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The wannabe nation of Nagorno-Karabakh

With a flag, parliament, and prime minister, this 'country' is all dressed up but has nowhere to go.

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Anoushavan Danielyan's office is resplendent with the signs of his high post. A red, blue, and orange flag adorns a corner. A large seal depicts a regal bird, above whose head floats a crown. Plastic flowers sit in a vase.

Outside, in a grim corridor that has seen better days, a sign indicates this is the office of the prime minister of the Nagorno-Karabakh republic.

Never heard of it? Don't worry. That's because it doesn't officially exist.

It's after 9 p.m., but the prime minister is still receiving visitors. Most of the staff have gone home, and his are the only windows in the blocky, Soviet-era structure that still twinkle with light.

It's a long journey from the outside world to this putative nation. There's only one way to Nagorno-Karabakh: a long, winding road from Armenia, six hours from that country's capital, Yerevan. High-ranking government officials sometimes travel by military helicopter, but for ordinary people there's just the road, built with money from the Armenian diaspora after the 1988 to 1994 war between ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijan.

The war won the ethnic Armenian Karabakh de facto independence and purged the region – which lies wholly within the borders of Azerbaijan – of its Azeri overlords. But it also laid waste to the land and infrastructure. More than a million refugees – 800,000 Azerbaijanis and 300,000 Armenians – still live in exile.

As the head of government, Mr. Danielyan is rebuilding the region, which is about the size of Utah's Great Salt Lake with a population of 100,000. Though the guns have largely fallen silent, the war isn't really over. Azerbaijan still claims Nagorno-Karabakh, and, for now, the international community agrees. So the legions of aid workers and international investment that normally flood postwar zones have largely stayed away. That has left the prime minister – a serious, professorial man with a glossy bald head and bushy moustache – with all the responsibility of running a country and few of the perks.


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