Exodus and ethnic cleansing? The sudden end of a decadeslong dream in the Caucasus

NBC News
Sept 28 2023
The dissolution of Nagorno-Karabakh as a breakaway state is a seminal point  — a rare supernova among the constellation of ethnic conflicts left by the implosion of the USSR.

After more than half the population of an ethnic Armenian enclave fled their homes in a mountainous pocket of land south of Russia, the breakaway republic’s leaders said it would soon “cease to exist.” 

In what amounted to a formal capitulation to Azerbaijan, which surrounds it, the Armenian leaders of Nagorno-Karabakh said the self-declared Republic of Artsakh would be dismantled by the end of the year.

This would end three decades of intermittent conflict in and around the enclave, break a 10-month blockade of the region in the South Caucasus that residents said had starved them into submission, and dash hopes of an independent state in territory claimed by Azerbaijan. 

The dissolution of Nagorno-Karabakh as a breakaway state is a seminal point  — a rare supernova among the constellation of ethnic conflicts left by the implosion of the then-Soviet Union in the early 1990s. The conflict’s abrupt halt reflects how the geopolitical reach of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has forced realignments far beyond that war.

In an official decree, the region’s separatist President Samvel Shakhramanyan said that residents of Nagorno-Karabakh must now “familiarize themselves with the conditions of reintegration” into Azerbaijan and make “an independent and individual decision about the possibility of staying (or returning) in Nagorno-Karabakh.”

An Armenian family fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh arrives at Yerevan airport in 1991 after being evacuated by a Soviet army helicopter.Wojtek Druszcz / AFP via Getty Images

The announcement came as around 70,000 of the enclave’s population of about 120,000 fled from the region, which sits within Azerbaijan’s borders, to neighboring Armenia, according to Armenia’s government, with more still arriving. 

Many residents hauled what few personal belongings they could gather into packed cars, trucks, buses and tractors, some pockmarked with shrapnel after days of Azerbaijani attacks. 

Armenia’s leadership has accused Azerbaijan of instigating a refugee crisis by launching a swift invasion this week. Azerbaijan has denied allegations of “ethnic cleansing,” saying it is not forcing people to leave, and would peacefully reintegrate the region and guarantee rights of ethnic Armenians.

Holding a wealth of monasteries, mosques and other religious sites, Nagorno-Karabakh is culturally significant for both Muslim Azeris and what was an overwhelming Christian Armenian population. Armenians in Azerbaijan have been victims of pogroms, while Azerbaijanis claim discrimination and violence at the hands of Armenians.

“Azerbaijan has won a comprehensive military victory and what we’re looking at now is the prospect of Nagorno-Karabakh without Armenians or with very few Armenians remaining,” said Thomas de Waal, a senior fellow with the London-based Carnegie Europe think tank. “So in that sense, Azerbaijan has won.”

For those fleeing, the despair of losing their homes was made worse by losing their homeland.

“Many of them are from villages which were taken by the Azerbaijani army, so they really lost their homes already,” said Astrig Agopian, a French Armenian journalist who has been reporting this week on the refugee crisis from Armenia’s border. “There is really this feeling that this time is different. It’s another war, but it’s a war that is definitely lost this time.” 

Were that the case, it would bring to an end decades of violence in the region, which has been at the center of geopolitical interests between Eastern and Western nations for centuries. 

The political dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh began as the then-Soviet Union weakened in the late 1980s, and Armenians demanded that the majority-Armenian region be incorporated into the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic.

After the USSR collapsed in 1991, the conflict erupted into a full-scale war that persisted until a Russian-brokered peace deal in 1994. About 30,000 people were killed and more than a million people displaced.

“My husband died in the first war. He was 30, I was 26. Our children were 3 and 4 years old. It is the fourth war that I went through,” Narine Shakaryan, a grandmother of four, told the Reuters news agency after she arrived in Armenia. “My husband died back then, he was 30 in 1994. That’s the cursed life that we live.”

The fighting continued intermittently for several more decades, leaving an indelible mark on generations of Nagorno-Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian residents. A recent war in 2020 saw the more powerful Azerbaijan, backed by Turkey, reclaim much of the land surrounding the area, as well as part of the region itself.

Russia negotiated an end to that flare-up and even deployed peacekeepers to ensure security along the Lachin Corridor, the single mountain road that connected Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh.

But the events of the past year show how Moscow, which has historically played the role of both peacekeeper and ally to Armenia — which shares its Christian roots and hosts a Russian military base —  has adjusted its allegiances following its invasion of Ukraine and its conflicts with the West.

“The pivotal factor was that Azerbaijan was talking separately to the Russians, and had a joint agenda with the Russians, to pressure Armenia and also to keep the West out of the Caucasus,” de Waal said. “This is why when the Azerbaijani assault happened, Russian peacekeepers who could have actually stopped it stood down. And then Russia failed to condemn the attack.”

After its invasion of Ukraine left Russia isolated, Moscow may feel it has more to gain from cozying up to Azerbaijan than Armenia, particularly after the latter made a public display of cozying up to the West and provided humanitarian aid to Kyiv. 

Earlier this month, the country conducted joint exercises with the U.S. military and the Armenian Parliament is set to vote next week on whether to accede to the International Criminal Court, which classifies Russian President Vladimir Putin as a war criminal — a move the Kremlin characterized Thursday as “extremely hostile.”

Inside Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan’s government has assured the region’s Armenian population that they will be treated humanely and afforded equal rights. 

But after months of blockades and blistering fighting, few ethnic Armenians believe it and many feel they have no choice but to flee.

Armenia would prefer former Nagorno-Karabakh servicemembers to join the military


YEREVAN, SEPTEMBER 29, ARMENPRESS. Armenia would like the former servicemembers of the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army – who are now among the forcibly displaced persons arriving to Armenia – to join the Armed Forces of Armenia for military service, the Deputy Minister of Defense Arman Sargsyan has said.

“We would really like the [former] servicemen of the Defense Army to join the Ministry of Defense of Armenia for military service, because they are our compatriots, and they can serve their experience and military knowledge for the Armed Forces of Armenia,” Sargsyan said when asked on the matter.

He said the Ministry of Defense must conduct a study in this regard.

Employment for the forcibly displaced persons from NK is among the priority humanitarian tasks, he added.

‘The world is seeing the true face of evil’: Patterson calls for action in Armenia

Sept 26 2023
Story by Stephene Price
FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – Assemblyman Jim Patterson joins the tens of thousands of Armenians in the Central Valley and across California condemning the continued horrific violations of the ceasefire in the Artsakh region at the hands of Azerbaijan – calling on immediate federal action for Armenia.

Patterson says these acts of violence over the past many months have left 120,000 Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh struggling to survive as they are critically low on food, fuel, and medicine, adding that countless lives are being needlessly lost in the wake of Azerbaijan’s latest full-scale military assaults in this region.

Fresno’s Medical Mission to Armenia: Treating the scars of 2020

“Right now, the World is seeing the true face of evil in Artsakh,” said Assemblyman Jim Patterson. “We, as a Nation, must stand with the Armenian people and, with a unified voice, call on Azerbaijan to stop its attacks and put an end to this bloodshed.”

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Assemblyman Patterson is urging the Biden Administration to fully condemn these acts of genocide and pledge to send critical aid to the people of Armenia.


Ethnic Cleansing ‘Happening Right Now’ as Armenians Forced from Christian Homeland

Sept 26 2023

An indescribable nightmare is unfolding as thousands of Armenians are on the run following Azerbaijan's military takeover of their homeland. Armenia's prime minister has declared that ethnic cleansing is underway.

More than 120,000 Armenians live in a landlocked enclave in Azerbaijan and many fear this takeover will wipe out their Christian and ethnic history.

Officials from Armenia and Azerbaijan are set to meet today in Brussels for the first time since Azerbaijan's Muslim-majority forces seized control of the predominately Armenian-Christian territory of Nagorno-Karabakh last week.

"It was a nightmare. There are no words to describe," said a distraught resident of Nagorno-Karabakh. "The village was heavily shelled. Almost no one is left in the village. Most people have been evacuated."

The blitz attack forced nearly 14,000 refugees to cross into Armenia, with thousands more stuck in massive traffic jams at the only checkpoint crossing.

Amidst all this, a massive explosion at a fuel depot killed 20 and injured more than 300 as refugees scrambled to get gas before escaping. 

Joel Veldkamp is with the human rights group Christian Solidarity International.

"Our friends there told us that people in Karabakh are deciding some of them to have the bodies of their loved ones who were killed in this war to be taken to Armenia in refrigerated cars to be buried there because if they bury them in Karabakh they won't be able to visit them ever again and their graves may be desecrated by Azerbaijani forces," Veldkamp said on the group's social media platforms.

Ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh walk along the road as they flee Nagorno-Karabakh, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Vasily Krestyaninov)

Nagorno-Karabakh is a landlocked region between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

"This is an area of Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh, that has been contested for many years," said Dr. David Curry of Global Christian Relief. "It has historically been filled with Armenians, Armenian cultures, the Christian faith."

While it's been internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, the area has been ruled by ethnic Armenians for three decades. 

Two U.S. officials traveled to the region and met with Armenia's prime minister Nikol Pashinyan on Monday. He told them ethnic cleansing is "happening right now." 

"We received word yesterday from our friends in Nagorno-Karabakh that essentially deportations are beginning of the entire Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh," Veldkamp reported.

Armenians are some of the first people in the world to embrace Christianity. Now there's concern their religious and ethnic history in Nagorno-Karabakh could be wiped out.

"The population of ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh should be able to remain in their homes in peace and dignity with respect for their rights and security, if they choose to do so," said State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller. "Those who want to leave, and return should be allowed safe passage."

CBN contributor Chuck Holton who has reported extensively from Armenia warns Azerbaijan's ambitions don't stop at Nagorno-Karabakh's borders. 

"The real concern here is that Azerbaijan is not going to stop by just taking over this one exclave (Nagorno-Karabakh). They are literally talking about taking all of Armenia," Holton told CBN's Christian World News program.


Rep. Pallone Introduces Bipartisan Legislation To Protect & Provide Humanitarian Assistance to the Armenian People

Washington, D.C. – Today, Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr (D-NJ) introduced bipartisan legislation with Reps. David Valadao (R-CA) and Adam Schiff (D-CA) to protect Armenians and provide humanitarian assistance to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh in response to the brutal and unjust actions taken by the Government of Azerbaijan, reported the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly).

The Bill, "Supporting Armenians Against Azerbaijani Aggression Act of 2023," covers a spectrum of pertinent and swift actions that can be taken by the Administration in the aftermath of Azerbaijan's illegal and unprovoked attacks on the Armenian people of Nagorno-Karabakh, from calling on Azerbaijan to open the Lachin Corridor to providing humanitarian assistance to imposing sanctions to ceasing waivers of Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act, as well as appropriating funding for future partnerships between the U.S. and Armenia.

"President Aliyev's genocidal campaign against the Armenian people of Artsakh has gone on too long, and it is past time the United States takes meaningful action to halt it. This legislation takes a major first step in addressing the atrocities committed by his regime and holding him and his cronies accountable for the death and destruction they have wrought. It would also provide the Armenian people impacted by the conflict with the assistance and security they need to live safely in their ancient homelands without fear of reprisal from the Azerbaijani government," stated Congressman Pallone.

The Assembly's Congressional Relations Director Mariam Khaloyan stated: "Since he has taken a page out of Putin's playbook in Ukraine, Aliyev too must be held accountable for his ongoing targeting of civilians in Artsakh. We urge the Administration to sanction Azerbaijan for its genocidal actions."

The Bill further calls for $30 million to "provide humanitarian assistance to groups in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh impacted by the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War, Azerbaijan’s September 2022 attack on Armenia, and Azerbaijan's blockade of the Lachin Corridor."

The Bill also contains language to provide $10 million in Foreign Military Financing assistance to Armenia to "support Armenia's independence, joint training and exercises with the U.S., and train Armenian forces for future international peacekeeping operations."

Imposing sanctions on Azerbaijan regarding the Aliyev regime's clear attempts at ethnic cleansing in Nagorno-Karabakh is also specified, as well as the government's "operations that instigated the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War; attacks on Armenia in September 2022; the blockade of the Lachin Corridor beginning in December 2022; attacks on Nagorno-Karabakh in September 2023."

Finally, the Bill highlights the importance of protecting the rights of the Armenian people in Nagorno-Karabakh and requests that the Secretary of State "shall submit to the appropriate congressional committees a detailed strategy to ensure the durable security for the people of Nagorno-Karabakh" that incorporates the "rights and security of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh" as well as the "establishment of accountability measures to ensure the rights and security of the population of Nagorno-Karabakh in the event that the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan reach a peace agreement" as well as "support for the protection of Armenian cultural heritage sites in Nagorno-Karabakh."

Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.


NR# 2023-32

US forces to hold joint drills with former Soviet republic Armenia

First Post
Sept 6 2023
Agence France-Presse

Armenia will host joint drills with US peacekeeping forces next week, officials in Yerevan said Wednesday, the latest sign of the ex-Soviet republic’s drift away from traditional ally Russia.

The report came a day after Russia dismissed Yerevan’s criticism of Russian peacekeepers over their failure to maintain order at the Lachin corridor, the sole road linking Armenia to the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The exercise, Eagle Partner 2023, will be held on 11-20 September in Armenia’s Zar training centre “to increase the level of interoperability” between Armenian and US forces participating in international peacekeeping missions, Armenia’s defence ministry said in a statement.

“The exercise involves stabilisation tasks between conflicting parties during peacekeeping mission.”

The manoeuvres will be held amid a spat between Yerevan and Moscow over the role of the 2,000-strong Russian peacekeeping contingent that has patrolled the Lachin corridor since a 2020 Russian-brokered ceasefire ended a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan for control of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has said that Moscow was either “unable or unwilling” to control the Lachin corridor which Yerevan says is under Azerbaijani blockade that has stopped food from getting to Armenian-populated towns.

Marking a major foreign policy shift, Pashinyan has also said that Yerevan’s longstanding reliance on Russia to guarantee the country’s security was a “strategic mistake.”

His wife was on Wednesday in Kyiv to attend a meeting of first ladies and gentlemen and deliver humanitarian aid for the first time since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russia has a permanent military base in Armenia which is part of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation.

Russia on Tuesday rejected the criticism, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying that “Russia continues to fulfil its role as a guarantor of security… Russia is not going anywhere and is not going to go anywhere.”

Tensions between Baku and Yerevan have escalated sharply in recent months, as both sides accuse the other of cross-border attacks.

The two sides have been unable to reach a lasting peace settlement despite mediation efforts by the European Union, United States and Russia.


Russia summons Armenia’s envoy over ‘unfriendly steps’

Sept 9 2023

Russia summons Armenia's envoy over 'unfriendly steps'


Russia has summoned Armenia's ambassador to Moscow following a number of unwelcome gestures by Yerevan, including its announcement of joint war games with the United States.

The envoy was summoned to the Russian foreign ministry on Friday, three days after Armenia said it was to host a joint army exercise with the US during the upcoming week.

The Armenian defense ministry alleged that the purpose of the September 11-20 "Eagle Partner 2023" drills was to prepare its forces to take part in international peacekeeping missions.

"The Armenian leadership had in recent days taken a series of unfriendly steps," the Russian ministry said in a statement.

Moscow, meanwhile, protested to Yerevan about a trip by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan's wife to Kiev, which has been engaged in warfare with Russia since last February.

Yerevan has also increased its criticism of Moscow’s peacekeeping role in Nagorno Karabakh, a region which is disputed by Armenia and neighboring Azerbaijan.

Pashinyan had recently alleged that the Russian forces, which were deployed to the region to end 2020 hostilities between Yerevan and Baku, had failed in their role to protect civilians and their freedom of movement in a key corridor in Azerbaijani-controlled areas in Karabakh.

The Russian foreign ministry said the Armenian envoy was given a "tough presentation."

The ministry stressed, though, that Russia and Armenia "remain allies and all agreements on developing the strengthening of the partnership will be fulfilled."

Turkish president Erdogan says will speak with Armenian PM on Nagorno-Karabakh election

New Indian Express
Sept 10 2023

Turkey has previously said it "does not recognise this illegitimate election which constitutes a violation of Azerbaijan's sovereignty and territorial integrity."

Published: 10th September 2023


NEW DELHI: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that he would hold talks with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan as tensions mount between Armenia and Ankara's ally Azerbaijan.

Turkey has already condemned the election of a new president in Azerbaijan's separatist Armenian-populated region of Nagorno-Karabakh on Saturday.

Lawmakers in Nagorno-Karabakh's parliament elected the head of the security council in the separatist government, Samvel Shahramanyan, by 22 votes to one.

Turkey has previously said it "does not recognise this illegitimate election which constitutes a violation of Azerbaijan's sovereignty and territorial integrity."

Speaking after the close of the G20 summit in New Delhi, Erdogan said: "I will have a telephone conversation, probably tomorrow, with Mr Pashinyan. What has been done in Karabakh is not appropriate. We cannot accept this".

Armenia and Azerbaijan have traded accusations of cross-border attacks in recent months, and Armenia has warned of the risk of a fresh conflict, saying Azerbaijan was massing troops on the countries' shared border and near Nagorno-Karabakh.

Azerbaijan's Armenian-populated enclave was at the centre of two wars between the Caucasus neighbours.

Six weeks of fighting in autumn 2020 ended with a Russian-brokered ceasefire that saw Armenia cede swathes of territory it had controlled for decades.

Tensions have risen again, with Yerevan accusing Baku of creating a humanitarian crisis by blocking traffic through the Lachin corridor — the only road linking Armenia to Armenian-populated Karabakh.

The two sides have been unable to reach a lasting peace settlement despite mediation efforts by the European Union, the United States and Russia.

Next week, Armenia will host joint military drills with US forces, the latest sign of the ex-Soviet republic's drift from its traditional ally Russia.

Armenpress: Shipping Armenian goods through Iran to Arab countries and India under discussion

 09:19, 30 August 2023

YEREVAN, AUGUST 30, ARMENPRESS. Armenia and Iran are working to significantly increase trade turnover. Last year bilateral trade stood at 714 million dollars. Data of this year’s first half shows a 13% increase, which in turn shows that the positive pace of dynamics is maintained.

On August 25, an exhibition showcasing the products offered by Armenian and Iranian companies in the fields of agriculture, manufacturing and tourism opened in Yerevan with the purpose of boosting bilateral trade between Armenia and Iran.

Hojjatollah Abdolmaleki, the Secretary of the Supreme Council of Free Trade-Industrial and Special Economic Zones of Iran and presidential advisor was personally leading a delegation to Armenia and attended the event.

Armenia’s commercial attaché to Iran Vardan Kostanyan told ARMENPRESS that both sides are seeking new opportunities to further develop trade. The two countries plan to increase bilateral trade to 1 billion dollars, and then to 3 billion dollars.

Kostanyan said that Iran plans to open eight new free economic zones, bringing the number of its FEZs to 15.

“We are now looking into the untapped potential and opportunities to utilize them in bilateral cooperation. On the other hand, our neighbor is still under sanctions, therefore while carrying out economic policy we are unconditionally taking into consideration this fact. Iran provides state support and protection to companies investing in its economy,” Kostanyan said. He highlighted direct meetings between business representatives.

“Armenia and Iran attach great importance to the prospect of carrying out shipments through the Persian Gulf-Black Sea logistic route, and the Armenian side is maximally seeking to support the implementation of this megaproject, attaching great importance to the use of its own territory. The option of exporting Armenian goods through Iranian territory to Arab countries and India is also under discussion, and in this context the parties have decided to find solutions through joint efforts, and simplify the procedures applied from both sides on that road,” Kostanyan said.

Armenia’s membership to the EEU and its land border with Iran gives opportunities for establishing enterprises and carrying out broad joint projects, he said. 

Interview by Manvel Margaryan

Heavy reliance on Russia for security was a mistake: Armenian PM

tvp World
Sept 3 2023

Despite a defense pact and a Russian military base in Armenia, Pashinyan suggested that Moscow does not view his country as pro-Russian enough. “Our security was almost entirely tied to Russia, especially for arms,” Pashinyan stated. However, with Russia embroiled in the Ukrainian conflict, he believes Moscow may fall short in meeting Armenia’s security needs, showcasing the pitfalls of depending solely on one nation.

This sentiment resonates with a growing frustration in Armenia over Russia’s perceived inability to champion Armenian interests. In a direct rebuke, Pashinyan also criticized Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh, accusing them of not fulfilling their duties.

Hinting at a possible shift in Armenia’s foreign policy, Pashinyan mentioned establishing closer ties with the European Union, the United States, and other regional powers, signaling a diversification of Armenia’s security partnerships.

While Moscow, having mediated between Yerevan and Baku in the past, remained silent on Pashinyan’s statements, it has previously defended its global actions and refuted claims of neglecting foreign allies due to the Ukraine situation.

Nagorno-Karabakh, largely populated by ethnic Armenians but internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, saw significant conflict in 2020 until a Russian-brokered ceasefire.