Nagorno-Karabakh, which effectively broke free of Azerbaijan after fighting a bitter war two decades ago, is a small, rugged, ill-defined enclave. Can 120,000 or so people inhabit a place that’s not a country or a province or anything else, and keep it going in any sustainable way? Karabakhis, who are ethnic Armenians but live outside Armenia proper, think that as long as they maintain a strong fighting force, they can.
But Azerbaijan has never yielded this territory, and very much wants to regain control. Something has to give at some point, and the question is whether that can happen without another war breaking out. War here in the South Caucasus could have untold implications for Russia, Turkey, Iran and even the U.S., which ships much of its military supplies to Afghanistan through the region.
The accompanying video begins in the old town known to Armenians as Shushi. It was at one time the most important settlement in Karabakh, ruled by Persians, and later by czarist Russia. It went into eclipse after the Soviets took control; today Stepanakert is the capital. The rest of the video presents some of the different faces of Karabakh.
Toward the end you’ll see a luncheon feast. After the elaborate toast shown here, I made what I thought was the fairly innocuous suggestion that an internationally brokered peace agreement—which Russia, France and the U.S. have been striving for, with little success so far—might be good for Karabakh’s future. The host proceeded to dress me down in front of the others, his eyes blazing. What does Karabakh, he asked, care about the rest of the world?