The news has spotlighted the region of Nagorno-Karabakh once again as conflict has erupted between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Nagorno Karabakh is a landlocked territory in the South Caucasus in Eurasia between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Some also know it as Artsakh, the (unrecognized) Republic of Artsakh or the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. Additionally, not everyone views it as a country. For example, Azerbaijan does not recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state and claims the region is Azeri territory. Here is some information about poverty in Nagorno-Karabakh and its challenges to date.
One can trace the roots of the current conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan back to before the formation of the Soviet Union. However, tensions resurfaced in the late 1980s and early 1990s after the Soviet Union’s collapse. Prior to this, the Soviet Union had established the region of Nagorno-Karabakh as within Azerbaijan. Around 95% of Artsakh’s population is Armenian and has been resistant to Azeri rule and continues to receive support and backing from Armenia. In 1992, a full-scale war called the Nagorno-Karabakh war broke out, which killed around 30,000 people and displaced a million. Eventually, Russia brokered a cease-fire between the two countries, and by 1994, Armenia had established some amount of control in Artsakh, though it still had international recognition as a part of Azerbaijan. In 2016, skirmishes reemerged and several soldiers lost their lives in an exchange of artillery fire.
Shelling and combat broke out along the outskirts of Azerbaijan and Armenia in late September 2020. Disputes have occurred over who started the hostilities as both parties insist the other was responsible. The violence that ensued has already claimed the lives of more than 200 people, both civilians and soldiers.
Poverty in Nagorno-Karabakh
The National Review on Implementation of the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) in the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh Republic) reported the following statistics as of 2019:
About 21.6% of the population lives under the national poverty line of $2.40 USD a day out of which over 6.1% live under the national extreme poverty line of $1.60 USD a day.
Nagorno-Karabakh has a low preschool enrollment and a high school dropout rate.
There is a lack of access to sanitation and waste disposal in rural areas.
About 22% of the employed population is still poor.
There is a high rate of non-communicable diseases and cardiovascular diseases were the cause of 67.4% of deaths in 2018.
Poverty levels are higher in regions that refugees inhabit.
There are also positive statistics that have showcased Artsakh’s progress towards achieving the SDGs:
All citizens of Artsakh have some level of education with around 30% having higher education.
More than 90% of households have access to safely managed drinking water services.
About 97.1% of the population has access to reliable energy.
The average economic growth rate in the last decade was 10.2% annually.
About 81.7% of the population lives in their own houses.
Internally Displaced People and the Economies of Azerbaijan and Armenia
The wars in the region have no doubt played a hand in the quality of life of the locals. The conflict has created thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons. As of 2017, more than a quarter of Artsakh’s population are refugees and IDPs. Displaced people are especially vulnerable as they lack protection from international organizations and, when living in conflict areas, may not have access to humanitarian aid and support. Many of these refugees and IDPs are Armenians who fled Azerbaijan in the 80s and 90s during the Nagorno-Karabakh War. Others have experienced displacement because of subsequent conflict in the region. The current flare-up is likely to increase their numbers.
The Nagorno-Karabakh war, which ended in 1994, also took a toll on the economies of Armenia and Azerbaijan. The United Nations assessed at least $53.5 billion in economic damage. Despite this, Azerbaijan was able to recover and achieve a high GDP growth due to its oil resources and trade. In Armenia, however, poverty increased to 55% in 1996, and its economy was vulnerable and unstable. The disparity between Armenia and Azerbaijan’s economies shifted power in the region and made Azerbaijan a more militarily powerful country.
The Future of the Region
Resolving the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Artsakh will go a long way to alleviating poverty in Nagorno-Karabakh and ensuring a safer and more secure livelihood for the locals. A potential war makes the future of civilians in Artsakh uncertain. However, mediation efforts seem more plausible and many local organizations are working to provide them with humanitarian relief and financial support. The Armenian General Benevolent Union (ABGU) and the Hayastan All Armenian Fund have launched a global emergency fundraising campaign for Artsakh. The Armenia Fund has also been providing ongoing assistance to the people of Nagorno-Karabakh through infrastructure development and humanitarian aid.
Most of the nonprofit work occurring in Artsakh has involved relief work and humanitarian aid due to the fact that it is a conflict-prone zone and home to many refugees. However, this is changing. In January 2020, World Vision Armenia and the My Step Foundation began working together with vulnerable families in the Republic of Artsakh living in poverty. This is an extension of work that World Vision Armenia had already been conducting in Armenia where it helped families improve their socio-economic condition through life-skills training and coaching from professionals, mentorship and monetary support in order to be more self-reliant.
Months of this social work proved to have positive effects as 48% of the families they worked with were able to overcome extreme poverty and there was a noticeable improvement in the quality of life for 82% of the families. The organizations are hopeful that their partnership will yield similar successful results in Artsakh where its priority is child well-being. The recent conflict has only made the implementation of this program more urgent and has the potential to give many families hope for the future and reducing poverty in Nagorno-Karabakh.