ARTSAKH. EXODUS OR ETHNIC CLEANING?
(October 2, 2023)
YEREVAN. Armenia is on the brink of a humanitarian emergency: 100,000 inhabitants of Artsakh, the self-proclaimed republic of Nagorno Karabakh, all ethnic Armenians, are fleeing in the face of the advance of the Azeri forces who in just a few days have put an end to this state born in the nineties.
Between 19 and 20 September, the overwhelming Azeri forces invaded the Armenian enclave and ten days later achieved the end of the separatist state which will formally cease to exist on 1 January 2024, but which already no longer exists.
With this blitzKrieg the Azeris put an end to a conflict that had lasted for more than thirty years: they did it because their armed forces are stronger than those of Artsakh but also than those of Armenia which, after the defeat of 2020 they didn’t lift a finger.
Furthermore, Baku knows well that at the moment no one wants another long-lasting war in the former Soviet area and therefore they felt that the time had come to settle accounts with the separatists of Nagorno Karabakh.
In short: the war began and ended in 24 hours, then followed an exodus which saw the departure by any means of all the Armenians of Artsakh and their mass transfer to the neighboring republic.
EXODUS OR ETHNIC CLEANING?
«For Azerbaijan – we read on ispionline.it – the exit of the Armenians from Karabakh is an important victory that seems to put an end to a conflict that has dragged on for over 35 years. The satisfaction in Baku is palpable and President Ilham Aliyev said that he had “consigned to history the idea of an independent, Armenian Karabakh” and that the region “will soon be transformed into a ‘paradise’” as part of Azerbaijan.»
Many of those leaving their homes do so in fear of persecution by Azerbaijan, concerns heightened after the arrest of several high-profile Karabakh officials such as a former minister, arrested while trying to cross the border into Armenia.
The man is now in Azerbaijani prisons accused of terrorist financing and other crimes. Others have announced that they will surrender spontaneously to avoid retaliation against the population.
Yerevan, through the mouth of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, guarantees that it will “welcome the sisters and brothers of Nagorno-Karabakh with all the necessary care.”
However, it must be remembered that Armenia is a country of around 3 million people and the refugees are rapidly reaching the number of 120,000: “at this rate”, says Pashinyan, “there will be no Armenians left in Nagorno-Karabakh”.
“According to Hikmet Hajiyev, advisor to Azeri President Ilham Aliyev for foreign policy, the government in Baku “will respect the individual choice of residents”. “The insinuations that Azerbaijan blocked the passage are false,” Hajiyev told Politico. “People can use their own vehicles.”
Meanwhile,On September 23, dozens of trucks with humanitarian aid, sent by the Russian Red Cross and the ICRC (International Committee of Red Cross [NDR]), had access to the region through the Laçin corridor. The Azerbaijani authorities claim that the passage of the trucks is proof of the good faith of Baku, which had promised to “reintegrate” the Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh once the local forces had laid down their weapons and the unrecognized government had been dismantled.” writes Gabriel Gavin.
Baku offers Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh to stay, making it a condition for them to accept Azeri citizenship.
those who do not want to make this choice must leave: “They are told to integrate into a country of which they have never been a part, and the majority of them do not even speak the language and they are told that they must dismantle their local institutions – observes Thomas de Waal, of the CarnegieEurope think tank –
This is an offer that most people will not accept.”
In the past, we add, Baku has already demonstrated that it has little respect for the ethnic-religious minorities who live in the country. In Nakicevan, another territory inhabited by Armenians, conquered decades ago by the Azeri military, any artistic-cultural evidence of the presence of this people who had lived in that area for centuries has disappeared. That is, they have carried out a true cultural genocide.
It’s to be feared, then, that the same thing will happen in Nagorno Karabakh once Baku’s control over the territory is consolidated and its 120,000 people have emigrated.
THE NAGORNO KARABAKH WAR
In the 19th century, Tsarist Russia conquered the Caucasus: in fact, it wanted to block the way for the Ottomans who would like to take over the region.
After the “October Revolution” and the birth of the Soviet Union, the entire region was “rearranged” with the creation of the republics of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Nagorno Karabakh, although populated by Armenians, was assigned by Stalin to the Azeris.
when, towards the end of the 80s of the twentieth century, Soviet power began to weaken, the first clashes between Armenians and Azeris began, in view of the proclamation of a republic in Nagorno Karabakh.
September 2, 1991: Nagorno Karabakh announces secession from Azerbaijan. The republic of Artsakh is born, not recognized by the international community. On November 26, Azerbaijan reacted to the secession, revoking the autonomy regime enjoyed by the region.
It is the beginning of the most intense phase of the conflict: it’s the era in which the 15 Soviet socialist republics are becoming sovereign states and formally independent from Moscow and in which various separatist claims are emerging here and there.
More or less in the same period, Chechnya (Northern Caucasus) proclaimed its independence and other entities did the same.
1992. Between October 1991 and the following February, at least 150 civilians died in the Azeri bombing of Stepanakert, the capital of Artsakh. On February 26, Armenian soldiers kill between 450 and 600 civilians in the town of Khojaly. On March 24, the Minsk group was established within the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe), with the aim of finding a negotiated solution to the conflict. On May 8, Armenian forces conquer the Azeri stronghold of Shushi.
1993. The fighting continues. The advantageous position of the Armenian forces is consolidated.
1994. On May 5, in the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek, representatives of Armenia, Azerbaijan and the Republic of Artsakh sign a ceasefire agreement, which comes into force on May 17. Armenians take control of Nagorno Karabakh and surrounding areas. The toll of the war is thirty thousand dead and hundreds of thousands of refugees, mostly Azeris.
1995-2015. Along the contact line there is latent conflict, with sporadic violations of the ceasefire, more or less serious. Repeated attempts to negotiate a solution to the conflict prove unsuccessful.
2-5 April 2016. The Four Day War:
the fighting resumes triggered by an Azeri offensive against the territories occupied by the Armenians. Hundreds of civilians have died. A new ceasefire is negotiated with the mediation of Moscow.
September 27, 2020. Second Nagorno Karabakh War.
The fighting lasts 44 days: Azerbaijan attacks and ends up defeating the Armenian army, inferior in number and preparation.
Baku regains the territories surrounding Nagorno Karabakh, lost in 1994, and also several areas of the republic of Artsakh. The ceasefire was signed on November 10, under Russian supervision. More than 90,000 Armenians have to leave their homes.
The Russians send peace keepers to the area who should prevent the resumption of hostilities.
The Pashinyan government, in power since 2018 after a “coloured revolution” that put an end to the previous regime, risks falling.
September 12, 2022. New armed clashes break out along the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The fighting caused 204 casualties among the Armenian soldiers and eighty among the Azerbaijani ones. There were at least 11 civilian victims.
January 2023. Baku blocks the flow of food into the rebel republic by closing the Laçin corridor, the only connection between Artsakh and Armenia: there is a risk of famine.
It reopens in September. On the 19th, Azerbaijan attacks the Armenian enclave. The following 20th an agreement was reached for a ceasefire thanks to Russian mediation.
In fact, it is a victory for Baku which in the Caucasian context seems to enjoy Putin’s support.
In the past, Armenia knew it could count on Moscow’s unconditional support,but since Prime Minister Pashinyan came to power in Yerevan in 2018, the Kremlin no longer trusts him, considering that the Armenian leader has also flirted with the United States in recent years.
(a Washington delegation of 85 senior officials is get in Yerevan in the next few days).
VICTIMS OF REALPOLITIK
For Nikol Pashinyan, head of government in Yerevan, these are difficult days.
Already in 2020 and 2022, various parties called for his resignation, after the defeats suffered by the Armenian army in the last two conflicts with Azerbaijan.
This time the accusation made by critics against the Premier is that he sold off Nagorno Karabakh to avoid another disaster like the ones mentioned above.
«In the next few days, large demonstrations are expected in the capital Yerevan to demand the head of Pashinyan, accused of having betrayed Artsakh» writes Luca Steinmann. «Despite the prime minister’s popularity being at an all-time low, so is that of the opposition» who «are now trying to get back on top by taking on increasingly radical tones, and invoking the need to overthrow the government.»
The fact is, as Fulvio Scaglione observes on avvenire.it that the Armenians are to some extent victims of the realpolitik imposed on the entire former Soviet area by the war in Ukraine, as well as by the complex game of alliances in the Caucasus.
«Russia – he writes – has always been the main sponsor of Armenia, and therefore also of Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh. For many years, Moscow has opposed Azeri claims, even at the UN. But those were the times when the Kremlin was at war with Georgia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Russian-speaking and Russophile, and therefore spoke out against any attempt to change the situations on the ground by force. Now Russia is carrying out an invasion in Ukraine, it certainly cannot use certain arguments. Furthermore, besieged by sanctions and with a network of international relations much more limited than before, it can’t compromise relations with Turkey, a great sponsor of Azerbaijan but also a vital country for the Russian economy (the Turks import from Russia on 25 % of the oil and 50% of the gas they consume) and decisive for the political and military balances on the Black Sea and beyond.”
THE ARTSAKH, EUROPE AND THE UNITED STATES
Some observers have noted that the end of Artsakh and the exodus of its inhabitants is a poisoned fruit of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict which has now dragged on for 19 months without finding a solution.
Russia seems to want to fuel sources of tension where it can in the conflict it has now engaged between itself and the Western world. Thus it essentially blessed the operation conducted by the Azeri military and seems to bless the looming conflict in the Western Balkans which could affect Kosovo.
“Tension is rising – writes Pierre Haski – between Serbia and Kosovo, after the serious incidents with an armed commando of which Pristina accuses Belgrade.A local dispute that takes on an international dimension: Russia supports Serbia, while NATO has forces in Kosovo.
An unresolved or poorly extinguished conflict is a potential time bomb. We saw it in the Caucasus, with the recovery of Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijan, which brought thousands of Armenians onto the roads of exodus.
This is also what threatens the southern flank of Europe, between Serbia and Kosovo.”
Russia, we add, provides Serbia with full support in this dispute, happy to increase the headaches for NATO, also considering that the former Serbian province, self-proclaimed independent in 2008, is still under the protection of the Atlantic Alliance which maintains a armed contingent.
“The European Union – concludes Haski – is trying with great difficulty to mediate between Belgrade and Pristina, using the carrot of joining the EU by 2030. But this prospect still seems too uncertain to calm the nationalist impulses of both parties .»
In this complex picture in which no place is far away and we are all interconnected, the almost inaction of
EU and USA in the crisis affecting Artsakh.
“Europe – writes Scaglione – can’t afford it: after renouncing Russian gas, Azerbaijan has become one of the major suppliers of EU countries and we can’t antagonize it.»
(however in recent days a group of MEPs has launched a petition in support of Nagorno Karabakh).
The United States, for its part, has long been following the moves of Nikol Pashinyan, who, as already mentioned, is flirting, perhaps even a little clumsily, with the West.
Washington has never abandoned the old project, developed during the time of George W. Bush which it produced in 2006
the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline which effectively detached the Southern Caucasus from the Russian area of interest to make it gravitate into the orbit of Turkey, a NATO member country and friend-rival of Moscow.
“The transfer of Nagorno to the old Azeri ally Ilham Aliyev – concludes Scaglione – serves the purpose very well: now the Americans have to do nothing but wait for Armenia, like a ripe fruit, to settle in their basket.”
PIER LUIGI GIACOMONI
 DAILY FOCUS, Fuga dal Nagorno-Karabakh, ispionline.it, 25 Settembre 2023;
 G. Gavin, (Politico, Belgio), ARMENIA
È cominciato l’esodo dal Nagorno Karabakh, internazionale N. 1531, 29 Settembre 2023;
 L. Steinmann, Il Nagorno senza più armeni, repubblica.it, 30 Settembre 2023;
 F. Scaglione, Gli armeni vittime della “realpolitik”, avvenire.it, 29 Settembre 2023.
 P. Haski, Entre Serbie et Kosovo, le feu nationaliste mal éteint menace de repartir, franceinter.fr, 26 Settembre 2023
the translation from french is mine;
 F. Scaglione, Gli armeni vittime della “realpolitik”, cit.;
 F. Scaglione, Gli armeni vittime della “realpolitik”, cit.