It's been twenty years: The case of ethnic Armenian refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan

Date of Completion

January 2010


Sociology, Theory and Methods|Social Work|Political Science, International Relations|Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies




Approximately 360,000 refugees fled to Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict. More than twenty years have passed since the violence began and though a temporary cease-fire agreement has been in place since 1994, a permanent solution to the conflict has not been established. Hundreds of thousands of refugees remain displaced as a result. The Armenian government has offered refugees an opportunity for local integration through a facilitated naturalization process. However the majority have retained the refugee status, repatriated to Nagomo-Karabakh, or fled to another country. ^ This study used social identity theory and acculturation theory as guiding frameworks to determine the factors that influence refugee decision-making regarding their citizenship status. Two phases of semi-structured interviews were conducted with key informants who had first-hand knowledge and experience of the refugee situation in Armenia. These individuals provided information on the challenges and barriers faced by the refugee population in achieving successful legal, social, and economic integration. ^ Findings revealed that refugees were less concerned with their status than their ability to obtain employment and durable housing. Language proficiency was identified as a primary factor that inhibited the social, economic, and legal integration of refugees. The arrival of ethnic Armenian refugees from Iraq contributed to victim blaming and donor fatigue towards refugees from Azerbaijan. Issues such as limited housing options, a weak economy, and military conscription have influenced the decision of many refugees to refrain from obtaining Armenian citizenship.^ Implications for this refugee case and refugee situations in general include the continued need for aid and resources to refugees engaged in protracted situations, the unintended consequences of refugee policies and legislation, a consideration of how integration plans are implemented, and an attention to choice in refugee settlement. The inclusion of information about unique refugee situations can be added to foundation social work courses as well as elective courses focused on refugee issues. Implications for social work practice include the need for advocacy for the specific needs of refugees, providing assistance with the development of naturalization and integration policies, and working to develop viable durable solutions in developing countries. ^