Azerbaijan brings Armenian people to brink of new abyss

Monument "Som les nostres muntanyes", lema nacional del Karabakh, més popularment conegut com a Tatik-Papik ('Avi i àvia')
Monument "Som les nostres muntanyes", lema nacional del Karabakh, més popularment conegut com a Tatik-Papik ('Avi i àvia') Author: Abel Riu
The assault by Azerbaijani forces on 19-20 September on what was left of Nagorno-Karabakh, which already lost much of its territory in 2020, puts the Armenian people on the brink of a historic abyss, one more on their long list of misfortunes. The possibility that the centuries-old presence of Armenians in Karabakh is living out its last days is unfolding before everyone. The surrender of Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenian authorities in the early hours of the 20th leaves the Armenian side in a position of enormous weakness.

The Azerbaijani government had said that the offensive, which lasted only one day, was aimed at “restoring constitutional order”, and has demanded the total surrender of the Karabakh Armenians and the immediate dissolution of the government of the republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, or Artsakh. This was despite talks between the Armenian and Azerbaijani governments over the past months. Yerevan agreed to the reintegration of Nagorno-Karabakh into Azerbaijan in exchange for guarantees for the security and rights of the 120,000 Armenians living there. But Baku’s goal has always been clear: backed by its economic and military superiority, the republic autocratically ruled by Ilham Aliyev since 2003 has never hidden its desire to occupy Nagorno-Karabakh by one means or another, and has warned that it would not grant any particular status to local Armenians, which under these conditions would be faced with a clear choice: submission or exile.

Karabakh’s Armenian forces —as their own military command acknowledged— were not capable of resisting the Azerbaijani army, which was far superior now as it was in 2020, when it managed to control 70% of the territory of the self-proclaimed Artsakhi Armenian republic before a ceasefire was signed in extremis. In that offensive, Azerbaijan —with decisive Turkish support— regained from Armenian hands all the territories that, before the dissolution of the USSR, were not populated by Armenians —from which the local Azeri population had been driven away— but also occupied a part of the territory that was recognised, during Soviet times, as constituting the Armenian-majority autonomous oblast of Nagorno-Karabakh. The 2020 ceasefire allowed for the survival of a reduced Armenian enclave, protected by Russian peacekeepers.

Russian forces, at the beginning of the current Azerbaijani assault on the enclave, have refrained from military action, a fact that shows the loneliness with which the Armenian side is facing the situation. Karabakh Armenian authorities have reacted by evacuating part of the civilian population —those living in several localities close to the front line— to an uncertain destination. Others have taken shelter underground from Azerbaijani shelling. Both sides have counted several dozen dead in one day alone. And finally, the Armenian authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh have agreed to surrender. This brings to an end the Artsakh Republic, which has lasted for more than three decades, although it has never been granted official recognition by anyone.

The situation poses two threats. One is immediate and obvious: the —this time final— disappearance of Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory of enormous historical, cultural, and religious significance for the Armenian nation. Karabakh Armenian and Azerbaijani authorities have agreed to discuss tomorrow the “reintegration” of Nagorno-Karabakh into Azerbaijan. The future of Karabakh Armenians is now absolutely uncertain.

The second threat that could follow is the Aliyev regime’s attempt, now or in the future, to advance its forces into the Republic of Armenia proper. Currently, between 50 and 200 square kilometres of Armenian territory are under Azerbaijani occupation. Azerbaijani authorities are relentless in their rhetoric regarding what, according to them, is the historically Azeri character of Armenia’s eastern regions. One of Baku’s objectives is to secure a land corridor between the main part of Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan exclave, physically separated by a 35-kilometre-wide strip of Armenian territory. The 19 September offensive might not be the last episode in the confrontation between the two Caucasian countries, the Armenian position being very weak now.