Mass exodus of Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenians


The exodus of ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh began on Sunday, with thousands leaving by car towards Armenia following Azerbaijan’s victory over the breakaway region’s fighters in a conflict dating back to the Soviet era.

Leadership in Nagorno-Karabakh declared that the region’s 120,000 Armenians were reluctant to reside under Azerbaijan’s rule due to concerns of persecution and ethnic cleansing, so they will probably leave massively the region.

More than 30,000 people already crossed the Lachin corridor toward the Armenian border. There were numerous vehicles departing the region’s capital, Stepanakert, and navigating the corridor’s mountainous turns.

Despite international recognition of Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan, it was previously beyond Azerbaijan’s control, and the Armenians of Karabakh were compelled to enter into a ceasefire last week following a 24-hour military operation by the significantly larger Azerbaijani military. Armenia and Azerbaijan have engaged in two wars over the enclave in the past three decades, with Azerbaijan regaining substantial territory in and around Nagorno-Karabakh during a six-week conflict in 2020.

The Armenians are not accepting Azerbaijan’s assurances regarding their rights within the integrated region. According to David Babayan, an adviser to Samvel Shahramanyan, president of the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh, “99.9 percent prefer to leave our historic lands.” He also stressed that the fate of the Armenian population would be a source of shame for Armenia and the civilized world.

The leaders of Karabakh announced that the Armenians displaced by the Azerbaijani military operation who wish to leave will be escorted to Armenia by Russian peacekeepers.

Armenia, primarily a Christian country, prepared space for 40,000 people from Karabakh, and Azerbaijan, predominantly Muslim, indicated that Armenians could leave if they so desired.

Armenia’s Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, has faced calls to resign for failing to protect Karabakh. In an address to the nation, he acknowledged that some aid had arrived but expressed the inevitability of a mass exodus. He stated that if proper conditions are not created for the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh to live in their homes and there are no effective protection mechanisms against ethnic cleansing, the likelihood is rising that the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh will exile from their homeland as the only way to save their lives and identity.

This situation could potentially alter the delicate power balance in the South Caucasus region, a region with diverse ethnicities and significant oil and gas pipelines, where Russia, the United States, Turkey, and Iran compete for influence.

The recent Azerbaijani victory seems to mark the conclusion of one of the long-standing “frozen conflicts” stemming from the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, declared that his “iron fist” had relegated the idea of an independent ethnic Armenian Karabakh to history, and the region would be transformed into a “paradise.”

Nagorno-Karabakh is located in an area that has historically been influenced by Persians, Turks, Russians, Ottomans, and Soviets. After the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917, both Azerbaijan and Armenia laid claim to it. During Soviet times, it was designated an autonomous region within Azerbaijan. As the Soviet Union disintegrated, the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh rejected nominal Azerbaijani authority and seized neighbouring territory in what is now known as the First Karabakh War. This conflict, which occurred from 1988 to 1994, resulted in around 30,000 casualties and over 1 million people, mostly Azeris, being displaced. In 2020, after decades of sporadic clashes, Azerbaijan decisively won a 44-day Second Karabakh War. This war concluded with a Russian-brokered peace agreement, which Armenians accuse Moscow of failing to uphold.

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