The brief conflict that erupted on September 19th between Azerbaijan and the separatist ethnic-Armenian enclave, Nagorno-Karabakh, has resulted in a humanitarian crisis. The war, which lasted less than a day, ended a 30-year standoff and led to the displacement of tens of thousands of people. The conflict has also strengthened Turkey’s position in the Caucasus, while diminishing Russia’s influence.
Nagorno-Karabakh, weakened by a nine-month blockade and abandoned by Russia, was forced to surrender to Azerbaijan’s modern military. Approximately 65,000 ethnic Armenians have fled the region, which had a pre-war population of around 120,000. Azerbaijan’s decision to attack rather than negotiate a Western-backed deal to protect the civil rights of its Armenian minority has led to accusations of ethnic cleansing.
The international community must hold Azerbaijan accountable for any human rights violations in the now occupied region. The West should consider sanctions, given Azerbaijan’s elite’s fondness for spending time and money in Europe and America.
The repercussions of this brief war extend beyond Nagorno-Karabakh. The balance of power in the Caucasus has shifted, with Armenia’s sovereignty appearing more fragile than it has since the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. Russia’s inability to protect its ally, Armenia, has been exposed, while Turkey’s support for Azerbaijan has boosted its standing in the region.
The situation has been exacerbated by changes within Armenia. The country’s leaders, once allies of Russia, were ousted in 2018 by young protesters. The new prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, pledged to maintain ties with Russia, but his rise to power through a popular uprising was not well received by Putin. This, coupled with Russia’s struggles in Ukraine, provided an opportunity for Turkey and Azerbaijan to assert their dominance.
In the short term, Western governments should assist Armenia in managing the influx of refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh and help broker a fair peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan. In the long term, the West should support Armenia’s efforts to lessen its reliance on Russia and encourage Turkey to normalize relations with Armenia.
Read more at The Economist.