As the military conflict in Artsakh ends with Azerbaijani forces having the upper hand, the majority Armenian population must either flee or risk extermination.
On Monday, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan signed a Russia-brokered deal with Azerbaijan to put a stop to the military conflict in Artsakh. After his announcement, in which he described the decision as “unbelievably painful for me and my people,” thousands of Armenians packed whatever possessions they had and fled the region in fear of their lives.
The peace deal follows weeks of bloodshed and the advancement of Azerbaijani forces who reportedly seized control of the strategic city of Shusha only a few days prior. Artsakh features mountainous terrain, and Shusha is an important lifeline which connects the region to mainland Armenia.
“I congratulate my Azeri brothers’ Shusha victory… I believe (it) is a sign that the rest of the occupied lands will be liberated soon too,” Turkish President Erdogan said in an address to the people of Kocaeli Province. His reference to ‘liberation’ echoes Turkey’s support for Azerbaijani claims to the territory.
The roots of the war stem as far back as the early 1990s, when the two countries battled for control of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast just as the Soviet Union was collapsing. Armenia arose victorious, but at the cost of rising ethnic tensions which displaced thousands of people on both sides. Whilst a peace deal was never arranged at the time, the region came to be home to over 150,000 people – almost all of whom are Armenian.
Since then, the government of Azerbaijan has made countless promises to retake the territory. These promises have come with vows to treat the existing Armenian population as equals, yet the government has anything but a clean record when it comes to promoting anti-Armenian rhetoric. Political leaders, the press, and books from which school children are taught have only sought to dehumanise Armenians for decades – it is no wonder that the populace sees them as the threat and treat them with contempt.
A prime example of this would be the case of Nurlan Ibrahimov, a prominent Azerbaijani footballer who was banned by UEFA after making social media posts calling for the genocide of Armenians. “We must kill all Armenians – children, women and the elderly. We need to kill them without making a distinction. No regrets. No compassion,” he wrote.
For the people of Artsakh, this does little to reassure them and it is why they took up arms to resist the Azerbaijani military campaign since late September. Yet Azerbaijan has been unrelenting in its attack, targeting important cultural and religious sites and even hospitals and homes.
Under the deal, Azerbaijan will have full control of the territories which it has captured and more. As the remaining journalists left the Artsakh capital of Stepanakert, they captured scenes of Armenians fleeing the city ahead of an expected Azerbaijani assault. As thousands upon thousands of others flee the country, and by the time all this is over and has been long forgotten by the media , the Armenian people will have experienced what their families had gone through just a century earlier.
Of course, Azerbaijan has not been alone in the conflict. Emboldened by the support of Turkey, they have managed to capture much of what Armenia claimed in the original war. In the months leading up to the conflict, Azerbaijan procured more than $120 million worth of defence and aviation gear from Turkey, up more than 500% from last year. By providing the latest military equipment and technology, it was Turkey who not only turned the tide of the battle, but who likely were the ones to initiate it.
A strengthened Azerbaijan can only be a positive for a Turkey that seeks to challenge both Iran and Russia and their ever-growing spheres of influence. A land connection between the Turkic countries would cut off Russia and threaten Iran’s northern border – as well as allow Turkic-claimed Caspian oil easy access to the European market. However, there remains only one entity standing in their way – Armenia.
Turkish hostility towards Armenians has been long lived, and whilst Turkey succeeds the Ottoman Empire, this hatred is too a succession of the massacres of the past century. Then, Armenians were not treated as human but rather as ‘vermin’ or ‘infidel’ and, in the words of political leader Nazim Bey, it was seen as “absolutely necessary to eliminate the Armenian people in its entirety, so that there is no further Armenian on this earth and the very concept of Armenia is extinguished.”
Perhaps that is still their belief today. Therefore, it is of little surprise that for many the motive for Turkey’s proxy war with Armenia could not be any clearer and can only be likened to that of the Armenian Genocide which claimed the lives of over a million people. Once again, Turkey desires to exterminate the Armenian people.