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The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: A Visual Explainer

A change in power in Armenia in 2018 created a window for engagement with Azerbaijan toward breaking a 30-year deadlock over Nagorno-Karabakh. Over the past year, Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders and diplomats have held a series of formal and informal talks. Since September 2018, new communication channels between security personnel and political representatives have minimised flare-ups and casualties. 

Yet the risk of fresh military escalation is far from gone. Intermittent deadly incidents, including special operations and the use of attack drones and heavy weaponry, on the front lines demonstrate the ever-present risk of a wider escalation of the conflict. In April 2016, hostilities along the Line of Contact (LoC) devolved into four-days of fighting and resulted in more than 200 deaths. 

The conflict is the longest-running in the former Soviet Union. In 1988, ethnic Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh demanded the transfer of what was then the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast from Soviet Azerbaijan to Armenia. War over the territory broke out from 1992 to 1994. It ended with Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent districts wholly or partially controlled by Armenian forces. More than a million people were forced from their homes: Azerbaijanis fled Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh and the adjacent territories, while Armenians left homes in Azerbaijan. Since a 1994 ceasefire, decades of negotiations – mediated by three Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group Co-Chairs representing France, Russia and the U.S. – have failed to resolve the conflict.

This presentation of data linked to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict aims to explore how tensions on the front lines of the conflict correlate with domestic political developments on each side and diplomatic efforts. It is intended as a tool for policymakers and others involved in the peace process or in mitigating the conflict’s humanitarian impact. Due to unreliable data, the graphics below do not include casualties and incidents during the latest major outbreak of fighting from 2 to 11 April 2016. Were those reflected, the death toll would be higher, given that an estimated 200 people lost their lives in the violence.

Map of the Conflict Zone

The front line on this one-of-a-kind map was drawn using the latest satellite imagery, while the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast's borders are based on Soviet-era maps.

Nagorno-Karabakh (former NKAO)
Adjacent Territories
Front Line

Timeline of Events

The timeline of events maps key developments in the peace process, including meetings and political statements made by the conflict parties, mediators or foreign actors since 2015. Domestic political events are included where they have bearing on the conflict’s dynamics.

Visualising the Data

The visual explainer tracks reports of incidents along the Line of Contact (LoC), the most militarised area of the conflict, as well as the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The data includes reports of special operations, heavy weaponry or drone use as well as military and civilian casualties.

An Armenian soldier stands in a trench along the frontline. CRISISGROUP

Reports of Incidents

At least

0

incidents have been reported along the Line of Contact since 2015 (excluding the 2-11 April 2016 escalation)

0

Heavy Weaponry

Since 2006, both sides have built up their arsenals, including with the purchase of attack helicopters, fighter planes, surface-to-air missiles, anti-tank artillery systems, and long-range mortars. Crisis Group tracks the use of such heavy weaponry.

0

Special Operations

Since 2015, deployment of special diversionary groups has become a regular practice. Crisis Group tracks reports of Azerbaijani or Armenian forces crossing the front line.

0

Drones

Since April 2016, both sides have used kamikaze drones and drones for surveillance.

Crisis Group has sought to identify all incidents reported by Azerbaijan, Armenia and de facto Nagorno-Karabakh authorities in the conflict zone since 2015, including both those that resulted in casualties and those that did not. Reports of incidents by the parties have been cross-checked against open-source media reports. The data does not include information from early April 2016, when the escalation took place along the line of contact, due to the lack of publicly available and verifiable information for that period.

Counting the Casualties

At least

0

killed and wounded since 2015 (excluding the April 2-11 2016 escalation)

0

Military Killed

0

Military Wounded

0

Civilians Killed

0

Civilians Wounded

Since 2015, Crisis Group has collected a database of casualties in the conflict zone, dozens of which are reported each year. The data is based on reports by the Azerbaijani and Armenian ministries of defence, the de-facto Nagorno-Karabakh authorities and media on all sides. Crisis Group only includes reports of fatalities and wounded if it can identify through official or media reports the names of those killed or injured. Military casualties include contracted soldiers and conscripts, along with border guards deployed along the front lines. Most civilian casualties occur near the front lines or are caused by explosions of mines installed close to military positions. The data does not include information from early April 2016, when the escalation took place along the LoC, due to the lack of publicly available and verifiable information for that period of time. The bar charts show the breakdown of military and civilian casualties by nationality. 

Methodology and Terminology

A gate riddled with bullet holes near the Line of Contact. CRISISGROUP

Crisis Group has generated a timeline of political developments and two datasets by listing all casualties and incidents (uses of drones, heavy weaponry, and special operations) reported in open sources in Armenia, Azerbaijan and de facto Nagorno-Karabakh from 2015 onward.

The timeline of events includes: 

  • Diplomatic activity such as contacts between the two sides and OSCE Minsk Group meetings; 
  • Statements by Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders, OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair countries, the OSCE, UN, EU and other relevant actors;
  • Political consultations between the Armenian government and the de facto leadership of Nagorno-Karabakh;
  • Domestic developments in Azerbaijan, Armenia and de facto Nagorno-Karabakh.

 

Crisis Group used Armenian and Azerbaijani government websites, de facto Nagorno-Karabakh sources and online media outlets in Baku, Yerevan and Stepanakert to identify reports of incidents and casualties. No systematic official data on incidents and casualties, let alone data specifying their cause, is publicly available. A detailed list of the sources we used may be found here.

The availability and specificity of data differs among the areas affected by the conflict. For specific time periods (in particular during the flare-up of the fighting between 2 and 11 April 2016), data is limited or unavailable. Due to the lack of accurate data, Crisis Group chose to exclude that period from our datasets.

In tallying incidents, Crisis Group faced several limitations. For incidents that spanned multiple days, we used the last reported date. For incidents categorised as involving heavy weaponry, only those for which reports specified what type of heavy weaponry was used were included. The count of incidents when heavy weaponry was used is therefore likely higher than that reflected in the bar charts. In cases when several instances of heavy weaponry, drone use or special operations were reported in the same location and at the same time, these counted as one incident. For instance, a report detailing three types of heavy weapon use in the same location at the same time counted as one incident involving heavy weaponry. However, when a report cites different types of offensive (heavy weaponry, drones or special operation) in the same report, these count as separate incidents – so one incident involving heavy weaponry and another one involving drones, for example – even if they took place in the same location and at the same time.

In counting casualties, Crisis Group only included those dead and wounded that we could identify by name, using statements by Armenian, Azerbaijani and de facto Nagorno-Karabakh authorities, media reports and/or social media postings for basic biographical data, unique photos and funeral reports.

Crisis Group’s datasets, upon which this Visual Explainer is based, are available here

We value feedback, which will be considered in updates to the visual explainer and other data visualisations. Please send information and inquiries to NKVisualExplainer@crisisgroup.org.

Terminology:

Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone: the Soviet-era Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast and the Armenian-controlled adjacent territories

Front lines: the Line of Contact and the Armenian-Azerbaijani border

Civilian casualties: non-combatants identified by name by the conflict parties or in media reports. Most have been killed or wounded near the Line of Contact or the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.

Military casualties: Azerbaijani and Armenian armed forces and border guards dead or wounded in the conflict zone.

Reports of incidents: incidents involving drones, heavy weaponry and/or special operations by armed forces.

The use of heavy weaponry: use of grenade launchers, rocket systems, tanks, military helicopters and/or other heavy armament of 110mm mortars and up.

Special operations: crossings of the front line by Azerbaijani or Armenian forces.
Drone use: drones used for reconnaissance or strikes in the conflict zone.