All in all, 2023 will not go down as a good year for Armenia. Those who can immigrate to the US or Europe will leave any way possible. I have met a few here already, and they were smart to get out early. Now the short-term emphasis from the West, besides finger pointing and trying to frame Russia for the mess, will be on the provision of humanitarian assistance for those relocating from Nagorno-Karabakh in the face of the threat of massive ethnic cleansing.
That is likely what Powers from USAID* will be working on–
Naturally, what is happening is not being accepted as the final chapter, with protests in Armenia and among the Armenian diaspora. In Yerevan, many are protesting the way he Prime Minister has handled the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. They considered him to have sold out the local Armenians by totally recognizing the authority of Baku, and not only putting them into harms-way, placing their lives in mortal danger, but setting the stage where Armenia proper will be threatened in the future.
Regardless, in the latest turn of events, ethnic Armenians in the region had little choice but to lay down their weapons after “police actions” from Azerbaijan, as they fear that they are unable to successfully resist, and events will be staged to bring about a serious “anti-terrorist” operation. This is the term used by Baku to justify its latest actions, and with some legitimate justification.
However, the next turn of events is a sign of things to come, including ethnic cleansing. Already, after a long blockade, Armenians are seeking to leave the region, and with the expectation that they will be incorporated into Armenia proper as refugees, and many will hope to be relocated to the West.
There are many old wounds between the two nations and old scores to be settled. However, in spite of possible future actions, there are still many questions as to which side is the most responsible for trying to derail the peace deal and change the situation on the ground permanently.
What escapes critical attention in much of the Western media is how many Azeri IDPs are making their way back to their homes and town after 30 years, The Great Return, and key to the future of any region, or enclave, is who will live there—and from generation to generation, as described effectively in Turkey TV documentary about the return of those who fled 30 years ago from Armenian led ethnic cleansing.
As one Armenian, living in Georgia, put it; there may be some advantage to the plight of Armenians from NK, for Armenia or where they will end up.
“I was actually thinking yesterday about the refugees. In fact, it could be a good potential for the economic development of the country, in case there was a settled and a non-ignorant government used their skills. I don’t think they will come to Georgia, perhaps a small minority of them.”
Barriers to Peaceful Coexistence
It is worth noting the ambush of a jeep carrying Russian peacekeepers, killing several of them. It is debatable as to which side, Azeri or Armenian may have been responsible. Either side could have benefited in insidious ways, to further complicate an already complicated situation all the more.
It has been reported that the Deputy Commander of Russian peacekeeping forces in Nagorno-Karabakh was killed in this attack, so with the new realities, and with Azerbaijan’s official recognition of its territory, as agreed by the Armenian side, time appears to be on the side of Baku.
However, those furthest removed from the conflict often know the least, and those of the generation directly involved far more. The BBC explains no-one is telling Armenians about the Azerbaijanis who were killed at the beginning of the conflict, nearly 30-yers ago; likewise, young Azerbaijanis today do not hear about pogroms against the Armenian people in Azerbaijani cities such as Sumgayit and Baku at the end of the 1980s.
The “Armenian National Committee of America” (ANCA), Armenia’s top US-based diaspora lobby, is now engaged in a massive PR campaign to stop what appears to be the eventual departure of the vast majority of Americans from Azerbaijan, and it will not be the first time, as the same occurred when NK first came under Armenian control back in the 1990s and the Azeri population had to flee.
In the strongest language, it condemns what it wants to describe as Azerbaijan’s Genocide in Artsakh, thus demands US Leadership at the UN to Protect Artsakh’s Armenian Christians, and this wording may have short term political gain in the US, but its impact will be open to future debate. This may have some short-term benefit to some Congressional Leaders in some distracts, mostly California, however the effort may be a last ditch one.
Karabakh is universally recognized as Azerbaijani territory, including by Armenia itself, and that is why Baku knows time, international public opinion and law is on its side, as it recovers its territorial integrity. In layman’s language, it seems a day late and dollar short for the ANCA and US politicians to be making a big song and dance over a done deal.
There are two different sides to any story and both are right to varying degrees, all depends on WhoseOx is getting Gored. As the Armenians would present their case, the situation has changed and anything agreed to before was set aside after the Azeri side imposed a 9-month genocidal blockade against Artsakh, then attacked the region, killing hundreds of civilians and displacing several thousand. Artsakh’s Armenian authorities announced on September 20th that they have agreed to a ceasefire to avoid further bloodshed.
To make the best out of a difficult situation for now requires being willing to accept the reality, which was imposed, agreed or otherwise resulted. The situation is what it is, and likely there is no going back in face of the realities and a lack of moral, financial or military support from outside interests, particularly the US, for the Armenians.
Those living in Artsakh, both Armenians and those to be resettled back to their former homes or towns, are just going to have to make the most of it, and learn to live in one country under one flag, as do ethnic populations do in other countries. Nonetheless, there still exist double standards as to territorial integrity, for larger international players. It hoped that these two people in one land will heal their wounds and the model of NK or Artsakh may prove a workable template for others to apply.
The trick will be to withstand the temptation to let outsiders to the conflict, and those who have their own separate agendas, to be too involved, whether in regional capitals or faraway lands. This region has historically been a place where the interests of Empires come to conflict at the expense of those living there.
Nakhchivan Region of Azerbaijan
Perhaps by the end of this year or at the latest next year, the Nakhchivan region will be merging with Azerbaijan, with the help of Turkey, and this may force a larger conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
As for transportation infrastructure, just today there was a statement by the Turkish president that an alternative transport route via Iran could be viable. Azerbaijan has used the route through Iran for decades now. Baku even announced at some point that new infrastructure would be built from the newly-occupied areas of Karabakh to Nakhichevan via Iran.
The only advantage that any “Zangezour Corridor” through Armenia might have is extra control via Azerbaijani forces or some other kind of assurances with the situation on the ground changing so quickly, with and without the Russian presence. Otherwise, the geography of the region easily allows for using Iran as a route.
Change in Orientation
The bottom line is clear, PMs Come and Go; however, it would be difficult to imagine “a wholesale change in the geopolitical orientation in Yerevan, given the strong military, economic, energy, and cultural ties between Armenia and Russia.”
It would be a mistake to assume that there is some kind of co-ordinated pressure campaign online or in Washington. There are two Armenian-American advocacy organizations in the United States. Neither functions at the behest of the government in Yerevan. The Armenian National Committee of America has on numerous occasions been opposed, in fact, to the leadership of the Republic of Armenia.
Armenia wants to sit on two chairs, have the protection of Russia and flirt with the West. But, as they say in Russia, if you chase two hares, you won’t catch either. The West will provide lip service and some short-term stop gap assistance, with short-term emphasis on the provision of humanitarian assistance for those relocating from NK.
That is likely what Powers from USAID* will be working on, besides regime change in at least one neighboring country, and not Azerbaijan proper; keep in mind that the USAID is arriving soon, so Armenians can sleep well tonight.
USAID* will be desperately propping up Pashinyan, and trying to instigate a revolution in Georgia as well.
*-is banned in Russia
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.