Azerbaijan was probably waiting for this moment. Tired of wars, the South Caucasian transcontinental nation might have exhausted its patience. Not prepared to wait longer, Azerbaijan seized the separatist ethnic-Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh on September 19th. The sudden seizure stunned the world as it happened in less than a day. No one foresaw this coming. Nagorno-Karabakh has been a bone of contention between Azerbaijan and Armenia for long.
Fears of Ethnic Cleansing
So long-standing is the dispute that Nagorno-Karabakh, measuring 4,400 sq km, has been the cause of multiple deaths and major discomfort for peace-seeking presidents and persevering diplomats. This contentiously separatist enclave was consigned to history on September 19th, when it disappeared in the dust Azerbaijan kicked up. The seizure was completed without any resistance in less than a day. However, the shock takeover has triggered a massive inhuman exodus of embattled ethnic Armenians from Azerbaijan. https://www.reuters.com/world/azerbaijan-says- six-its-citizens-were-killed-by-land-mines-karabakh-2023-09-19/
Gripped by the fear of an ethnic cleansing pogrom, Armenians have fled Nagorno-Karabakh in staggering numbers. With little time to secure their homes and personal possessions, they have left them all behind in what was until then their home, which they called the Republic of Artsakh. Their enclave in Azerbaijan had only an overland access route to Armenia through the 5km-long Lachin Corridor. Nevertheless, they trooped out as fast as they could.
Video Courtesy: YouTube/Al Jazeera English
Helplessness of the Fleeing
The ethnic Armenians’ love for their republic was so strong that, despite numerous wars and global pressures, they prided in having their own head of state and all other trappings of an independent sovereign nation since 1994. Not being recognised as a republic seemed to bother them the least. Seeing their nation, an enclave within another, evaporate overnight must have caused them serious heartaches. Clearly, they were helpless. https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/the- violent-end-of-nagorno-karabakhs-fight-for-independence
The helplessness of the fleeing ethnic Armenians was evident in their readiness to escape through an unfriendly mountain road teeming with Azerbaijan soldiers. It was a perilous journey and the risks of being kidnapped and killed by Azerbaijan soldiers ran high. Yet, distraught Armenians continued to flee. Their troubles, which began soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1988, have now hit an unbearable high. With an uncertain future before them, they had little choice.
Russia Fails to Protect the Armenians
As they soldiered on with optimism, their hopes rested on the belief that Russia, their traditional saviour, will step in to save them, their lives and livelihoods. They were sure Russia would do everything to keep the Lachin Corridor open to allow free flow of life-supporting essentials. Their hopes have been belied now. Immersed in its war with Ukraine, Russia did not step in even when vital supplies were squeezed by Azerbaijan. https://en.armradio.am/2023/09/22/keeping-the-lachin- corridor-open-is-crucial-german-fm-says-forced-exodus-of- karabakh-armenian-unacceptable/
The war in Ukraine apart, Russia failed to protect the ethnic Armenians and keep the Lachin Corridor open as it was keener on getting closer to Azerbaijan and Turkey. Even when the Armenian enclave was attacked by Azerbaijan, Russia was apathetic and stood aside as a disinterested spectator. At the end, the self-declared Republic of Artsakh turned into a hearty meal for Azerbaijan. Yet, the global powers remained motionless.
The Dilemma Stands Resolved
Nagorno-Karabakh, aka Artsakh, has been in existence as a self-declared independent republic for more than three decades now. All these years, the world refused to recognise it as a sovereign nation. Inevitably, the Artsakh Republic has been a diplomatic disaster, a never-ending crisis, emblematic of the inability to find an acceptable resolution. Something as worse as the Palestine-Israel crisis or the Northern Cyprus dispute. https://www.geopoliticalmonitor.com/armenias-existential- crisis-understanding-the-siege-of-artsakh/
Such an existential dilemma stands resolved today. Stunning that such a resolution happened in a jiffy, with Azerbaijan’s sudden seizure of Nagorno-Karabakh. Certainly, this is an occasion for celebration for Azerbaijan’s incorrigibly Armenian-hating president Ilham Aliyev, but not for the ethnic Armenians who are now going through the agonising motions of an atrocious exodus into Armenia.
The Crisis has been Made Worse
This is why the ethnic Armenians got the worst shivers along with the seizure of their enclave in Azerbaijan. Their fears of unreined ethnic cleansing, carried out through genocides and gangrapes, are not exaggerated. A replay of the 1915 Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Empire is not be ruled out either. These fears represent the acute humanitarian crisis and the existential dilemma ethnic Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh face today. https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/ref/timestopic s/topics_armeniangenocide.html?simple=True
The crisis is made worse by tepid support from Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan. Fled Armenians blame him for failing to dispatch troops to protect their less-fortunate brethren in Nagorno-Karabakh. Angry and upset, irate Armenians in the enclave have taken to the streets. Meanwhile, this Armenia-Azerbaijan strife is being viewed by religious zealots in Europe as a slash-the-throat struggle between the Muslim-Turkic Azerbaijanis and the Christian Armenians.
Disappointments and the Determination
In a sense, they are right. Ethnic cleansing has been rampant, both in Azerbaijan and Armenia. Unbridled, the outrage has compelled over a million to abandon their homes and flee to safer regions. The shift in the balance of power and the sudden disappearance of Nagorno-Karabakh have left the ethnic Armenians high and dry, hounded and homeless. https://www.ui.se/forskning/centrum-for- osteuropastudier/sceeus-report/shifting-geopolitical-realities-in- the-south-caucasus/
Azerbaijan’s seizure of the Armenian enclave is the result of former’s frustration that has been building up over 35 years. Deadlock after deadlock has made Azerbaijan restless over Nagorno-Karabakh. Moreover, Azerbaijan saw support dwindling for the self-styled and unrecognised Republic of Artsakh. Repeated disappointments had killed Armenians’ determination for long struggle.
Short Operation but Long Consequences
These problems got compounded when a few days before the September 19th seizure, the elites of Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital, pushed out the president of the Republic. The parliament then elected Samvel Shahramanyan as president. These shakeups and the blockades they provoked have heaped problems upon problems for Nagorno-Karabakh. Worse, so-called ‘brokering’ of peace deals failed to provide statehood for Nagorno-Karabakh. https://asbarez.com/samvel-shahramanyan-elected-artsakh- president/
The seizure of the Armenian pocket could not have come at a worse point in the enclave’s history. Azerbaijan’s swift operation has undone much of the efforts made till date to resolve the conflict. Azerbaijan’s operation was short and swift, but it will have long consequences for the region. As Russia’s say loses its firepower, Turkey will gain more muscle in the region. Azerbaijan alone is not responsible for the developing mess. Armenia’s thick friend Russia too needs to be blamed for rocking South Caucasus.
Real Solution Lies not Near
It is immature to think that the Nagorno-Karabakh seizure by Azerbaijan will bring peace to ethnic Armenians. The real solution for peace lies quite far, somewhere in a complex setting. Will Azerbaijan respect the human rights of the ethnic Armenians and treat them at par with Azerbaijanis? This is a big question. As Nagorno-Karabakh becomes yet another Azerbaijan territory, a new set of problems is in store for the Armenians. Ethnic cleansing threatens to become the norm now in the annexed enclave. The pocket’s seizure has only taken the rights of ethnic Armenians away from their reach.
The Poliphoon’s Last Word
As Azerbaijan completed its seizure of Nagorno-Karabakh, president Ilham Aliyev turned jubilant. In his exuberant address to his nation, he declared “Karabakh is Azerbaijan.” He made this victorious declaration with his clenched fist, raised and stabbing into the air. That clenched fist may become an enduring image of the embattled ethnic Armenians living as abandoned refugees in their own land.