Op-Ed by Emily Thompson
Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenian citizens are fleeing en masse as Azerbaijan commits ethnic cleansing – a blatant violation of international law. Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and international experts have repeatedly warned of the risk of ethnic cleansing. And yet, the international community only stands by and watches.
President Samvel Shahramanyan’s decree called for all institutions and organizations of the Republic of Artsakh – which is not recognized internationally – to dissolve from January 1, 2024. “The Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) ceases its existence,” read the decree, according to a CNN report.
As The Economist noted, “Overwhelmed by Azerbaijan’s modern army, exhausted and starved by a nine-month blockade, isolated from its Armenian motherland and betrayed by Russia, which took it upon itself to provide security in the region, Nagorno-Karabakh had no option but to capitulate.”
The choice confronting many ethnic Armenians in the region is difficult. Either they can flee to Armenia, or they can stay and receive Azerbaijani passports. But those distrustful of Baku’s promises and unwilling to accept Azerbaijani citizenship could be in danger of harassment or even imprisonment.
Before Azerbaijan’s military intervention on September 19, there were an estimated 120,000 ethnic Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh, which is recognized under international law as Azerbaijani territory. By Thursday evening, over 78,300 people — more than 65% of Nagorno-Karabakh’s population of 120,000 — had fled to Armenia, and the influx continued unabated, according to Armenian officials, the AP reported.
After the announcement on September 28 that the republic of Nagorno-Karabakh would be dissolved by January 1, Pashinyan said there would be “no Armenians left in Nagorno-Karabakh” in the coming days.
With over 120,000 refugees possibly arriving in Armenia, a country of just 2.8 million people, the situation is getting worse and not enough aid is reaching those in need.
During a visit to Armenia, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) chief Samantha Power warned those arriving on the other side of the border are suffering from “severe malnutrition.”
Many Armenians are worried about what comes next.
Talks have begun between officials in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku and Nagorno-Karabakh’s separatist authorities on “reintegrating” the region into Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijani authorities have pledged to respect the rights of ethnic Armenians in the region and restore supplies, but tens of thousands of Nagorno-Karabakh’s residents have fled to Armenia, fearing reprisals. The Lachin Corridor, the only passageway to Armenia, quickly filled with cars, creating a massive traffic jam on the winding mountain road.
Worse news came when on Monday night, a fuel reservoir exploded at a gas station where people lined up for gas to fill their cars to flee to Armenia. At least 68 people were killed and nearly 300 injured, with over 100 others still considered missing after the blast that exacerbated fuel shortages that were already dire after the blockade, according to the AP.
The international community does not seem to have managed to prevent Azerbaijan’s seeming ethnic cleansing, although the U.S. insists it has been working for many months with the Azerbaijani government to pursue a diplomatic solution.
U.S. State Department Spokesman Matthew Miller said on Wednesday in a press briefing, “We want to see the ceasefire maintained; we want to see humanitarian needs addressed; that means keeping the Lachin corridor open, it means ensuring that humanitarian supplies can come in, and that it means an international monitoring mission to ensure that humanitarian needs are addressed.”
Miller added, “we did welcome the comments by the Government of Azerbaijan… that they would welcome such an international monitoring mission. That’s something that the Secretary had directly pushed the president for, and we’re glad to see his having agreed to it, and we will work with our allies and partners in the coming days to flesh out exactly what that mission will look like.”
The U.S. and the rest of the international community have failed to prevent a military resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh question, ending in the current mass exodus we are witnessing.
This human tragedy could have been prevented or at least carried out in a way that did not see ethnic Armenians threatened and discriminated against to the point that they have lost family and friends along the way.
While ethnic Armenians are being uprooted, the least the international community can do is ensure the safe resettlement of ethnic Armenian refugees within Armenia by providing food, water, medicines, and even financial aid.
The continuing saga of Azerbaijan’s uprooting of ethnic Armenians is not over and more can still be done to prevent this human tragedy from growing deeper.
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