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The Humanitarian Crisis in Artsakh: Azerbaijan Continues a Reign of Violence

Within some of the world’s most desolate and loosely defined borders, people live in the crosshairs of one of the least stable points of volatile conflict on the planet, as Armenia and Azerbaijan fight over the region of Artsakh (the indigenous name for Nagorno-Karabakh). Both nations claim this region as their own territory. Many historical texts show that Artsakh is an integral part of Armenian history and culture, supporting the claim that Armenians have rights to Nagorno-Karabakh as their own. However, the claim by Armenians that they own the land is disputed by Turkey and Azerbaijan, as it is internationally recognized as a part of Azerbaijan. Both Azerbaijan and Turkey continually commit mass violence against the indigenous Armenian population, in a region that has been fought over prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, marred by geopolitical and ethnic conflict. 

Armenia and Russia consider Nagorno-Karabakh to be an independent nation, based on the principles of self-determination. This allows for states with a certain percentage of people from a certain ethnic or religious background to determine their future: independence or assimilation into an already established nation. 

Nagorno-Karabakh – Store norske leksikon
Image via Large Large Norwegian Encyclopedia

What Led to the Current Situation

Following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, when both Armenia and Azerbaijan gained their independence in the South Caucasus Mountains, Russia drew the borders of Nagorno-Karabakh and created a messy region where religious groups from both new nations resided, and who both claimed that was rightfully theirs. This process was also happening during an extremely fractured time for Karabakh, because of ethnic violence that had broken out in the late ’80s, which then led to a full-fledged conflict. This conflict raged on from 1991 to 1994, when a ceasefire was agreed upon.  After that point, the area had been fairly peaceful, despite the occasional ceasefire violation, and territorial incursions.

In late September of 2020, when the world was captivated by COVID-19 and the U.S. elections, Azerbaijan began a full-scale invasion of Nagorno-Karabakh, following months of ethnic violence, and cross-border skirmishes. The attacks by Azerbaijan began with ruthless force, as they used internationally banned cluster munitions, shelling, ground forces, drones, as well as rocket attacks on major cities and small villages in Artsakh. This conflict forced many out of their native homeland and into makeshift shelters, and farther into Armenia and surrounding regions. The war left behind thousands of casualties, from both the military and the civilian population. During the war, Azerbaijan and Turkey attacked multiple residential areas, without concern for human life or international law.

Since the war ended in November of 2020, Azerbaijan has continually violated the ceasefire agreements, despite the presence of Russian forces who were part of the trilateral peace deal brokered between Armenia, Russia and Azerbaijan to end the war. This deal, meant to bring an end to the conflict, has not been successful, as Azerbaijan continues its shelling, drone attacks and occasional ground incursions into the autonomous region of Artsakh. By continuing military actions in the area, Azerbaijan has injured and killed some of the peaceful population and caused many to evacuate their homes and farmland, leaving behind their livelihood and homeland in the face of a senseless war. 

File:Yezidis in Armenia volunteering for the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War.jpg
“Yezidis in Armenia volunteering for the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War” — Image via Armed MEDIA, Wikimedia Commons

A Second War & Modern Day Genocide

For the last couple of weeks, Azerbaijan has shut off gas to the encircled region of Artsakh, in an attempt to force the Armenians and the autonomous government into submission. Azerbaijan is attempting to gain more territory and a better strategic hold on Artsakh. These inhumane cuts to gas have greatly increased tensions between both Armenia and Azerbaijan, threatening the fragile ceasefire that is in place.  

The natural gas shut-offs are incredibly irresponsible and dangerous for the local populations because of the continued cold weather, and lack of access to heating, power and water. This is an exploitation of a peaceful population and a violation of international human rights law. The continued violence from Azerbaijan and their regional ally, Turkey, is continuing the brutal ethnic cleansing of the Armenian population in Artsakh. The shutdowns of natural resources and the prevention of aid reaching the region perpetrates this genocide.

The weapons used by Azerbaijan in the continued conflict are supported by the U.S., Israel, Turkey and NATO, making this conflict a much bigger issue on a worldwide scale, and essentially a proxy war against Russian influence in the Southern Caucasus Mountains, while also supporting two genocidal states that inhumanly force people out of their native homeland. The continued supply of weapons to Azerbaijan is one of the main reasons these hostilities are allowed to continue. The U.S. and Israel continue foreign military aid to the Armenians, Turkey supports Azerbaijan and Russia provides military aid to both sides.

File:Azerbaijani combattants of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.jpg
“Azerbaijani combattants of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict” — Image via Republic of Azerbaijan, Wikimedia Commons

What the Future Could Hold

The people of this region will continue to face attacks on their sovereignty, and the erasure of their culture for years to come, as Azerbaijan, and nations who provide weapons shows no signs of slowing their slow calculated full annexation full annexation of Artsakh. Along with these attacks comes the destruction of thousands of years of rich culture and local heritage.

The invasion of Ukraine has distracted the world from the atrocities in Artsakh, and Azerbaijan is taking full advantage of the crisis to spark another illegal and deadly war, in a region where tensions have already soared and militaries have clashed. With Russia’s decreased presence in the region, it has become increasingly difficult to enforce the border between both Armenia and Azerbaijan. This also comes as Russia proposed a commission to create a demarcation zone in order to better define each nation’s borders and the autonomous region of ArtsakhDespite the heightened tensions, diplomatic ties between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey have improved, but there are still significant disagreements and vast uncertainty regarding the future of Artsakh. It remains unclear whether the rights of self-determination will be honored on a larger scale. 

As the world turns a blind eye, the suffering will continue and people will face the horrors of war. The violence will continue unless global leaders call on all parties to find non-violent and diplomatic ways to end this crisis, beyond just thoughts and prayers for the victims. 


Feature image via Aravot

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