The First Country to Go Extinct in 2024: From Independence to Extinction in Just 32 Years

On a day in September 2023, a globally shocking announcement was made by the Russian news agency Sputnik and Agence France-Presse. The leaders of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, a disputed small country located between Azerbaijan and Armenia, signed an order declaring that it would officially cease to exist on January 1, 2024.

This decision came as a bolt from the blue, marking the end of Nagorno-Karabakh, a nation born amidst controversy and conflict, unable to resolve its disputes with neighboring countries. The international community’s reaction was mixed, with some seeing it as an inevitable outcome, while others expressed concern for the future of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Nagorno-Karabakh, with its 4,400 square kilometers of territory, ranks 166th in the world by land area, surpassing well-known countries like Singapore, Luxembourg, and the Maldives. This vast land is not barren; it is home to the hopes and dreams of about 150,000 indigenous people.

Though not the least populous globally, every resident of Nagorno-Karabakh deeply loves their land, cultivating a life of their own on this fertile ground with their hard work and wisdom. The region’s diverse landscape, featuring mountains, canyons, plains, and lakes, adds endless charm to the land.

The rich historical and cultural heritage of Nagorno-Karabakh has been preserved and promoted through generations. The residents, mainly engaged in agriculture and pastoralism, have created a vibrant culture and traditions on this land. These cultural identities and traditions have become unique symbols of Nagorno-Karabakh, drawing global attention.

Why is Nagorno-Karabakh headed towards extinction?

The history of the Nagorno-Karabakh region dates back to ancient times, originally part of the Armenian Kingdom, a once flourishing nation known for significant cultural and artistic achievements. However, as history progressed, Armenia eventually fell, and Nagorno-Karabakh came under Persian Empire rule.

The Persian Empire, a vast entity that ruled over many countries and regions, brought significant changes to Nagorno-Karabakh, including infrastructure improvements like roads, bridges, and irrigation systems, profoundly impacting the local economy and social development.

Yet, history is filled with twists and turns. By 1813, after the Persian Empire was defeated by the Russian Empire, Nagorno-Karabakh became part of Russia, ushering in new changes under Russian rule.

Under Russian dominance, Nagorno-Karabakh saw further economic, cultural, and political development. Russia also reformed education in the area, establishing schools and universities, providing more educational opportunities for the local population.

History took another turn after the Russian October Revolution, with Nagorno-Karabakh entering a new phase as part of the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic.

This republic was once a prosperous nation but gradually split into three countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, leading to diverging paths for closely connected regions.

During the Soviet era, Stalin, aiming to consolidate power, took measures including redrawing boundaries. He decided to allocate Nagorno-Karabakh, originally under Armenian jurisdiction, to Azerbaijan.

This decision reflected Stalin’s cautious and repressive stance towards Armenians, known for their strong national pride and ambitions. By creating regional conflicts, Stalin intended to weaken these forces, making the relationship between Armenia and Azerbaijan tense and complicated.

However, most people in Nagorno-Karabakh were Armenian, with only a minority being Azerbaijani. Despite administrative changes, the people’s deep connection and identification with Armenia remained strong. They were unwilling to give up their national identity and cultural traditions, hoping to return to Armenia’s embrace.

To fulfill this wish, Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh united, petitioning the Soviet government to reallocate Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, expressing their longing and determination to return.

Azerbaijan’s stance on this issue was firm, unwilling to easily relinquish Nagorno-Karabakh, now part of their state. The disagreement between the two sides deepened, escalating tensions.

In February 1988, tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh reached a peak, leading to the outbreak of the Nagorno-Karabakh War. The conflict spread, engulfing the region in smoke and sorrow, marking the beginning of the notorious war.

To defend this precious land, the Azerbaijani government made a bold decision, revoking Nagorno-Karabakh’s autonomous status and refusing to recognize it as an independently administered region. This move effectively placed Nagorno-Karabakh under direct Azerbaijani control through administrative redistricting.

This decision was not made lightly but was a deliberate choice, understanding the historical significance of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan. Only by maintaining firm control could the future security of the land be ensured.

Yet, history’s wheel spins unstoppably. Just three years later, in 1991, the once-dominant superpower, the Soviet Union, collapsed amidst internal and external strife, becoming a relic of history.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union spurred many federal states, including Azerbaijan, to seek independence, facing unprecedented challenges and opportunities. Azerbaijan needed to reassess its position and find its own path.

Nagorno-Karabakh, now under Azerbaijani jurisdiction, declared independence, establishing the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.

However, this did not end the disputes between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The conflict continued in Nagorno-Karabakh, with both sides paying a heavy price. Numerous lives were lost, homes destroyed, and families separated, but neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan ceased their struggle for control.

The conflict lasted three years, filled with bloodshed and pain, until a ceasefire was reached on May 12, 1994.

Azerbaijan paid a tremendous cost to control Nagorno-Karabakh, briefly seizing it but ultimately losing control and some territories to Armenia. These failures dealt a severe blow to Azerbaijan, plunging the nation into grief and disappointment.

Despite this, Azerbaijan did not give up. Understanding the need to regain lost territories, Azerbaijan embarked on comprehensive reforms and development, strengthening its military, economy, culture, and international relations.

After years of effort, Azerbaijan regained strength, seeking opportunities to recover lost lands.

In 2020, the world’s attention turned to Azerbaijan and Armenia. Data revealed a stark disparity in combined national strength and military power, with Azerbaijan’s strength seven times greater and its military force double that of Armenia. This data clearly showed that after 20 years of development, Azerbaijan had the power to overpower Armenia.

However, Azerbaijan faced more than just military disparities. Turkey, its neighbor, openly supported Azerbaijan, increasing pressure on Armenia. In war, timing, geography, and unity are essential, and Azerbaijan seemed to have all three.

With this backdrop, Azerbaijan felt fully prepared, but Armenia did not easily yield. On September 27, 2020, intense conflicts erupted again.

Russia, a close ally of Armenia, faced a dilemma. Supporting Armenia openly could provoke conflict with Azerbaijan, jeopardizing regional peace and stability. Thus, Moscow opted for neutrality amidst contradictions.

The smoke of battle lingered over Nagorno-Karabakh, with Armenia nearly powerless, watching as comrades fell and equipment was lost. This helplessness and despair were overwhelming, as if the world mocked their weakness.

Fortunately, Moscow did not completely abandon them. As the conflict threatened to destroy Nagorno-Karabakh, Moscow mediated a ceasefire agreement. Armenia was forced to cede territory and surrender, paying a heavy price but preserving national survival.

Nagorno-Karabakh teetered on the brink of extinction, every breath filled with tension and uncertainty, racing against death.

On September 19, 2023, the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia escalated again. Azerbaijan, no longer hesitating, swiftly attacked Nagorno-Karabakh. With Moscow preoccupied with Ukraine, unable to intervene, Azerbaijani forces easily captured Nagorno-Karabakh in less than a day.

Facing Azerbaijan’s fierce onslaught, the Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh were overwhelmed, attempting to resist but ultimately surrendering due to the disparity in strength. Thus, Nagorno-Karabakh officially became part of Azerbaijan, marking another chapter in history.

Later, mediated by Moscow, Nagorno-Karabakh Republic leader Samvel Shahramanyan signed an order on September 28, declaring the republic would cease to exist on January 1, 2024. This moment marked the formal end of the 32-year-old Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.

This decision signifies a new beginning for neighboring countries Armenia and Azerbaijan. They will no longer be troubled by past disputes, with an opportunity to create a peaceful and prosperous future together.