Azerbaijan regained most of Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous area internationally recognized as its territory, during a brief war in 2020 that ended decades of Armenian occupation and control of the region. A quickly Russian-brokered truce helped end the fighting, but left tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians living in the region, especially in the capital, Stepanakert, without a long-term plan but apparently under the protection of the Russian peacekeepers.
TO Azerbaijan military offensive last week. forced the self-proclaimed government of Nagorno-Karabakh, which Armenians call Artsakh, to capitulate and agree to dismantle its armed forces. Warnings from local authorities that advancing Azerbaijani forces would undertake “ethnic cleansing” have terrified residents and prompted thousands to evacuate to Armenia.
Russia last week again claimed to have negotiated a ceasefire, but the events of recent days demonstrated a surprising failure by Moscow in fulfilling its peacekeeping role. Moscow was unable to prevent Azerbaijan’s military operation, protect Armenians living in the region or enforce the terms of the 2020 ceasefire, which called for maintaining a highway connecting Stepanakert and Armenia. The highway, known as the Lachin Corridor, has been blocked for almost a year and closed completely since mid-June.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday fumed at suggestions that Russian peacekeepers had failed in their mission. “We understand the emotional intensity of the moment, but we categorically disagree with the attempt to attribute responsibility to the Russian side, and especially to the Russian peacekeepers, who are demonstrating true heroism, carrying out their duties in accordance with the mandate they corresponds to them. place,” Peskov said.
He insisted that “Armenia is a nation close to us” and promised to continue dialogue with Yerevan.
But other nations seemed to be preparing for a humanitarian disaster.
More than 6,650 Armenians have left Nagorno-Karabakh since Sunday, according to Armenian officials, and thousands more want to leave. Residents are desperately searching for fuel and roads are congested.
Two senior U.S. officials, Samantha Power, director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and Yuri Kim, acting undersecretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, met with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in Yerevan on Monday.
Pashinyan warned Power that the ethnic cleansing of Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians “is happening right now and it is a very tragic event.”
“We tried to inform the international community that this ethnic cleansing was going to happen, but unfortunately we could not prevent it,” he said.
The U.S. visit comes as Pashinyan pivots Yerevan’s foreign policy away from Russia toward the West, amid anger in Armenia that Russia, long Armenia’s main security partner, failed to prevent new attacks this week. past nor effectively stop Azerbaijan’s nine-month blockade of the Lachin Corridor. which led to a crisis, including food shortages.
Baku’s success in its military operation last week marked a sea change in a strategic and fragile region of the South Caucasus, crisscrossed by crucial oil and gas pipelines, where Russia, Turkey and the West vie for influence and influence.
Azerbaijan and Armenia have fought two wars over Nagorno-Karabakh, the first in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Armenia took control of Nagorno-Karabakh and several other regions of Azerbaijan, displacing more than half a million Azerbaijanis. in a humiliating defeat for Baku. . In the 44-day war of 2020, Azerbaijan regained most of the territory it had lost.
Moscow and Yerevan have recriminated each other since last week’s military action, with Russian officials claiming Pashinyan was to blame after admitting earlier this year that Nagorno-Karabakh was part of Azerbaijan.
In a televised speech on Sunday, Pashinyan attacked “the security systems and allies that we have trusted for many years,” in a harsh criticism of Russia and the Moscow-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization, a regional security bloc. who refused to intervene when hostilities. It broke out in 2020 and briefly last year.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Monday accused Pashinyan of “unacceptable attacks against Russia,” saying they were “Western-inspired” and destructive to Armenia and its alliance with Russia.
Moscow was deeply irritated by a US-Armenia military training exercise that ended last week, and by Pashinyan’s recent announcement that Armenia would join the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court. The court, based in The Hague, last year charged Russian President Vladimir Putin with war crimes for the forced deportation of Ukrainian children during Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Power said the purpose of his visit Monday was to “reiterate the United States’ strong support (and) partnership with Armenia and speak directly to those affected by the humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh,” in a social media post after to land in Yerevan.
In his meeting with Pashinyan, he spoke of Washington’s deep commitment “to Armenia’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and democracy,” noting Washington’s support for Armenia as it faces a massive influx of displaced people and the ultimate loss of Nagorno-Karabakh. , a region that has immense political, cultural and emotional significance for Armenians.
“But during this visit, of course, we focused on the specific crisis, the humanitarian needs of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh,” Power added, stating that the United States would direct resources to help the government provide shelter and support to those. leave the area and “also encourage other countries to do the same.”
Power also said the United States would work with Armenia and Azerbaijan to “achieve lasting peace between the countries, also considering the profound economic benefits and stability it will bring to the Armenian people.” Such peace has long proven elusive between the two countries, which consider themselves mortal and sworn enemies.
Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev will meet for talks in Granada, Spain, on October 5.
Aliyev’s triumphant declarations of victory last week and his boasts that his country restored its territorial integrity with an “iron fist” have left the estimated 120,000 Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh fearful of genocide once Baku takes over. control.
Analysts have warned that few Armenians are likely to remain in Nagorno-Karabakh under the Baku government.
After last week’s military success, Aliyev is moving quickly to impose his conditions, including the disarmament of Nagorno-Karabakh’s army. He also announced last week that Azerbaijani government agencies would take control and that local Armenians would be reintegrated as citizens of Azerbaijan, in what he claimed would become a “paradise.”
For days, angry citizens in Yerevan have protested against Russia and Pashinyan’s government for what they see as a betrayal of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh. According to Armenian media, at least 142 protesters were detained by police.
Pashinyan initially claimed there was “no direct threat” to the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh, but in a televised speech on Sunday he said there was a risk of ethnic cleansing.
“If real conditions are not created for Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians to live in their homes and effective protection mechanisms against ethnic cleansing, the chances that Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians will see that leaving their homeland is the only way to save their lives and their identity are scarce. it increased a lot,” he stated.
He called on the international community to establish meaningful guarantees for the security of the population, “but if these efforts do not yield concrete results, the government will with all care receive our brothers and sisters from Nagorno-Karabakh in the Republic of Armenia.”
Azerbaijani representatives met for the second time on Monday with members of the unrecognized government of Nagorno-Karabakh to discuss the humanitarian needs of the region, including the supply of energy and water and the search for those missing and killed in last week’s fighting. , according to Armenian media.
Despite warnings of ethnic cleansing, the Nagorno-Karabakh government asked residents not to panic and delay their plans to leave, due to long lines for gasoline and heavy traffic on the highway to the Armenian city. nearest, Goris.