Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict Triggers Flood of Tens of Thousands of Refugees to Armenia
About 45,500 ethnic Armenian refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh have entered Armenian territory. This is one of the largest exodus of refugees in the South Caucasus region after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
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The following article was translated using both Microsoft Azure Open AI and Google Translation AI. The original article can be found in Konflik Nagorno-Karabakh Picu Banjir Puluhan Ribu Pengungsi ke Armenia
GORIS, WEDNESDAY - Around 45,500 Armenian ethnic refugees, as of Wednesday (27/9/2023), arrived in the territory of Armenia after leaving the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. On their way to Armenia, at least 68 refugees were killed due to an explosion at a public fuel filling station (SPBU) where their vehicles were queuing for refueling outside of Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, on Monday (25/9/2023) night.
The explosion also resulted in 290 people injured and 105 declared missing. Armenia reported that around 42,500 refugees had arrived in Armenian territory on Wednesday. This amount is one-third of the total ethnic Armenian residents living in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Nagorno-Karabakh enclave is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. For the past 30 years, Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought twice over control of the enclave.
Also read: Time Bomb in Nagorno-Karabakh
In a six-week battle in 2020, Azerbaijan captured and took control of a portion of that enclave. Apart from causing the deaths of more than 6,000 people, the 2020 battle also resulted in 90,000 ethnic Armenian inhabitants being displaced. However, some areas of the enclave are still under the control of separatist forces supported by the Armenian military.
Fighting erupted once again on September 19, 2023 after Azerbaijani forces launched a military operation in Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan reported on Wednesday (27/9/2023) that the military operation resulted in the deaths of 192 personnel and injuries to 501 of their soldiers.
One day after the military operation, separatist groups in Nagorno-Karabakh and the Azerbaijan government declared a ceasefire. The ceasefire was agreed upon thanks to the mediation of Russian peacekeeping forces stationed in the region.
Azerbaijan and separatist groups have held negotiations twice, including discussions on the "reintegration" of Nagorno-Karabakh and ethnic Armenian residents back into Azerbaijani territory. However, it is still unclear how this "reintegration" will be carried out.
Since December 2022, Azerbaijan has blocked the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, commonly known as the Lachin corridor. This was done after Baku accused the Armenian government of using the road for extracting natural resources and smuggling weapons to separatist forces.
Since Sunday (24/9/2023), Azerbaijan opened the Lachin corridor. Since then, ethnic Armenian residents have been leaving Nagorno-Karabakh as part of an exodus.
Armenia accuses that the blockade has disrupted the supply of food and oil for the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan denies the allegations, stating that the enclave can be supplied through the city of Aghdam, Azerbaijan. However, the authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh have rejected the solution for a long time, referring to it as Azerbaijan's strategy to take over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Since Sunday (24/9/2023), Azerbaijan has opened the Lachin corridor. Since then, ethnic Armenian residents have been leaving Nagorno-Karabakh. This exodus of Armenian residents follows the military operation by Azerbaijani forces in Nagorno-Karabakh last week, which is one of the largest mass movements in the southern Caucasus region since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
The total number of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh reaches 120,000 people or around 95 percent of the enclave's population. "I think we will see the majority of people in Karabakh going to Armenia," said Thomas de Waal, a senior researcher at the think tank Carnegie Europe, as quoted by the Associated Press.
"They were told they would be integrated into Azerbaijan, but they never felt like a part of that country. Most of them can't even speak Azerbaijani, and they were also told to strip their local institutions. All of these offers will not be accepted by most of the residents in Karabakh," explained De Waal.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, after declaring victory in Nagorno-Karabakh, said that the rights of Armenians would be respected. As quoted by Al Jazeera, he promised to protect them. Aliyev called ethnic Armenians "our citizens" in one breath while branding the separatist leaders in Nagorno-Karabakh as "criminals".
Several Armenian residents in Karabakh told Reuters news agency that they do not want to be a part of Azerbaijan. They are worried about ethnic cleansing by the Azerbaijani authorities. Baku regards such claims as nonsensical.
US support for Armenia
The President of the United States, Joe Biden, sent the leader of the USAID donor agency, Samantha Power, and an official from the US State Department to Armenia to reaffirm the United States' support for Armenia.
ABC News Australia reported that Samantha Power visited the border of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh on Tuesday. She called for international monitoring and aid agencies to be granted access to Nagorno-Karabakh, and for the Azerbaijani government to immediately assist in the evacuation and care of injured civilians.
"There are still tens of thousands of Armenian ethnic groups living in Nagorno-Karabakh in distressing conditions," said Power, who declared that the United States would provide humanitarian assistance of 11.5 million US dollars in the form of food and health facilities."
Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, told Samantha Power that both the international community and Armenia have failed to prevent the ethnic cleansing of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh. President Joe Biden's letter to the PM of Armenia mentioned that the United States supports peace efforts and the protection of Armenia's territorial integrity and democracy.
Potential for further conflict
Following the collapse of the Armenian Ethnic resistance in Nagorno-Karabakh, there are concerns about further conflict in Nakhchivan. Nakhchivan is a 5,500 square kilometer Azerbaijani enclave within Armenian territory with a population of 460,000 people dominated by ethnic Azerbaijani residents.
That region is connected to Azerbaijan via the air route because the land route has been cut off since the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict erupted in the 1990s. Although cut off from Azerbaijan, Nakhchivan shares land borders with Turkey and Iran, which are allies of Azerbaijan.
President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, and President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, met in Nakchivan on Monday (25/9/2023) to discuss the opening of a land access route between Nakchivan and Azerbaijan. "They are likely to issue an ultimatum to Armenia to open the Zangezur Corridor to connect Nakchivan to Azerbaijan," said Caucasus expert Thomas de Waal from the Carnegie Europe Foundation.
However, Armenia has expressed objection as the absence of check posts from Armenia would imply disregard for their sovereignty as a nation.
The strength of Russia and Turkey is expected to influence the negotiations. Since 2020, Russia has stationed peacekeeping forces in Nagorno-Karabakh. Meanwhile, Turkey is interested in the land corridor that will facilitate direct relations between Turkey and Azerbaijan, both of which are Turkish-speaking countries. Iran, however, is concerned that the corridor will close off Iran's access to Armenia.
If connected directly between Turkey and Azerbaijan, relationships with other Turkish-speaking nations, such as Turkmenistan, would only need to be linked through shipping on the Caspian Sea. This could change the geopolitical dynamics of Central Asia, which has long been under the influence of Russia, Iran, and Turkey. (AP/AFP/REUTERS)