Events of 2022: Aftermath of Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict, Human Rights Watch, June 16, 2022.