Nagorno-Karabakh. Military Offensive and Blurry Future
Azerbaijan started a military operation against the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, resulting in several hundred dead and wounded. The operation took place under the eyes of the Russian peacekeeping mission. What future this new catastrophe will bring to the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh and the region is difficult to predict.
At around 1 pm September 19, 2023 Azerbaijan started a massive military offensive against Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) after 6 members of Azerbaijani military personnel were killed by anti-tank mines which the Armenian armed forces allegedly planted. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan called this “local counter-terrorism measures” which aimed to withdraw and disarm the armed forces of Armenia from the territories of Azerbaijan. However, these “counter-terrorism measures” included shelling, in par with the military objects, civil infrastructure of Nagorno-Karabakh, including schools, residential buildings and the like. The operation ended on September 20 around 1 pm with the capitulation of the president of the self-declared republic and a decision to meet with an Azerbaijani delegation to start negotiations.
Reaction in Armenia
Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan said in an initial reaction that the goal of the military operation was to draw Armenia into the conflict, but Armenia was not involved in the military activities and has no army in Nagorno-Karabakh. On the first day of the conflict, some groups gathered in front of the Armenian government site, requesting to intervene and send troops to help Armenians in NK. Additionally, some oppositional forces, mainly represented by the previous regime, which was ousted in 2018 as a result of the Velvet revolution, also joined the protests.
After the ceasefire in NK, some groups demanded to open a humanitarian corridor and help people evacuate to Armenia. Additionally, fake news was spread saying that Armenia did not want to receive the Armenian refugees, which was denied by the Armenian government.
Traffic in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, on some spots was paralysed both on Thursday and Friday, because of protests. Clashes between protesters and police were reported on the streets or in front of the government. Some groups were also protesting in front of the Russian Embassy in Yerevan, blocking the entrance of the embassy and requesting Russia to fulfil its peacekeeping responsibilities in NK.
The Military operation took place after informing the Russian peacekeeping mission, according to the Azerbaijani MFA statement. Interestingly, Russian MFA Spokesperson Maria Zakharova confirmed by noting in a press conference that the Russian mission was informed several minutes before the start of the military operation. The Russian mission in Nagorno-Karabakh did nothing to intervene and stop the operation. According to the Russian-Armenian-Azerbaijani trilateral agreement which put an end to the Armenian-Azerbaijani 44-days war in 2020, the Russian peacekeeping forces in a number of around 2,000 persons were deployed on the line of contact and additionally in the Lachin corridor to protect the route connecting NK’s population with the outside world. However, during the military operation Andrey Kartapolov, the head of defence committee of the Russian lower house of the Federal assembly, said that “as long as the peacekeepers themselves are not in danger, they do not have right to use weapons”. This actually raises a lot of questions, concerning the ground for such a mission at all, if it has no possibilities to protect a peaceful population.
On September 20, six Russian peacekeepers were killed during Azerbaijan’s military campaign. During a phone call, Aliyev apologized to Putin and assured that those responsible will be punished. Later when commenting on the death of the Russian peacekeepers, the Russian MFA Spokesperson Zhakharova noted that they died for peace in the region and again accusing Armenia for black ingratitude. Zakharova also condemned the role of France and the French desire to be part of normalisation process. She added that “as soon as Western ideology began to drive a wedge into the situation, everything changed. This can serve as a lesson for everyone who will lean towards the West through its mediation”. Renata Alt, Chair of the Human Rights Committee of the Bundestag, contradicted the Russian view in an interview: "Armenia has relied on Russian support. Russia has obviously abandoned Armenia completely. It is therefore very important that Germany joins forces with France and finds common steps at the European level." She also demanded sanctions on individuals against Azerbaijan and called for gas supplies and trade relations with Azerbaijan to be more thoroughly scrutinized.
Situation in NK and future prospects
According to NK’s ombudsperson Gegham Stepanyan, Azerbaijan’s “anti-terrorist operation” killed 200 people and injured 400. To date, there is no way to get in touch with many people in NK, as the internet and mobile connection is not working properly due to power shortages. Until now, there is no information about the fate of displaced people, because a lot of citizens are waiting in shelters. On September 24, a first group of NK Armenians (about 3,000 people) was able to enter Armenia to seek refuge. At the same time, the future is still unclear whether all Armenians can and want to leave their homeland. Ulrich Lechte, spokesperson for Foreign Affairs of the FDP parliamentary group of the Bundestag underlined, that the international community will advocate for the rights of ethnic Armenians in NK and that they must not be harassed, oppressed or forcibly displaced under any circumstances.
 MFA of the Republic of Azerbaijan (2023) No:504/23, Press release on the death of civilians and the personnel of the Ministry of Internal Affairs as a result of landmine terror in Khojavend. Available at: https://mfa.gov.az/en/news/no50423 (Accessed: 22 September 2023).
 MFA of the Republic of Azerbaijan (2023) No:505/23, Statement on measures taken in response to provocations of the Armenian armed forces illegally stationed in the Garabagh region of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Available at: https://mfa.gov.az/en/news/no50523(Accessed: 22 September 2023).
 Armenpress (2023) Վարչապետ Նիկոլ Փաշինյանի ուղերձը ժողովրդին՝ ամբողջությամբ (Arm) / Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan's message to the people. Available at: https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1119907/ (Accessed: 22 September 2023).
 RBC.ru (2023) Армения заявила, что Россия не предупреждала об операции Азербайджана (Rus) / Armenia said Russia did not warn about Azerbaijan's operation. Available at: https://www.rbc.ru/politics/19/09/2023/650983479a794792de8f0803 (Accessed: 22 September 2023).
 Interfax.ru (2023) В Думе заявили, что миротворцы РФ в Карабахе не могут применять оружие, пока нет угрозы для нихсамих (Rus) / The Duma stated that Russian peacekeepers in Karabakh cannot use weapons as long as there is no threat to themselves. Available at: https://www.interfax.ru/russia/921541 (Accessed: 22 September 2023).
 The Moscow Times (2023) Azerbaijan's Aliyev Apologizes for Russian Peacekeeper Deaths in Karabakh. Available at:https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2023/09/21/azerbaijans-aliyev-apologizes-for-russian-peacekeeper-deaths-in-karabakh-a82533(Accessed: 22 September 2023).
 Vedomosti (2023) Захарова: российские миротворцы погибли в Карабахе ради мира в регионе (Rus) / Zakharova: Russian peacekeepers died in Karabakh for the sake of peace in the region. Available at: https://www.vedomosti.ru/politics/news/2023/09/20/996272-rossiiskie-mirotvortsi-pogibli-v-karabahe (Accessed: 22 September 2023).
 Radar Armenia (2023) "Многие ожидания относительно Нагорного Карабаха были связаны с Макроном". Захарова (Rus) / "Many expectations regarding Nagorno-Karabakh were associated with Macron." Zakharova). Available at: https://radar.am/ru/news/world-2590721369/ (Accessed: 22 September 2023).
 Welt (2023) Aserbaidschan greift Berg-Karabach an. Interview Renata Alt. Available at: https://www.welt.de/politik/ausland/video247576758/Bergkarabach-Duerfen…
 Ulrich Lechte’s twitter account (2023): Available at: https://twitter.com/ulrichlechte/status/1705492536326750355?s=46&t=jyB-5QICmLXrCev4USABxA