The Logic of Occupation in the Nagorno-Karabakh War: The Cases of Agdam and Shaumyan

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Virginia Tech

Why do warring parties sometimes end up occupying territories they do not claim while not occupying territory they do? How do they explain this and how can we, from this explanation, understand the logic of occupation at work in these cases? This is the puzzle and the research questions at the center of this thesis. Using a case study of the Karabakh War (1991-94) it seeks to understand the rationale behind the Armenian occupation of previously undisputed Azerbaijani-populated territories around the contested entity of Nagorno Karabakh (NK). To achieve this objective the thesis considers one of these districts – Agdam – and contrasts its occupation to the lack of a concerted effort to return control over previously Armenian-populated district of Shaumyan, a territory Armenians view as under Azerbaijani occupation. The thesis presents the circumstances and rationales provided by the Armenian leaders for these counter-intuitive policies of occupation they pursued during the Karabakh war. This necessitates examining the prior meanings of these places, the contested and changed significance of Agdam and Shaumyan since the Karabakh war.

There are five distinct explanatory accounts of logics of occupation. These are accounts based on 1) military/security needs; 2) political elite-driven decisions, 3) economic gain, 4) psychological and 5) identity-related factors.

Process tracing and archival research points to primarily security and psychological rationales for the original actions, whereas economic gain played a secondary role. While these factors remain significant in justifying continued occupation, today they are also strongly augmented by newly-constructed identity markers and political elite-driven considerations.

Ethnic conflict, war, former Soviet Union, Eurasia, Caucasus, Karabakh