The decades-old standoff between the separatist state of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) and the Azerbaijani militia ended earlier this week, with the latter coming out on top. Following the Azerbaijani victory, the president of the self-declared state, Samvel Shahramanyan, signed a decree to dissolve all institutions from January 1, 2024. A mass exodus of ethnic Armenians followed, with almost the entire population of Karabakh fleeing to Armenia, causing a United Nations Mission to arrive in the area for the first time in 30 years.
Although Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan’s borders, it established itself as a separate state in 1994 after the end of the first Nagorno-Karabakh War between Armenia and Azerbaijan. It had been a disputed territory since, and was still recognised internationally as a part of Azerbaijan. Operating under a de facto government of its own, Artsakh had been home to a large population of ethnic Armenians for the past three decades.
The very start of this state was tumultuous, establishing a pattern of intermittent wars and crossfires. While the first Nagorno-Karabakh War (1994) established the state and the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War (2020) ended in a Russian-orchestrated ceasefire, the Third Nagorno-Karabakh War (2023) resulted in a triumph for the Azerbaijani forces.
The Third Nagorno-Karabakh War
Unlike the second war, which spanned 44 days, the third war was lost in a day. The Karabakh army had been outnumbered multiple times by the Azerbaijani militia, leaving them with no choice but to surrender. Not only was this a huge testament to Karabakh’s own military inferiority, but also the loss of defence from the Armenian armed forces.
Post-surrender, the only thing left was to dissolve all state institutions. If the Karabakh presidency did not adhere to this, they were warned that the offensive would unleash their wrath till the very end. Hence came the decree, signed by Shahramanyan on the 28th of September 2023, which reads, “The Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) ceases its existence.”
As for both the citizens of the state and the militia, Baku’s stance had been clear from the very start: they could either stay and accept Azerbaijani citizenship, or leave. It is clear what they chose, with 68,300 ethnic Armenians having arrived in Armenia by Thursday morning, a week after the clash with the Azerbaijani forces.
For these refugees, there is no hope of ever inhabiting their homeland again. Nikol Pashinyan, Armenia’s Prime Minister, claimed that no ethnic Armenians will be left in Nagorno-Karabakh in the coming days. Further, in a speech, Pashinyan declared that his government would welcome all their brothers and sisters of Nagorno-Karabakh to the Republic of Armenia. When all 1,20,000 citizens of Karabakh had made their way into Armenia, a national day of prayer was observed for them on Sunday.
The UN mission arrived early on Sunday, with their main task being the assessment of the humanitarian needs in the area. France expressed their disappointment with the international body, expressing that they are doing too little too late by arriving when most of the population has already deserted the area.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has announced an emergency appeal for 20 million Swiss Francs ($22 million) to help those fleeing.
Azerbaijan joyous after their victory
Elkhan Sahinoglu, the head of Atlas Center in Baku, claimed that the dissolution of the Republic of Artsakh is “one of the most significant achievements” for Azerbaijan, an achievement that could set the precedent and pave the way for peace talks with Armenia. According to him, with the ‘political, economic and military burden’ that was Artsakh for Armenia relieved, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan should follow the logical course and enter into a peace agreement with Azerbaijan.
Additionally, Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the UK, Elin Suleymanov, said that Azerbaijan does not want nor encourage the current flight of ethnic Armenians from the disputed region. According to the refugees, however, staying back and cohabitating with Azerbaijanis is like ‘agreeing to a slow and humiliating death.’
Yerevan has accused Baku of ethnic cleansing, a claim that they have since denied. While the refugee number continues to rise, many in Baku have coined the crisis as ‘an inevitable conclusion’ to the decades-long conflict.