Why this week’s mass exodus from embattled Nagorno-Karabakh reflects decades of animosity

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Ethnic Armenians gather in hope to leave Nagorno-Karabakh region for Armenia in the center of Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh on Monday, Sept. 25, 2023. The separatist government of Nagorno-Karabakh announced Thursday that it will dissolve itself and the unrecognized republic will cease to exist by the end of the year, and Armenian officials said more than half of the population has already fled. (AP Photo/Ani Abaghyan)

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — The exodus of ethnic Armenians this week from the area referred to as Nagorno-Karabakh has been a vivid and stunning tableau of worry and distress. Roads are jammed with automobiles lumbering with heavy masses, ready for hours in visitors jams. Individuals sit amid mounds of unexpectedly packed baggage.

As of Thursday, about 70,000 individuals had left the breakaway area for Armenia. That’s an enormous quantity — greater than half of the inhabitants of the area that’s situated fully inside Azerbaijan.

Nonetheless, it’s not the most important displacement of civilians in three a long time of battle between Armenia and Azerbaijan following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

After ethnic Armenian forces secured management of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding territories in 1994, refugee organizations estimated that some 900,000 individuals had fled to Azerbaijan and 300,000 to Armenia.

When battle broke out once more in 2020 and Azerbaijan seized extra territory, the United Nations Excessive Commissioner for Refugees mentioned 90,000 had gone to Armenia and 40,000 to Azerbaijan.

These figures underline the fierce animosity between the 2 nations, they usually elevate questions in regards to the area’s future.


Nagorno-Karabakh, with a inhabitants of about 120,000, is a mountainous, ethnic Armenian area inside Azerbaijan within the southern Caucasus Mountains.

When each Azerbaijan and Armenia have been a part of the Soviet Union, the area was designated as an autonomous republic, however as Moscow’s central management of far-flung areas deteriorated, a motion arose in Nagorno-Karabakh for incorporation into Armenia.

Tensions burst into violence in 1988 when greater than 30 — some say as many as 200 — ethnic Armenians have been killed in a pogrom within the Azerbaijani metropolis of Sumgait. Armenians fled, as did many ethnic Azeris who lived in Armenia. When a full-scale battle broke out, the numbers soared. That first battle lasted till 1994.

Azerbaijan regained management of elements of Nagorno-Karabakh and enormous swaths of adjoining territory held by Armenians in a six-week battle in 2020, driving out tens of hundreds of Armenians that the federal government in Baku declared to have settled illegally.


Final week, Azerbaijan launched a blitz that compelled the capitulation of Nagorno-Karabakh’s separatist forces and authorities. On Thursday, the separatist authorities agreed to disband by the top of this 12 months.

The occasions put the area’s ethnic Armenians on the transfer out of the territory.

Nagorno-Karabakh and the territory round it have deep cultural and spiritual significance for Christian Armenians and predominantly Muslim Azeris, and every group denounces the opposite for alleged efforts to destroy or desecrate monuments and relics.

Armenians have been deeply angered by latest video that purportedly confirmed an Azerbaijani soldier firing at a monastery within the area. Azeris have seethed with resentment at Armenians’ wholesale pillaging of the once-sizable metropolis of Aghdam and using its mosque as a cattle barn.


A Russian peacekeeping power of about 2,000 was deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh below an armistice that ended the 2020 battle. However its inaction within the newest Azerbaijani offensive in all probability was a key issue within the separatists’ fast choice to offer in.

In December, Azerbaijan started blocking the one highway main from Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia.

Armenians bitterly criticized the peacekeepers for failing to observe their mandate to maintain the highway open. The blockade brought on extreme meals and medication shortages in Nagorno-Karabakh. Worldwide organizations and governments referred to as repeatedly for Baku to carry the blockade.

Russia, which is combating a battle in Ukraine, appears to be unable or unwilling to take motion to maintain the highway open. That seems to have persuaded the separatists that they’d get no help when Azerbaijan launched its blitz.

Nagorno-Karabakh’s forces have been small and poorly provided as compared with these of Azerbaijan, because of the nation’s surging oil revenues and help from Turkey.


Below final week’s cease-fire, Azerbaijan will “reintegrate” Nagorno-Karabakh, however the phrases for which might be unclear. Baku repeatedly has promised that the rights of ethnic Armenians shall be noticed in the event that they keep within the area as Azerbaijani residents.

That promise seems to have reassured nearly nobody. Though Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan mentioned final week that he noticed no instant want for Armenians to go away, on Thursday he mentioned he anticipated that none can be left in Nagorno-Karabakh inside just a few days.

Ethnic Armenians within the area don’t belief Azerbaijan to deal with them pretty and humanely or grant them their language, faith and tradition.

With out a world peacekeeping or police power within the area, ethnic violence can be nearly sure to flare.

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