For women’s full participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding

An initiative from Kvinna till Kvinna

Nagorno Karabakh

The conflict

Nagorno KarabakhSince it’s a breakaway region and non-recognized state, there are no official statistics on Nagorno Karabakh.

The population is estimated to around 140 000.

After the Bolsheviks’ expansion into South Caucasus in the 1920s, Nagorno Karabakh was established as an autonomous region within the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic.Nagorno Karabakh was inhabited by people of different ethnicities, but the largest group was Armenians. In 1988 the Armenian deputies in the local soviet assembly of Nagorno Karabakh voted to unite the region with Soviet Armenia. Tensions grew between Armenians and Azerbaijanis and inter-ethnic violence took place in both republics.

In 1991 Azerbaijan and Armenia declared independence from the Soviet Union, which was formally dissolved in December 1991. Later the same year Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh declared independence as a new state separate from Azerbaijan and held a referendum on independence. The referendum was boycotted by local Azerbaijanis. An overwhelming majority of the voters casted their ballots in favor of an independent Republic of Nagorno Karabakh. Shortly after that an armed conflict over Nagorno Karabakh broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Thousands of people were killed and hundreds of thousands were displaced due to the conflict.

Armenia and AzerbaijanArmenia

Population: 3 085 000

Average lifetime: 74

Infant mortality rate: 18/1000

Literacy: Women 99,4 %, Men 99,7 %



Population: 8 998 000

Average lifetime: 70

Infant mortality rate: 41/1000

Literacy: Women 99,2 %, Men 99,8 %


UNESCO statistics 2009

In May 1994 a ceasefire came into effect through Russian mediation, but there was no peace. Armenians were in control of both Nagorno Karabakh and bordering Azerbaijani regions. Armenia and Azerbaijan have held negotiations since then, under mediation of the so called Minsk group (chaired by USA, the Russian Federation and France) from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Sporadic outbursts of gunfire are still taking place along the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan and along the line of contact to Nagorno Karabakh and there have also been reports of accidents with mines. Nagorno Karabakh has not been recognized as an independent state by any other country, including Armenia. The region is part of the internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan.

Women’s participation in the peace proces

The representation of women in decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the management and resolution of the conflicts in the region is very low. The Karabakh peace process has been characterized by traditional gender roles, with men making decisions in the conflict as well as in the mediating OSCE Minsk group. The number of women in the delegations representing either side in the Minsk process is limited.

Women’s organizations have been active on a lower level, arranging meetings across conflict lines and encouraging dialogue between Armenian and Azerbaijani women. Building up solidarity between women and finding common ground in daily life is important in normalising relations and lifting the focus above the ethnic divisions. The women’s organisations also strive for women’s inclusion in decision-making processes that determine the peace conditions and getting more women involved in official peace talks. But the number of active women can still be counted in hundreds and the women’s peace movement has not yet reached a critical mass.

How has the conflict affected women?

The conflict’s effect on the economic situation has been devastating, even if it has recovered to a certain degree during the last years. The Armenian economy is strained due to the closed borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan. The situation is particularly harsh in rural areas and many, predominately men, work abroad. Many women in the region have several jobs to be able to support their families.

Women from conflict affected groups (all people affected by the conflicts in the region) are in a particularly vulnerable situation. This includes internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, women raped during conflict and persons that are invalids as a result of the conflict. Women belonging to conflict affected groups often lack access to education, employment, health and housing and have no awareness of their rights.

Due to the conflict, the breakaway region of Nagorno Karabakh is isolated from much development work, including work to strengthen women’s rights.

Politics and decision-making

Women’s participation in political and public life, especially with respect to their representation in decision-making bodies like national assemblies, governments, diplomatic services, regional and local municipalities and the high level of judiciary is very low in the South Caucasus region. The political sphere is dominated by small power elites. Instead many women try to find their base in the non-governmental sphere, working for organizations, rather than going into politics and run for election.

Gender-based violence

The occurrence of sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls is not a fully acknowledged problem in South Caucasus, but progress has been made within the legislative area and in police work. According to women’s and human rights organizations there is an increase in gender-based violence being scrutinised by society and in the media. There is also a greater awareness among women that violence in different forms is not something they have to accept. Increasingly more women and women’s organizations work to counteract violence against women and girls, in particular domestic violence, bride abduction and early marriages.

A common view on women in the conflict region is that they should stay at home and there is little or no tolerance for women’s activity. The work to improve women’s rights is mainly focused on provision on safe places for women and to increase women’s awareness of their rights.

The conflict has also brought about problems such as trafficking in women for sexual exploitation. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are target countries for the recruitment of girls, or are used as areas for transit.

A clear evidence of women’s low status in the region is the increasing numbers of sex selective abortions of female fetuses. This to such a degree that it in 2011 lead to a resolution taken in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, that condemned selective abortions and called on Armenia and Azerbaijan (and Albania) to investigate and monitor the situation, and provide support to awareness-raising initiatives.

Refugees and other displaced people

One of the major consequences of the conflict over Nagorno Karabakh is that hundreds of thousands of people are displaced and living as IDPs (internally displaced persons) and refugees.

Before the conflict Armenians and Azerbaijanis lived intermingled and both republics housed a large minority of the other ethnic group. Due to rising tensions between the groups in the late 1980s an exchange of populations began, sanctioned by the Soviet authorities. When the war erupted and violence flared refugees moved back and forth. Many IDPs and refugees still live in temporary housing and in harsh conditions.

Women’s organizations strive to integrate IDP and refugee women in the local community, provide training to give them a better footing on the job market and monitor and represent their rights. They also work to counteract bitterness and vindictiveness, and post-traumatic stress.