Nagorno-Karabakh: The Armenians remain trapped in their exclave

Attack on Nagorno-Karabakh
In Stepanakert people are sitting on packed suitcases. But escape seems impossible

The humanitarian situation for the people of Stepanakert is deteriorating every day

© Siranush Sargsyan / DPA

The Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh remain trapped in their exclave; escape to Armenia is impossible for the time being. Initial talks with representatives of the Azerbaijani government ended without any concrete results.

Two days after Azerbaijan began its offensive against the region Nagorno-Karabakh, the fate of tens of thousands of Armenians who are de facto trapped there is completely uncertain. On Tuesday, the Azerbaijani army launched an attack on the region, which has been self-governing for over three decades, under the guise of an “anti-terrorist operation”. After 24 hours, the Armenians, who were clearly outnumbered militarily, agreed to a ceasefire that amounted to a surrender. According to the Armenian leadership of Nagorno-Karabakh, about 200 people died during the recent offensive, ten of them civilians. 400 people were injured, including 40 civilians. Casualties are also reported on the part of the Azerbaijani army.

On Thursday morning, as agreed, two representatives of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh met with the Azerbaijani representative for contacts with the Armenians, parliamentarian Ramin Mamedov. The meeting took place in Yevlakh, an Azerbaijani city about a hundred kilometers from Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital Stepanakert. Pictures from the meeting show several men in a room with the Azerbaijani flag in the background. The Azerbaijani presidential administration said that Mamedov had presented plans to “reintegrate” the Karabakh Armenians into the Azerbaijani state, and that the Armenians had asked for gasoline and food. They also agreed on another meeting.

The humanitarian situation is getting worse

The Armenian delegation traveled back to Stepanakert without making a statement. It wasn’t until the evening that a practically content-free one appeared on the authorities’ official website News stated that the meeting had taken place in a “professional atmosphere” and that the discussions should continue. There are many calls in the comments to finally reopen the land corridor towards Armenia so that people from Nagorno-Karabakh can flee to Armenian territory. However, Azerbaijan does not seem to be ready for this at the moment. The Armenian self-government in Nagorno-Karabakh has been powerless since Wednesday’s military surrender.

Soldiers from the Russian “peace mission” in Nagorno-Karabakh accompanied the Karabakh representatives, but did not take part in the talks. On Thursday it became known that at least four Russian soldiers were killed in an Azerbaijani attack the day before, including the mission’s deputy commander. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev apologized for this in a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin today. Apparently the responsible commander was fired and the guilty soldiers were arrested. Compared to the national crisis that Turkey shot down a Russian jet in 2015, Moscow remained conspicuously quiet this time.

Eyewitnesses from Stepanakert report that people have literally been sitting on packed suitcases since yesterday: many are waiting for an escape corridor towards Armenia to be opened. The humanitarian situation, already precarious since the Azerbaijani army blocked the road to Armenia about nine months ago, is now becoming even more dramatic.

Fragile ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh

Thousands of refugees have fled to Stepanakert in the past two days – from areas already occupied by the Azerbaijanis. The small town of Martakert in the north of Nagorno-Karabakh (Azerbaijani: Agdere) is said to be completely surrounded by Azerbaijani troops, making escape impossible.

According to videos, machine gun fire could be heard repeatedly in the center of Stepanakert in the morning and afternoon. While the Armenian side accused Baku of violating the agreed ceasefire, Azerbaijan rejected the allegations. On the whole, the ceasefire seems to be holding.

At the same time, a video became public in which soldiers from the Nagorno-Karabakh army called for resistance against the Azerbaijanis from a basement. The men explain that they want to continue the fight even if the civilian population leaves the area to seek safety.

The background is probably that Baku has announced that it will bring alleged war criminals among the Karabakh soldiers to justice. At the end of July, the Azerbaijanis arrested 68-year-old Wagif Khachatryan, whom the Red Cross wanted to bring to Armenia for treatment. He is now due to stand trial for alleged war crimes in Azerbaijan in 1991.

On Thursday evening, Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan addressed his citizens. He once again criticized the Russian “peace mission” for failing to fulfill its obligations. Armenia is prepared to accept up to 40,000 refugees, but at this point in time it sees “no direct threat to the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh.” The population of Karabakh should continue to live safely and in peace in their homeland, and those displaced must be allowed to return to their homes immediately. Pashinyan has been facing partly violent protests in the Armenian capital Yerevan since Tuesday. “He accused the protesters of wanting to use the upheaval triggered by the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh to stage a coup.”

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