Number of passengers through Yerevan airport has increased dramatically. What is the explanation?

Nov 27 2023
  • JAMnews
  • Yerevan

Growth in the number of air passengers

The Civil Aviation Committee of Armenia reports an unprecedented increase in the number of passengers flying to Armenia and other countries through Yerevan airport, and by the end of the year a record of more than five million people is expected — the highest figure in the history of the country. The committee believes that both desire to travel and the tense situation in the world contributed to the rapid growth of passenger flow.

“Because of the Russian-Ukrainian war, there has been quite a large flow of passengers. A number of airlines have left these countries and redeployed to the south, including Armenia. In this context, we have become a natural hub,” Stepan Payaslyan, deputy chairman of the Civil Aviation Committee, says.

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For the first 10 months of 2023, they have already recorded substantial activity — 4.7 million people. Last year the number of passengers amounted to 3.7 million. And the previous year, 2021, the Civil Aviation Committee considered a “recovery” period after the coronavirus pandemic.

Stepan Payaslyan, deputy chairman of the committee, said that before the pandemic, in 2019, there were about three million passengers.

According to Payaslyan, the country is considered by passengers both as an independent destination and as a hub for traveling to other countries.

In his opinion, the growth of air transportation and passenger traffic in the last two years is due to

  • people’s desire to travel again after COVID restrictions
  • Russian-Ukrainian war.

Payaslyan believes that Armenia could become “a major hub if its own airlines managed passenger traffic.” And some Armenian airlines are already taking on that role to some extent, but are not yet able to take full ownership of the situation:

“There are many cases when, for example, citizens come to Yerevan from Russian destinations and from here fly to European countries using the services of other airlines, as these destinations are now closed to Russian airlines.”

Provision of privileges to airlines, such as air duty and various navigation services to new destinations, also contributes to the growth.

“The activity of Armenian airlines has also become an important factor. Never before have six Armenian air carriers flown from Yerevan at once. This also contributes to the formation of passenger traffic. And competitive conditions also lead to lower ticket prices,” Payaslyan explained.

The deputy chairman of the Civil Aviation Committee says that a “dynamic process” has started with new airlines appearing and after some time they may leave the market or temporarily stop their activities.

Now it is possible to fly from Yerevan to Rome, Milan, Venice, Frankfurt, Paris, Lyon and other cities, Payaslyan notes. In the fall, a Yerevan-Sri Lanka direct flight was launched.

“In spring 2024, Eurowings will launch a direct flight Berlin-Yerevan.”

According to him, Armenian airlines also make flights to various cities in Russia. 

Strained Relations Between Azerbaijan and the West

Jamestown Foundation
Nov 27 2023

On November 16, Baku canceled a meeting between the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan scheduled to take place on November 20 in Washington (, November 16). The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry asserted that, under the current circumstances, it is not possible to proceed with US-mediated peace negotiations. The statement alluded to US Assistant Secretary of State James O’Brien’s comments during “The Future of Nagorno-Karabakh” hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Europe on November 15 (YouTube, November 15). The hearing highlighted a growing break between Baku and Washington on how to proceed with the peace talks. Azerbaijan has called for “more regional solutions to regional problems,” while the United States and European Union hope to maintain influence over negotiations between Baku and Yerevan (see EDM, October 25).

O’Brien’s remarks raised eyebrows in Baku. The US official commented on the Armenian-Azerbaijani peace process, bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and the United States, and regional transit projects in the South Caucasus. He stipulated that it cannot be business as usual with Azerbaijan without significant progress in the peace talks: “We’ve canceled a number of high-level visits, condemned [Baku’s] actions, and [canceled] the 907 waiver. We don’t anticipate submitting a waiver until such time as we see a real improvement in the situation” (YouTube, November 15). O’Brien was referencing Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act of 1992. The amendment, adopted on October 24, 1992, bars the United States from offering assistance to Azerbaijan unless Baku takes “demonstrable steps to cease all blockades and other offensive uses of force against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh” (, October 24, 1992).

The United States has granted annual waivers for this amendment since 2002. That year, Baku permitted Washington to use its territory to supply US troops in Afghanistan. Hence, O’Brien’s statement stirred ire in Baku. The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry responded, “It turns out that the US side has always considered the support of Azerbaijan as occasional, while it should be remembered that history has always repeated itself.” The government ministry also reminded Washington of Azerbaijan’s numerous contributions to US counterterrorist efforts following 9/11 (, November 16).

The Azerbaijani government has long considered the 907 amendment a major setback in Azerbaijani-US relations. Baku has consistently criticized the measure because it was adopted when Azerbaijan, not Armenia, was under occupation. Farid Shafiyev, chairman of the Baku-based Center for Analysis of International Relations, recently posted on X (formerly Twitter), “Let’s recall that the 907 amendment was adopted on 24 October 1992—the year when the Azerbaijani city Shusha was occupied by Armenian forces” (, November 16).

O’Brien’s comments on a possible trans-Iranian transit corridor suggest that the US State Department’s strong response may be connected to other regional developments in the South Caucasus (see EDM, November 3). The US official declared, “A future that is built around the access of Russia and Iran as the main participants in the security of the region, the South Caucasus, is unstable and undesirable, including for both the governments of Azerbaijan and Armenia. They have the opportunity to make a different decision now” (YouTube, November 15). He further stressed that Washington prefers a land corridor passing through Armenia’s southern territory. The United States hopes to use such a passage to limit Russian and Iranian involvement in regional transit. Paradoxically, the State Department has not opposed the contract signed between Armenia and Iran on October 23 regarding the construction of a new road between the two countries. The new road is meant to “contribute to the implementation of the North-South project,” a priority for both Moscow and Tehran (, October 23).

Baku responded by emphasizing its focus on regional players taking the lead in peace negotiations. The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry stated that “it is the sovereign right of Azerbaijan to agree with neighboring countries on how to build communication lines, which also includes an agreement with Iran. … Against this backdrop, Azerbaijan also reconfirms the priority of the ‘3+2’ format (Türkiye, Russia, and Iran “plus” Azerbaijan and Armenia) for the security of the region” (, November 16). The Azerbaijani government has supported revitalizing the “3+3” cooperation platform (that includes Georgia)—currently proceeding in the “3+2” format due to Tbilisi’s non-participation—to deal with regional conflicts.

The format is built on the “regional solutions to regional problems” approach and attempts to ensure that the power vacuum left by declining Russian influence does not transform the South Caucasus into a battlefield for great-power competition (see EDM, October 25). This presages a new security order in the region that is not dominated by any other extra-regional actor. In this, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia would gain an opportunity to diversify their foreign policy and prevent compromising their sovereignty.

Tensions continue to mount between Azerbaijan and the United States regarding differences in their regional policies. On November 21, Hikmet Hajiyev, foreign policy advisor to the Azerbaijani president, issued a response to a statement from United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power(, November 21). In a video posted on X, Power announced a package of $4 million in humanitarian aid for the Armenian people who, according to her, were forcibly displaced by Azerbaijan’s military operation in Karabakh (, November 21). Hajiyev criticized Power’s statement on multiple fronts. He highlighted her apparent indifference to the challenges faced by internally displaced persons and refugees in Azerbaijan and for supporting the Russian oligarch Ruben Vardanyan, who had served in a senior position in the separatist government in Karabakh. Hajiyev’s statement signaled that Azerbaijan may suspend USAID’s operations in the country.

The current tensions between Washington and Baku could have far-reaching implications for the South Caucasus. In this author’s opinion, it is crucial that both countries seek common ground on how to proceed in peace negotiations with Armenia and how best to handle the Armenians who left Karabakh. Additionally, the question of a transit corridor that connects Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan exclave with the mainland—either through Iran or Armenia’s southern region—remains a key sticking point between the two sides. An inability to solve these issues along mutually beneficial terms will likely hamper any future efforts to establish peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan and risks straining regional tensions that could lead to a wider conflict.

Azerbaijan’s Aliyev Scolds Blinken Over U.S. Backing for Armenia

US News
Nov 28 2023

BAKU (Reuters) – Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev told U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a call on Monday that recent American actions in support of Armenia had jeopardised U.S.-Azerbaijani ties, Baku said on Tuesday.

The two countries had enjoyed relatively cordial relations until Azerbaijani forces recaptured the largely ethnic Armenian-populated breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in a lightning offensive in September.

The United States provided diplomatic backing for Armenia, which had supported Karabakh's separatist authorities, and U.S. officials visited Yerevan in the days after the offensive.

In a statement, Aliyev's office said Aliyev had told Blinken that "the latest statements and actions taken by the U.S. have seriously damaged Azerbaijan-U.S. relations".

It said Baku had taken note of comments by Assistant Secretary of State James O'Brien during a congressional hearing that there was "no chance of business as usual" with Azerbaijan after the offensive in Karabakh.

However, it added that Aliyev and Blinken had agreed, in the interest of normalising ties, that O'Brien would visit Baku, and Washington would lift a ban on senior Azerbaijani officials visiting the U.S.

Baku's military victory in Karabakh prompted the exodus of almost all the territory's 120,000 ethnic Armenians. The United States and other Western countries have pledged aid to help Armenia cope with the influx.

Armenia, a traditional ally of Russia, has in recent months distanced itself from Moscow and sought closer ties with the West.

(Reporting by Nailia Bagirova in Baku; Writing by Felix Light in Tbilisi; Editing by Kevin Liffey)


Armenia, Iran intend to expand energy ties: Sanosyan

Mehr News Agency, Iran
Nov 28 2023

TEHRAN, Nov. 28 (MNA) – Armenia and Iran seek to increase their cooperation under the gas for electricity program, Armenian Minister of Territorial Administration and Infrastructure Gnel Sanosyan said today.

As part of gas for electricity swap deal Armenia has been receiving natural gas from Iran since 2009, which is converted into electricity here and is shipped back to Iran- 3 kWh of electricity for one cubic meters of natural gas, local Armenian media ARKA news agency reported.

Armenia imports annually 365 million cubic meters of gas from Iran. In 2023 August Armenia and Iran signed a document to extend the Natural Gas for Electricity agreement until 2030.

Under the revised agreement Iran will increase exports of natural gas to Armenia while Armenia will increase exports of electricity to Iran, the Armenia media said.

Sanosyan noted today that the Iran-Armenia natural gas pipeline has the capacity to ship more gas from Iran and there is no need for a new pipeline as the existing one is not used to its full capacity.


Turkish Press: There is historic opportunity to forge peace in South Caucasus, says Turkish defense chief

Nov 28 2023

There is historic opportunity to forge peace in South Caucasus, says Turkish defense chief

Türkiye believes path to regional peace is through comprehensive peace agreement signed between Azerbaijan and Armenia, says national defense minister

There is an opportunity to establish peace in the South Caucasus, the Turkish national defense minister said on Monday, but added that so far Armenia has passed this up.

"Although they have a historical opportunity to establish peace, tranquility and cooperation in the South Caucasus, we see that Armenia has not been able to adequately utilize this historical opportunity," Guler said at a meeting with his Azerbaijani and Georgian counterparts in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital.

Guler met with Azerbaijan’s Zakir Hasanov and Georgia’s Juansher Burchuladze to discuss regional defense issues and defense cooperation.

Türkiye will continue its solidarity with Azerbaijan and Georgia for the sake of peace and stability in the region, Guler said.

"We have supported the negotiation process between Azerbaijan and Armenia from the beginning and continue to do so," he stressed.

"We believe that the path to regional peace and stability is through a comprehensive peace agreement signed between Azerbaijan and Armenia."

Relations between the two former Soviet republics have been tense since 1991, when the Armenian military occupied Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, and seven adjacent regions.

Most of the territory was liberated by Azerbaijan during a war in the fall of 2020, which ended after a Russian-brokered peace agreement and also opened the door to normalization.

This September, the Azerbaijani army launched an anti-terrorism operation in Karabakh to establish constitutional order in the region, after which illegal separatist forces in the region surrendered.

Having established full sovereignty in the region, Azerbaijan then urged the Armenian population in Karabakh to become part of Azerbaijani society.

Türkiye believes that a lasting peace in the South Caucasus can only be achieved through a comprehensive and permanent peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Turning to the Black Sea region, Guler said: "We believe that turning the Black Sea into an area of strategic competition and further escalation of tension should be avoided."

*Writing by Diyar Guldogan from Washington

How did Cyprus company that bought MTS Armenia shares gain Public Services Regulatory Commission’s trust?, Armenia
Nov 28 2023

The Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC) of Armenia makes a purely technical decision regarding the sale of MTS Armenia—among the country's telecommunication operators. This was told to reporters Tuesday by the chairman of PSRC, Garegin Baghramyan, when answering the question what convincing argument did the PSRC have to change its decision after its negative conclusion in April, and how did the Cypriot company that bought the shares of MTS Armenia inspire confidence.

"When an application is made for the acquisition of shares, the [Armenian] law assumes that the package is examined by the [aforesaid] commission. That is, it is checked from a purely technical point of view, whether it can carry out the activity or not. The rest of the issues, related to safety and national interest, are presented to the authorized body, the Ministry of High-Tech Industry, which, after discussing with the NSS [(National Security Service)], submits a conclusion," said Baghramyan.

According to him, the NSS had submitted an initial negative position.

"The last package that was submitted, I guess, there was additional information, there is the conclusion of the NSS," added Baghramyan.

As for what has changed, he noted that he cannot say.

"I don't see the study, only the conclusion is that they don't have a problem," noted Baghramyan.

Earlier, we reported that the Public Services Regulatory Commission of Armenia approved the sale of 100 percent of the shares of MTS Armenia CJSC to Cypriot company Fedilco Group Limited.

Alen Simonyan: Impossible for Armenians to return to Karabakh’s Stepanakert or Shushi at least in near term, Armenia
Nov 28 2023

Recent events show that, at least in the near term, it is impossible for Armenians to return to Stepanakert, Shushi, Baku, or those settlements that were historically Armenian. Alen Simonyan, speaker of the National Assembly (NA) of Armenia, told this to reporters at the NA Tuesday.

"Are we talking about peace just for the sake of talking about peace? Or are we really mentally ready to go for peace? That peace should be built today, excluding hate speech, subjecting people to ethnic divisions, not to mention ethnic cleansing," said Simonyan.

Speaking about the activities of Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh, he said that they recently announced that everything is normal, there was no shooting, no provocation.

"If they were going to return, they wouldn't let people flee from that area in one day; that talk should be stopped," said the speaker of the Armenian legislature.

‘We are in a zombie state’: Armenian refugees endure a life in limbo

Washington Post
Nov 28 2023

By Anush Babajanyan and Ruby Mellen

YEREVAN, Armenia — They fled their homes with few belongings.

After a brutal military operation restored Azerbaijan’s sovereign control of the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh in September, tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians from the enclave have left, many afraid they would lose their freedom under Azerbaijani rule. Azerbaijani officials insisted that no one was being forced to leave, but they could offer few guarantees of safety.

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, explained

For decades, since Soviet times, Armenia and Azerbaijan have clashed over the mountainous region, which is in Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territory but whose population, following wars and expulsions, was 95 percent ethnic Armenian.

Azerbaijan took back much of its territory in a brief war in 2020 that ended in a fragile Russian-brokered truce but left uncertain the fate of more than 120,000 residents, including those in the capital, Stepanakert.

What you need to know about Nagorno-Karabakh

In the 1920′s, as part of a divide-and-rule tactic, the Soviet government first established the autonomous region of Nagorno-Karabakh, where at least 95 percent of the population is ethnically Armenian, in Azerbaijan.

In 1988 authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh sought to unite with the then-Soviet republic of Armenia and declared independence from Azerbaijan, another Soviet republic.
After the Soviet Union collapsed, a full-scale war broke out in 1992 between the two new countries over control of the region. Nagorno-Karabakh is located within the internationally recognized borders of Azerbaijan but is mostly controlled by political factions linked to Armenia.
Between 20,000 and 30,000 people were killed in that conflict and hundreds of thousands were displaced before a cease-fire was declared in 1994. Armenia ended up controlling the region, and occupying 20 percent of total Azerbaijani territory.
In 2020, a full-scale war broke out after Azerbaijan launched an offensive across the line of contact held by Armenian forces and local fighters. As part of the Russian-mediated cease-fire, Armenia had to cede swaths of territory it had controlled for decades.
More than 7,000 combatants were killed, according to the International Crisis Group, and Russian peacekeepers were deployed to patrol the region.
In September of this year, Azerbaijan took over the region after a 24 hour military operation, leading to thousands of Armenians to flee.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought two wars over the territory in the past 30 years. More than 1 million people were displaced in the late-1990s, including more than 700,000 ethnic Azeris.

On Sept. 19, Azerbaijani forces stormed deeper into Nagorno-Karabakh, toppling the regional Armenia-aligned government and setting off a mass exodus of ethnic Armenian residents.

For many, a new life in Armenia is an unsettling reality. The shock of leaving their homes remains all-consuming; the memories of the moment everything changed are constantly present.

“I cannot accept that this is the end.”

Ani Balayan, 18

A student, photographer and videographer from the city of Stepanakert, Balayan relocated to work at a news outlet, Civilnet, and to study in Yerevan this summer.

I have been displaced twice. Once in 2020, and now. This summer, when I was about to travel to Armenia for my studies I was afraid that I might not be able to go back. I still cannot believe I won’t be able to go back.

I just try to go to my classes, come to work and not think of it all. I cannot accept that this is the end and that we have lost what was ours. I feel half myself, rather than the complete Ani I used to be.

Your home is different from any other home, no matter how well you are accepted and welcomed. I have friends here, but I cannot communicate with them.

One day we were having lunch with Civilnet colleagues. When we were done I looked at my phone and read that Stepanakert was being attacked. I called my mother to ask what was going on and right there in the middle of the street I fell and began to cry, because all of it was absurd.

We were hoping that one day it would be better, with no war. We were hoping we would return to our village. But Sept. 19 changed everything, and now there is no hope of going home. All of that has turned into a dream.


“We are in a zombie state.”

Armine Avanesyan, 39

Armine and her daughter Anjelika are from Stepanakert. They settled in a relative’s home in the village of Noramarg, an hour away from Yerevan.

Single mother Armine Avanesyan, 39, and her daughter Anjelika, 8, stand outside their temporary home in Noramarg Village, Armenia, on Oct. 3. (Anush Babajanyan for The Washington Post)

It was all unexpected. We felt horrible when we were told we had to leave everything — our jobs, our home. My daughter had just learned to go to school on her own. She attended dancing and chess classes.

Anjelika says every day that she wants to go back. She wants to go to our house. We understand that it is unfortunately impossible. She was returning home when the bombing began. I made a quick video call. She stood there crying, and I didn’t even know what to tell her.

We didn’t have a basement in our building. I told her to run toward our house and find some people who could protect her until I came. Two girls took her to a basement. I came to her under the sounds of bombing.

We are in a zombie state. We wish all of this was a dream.


“They were shooting directly at houses, at people.”

Gegham Babayan, 50

A veteran of the first Nagorno-Karabakh war and father of 10 children, Babayan fled Stepanakert and lives in an apartment in Yerevan.

A veteran of the first Nagorno-Karabakh war, Gegham Babayan, 50, poses for a photo at his newly rented home in Yerevan, Armenia, on Oct. 4. (Anush Babajanyan for The Washington Post)

As my first-grader Mosi came from school, the bombing began. They were shooting directly at houses, at people. Another son, Tigo, was missing. It was 5 p.m. I was looking and couldn’t find him. There was no connection. Around 11 p.m., the neighbor called us and said Tigo was alive. My neighbor had hidden him in a basement to protect him from the bombings.

I grew up with Azerbaijanis. During the Soviet Union, we all lived in peace together. Now, there is no Soviet Union, and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is weak. Those [Azerbaijani] soldiers killed Russians, too.

I was at home when I saw around 10 [Azerbaijanis] approach my house. They were young boys. They told me they were protecting us. I asked them what they wanted, and they asked for potatoes. They were hungry. I told them we did not have any — we were in a blockade. They were not bad boys.

The people of Armenia have accepted us. But when we recover, we have to unite and take Karabakh back.


“I looked at my father, and he said, ‘I will come back, it is okay.’”

Hasmik Aghababyan, 10

Hasmik was at school when the attacks began. She and her family fled to a hotel in southern Armenia.

Hasmik Aghababyan, 10, is outside Hotel Goris, in Goris, Armenia, on Oct. 2. (Anush Babajanyan for The Washington Post)

We were at school and class was over. My mother was there, too, at a parent-teacher meeting. Then everything started. My mother and I ran into the basement. When it was calmer, my father came and took us to another basement.

Then we went to the [Stepanakert] airport [which was not operational but was a staging ground for evacuations]. We stayed at the airport for three or four days. Buses were provided for us to leave.

On the way to Armenia, we saw the [Azerbaijanis]. They asked my father to get out of the car. My mother was scared that they would take him away.

I looked at my father, and he said: “I will come back. It is okay.” Then they let him go.

My mother has not told me when we are going back to school. I want to go, but my brother does not. I have one friend here, her name is Mariam. I will play with her a bit, until my friends come.


“I want to go to a place where there is no shooting, where there is peace.”

Natasha Petrosyan, 66

Petrosyan fled from the Martakert province of Nagorno-Karabakh to Goris, Armenia. She has nowhere to live and plans to travel to Yerevan.

Natasha Petrosyan, 66, waits in central Goris, Armenia, for transportation to the capital Yerevan on Oct. 1. (Anush Babajanyan for The Washington Post)

It was sudden. They started bombing at 1 p.m. on Sept 19. Around 2 p.m., our window burst open. A bomb fell into our backyard.

In the Stepanakert airport, kids were crying. Some had two kids, others had six. I stayed at the airport around four days, and then in someone’s backyard for six days. The road [to Armenia] took three days.

I could not imagine before that we would willingly leave our homes. And I cannot imagine that now. I want to go to a place where there is no shooting, where there is peace.


Mellen reported from Washington.

Testimonies were edited for clarity.

There’s a Human Rights Tragedy in Asia, Too

Truth Dig
Nov 28 2023

Ethnic Armenians have fled a once-thriving democracy in Artsakh after an offensive by the authoritarian regime in Azerbaijan.


The continuing horrors of the war in the Middle East properly occupy the world’s attention. But they have obscured another recent human rights tragedy of the highest order. Beginning on Sept. 19, Azerbaijan unleashed a military offensive that routed the inferior forces of Artsakh, an ethnically Armenian region of Azerbaijan that residents claim as an independent autonomous republic commonly known as Nagorno-Karabakh. Virtually entirely Armenian, the region remained a culturally integral part of Armenia after Joseph Stalin ceded it to Soviet Azerbaijan in 1921. It has subsequently been recognized by most governments and the U.N. as part of Azerbaijan.

Before assuming full dictatorial powers, Stalin had been the Soviet Union’s commissioner of nationalities. In this role, he cultivated the USSR’s relationship with Turkey and other successor states following the collapse and breakup of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. Delivering Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan was a calculated political move that discounted residents’ overwhelming desire for reunification with Armenia. Despite its semi-autonomous status within Azerbaijan, the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh were subject to routine discrimination and violence under Soviet rule.

Mikhail Gorbachev’s Glasnost reforms catalyzed Armenian attempts to bring their persecution to wider attention. In 1991, as the Soviet empire was dissolving, Artsakh held an independence referendum in which the Armenian majority voted for independence; the democratically elected leaders soon thereafter declared the Republic of Artsakh. A six-year war launched by Azerbaijan in 1988 failed to curb the independence movement; in 2016, Azerbaijan attacked again, this time finally managing to shift the front lines in its favor. Casualties were high on both sides before Moscow brokered a ceasefire. But Russia proved a fickle guarantor, and tensions remained high until another round of conflict broke out in 2020. 

Since September, the vast majority of ethnic Armenians have been forced to flee the region, and Nagorno-Karabakh’s Baku-backed government says the self-declared republic will cease to exist as an independent entity by January 2024.

In October of that year, Azerbaijan attacked Armenian villages in Artsakh with substantial military aid from its ally Turkey and weapons bought from Israel. The result was the destruction of many villages, thousands of deaths and the destruction of much property and major cultural artifacts. In December of 2022, Azerbaijan blockaded and closed the Lachin corridor, the only route for the Artsakh population to get essential food, water and medical supplies, leading to starvation and suffering. The events of 2020 and after were eerily reminiscent of the Ottoman genocide against the Armenian population that commenced in 1915. Despite these disturbing historical echoes, there was little coverage of this major human rights catastrophe in the South Caucasus. 

This silence has persisted into this latest round of violence. Since September, the vast majority of ethnic Armenians have been forced to flee the region, and Nagorno-Karabakh’s Baku-backed government says the self-declared republic will cease to exist as an independent entity by January 2024. Roughly 100,000 Armenians from Artsakh have fled to Armenia. They have traveled on the Lachin corridor carrying as much as they can, leaving everything else behind, a journey tragically similar to the plight of Gazans seeking safety near the southern border with Egypt. The U.N. mission in Azerbaijan reports that people making this journey endure extremely challenging conditions, often finding shelter in caves. Malnutrition, especially among the sick and elderly, is rampant. Fortunately, U.N. observers have not found major physical damage in cities and infrastructure following the Azeri invasion. Distressingly, the U.N. Karabakh mission was also told that as few as 50 to 1,000 ethnic Armenians are reported to be left in the region. 

The refugees have left behind homes, jobs, religious institutions, friendship and family relationships, educational activities and opportunities — in short, their entire lives. The museums, monasteries, historical monuments and every other facet of cultural life in the region will be obliterated by the new rulers blessed by Baku. The once-thriving economies in Stepanakert, Shushi and elsewhere in the small democratic enclave will have, for all intents and purposes, disappeared from the planet. Prisoners, including top government officials and ordinary foot soldiers, face uncertain fates, including long periods of incarceration and torture. 

And yet, I’ve seen and heard almost nothing in mainstream or alternative outlets about the plight of the ethnic Armenian refugees from Artsakh. One is reminded of the grotesque words of Adolf Hitler. “Who, after all,” he asked rhetorically in 1939, “today remembers the annihilation of the Armenians?” 

This is a personal tragedy for me. I have visited Artsakh once, and Armenia twice, on each occasion speaking extensively in universities, high schools and public settings.  The fate of Artsakh was always a topic of concern. In Artsakh, I spoke with governmental officials, legislators, diplomats and former President Georgi Petrosyan, an engaging leader with a visionary commitment to educational, cultural and political reform. I also made presentations in governmental and university settings in which I gained a deep appreciation for the vibrant culture of the young nation. (The people of the region very much consider themselves a “nation.”)

I am especially haunted by memories of a presentation I made at Artsakh State University in 2018. The student audience was engaging, hopeful and optimistic about the future. Now, that institution is gone, at least in its former form in the capital city of Stepanakert. Beyond the interruption of their studies, the future of higher education in the region is now in doubt; perhaps it will be eliminated forever. Some of these intelligent and promising young women and men in Artsakh may reclaim their lives in Armenia. Many will not, if they survive at all. It is likely that some of them have died in the recent fighting, as members of the Artsakh armed forces or as civilian casualties. Their plight leaves me heartbroken and distraught.

The plight of Artsakh should matter to Americans, even as we are preoccupied with our own profoundly serious crisis of democracy.

By any reckoning, the takeover and sweeping out of Artsakh is a massive human tragedy with effects that will be felt for decades. Survivors will struggle to rebuild their shattered lives; many will require significant mental and physical health resources in the short and long term. It’s unclear where those resources will come from. It’s also extremely unlikely that any of the exiles will be able to return to their homes. As we mourn for the victims in Israel and Palestine, so should we also mourn for the human beings in Artsakh. 

The plight of Artsakh should matter to Americans, even as we are preoccupied with our own profoundly serious crisis of democracy. Artsakh had a population of 150,000, roughly the same as Pomona, California. It was a democratic country, with free and open elections, certified as such by international observers. It was a country entirely consistent with American ideals, with its own strengths and flaws, living until very recently in a state of neither peace nor war, worthy of Washington’s recognition and support. 

The conquering state is its antithesis. Azerbaijan is a deeply authoritarian nation ruled by a family dictatorship with a long history of corruption. The president, Ilham Aliyev, is the son of the former president Heydar Aliyev, who was a Soviet KGB operative before the independence of Azerbaijan. Reminiscent of regimes in North Korea and Syria, the Aliyev dynasty curries favor with others that have leaders of similar bent, including Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu. “Israel is the Jewish state and Azerbaijan is a Muslim state with a large Muslim majority,” Netanyahu said after meeting with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev in 2016. “Here we have an example of Muslims and Jews working together to promise a better future for both of us.”

Turkey is Azerbaijan’s chief sponsor on the world stage, led by its authoritarian leader Recep Erdogan, a ruler that Donald Trump reportedly admires for his “strength” and “decisiveness” in imprisoning his opponents. Perhaps inspired by Erdogan, Aliyev has pursued an extensive crackdown of civil liberties — attacking journalists, human rights advocates and others deemed threatening to the government. These people routinely face harassment, violence and imprisonment. The prospects for Armenians in Baku-controlled Artsakh are grim, at best. Americans should be deeply concerned with all of this and take every step to ensure that a massive destruction of Armenian lives does not occur. Azerbaijan, like Turkey, continues to officially deny that 1.5 million Armenians were killed by the Ottoman Turks between of 1915 to 1923 in the first genocide of the 20th century. 

Could history repeat? I do not doubt that both Erdogan and Aliyev would like to make further incursions into Armenia proper.  This is certainly the fear of Armenians and diaspora communities throughout the world. I have heard it expressed in Armenia, in Artsakh and in the Armenian communities of Los Angeles and Prague (which is home to a small but vibrant Armenian community.) 

Choosing democracy over authoritarians should be the easiest choice America can make in its foreign policy. That choice requires not only words, but action. As long as oil partnerships grease the cozy relationship between Washington and Baku, Americans should take to the streets and force attention to the matter. The embassies and consulates of Azerbaijan and Turkey should be regular targets of protest, and we should demand far more media coverage of our allies’ actions in the region. We should pressure our representatives to work more aggressively to help Armenia and ethnic Armenians. This includes making foreign and military aid to Turkey and Azerbaijan conditional, and pressuring Israel to rethink its own cozy and morally disheartening relationship with Azerbaijan. There must never be another Armenian genocide.