Picture everything you know about the Israel-Palestine Conflict: ethnic persecution, decades-old family homes being evacuated, attacks on both military and civilian targets, casualties among both military and civilian populations, and a de facto independent state under blockade, among other things. Now, imagine if all of this were to happen overnight.
Just two weeks ago, a similar scenario unfolded, albeit not in the Middle East but in the Caucasus. Welcome to Nagorno-Karabakh.
Nagorno-Karabakh, or the Republic of Artsakh, depending on who you ask, was a de facto independent state for three decades, situated within the internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan. Armenia supported this state due to the presence of roughly 120,000 ethnic Armenians living in the region.
However, this chapter in the story of this breakaway state came to an abrupt end in a brief conflict spanning from the nineteenth to the twentieth of September this year. As a result, the Republic of Artsakh reluctantly agreed to dissolve itself on the first of January 2024, causing widespread panic in the region.
With the ceasefire now in effect, concerns about the ethnic cleansing of the Armenian population have gripped the region, leading to a mass exodus of nearly every ethnic Armenian residing in the breakaway republic. According to a United Nations report, only fifty to one thousand ethnic Armenians remain in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, a stark contrast to the previous population.
This alarming decline is due to an escalation of violent language by the Azerbaijani government, with discussions of war and genocide becoming disturbingly casual among the country's leaders.
In an interview conducted by DW News prior to the start of the conflict, Elchin Amirbayov, the Representative of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan for Special Assignments, stated that "a genocide may happen" in the region if separatist elements persist in their actions. This statement exemplifies the rhetoric used in the lead-up to and during the invasion, amplifying the worst fears of the Armenian people—a second genocide.
The fears of a second genocide extend further. According to the French newspaper Le Monde, the Azerbaijani government has renamed a street in the capital of the region, Stepanakert, after Enver Pasha, one of the primary architects of the original Armenian genocide.
Furthermore, an opinion piece in Jacobin magazine raises concerns that Azerbaijan may attempt to exert influence over, if not annex, the Zangezur Corridor—a strip of land separating Baku from the autonomous Nakhchivan region. In response, Armenia has begun seeking outside assistance.
In the aftermath of the Russo-Ukrainian war, Russia's influence in the Caucasus has begun to decline. This shift prompted Armenia, which had partially relied on Russian peacekeeping efforts in the region, to seek new allies.
In 2022, then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi visited Armenia to denounce the renewed minor clashes in the region, and the United States conducted military exercises with Armenia shortly before the 2023 clashes. Additionally, the Armenian parliament voted to join the International Criminal Court shortly after the invasion, bolstering its international presence for defense against Azerbaijan.
It is challenging to determine whether the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has truly ended in the wake of the most recent clashes. Nevertheless, given the rhetoric emanating from Azerbaijan and the ongoing fears in Armenia, it is evident that even without another war between the two nations, there will be a significant amount of tension in the region for the foreseeable future.
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