A lightning military operation, lasting barely twenty-four hours, has put an end to the dream of an independent Nagorno Karabakh. This was announced by the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, after proclaiming the “reintegration” into the country of the entire region, inhabited until now by slightly more than 120,000 people, mainly ethnic Armenians. Since December 2022 the enclave had been completely encircled following the blockade by Azeri troops and activists of the Lachin corridor, the territory’s only connection to Armenia.
The security of the road had been taken over by Russia, which had erected interposition troops and aspired to mediation work. Absorbed in its energies by the war it was waging against Ukraine, Russia neglected to pay attention to this commitment, all the more so since the Kremlin had warned of Armenia’s pro-Western fickleness with the consequent cooling of relations with Moscow.
For President Aliyev, this victory, which puts an end to thirty years of frozen conflict, represents an obvious strengthening of his international position. His main supporters also share part of this triumph: Erdogan’s Turkey, confronting Armenia since the genocide of 1915, which Ankara refuses to recognize as such, and Netanyahu’s Israel, which supplies arms to Azerbaijan, an equipment that has proved sufficient and decisive for the triumph of Baku.
The last issue of this war is to determine the fate of the Armenian inhabitants of the failed republic of Artsakh, the name with which they had baptized the territory and whose capital they had established in Stepanakert. After being subjected to a nine-month siege, with a lack of food, water and medicine, many have gone into hiding, fearful of being put to the sword by the victorious troops. This was dramatically stated to Agence France Presse by Armine Hayrapetian, the spokeswoman for the government of the separatist republic of Artsakh, who warned of the “massacres” which, in her opinion, the Azeris would undertake as soon as they entered the capital.
More likely, however, is that an agreement will be reached on the evacuation of the 120,000 Armenians, to be hosted by Yerevan. In addition to the human crisis that this entails, there will undoubtedly be a political crisis in Armenia itself. Its current government of Nikol Pashinyan has already been accused of passivity and of not having done enough to defend and help its beleaguered countrymen. This pressure will be accentuated by the arrival of these refugees, who will bring to the country not only bitterness over the tragedy of their exile and the hardships suffered, but also reproaches to the “Armenian motherland” for not having effectively defended her children.
The two countries, Armenia and Azerbaijan, will further accentuate their animosity and differences. Both had gained independence from the Russian Empire in 1918, but both were again swallowed up by the USSR, which determined that Nagorno-Karabakh would remain an autonomous territory within the then Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic.
Like many other peoples forcibly subdued by the central power in Moscow, the two countries appeased their mutual enmity, but it flared up again as soon as the Soviet Union disintegrated. Three years of war, between 1991 and 1994, ended with the ethnic Armenian rebels conquering most of the territory, invading in the process other surrounding regions of Upper Karabakh, inside Azerbaijan, which were not in dispute.
Baku never recognized the borders that emerged from that confrontation; it always claimed the territory arguing that the Azeri population living in Upper Karabakh had been expelled and massacred by the Armenians, and the tension resulted in periodic skirmishes that would again reach their climax in the 2020 war, when Armenia and Azerbaijan crossed mutual accusations of shelling civilian settlements.
The cease-fire agreement that halted hostilities, later punctuated by new clashes, was broken last December, when Azerbaijan closed the Lachin corridor and began the encirclement by hunger and thirst that has now concluded with the lightning military operation that is supposed to be definitive, although in this as in so many other stories in history nothing can ever be taken for granted forever and ever.