In brief

First month of Karabakh war leaves thousands killed, refugee crisis, and threat to national survival

Armenian authorities claim 90,000 people have fled the territory · Azerbaijan has conquered 15% of Artsakh

A destroyed house in Stepanakert, capital of Nagorno-Karabakh.
A destroyed house in Stepanakert, capital of Nagorno-Karabakh. Author: MFA of Artsakh
Several thousands killed, tens of thousands of refugees, and a de facto state, Artsakh, in danger of survival. That is the result of the first month of war in Karabakh, started by Azerbaijani forces with the stated aim of taking control of this Armenian-majority territory.

Since September 27, the Azerbaijani army has conquered some 15% of the territory that, until summer, was in the hands of the Republic of Artsakh. Azerbaijani troops are now only a few kilometres away from the so-called Lachin corridor, a road linking Nagorno-Karabakh proper —that is, the area recognized as an autonomous oblast during the Soviet era, where the vast majority of the population lives— with Armenia. Losing the corridor would be a disaster for Armenian forces in strategic terms.

Most territories now conquered by Azerbaijan had been populated by Azeris before the 1992-1994 war. The Azerbaijani army’s advances are triggering celebrations among those who, two and a half decades later, continue to live as internally displaced persons in Azerbaijan.

Armenian forces have acknowledged the loss of some 1,000 lives among their fighters. Azerbaijan has not provided any data. According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the total death toll is 5,000, with more than 2,000 people killed on each side. Most are soldiers, but civilians —at least one hundred— have also been killed.

The Armenian government estimates that 90,000 people have fled from Artsakh, and has reported the destruction of houses, schools, hospitals, and infrastructure. The Azerbaijani government has blamed the Armenian forces of having destroyed, as well, houses in towns of Azerbaijan close the border with Artsakh.

The survival of the republic in danger

Azerbaijani military superiority, imbalance of regional support in favour of Azerbaijan, and diffident international reaction that does not even succeed in imposing cease-fires are seriously endangering the very survival of the Republic of Artsakh. The authorities of the Armenian-majority territory are calling for the international recognition of its independence in the face of the Azerbaijani offensive.

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev reiterated that his army will only stop until it completely “liberates” all of Karabakh. If this happens, it will mean the end of the Republic of Artsakh and, in all probability, the flight of almost all of its population to Armenia.

Artsakh authorities are meanwhile confident they can stop the offensive as the theatre of war moves into more mountainous areas.