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Near East Kingdoms



Nagorno Karabakh / Artsakh (Armenia)
AD 1991 - 2024
Incorporating Heads of State (1991-2024)

The modern republic of Armenia is the surviving easternmost remnants of the much greater ancient state of Armenia. Its capital is Yerevan, which was founded in 782 BC as the citadel of Erebuni by the Urartuan King Argishti I. Landlocked, Armenia is bordered to the west by Turkey, to the north by Georgia, to the east by Azerbaijan, and at its southern tip by Iran along the River Araks.

Armenia also had a long-lasting exclave in the form of the Nagorno-Karabakh region which lies well inside the main Azerbaijani border, part of the Lesser Caucus mountain range of the South Caucasus. Armenian history is long and complicated though, with its first independent state dating to the second century BC.

The subsequent Armenian kingdom was formed of two main regions: 'Greater Armenia' which lay to the east of the Euphrates, and 'Little Armenia', or Lesser Armenia, to the west of the river.

The eastern section eventually fell (or remained) under the control of Iran - formally from 1502 - until the Russo-Persian War of 1826-1828. Russian military might was too much for the Iranians so, although they started the war, Russia ended it by invading Eastern Armenia and holding onto it. The imperial Russians, and in their later Soviet identity, now managed to hold onto Armenia until the Soviet empire dissolved at the end of the twentieth century.

The term 'Eastern Armenia' had long been used by Armenians themselves to denote the Armenian Highlands, their traditional homeland into which they had settled upon arriving in the region from the eighth century BC onwards. There has never been established an official dividing line between this and western Armenia, but the borders of the modern Armenian state can be used as a rough guide.

In 1988, encouraged by the new Soviet policy of openness ('glasnost'), Armenians began to campaign for Nagorno-Karabakh to be united with the new Armenian republic (having first been formed in 1918 and now rediscovering its own voice). This region had a predominantly Armenian population at the time and the majority of its population deeply desired a full reunion with the remnants of the Armenian state.

Armenia itself achieved full independence in 1991, and the Nagorno-Karabakh region soon became involved in a war against its Azeri neighbours to ensure its own independence. Surprisingly successful in its campaign, the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh swiftly carved out an Armenian exclave which lay entirely within Azerbaijan's borders. The only connection with Armenia 'proper' was via the five kilometre-wide Lachin corridor, a kind of umbilical cord which centred around the city of Berdzor.

The new republic was known internationally as Nagorno-Karabakh. The name Karabakh was applied to this mountainous region during the Russian period of control (in 1923), originating in the Azeri 'Qarabağ'. In essence this formed the republic's southern part, with Nagorno forming the northern part.

Both had been formed into the Soviet 'Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast' (NKAO) on 7 July 1923 as a way of resolving a post-First World War regional dispute between Armenians and Azeris. Now that they were safely incorporated into the Soviet Union there could be no such bickering between 'brother states'.

During the onset of Mikhail Gorbachev's Soviet glasnost and perestroika policies, in February 1988 the supreme soviet of the NKAO voted to unite itself with Armenia (against Soviet wishes). By 1989 the region was being blockaded by the Azeris, and thirty-six years of on-off conflict began.

The republic was never recognised internationally, and its only support came from Armenia, with occasional Russian Federation peace-keeping forces being installed. Even then Azeri attacks would still be triggered, sometimes even killing Russians alongside ethnic Armenians.

To Armenians this territory was the republic of Artsakh. The name is an ancient one. Inscriptions which are dated to the Urartuan kingdom name the region as Ardakh or Urdekhe (the same name spelled marginally differently), or Atakhuni. Strabo in Geography names an Armenian region which he refers to as Orchistene which has been linked to the Armenian 'Artsakh'. Urartu may not have controlled Ardakh - it may have been a neighbouring region into which the early Armenians were beginning to arrive.

The conflict over the predominantly Armenian-populated region of Nagorno-Karabakh overshadowed Armenia's return to independence. The first war against Azerbaijan was relatively short and bloody, and successful for Armenia, but it stored up problems for the future, and for the final, official termination of Nagorno-Karabakh in 2024. Armenia itself remained the subject of a trade blockade which was imposed by neighbouring Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Dargavs necropolis, Ossetia

(Information by Peter Kessler and the John De Cleene Archive, with additional information by Brigitta Davidjants, from Ethnic Conflict in the Transcausasus: The Case of Nagorno-Karabakh, A N Yamskov (1991), from Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War, Thomas De Waal (New York University Press, 2003), and from External Links: Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition), and BBC Country Profiles, and Armenia (World Statesmen.org), and Nagorno-Karabakh (Rulers.org), and Nagorno-Karabakh's fragile stalemate (The Guardian), and Letter from Azerbaijan: off the map (The Guardian), and Pardoning of Azeri axe murderer raises tensions in the Caucasus (The Guardian), and Bloody clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia over disputed territory (The Guardian), and The Economist (dead link), and Life in a frozen war zone (The Guardian), and Armenia leader orders end to fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh (Sutton & Croydon Guardian), and Armenia election 2018 (The Guardian), and Nagorno-Karabakh peace deal brokered by Moscow prompts anger in Armenia (The Guardian), and Azerbaijan launches 'anti-terrorist' attack (The Guardian), and Breakaway government says it will dissolve itself (The Guardian).)

1991 - 1994

Although conflict had begun in 1989, full-scale war now breaks out. Ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh fight for independence from Azerbaijan, supported by troops and resources from Armenia proper. The independence of Nagorno-Karabakh is declared on 3 September 1991, while a parliament is elected on 28 December 1991, assuming power on 8 January 1992.

Nagorno-Karabakh War
The war over Nagorno-Karabakh lasted for just three years, but constant flare-ups and a marked increase in 2014 of border skirmishes signified that the problem was then far from being resolved

On the ground the First Nagorno-Karabakh War (or the Artsakh Liberation War to Armenians) between 1988-1994 is largely a success for Armenia, with Nagorno-Karabakh secured and a total of sixteen percent of Azerbaijani territory captured overall. Azeri inhabitants of the secured territory of the republic and its captured extensions are subsequently expelled.


Artur Mkrtchyan

Chairman of the NKR parliament (Jan-Apr). Shot dead.

1992 - 1993

Georgy Petrosyan

Chairman of the Nagorno-Karabakh parliament (from Apr).

1993 - 1994

Garen Baburyan

Acting chairman of the Nagorno-Karabakh parliament.


A Russian-brokered ceasefire is put in place to end outright hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh, but it fails to deliver any lasting solution. For the time being, the region is left as a self-proclaimed republic, with ethnic Armenian forces in control of Azerbaijani territory which surrounds Karabakh.

1994 - 1997

Robert Kocharyan

President (from Mar on). Later president of Armenia.


Robert Kocharian leaves a Nagorno-Karabakh which is surrounded entirely by the territory of Azerbaijan to become prime minister and then president in Armenia. Foreign Minister Arkadiy Gukasian is elected as the new president of Karabakh. President Aliyev of Azerbaijan and his Armenian counterpart, Levon Ter-Petrosian, agree to an OSCE proposal for a staged Karabakh solution.

Azerbaijan's President Heydar Aliyev
Despite his less-than-spotless reputation with a swathe of the international world, Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev won admiration from the general population for his creation of a strong, oil-wealthy state on the coast of the Caspian Sea, one which would be increasingly well-placed to threaten Nagorno-Karabakh


Leonard Petrosyan

Acting president (20 Mar-8 Sep). Killed in 1999.

1997 - 2007

Arkady / Arkadi Gukasyan

President (8 Sep-7 Sep). Survived assassination attempt.


A terrorist attack takes place in the Armenian capital of Yerevan. Known there as October 27 it targets the Armenian national assembly, when a group of five armed men which is led by Armenian journalist Nairi Hunanyan kills two de facto decision-makers in the country's often controversial political leadership, Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan and Parliament's speaker, Karen Demirchyan. Leonard Petrosyan is another of their victims.

2007 - 2020

Bako Sahakyan

President (7 Sep-21 May). Served three terms.


In March the worst fighting in recent years breaks out in Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan and Armenia accuse each other of starting the '2008 Mardakert' clashes which leave several dead on each side.

2010 - 2011

The 2010 Nagorno-Karabakh clashes see gunfire being exchanged on 18 February along the line of contact between Azerbaijani forces and the Karabakh Armenian military forces. Three Azerbaijani soldiers are killed and one is wounded. Further minor border clashes take place in 2011.

A young resident of Nagorno-Karabakh in 2006
A young boy joins the fun as Stepanakert's residents celebrate the outcome of a 2006 referendum which overwhelmingly approves a constitution which declares Nagorno-Karabakh to be an independent state


Further '2012 border clashes' take place between the armed forces of Armenia and Azerbaijan, in early June. The clashes result in casualties on both sides after initial skirmishing has taken place in April along the border zone between Tavush province and Qazakh Rayon.


In February, Armenian President Serge Sarkisian withdraws from parliament the landmark 2009 agreement with Turkey to restore diplomatic ties, citing citing the absence of political will on the Turkish side.

Turkey has insisted that Armenia resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh situation first, while also refusing to admit that the mass killings of Armenians in the First World War had been anything other than an inevitable tragedy of war. It is also under pressure from its oil-rich Azeri allies not to aid Armenia in any way.


The 2016 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is also referred to as the Four-Day War or April War, or even the April clashes. They begin along the Nagorno-Karabakh line of contact on 1 April 2016 with the Artsakh Defence Army, backed by the Armenian armed forces, repelling an Azerbaijani attempt to gain ground after falsely claiming Armenian shelling of civilians (no evidence of this is ever found).

Destroyed Armenian house in 2016
April 2016 witnessed the worst clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh since the 1994 ceasefire


On 20 May 2018 the 2018 Armenian-Azerbaijani clashes begin between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan claims the capture of several villages and strategic positions within the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, although this area is in fact part of no man's land between the Azerbajiani and Armenian lines.


In the midst of the year's Covid-19 pandemic, with Armenia seemingly harder hit than Azerbaijan, the six-week Nagorno-Karabakh War of 2020 is sparked (otherwise referred to as the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War). Following minor clashes along the border on 27 September both sides declare martial law.

Azerbaijan then launches its largest offensive in a generation to retake Nagorno-Karabakh and its surrounding regions which have been under Armenian control since 1991. Thousands are killed and more than 100,000 displaced in the worst fighting since that time.

Nagorno-Karabakh War of 2020
The Moscow-brokered ceasefire saw Russian troops interposed between Armenians and Azerbaijanis to keep them apart, but considerable territory had been surrendered by Armenia, with thousands of Armenians fleeing the region and burning their houses to leave nothing for their enemy

Azerbaijan this time is backed and supplied by a far more militaristic Turkey, while Russia's traditional support of Armenia seems to be somewhat lacking. In the end Russian peacekeepers are deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh after Moscow brokers a peace deal which grants Azerbaijan significant territorial concessions.

The southern half of Nagorno-Karabakh has already been captured by Azerbaijan while the Azeri territory between the enclave and Armenia has to be handed over to the Azeris by 1 December, with the truncated Armenian-held remnant being heavily policed by Russian peacekeepers.

2020 - 2023

Arayik Vladimiri Harutyunyan

President (21 May-1 Sep).


On Monday 22 February, President Putin recognises as independent states the Russian-created breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine. Almost immediately afterwards, Putin orders Russian troops to enter Ukraine in a desperate attempt to seize the entire country.

The resultant war of attrition which favours the Ukrainian side will have grave repercussions for Armenians in the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh republic.

A Russian tank burns in Ukraine in 2022
Despite outnumbering the more lightly-armed Ukrainian forces by at least three-to-one, Russian forces continued to suffer far heavier casualties, with tank losses surprisingly high as Ukrainian units undertook ambushes against them


Davit Ishkhanyan

Acting president (1-10 Sep).

2023 - 2024

Samvel Shahramanyan

President (31 Aug on). Signed decree of dissolution.


On 19 September, Azerbaijan launches attacks on Nagorno-Karabakh, with bombing raids hitting the regional capital of Stepanakert. The Azeris label the attack an 'anti-terrorist' campaign, but the bombardment also hits civilian targets and appears to be aimed at forcing the weakened Armenian breakaway government into a full surrender.

Russian military intervention is entirely lacking now that it is involved in an unwinnable war against technologically-superior opponents.

More than half of the region's Armenian population has no option but to flee into Armenia proper across the next week: around 70,000 out of a total of about 120,000 in just that week alone. The Armenian prime minister's spokesman labels the campaign 'ethnic cleansing'. Anyone who remains will be forced to integrate into Azeri society to be able to benefit from Azeri rebuilding and consolidation efforts.

Armenians evacuate from Nagorno-Karabakh in 2023
Refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh arrive in Kornidzor, Armenia, on Wednesday 27 September, having fled their homes for, many of them say, the last time

On 28 September, recognising the totality of its defeat, Nagorno-Karabakh's ethnic Armenian government signs a decree to dissolve all state institutions by 1 January 2024. The republic ceases to exist from that day.

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