Nagorno-Karabakh: inside look at unresolved conflict
The Karabakh war of 1992-1994 didn't bring desired results for those who unleashed it, turning neighboring nations against each other. Occupied Karabakh didn't become a common home for reunion of disparate Armenians or an offshore zone for large Armenian businesses. Today, the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, which is not recognized by anyone (including Armenia), is in a socio-economic crisis and people are afraid of the resumption of hostilities.
It’s difficult to find out what's really happening on the territory of unrecognized republic, because there's a special information blockade: there are no opposition publications, only local media that are controlled by the regime. The self-proclaimed Karabakh heavily depends on propaganda: local television talks about population growth, citing data from recent censuses as an example, and says that the number of residents in Karabakh is approaching 200 thousand people. Experts note that the real population of the "Nagorno-Karabakh Republic" hardly exceeds 50 thousand people, taking into account employees of the Armed Forces of Armenia. But even this figure is doubtful, since many people don't permanently reside in this territory.
People live here mainly on money sent by relatives who managed to move to Russia or other countries and obtain citizenship there. Those who managed to gain foothold in other countries take their parents with them as soon as possible. Young people flee these territories not only because of lack of jobs (there are practically no industries, while agriculture in the mountains requires serious subsidies, which are not expected due to budget deficit), but also because of lack of faith in the future: many understand that sooner or later, Nagorno-Karabakh will return to Azerbaijan.
There were three waves of emigration from occupied Karabakh: in 1995-1999, in 2008-2012 and in 2016-2017.
The current population of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is represented mainly by soldiers, their families and older people who are not able to leave. True, since the outbreak of war in Syria, the population of Karabakh has grown due to refugees of Armenian descent from there. The "Nagorno-Karabakh Republic" established a program for simplified provision of residence permit for those refugees, but demographic boom didn't happen.
Salary of 113 thousand drams, which is lower than 15 thousand rubles, is considered very high. The unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic has three sources of income.
The first one is subsidies from diaspora, which, however, is pretty reluctant to donate funds to support the regime. The most daring entrepreneurs open small and medium-sized factories for production of canned goods, which are sold in small batches outside of Karabakh.
The second one is "tourism", which fulfills ideological function, attracting attention of the diaspora. Guides talk about rich history and architecture of Karabakh, without mentioning fragments of the Turkic cultural heritage and church history of Caucasian Albania, which have been preserved both in the region and beyond in Azerbaijan in the cities of Sheki, Gabala and Barda. During cold season, tourists that visit occupied territories have nothing to do, and even during warm season it's extremely dangerous to visit these lands: the number of shootings at the border is growing, and the territory of unrecognized republic is not that large to feel safe. It's a very exotic type of tourism.
The third one is extraction of minerals, including gold, which brings considerable income. However, all production in the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh republic is carried out exclusively by private companies. Although mining companies remain the largest taxpayer, taxes are the only thing that occupied gold bring to Karabakh. Everyone who produces Karabakh gold, copper and other metals pays small taxes that goes to the budget, and the rest is exported abroad. Natural wealth has basically been given to private owners, who are sometimes backed by high-ranking officials. They say that one of the gold mines in Kelbajar allegedly belongs to the current head of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Bako Sahakyan and his relatives.
If we try to assess public mood in the occupied territories, then it can be described in one word - hopelessness. It's also characteristic for soldiers, who spend time in trenches without any hope of leaving their posts soon. Recently, many of those who are on the contact line every day tend to think that if a new war begins, it will spread beyond Karabakh and reach the territory of Armenia.
But what can be expected from Karabakh "elite", which, over the past 20 years, has acquired its own business, fleets and mansions? Most likely, this "elite" desires continuation of never ending battle for mythical ideals. And that's why people live from event to event, from "holiday" to "holiday", turning life into a series of ritual acts and voluntarily renouncing the right to plan their future. Because funds that could be spent on their future have already been distributed.
The lack of faith in future is mainly associated with the fact that hostilities can resume at any time. Azerbaijan will never give up its lands, and it's obvious that many problems can be resolved without deepening of confrontation, through establishment of peace, which will facilitate implementation of economic projects on this land. Being part of the Republic of Azerbaijan is the only way to prosperity for these territories, which is understood by all sane people, with exception of top officials of separatist regime and those who play geopolitical games.