Nagorno-Karabakh is another one of those autonomous regions in Europe that is a de facto independent nation that is not fully recognized by other nations. In fact Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is only recognized by three other nations, each of which has recognition problems of their own. The reason for this is because both Azerbaijan and Armenia claim the territory for their own nation.
The ancient history of Nagorno-Karabakh has been covered here in the blog twice as the Kura Araxes culture here and here, so we´ll focus more on what happened after this prehistory. There are some legends surrounding the region. Armenian myths claim that the area was first settled by the progeny of Noah. Then in the 5th century AD a prince was appointed by an Armenian king to run the territory for Armenia. During this period the region suffered from frequent invasions by the Persians and then the Armenians would claim it back. This went on for quite some time until the Mongols and Tartars ending up conquering all of the Caucuses. Nagorno-Karabakh became a semi autonomous region under the Mongols for a few centuries before the Arabs and Persians came into control it. Then it was a nealry autonomous region under Persia. The Christianity of the Armenians however seemed to continue unabated through all of this Muslim control. But, many of the Christian Armenians were displaced and moved into other parts of the Persian Empire. This left the area to the mostly Azerbaijani Tartars.
In the early 19th century the region became part of the Russian Empire. Numerous Armenians migrated back to the region from Persia where they had lived for centuries. This population swell of Armenian Christians tipped the scales so that the region became overwhelmingly Armenian and Christian rather than Azerbaijani and Muslim. Friction would soon arise and after a century of Russian rule conflict brokeout between the Muslim Tartars and Armenian Christians. Within a decade though the Russian Empire was broken up as the Soviets came to power.As the Soviets consolidated power Armenia and Azerbaijan went to war over Nagorno-Karabakh in 1920 to1921.In 1921 the Armenians defeated the Azerbaijani forces, but in the same year the Bolsheviks siezed power in Armenia.
After the Soviets had seized firm enough control in Moscow, they retook the Caucuses including Nagorno-Karabakh. To gain support in Armenia the Bolsheviks promised that Nagorno-Karabakh and a few other predominately ethnic Armenia enclaves within Azerbaijan would fall under Armenian rule within the Soviet Union. But, the Bolsheviks were duplicitous and Nagorno-Karabakh became an autonomous region under Azerbaijani control. From 1921 to 1991, under Soviet rule, ethnic tensions mounted as more and more Azerbaijani settlers moved into the region. The ethnic Armenians in the region resented this turn of events. When the Soviet Union collapsed and Armenia and Azerbaijan became independent states, war broke out between the two over the region.
The war was bloody and consisted of tons of mass ethnic migrations in both Azerbaijan and Armenia. The end result of the war was that nearly all of the ethnic Azerbaijani were driven from Nagorno-Karabakh and ethnic Armenians were driven from various places within Azerbijan. Today, Nagorno-Karabakh is predominately Armenian and they control a small strip of land to connect Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh. However, Azerbaijan still claims it as part of their nation. Tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the region are still raw and conflict could escalate at any point.