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Located between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh is, effectively, a kind of no-man’s land. Like Transnistria and Abkhazia, it’s often referred to as a Post-Soviet Frozen Conflict Zone: a disputed area that became a place of heated territorial battles following the break-up of the USSR.
According to most of the world, the Nagorno-Karabakh region is a part of Azerbaijan. By the 1990s however, this previously autonomous territory was largely inhabited by ethnic Armenians – and when the Soviet borders fell and the land was returned to the Azeri government, many local Armenians were none too impressed. Since February 1988, in fact, they had been demonstrating in the streets and calling for reunion with Armenia; so when Azerbaijan moved to deny the region its autonomous rights in November 1991, the response was a referendum for complete succession. The Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh voted overwhelmingly for independence, at which point Azerbaijan boycotted the process and began deploying military troops.
The ensuing war continued until May 1994, when Russia entered to help broker a reluctant ceasefire.
Today, the atmosphere in Nagorno-Karabakh is a strange mixture of apathy and tension: like a lazy Sunday afternoon on a military base. Tanks sit as monuments beside the roads, young soldiers drink tea in cafes up and down the streets of de facto capital, Stepanakert; while everywhere, flags and banners promote the region’s ongoing battle for independent recognition.