Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh) is located in the southeast of the Armenian Highlands. Myriad sources confirm that it has been a part of historical Armenia since antiquity. In the medieval period, however, it fell under foreign rule: first to Persia and then to nomadic Turkic tribes that began invading its borders in the 18th century, starting centuries-long wars against local Armenian noble families.
Karabakh's provinces, governed by hereditary feudal lords (meliks), were largely able to maintain real autonomy and strived to free themselves from foreign (Muslim) dominance. Since 1805, however, Artsakh's historical territory fell under the "everlasting rule" of the Russian Empire. With some exceptions, peace ensued until 1917. After the Empire collapsed, Karabakh became an arena of war. Together with local inhabitants, the independent Republic of Armenia and the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan (newly formed due to Turkish intervention) battled over the territory during 1918-1920.
In 1920, considering Azerbaijan's territorial ambitions, the League of Nations unanimously decided against accepting the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan into the League. The League recognized Nagorno Karabakh as a disputed territory, which was agreed to by all parties, including Azerbaijan. Thus, throughout 1918-1920, during the formation of Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan, its sovereignty did not extend over Nagorno Karabakh or, for that matter, neighboring Nakhijevan.
Immediately after the Soviet regime was established in Armenia, the Revolutionary Committee (the main Bolshevik instrument of power) of Azerbaijan formally recognized Karabakh, Zangezur, and Nakhijevan as inseparable parts of Armenia. At this time, none of those territories belonged to Azerbaijan. The international community, including Russia, applauded the act of cession. Soon after, however, Azerbaijan renewed its claims over Karabakh. Under Stalin's pressure, a decision of forceful separation of Nagorno Karabakh from Armenia was made, with a stipulation of Armenian national autonomy of Nagorno Karabakh within the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic. Azerbaijan delayed granting autonomy to Nagorno Karabakh in every possible way.
Following a two-year armed struggle, in 1923, an Autonomous Region was established on a small portion of the territory. Karabakh was partitioned: one part became autonomous, while another large part was deliberately merged into the regions of Soviet Azerbaijan in such a way that the physical and geographic ties between Armenia and the Armenian autonomous region were severed. In effect, the Karabakh question was not resolved but rather was frozen for almost 70 years.
1988 was a turning point in the history of Karabakh. The people of Artsakh raised their voices using their constitutional rights, seeking to secede from Azerbaijan according to Soviet laws on self-determination. However, every effort to discuss the dispute in a civilized fashion was followed by an escalation of violence. Armenians were subjected to massacres and mass murders in Azerbaijani cities of Sumgait, Baku, Kirovabad, Shamkhor, etc. Over 450,000 Armenians became refugees.
On September 2, 1991 the Nagorno Karabakh Republic was established. and on December 10, 1991, in a referendum, the overwhelming majority (99.98%) of the people of Artsakh voted in favor of full independence from Azerbaijan.
With the weaponry of the USSR Army headquartered in its territory, Azerbaijan launched wide-scale military operations against Karabakh. The war went on with varying success during 1991- 1994. At times, almost 60% of Karabakh territory was captured, while Stepanakert and other residential areas were relentlessly subjected to massive bombardments. In 1994, Azerbaijan, NK and Armenia agreed to a cease-fire, effective to date. In 1997, led by Russia, France, and the USA, the OSCE Minsk Group was created with the mandate to mediate for the peaceful settlement of the conflict. While its effectiveness has been debated, the Group to this day is the sole agreed-upon mechanism for peaceful resolution of the conflict.
By 1994, the self-defense forces of Artsakh had driven out all Azeri military and civilian presence, establishing de facto rule over Artsakh including territories liberated in 1993-94. The peaceful settlement of the conflict between Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabakh and the international recognition of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic will serve for the establishment of stability and long-lasting peace in the region.