Land-use change in the Caucasus during and after the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict


Socioeconomic shocks can shape future land-use trajectories. Armed conflicts are an extreme form of a socioeconomic shock, but our understanding of how armed conflicts affect land-use change is limited. Our goal was to assess land-use changes related to the 1991–1994 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Caucasus region. We classified multi-temporal Landsat imagery, mapped land-use changes during and after the conflict, and applied matching statistics to isolate the effect of the conflict from other potential drivers of land change. In our study area, local land-use changes were dominated by high farmland abandonment rates of more than 60 % in the conflict zone. Concomitantly, we found a substantial displacement of agricultural activities into nearby Azerbaijani territory (>30 % of all abandoned land in the conflict zone was offset by new agricultural areas on Azerbaijani territory), likely as a consequence of refugee migrations. After the armed conflict ceased, only 17 % of the abandoned fields were re-cultivated, indicating that the land-use system may have transformed profoundly. Our results showed that an armed conflict can have substantial impact on land use. Spatially, our results indicated that armed conflicts may cause lasting land-use change in areas distant from the actual battlegrounds, representing an example of a distant linkage in land systems, in our case caused by refugee movements. Temporally, armed conflicts appear to be able to cause a transition of the land-use system into a new state, akin to other drastic socioeconomic shocks.

Regional Environmental Change, 15(8) 1703-1716
Tobias Kuemmerle
Tobias Kuemmerle
Professor & Head of the Conservation Biogeography Lab