Most Ethnic Armenians Have Left Nagorno-Karabakh As Azerbaijan Retakes Control

On September 30th, 2023 the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported that more than 100,000 people have now fled to Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh, which had a population of around 120,000 before the Baku government of Azerbaijan launched the successful lightning offensive on the region, according to Sky News. A total of 21,043 vehicles have crossed the Hakari bridge, which links Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh, according to Nazeli Baghdasaryan, the press secretary to Armenia’s prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, reported by The Guardian News. The region’s separatist ethnic Armenian government claimed on Thursday that “it would dissolve itself by the end of the year after a three-decade bid for independence,” The Guardian News reported. 

Pashinyan claims the large-scale migration amounts to “a direct act of an ethnic cleansing,” according to Sky News. Armenia’s ambassador-at-large, Edmon Marukyan, also criticized and claimed that these people were “ethnically cleansed from their ancestral homeland, from their homes where their parents, where their ancestors were living, and these people were totally cleansed from this territory,” the BBC reported. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan expressed the desire to integrate the ethnic Armenians in the region as “equal citizens” and dismissed allegations of ethnic cleansing raised by Armenia, BBC reported. Furthermore, Azerbaijan argued that the departure of the region’s residents is “their personal and individual decision and has nothing to do with forced relocation,” Sky News reported. Marukyan dismissed Azerbaijan’s assurances and claims as “a lie,” according to the BBC

This issue is historically and geopolitically complicated. It does not only involve the Armenian and Azerbaijan governments, as the conflicts between the two governments involve the Soviet Union and Turkey as well. Therefore, it is crucial to analyze the causes and the problems of regional tensions to improve the situation, as the issue is not unidimensional but multi-dimensional. In the end, civilians suffer from such conflicts, like the incidents which have caused migrations of ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh. Therefore, such issues should be resolved from the core of the problem.

Modern-day Armenia and Azerbaijan became part of the Soviet Union in the 1920s. Nagorno-Karabakh was controlled by Azerbaijan but had a majority ethnic-Armenian population, according to the BBC. When both countries gained independence from the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, Azerbaijan sought to suppress the separatist movement in Nagorno-Kabakh, as the region wanted to become part of Armenia. This led to ethnic clashes and eventually to a full-scale war. There was another clash in 1992, but Russia intervened, and a ceasefire was agreed upon in 1994. Although Nagorno-Karabakh remained part of Azerbaijan, it had a separatist “government” run by ethnic Armenians and backed by the Armenian government. The region is still volatile, and Azerbaijan won back much of the territory. By the time both sides agreed to sign a Russian-brokered peace deal in November 2020, Azerbaijan had recaptured all the land Nagorno-Karabakh held by Armenia since 1994, the BBC reported. Azerbaijan is supported by Turkey while Russia supports Armenia. 

The Guardian News claims that “the departure of more than 80% of Nagorno-Karabakh’s population raises questions about Azerbaijan’s plans for the enclave that was internationally recognized as part of its territory”. However, this is not a simple issue that only requires examining the Azerbaijan government and its actions. The issue necessitates understanding the broad geopolitical scope to determine the roots of problems. If not, incidents like the recent migration will constantly repeat and threaten the human rights of civilians.