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Armenia’s position after the fall of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh)

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

Michael Maalouf

On September 19, 2023, Azerbaijan launched a military offensive on Nagorno-Karabakh after implementing a blockade on the Lachin Corridor, a lifeline that connects Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia. The blockade has left the local Armenian population in a vulnerable position, as they had severe complications in accessing basic necessities and were disconnected from mainland Armenia. Therefore, after applying pressure on the local population, Azerbaijan found it to be an opportune moment to assert control over the area – especially since Russia, which is expected to support the Armenians, is currently engaged in conflict with Ukraine.

After two days, the offensive launched by the Azeri army ended after the authorities of the breakaway Artsakh Republic surrendered and agreed to hand in the local defense forces' weapons to the Azeri authorities. The offensive left heavy material damage in Stepnakert and surrounding villages. As a result of the operation, more than 200 civilians were killed, and 400 others were wounded. Panic and despair took over the streets as many displaced Armenians moved towards Stepanakert, which became a meeting point for refugees. 

The situation was deemed catastrophic. Reporters on the ground documented the hardships facing the locals; such as a power outage, internet shutdown, and limited medical supplies in the area's health facilities. As per the Russian-sponsored Armenian-Azeri settlement agreement, the local Armenian population should be granted protection guarantees. In this context, the Azeri government said that it would start a “peaceful integration” program for the local Armenians into Azeri society. However, the documented violations of the Azeri soldiers when entering the area proved otherwise. 

Due to the operation, 120,000 Armenians of Nagrono-Karabakh are being forcibly displaced into mainland Armenia. A mass exodus of Armenians is currently happening, as scenes of large refugee convoys took over the media. The Lanchin Corridor has been witnessing heavy traffic for the past few days as more and more people leave in fear of massacres and prosecution under Azeri rule.

After the fall of Nagrono-Karabakh under Azeri control, internal division within Armenia has grown. Anti-government protests began in Yerevan demanding the ousting of the Armenian Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, whom the opposition labeled a traitor for being too lenient with the Azeris. This impression follows Pashinyan’s statements in May of this year, in which he announced that Armenia is ready to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan as long as international security guarantees are provided to its local Armenian population. The anti-Pashinyan rhetoric is applauded by Russia which, for its part, has not trusted Pashinyan ever since he came to power in 2018.

Pashinyan’s pro-Western approach of pulling Yerevan away from Moscow’s camp has made Russia reluctant to support what it saw as an “indecisive Armenia”. Additionally, Pashinyan has expressed that relying on Russia for Armenia’s security was a strategic mistake. As a matter of fact, Armenia’s membership in the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) did not benefit it in the last major conflicts with Azerbaijan, as Russia only intervened to broker a ceasefire, rather than supporting Armenia’s military during the conflicts. The current local anti-government protests are seen to be sponsored by Russia, especially after Russian propagandists appeared in the anti-government protests that took place last week.

A few days after the fall of Nagrono-Karabakh, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Nachivan. There, he met with Ilahm Aliyev, the president of Azerbaijan.  The two decided that Armenia should give Azerbaijan access to the Zangeur corridor, a strip of land that separates Nakchivan (which is part of Azerbaijan) from Armenia’s mainland territory, in order to connect their territories. However, Armenia deems this a violation of its sovereignty, and is not likely to accept.

The future of Armenia is critical. Its destiny is tied to the geopolitical challenges of the strategic Caucasus region, which has important trade routes and pipelines as the sole interest of major powers. Therefore, whether Yerevan is fully aligned with the West or with Russia, there is no guarantee that these alliances will run smoothly. Furthermore, Armenia’s struggle will not end here – the conflict with Azerbaijan may be renewed in the future.  

Image: Vahram Baghdasaryan/Photolure via REUTERS)

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