Tag Archives: artsakh

Is Nagorno-Karabakh Caught in a New War?

Eric Grigorian photo for Hetq Online
Eric Grigorian photo for Hetq Online

A new armed struggle to maintain the integrity of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic began in the early hours of April 2. Azerbaijan has admitted that it launched an all out attack long the line of contact with Nagorno-Karabakh, although Baku has subsequently denied that.

Many of us following the events during the last few days have been frustrated by the lack of information from the front lines. Often the same news was reported for eight hours or more on Facebook and Twitter feeds by users based in the region, most notably the supposed ceasefire initiated by Azerbaijan that proved to be disinformation. Official statements from the Nagorno-Karabakh government reveal the number of soldiers dead as well as the amount of destroyed military equipment. Until late April 3 few professional photographs taken along the line of contact were circulating in the press. Amateur as well as some professional video footage taken from a distance was also posted on various news sites.

As of this writing on April 4, this is what we know:

  • Contrary to earlier reports Azerbaijan has demonstrated that it has no intentions to initiate a ceasefire. The Nagorno-Karabakh defense ministry reported that massive shelling along the line of contact is continuing. In northern Karabakh Azeri forces are reportedly retreating and vital strategic positions have been recaptured by the Nagorno-Karabakh military.
  • Azerbaijan is continuing its offensive with “mortar and grenade attacks” all along the frontlines with the southeastern and northeastern points taking the brunt of the assault. Other equipment used in the assault include 152 mm cannons, Grad missiles and tanks.
  • The town of Martakert in the northern part of Nagorno-Karabakh, which resides virtually on the line of contact with Azerbaijan, was severely shelled throughout the day on April 2.
  • Nagorno-Karabakh forces have reportedly destroyed a total of 4 drones, two helicopters, 21 tanks (estimated) and multiple armed vehicles. Nagorno-Karabakh has reportedly lost one tank and three military trucks.
  • On April 3 Karabagh officially claimed six wounded, including two children, and four dead civilians, including one child. Hetq Online reported that in Martakert Azeri soldiers killed an elderly couple in their own home and cut off their ears. It is not clear whether that couple was factored in the official number of deaths. Official numbers on April 2 were 18 soldiers killed and 35 wounded, according to Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan. As of this writing there are no new reports of casualties.
  • Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has promised Turkey’s full support of Azerbaijan in the conflict “to the end.”
  • US Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA), Brad Sherman (D-CA), Robert Dold (R-IL) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ) have condemned Azerbaijan’s aggression in official statements. The Organization of American States (OAS) has also condemned Azerbaijan.
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is purportedly working on a new plan to cease the hostilities. The Co-chairs of OSCE Minsk Group is due to meet today—we can expect a statement from them by the evening or on Tuesday.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of updates.

Let’s be clear: this is a new conflict. This fighting is not a violation of the 1994 ceasefire brokered by Russia; it demands a new legally binding agreement to end the hostilities. And although there have been skirmishes along the line of contact over the last 20 years, with even micro-battles being waged on occasion, there has been relative peace between the Nagorno-Karakakh Republic and Azerbaijan. This is essentially a new war—if we can indeed call it that only three days in. The Azeri offensive should not be seen as a “frozen conflict” suddenly thawed overnight.

I have not seen an official declaration of war from either side. The Nagorno-Karabakh forces have been on the defense by holding the line and reclaiming posts that had been taken by the Azerbaijani army “blitzkrieg,” as it’s been described by the Armenian press, of April 2.

For two days I refrained from writing about these clashes. Although I don’t think I’m alone in having expected a new conflict to erupt, the sudden events of the weekend have certainly been surreal given the relatively peaceful situation of the last 20 years.

When Being ‘Politically Correct’ About Karabakh Backfires

Sarsang Reservoir in Drmbon, Nagorno-Karabakh
Sarsang Reservoir in Drmbon, Nagorno-Karabakh

This morning I read an interesting, although lackluster, article supposedly about tourism in Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) that was published by AFP on July 21, written by Mariam Hartutyunyan. There are some questionable, even disappointing points made in the article that I thought should be addressed. Below are quotes from the article and my responses.

“Seized from Azerbaijan by Armenian-backed separatists in a brutal war that claimed an estimated 30,000 lives as the Soviet Union disintegrated in the early 1990s, Nagorny Karabakh remains frozen between war and peace.”

Although Azerbaijan declared independence from the Soviet Union on October 18, 1991, only seven weeks passed before Nagorno-Karabakh itself in a referendum, with the disapproval of the Azeri minority, chose a path of complete sovereignty. This was an extremely volatile time as anyone who reads history knows. I also disagree with the phrase “Armenian-backed separatists,” since the Armenian side in the conflict did indeed comprise an organized army with separate regimens, although volunteer soldiers took part in the defense struggle. And nothing was “seized,” the control of lands shifted due to war and the demand for self-governance. I also have a problem with “Nagorny Karabakh remains frozen between war and peace,” as it is quite clear that nothing but peace prevails throughout Karabakh, although there are skirmishes along the line of contact between Azerbaijan and Armenia (Karabakh itself by and large is protected by a buffer zone). It is the peace process itself that remains frozen. So the terminology is a bit dubious despite the attempt in maintaining objectivity.

“Nagorny Karabakh is still recognised as part of Azerbaijan by the United Nations, but its population is almost completely ethnic Armenian after the Azerbaijani community fled in the wake of the war.”

What other ethic populations are there in Nagorno-Karabakh today? The statement “almost completely ethnic Armenian” is a bit strange. Unless the reporter can provide evidence that proves otherwise, which she doesn’t, it’s likely an assumption. Has she traveled to places where Greeks, Assyrians, and Kurds continue to live, for instance? It would be revealing to know if they’re still there.

“Soldiers along the heavily fortified frontline exchange gunfire almost daily, with both sides blaming each other for violating the ceasefire. So far this year some 20 soldiers from both sides have been killed.”

Again, this is occurring along the border between the Republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan. There is also no clear evidence reported that gunfire is exchanged “almost daily.” That does not mean I am suggesting it happens infrequently.

“In fact, it is impossible to escape the grim reminders of the region’s brutal conflict, which often saw neighbour turn on neighbour and the entire 600,000-strong Azerbaijani population of Nagorny Karabakh and seven surrounding districts forced to flee.”

Unless I am mistaken, there have never been more than 200,000 people living in Nagorno-Karabakh with the overwhelming majority of the population having been ethnically Armenian. That would mean that more than 400,000 Azeris lived in what is largely a mountainous, inaccessible territory of “seven surrounding districts”–based on what I have seen with my own eyes–with the exception of Agdam (she claims 50,000 Azeris lived there) and some territory to its east. This number seems unlikely and probably hard to prove, but the damage is done. She does not cite a Soviet-era census source to back her claim, which is essential in professional journalism, especially in such a volatile discussion where complete objectivity is obviously difficult to maintain. The “grim reminders” she alludes to unfortunately are quite blatant in Shushi and Agdam.

“But for those willing to risk the journey, tour operators argue that there is plenty to attract tourists to Nagorny Karabakh–a spectacular highland area of rugged mountains and thickly forested hills.”

There is nothing risky or frightening about traveling through the Lachin corridor (unless someone drives too fast along the serpentine road). It is completely protected by Armenian forces. And there are no imminent dangers in traveling throughout Karabakh, either (with the exception of the minefields along the border, of course). The reporter must have realized this as she traveled to and around the region. “Take the long journey” rather than “risk the journey” would have been more appropriate. And why do tour operators “argue” that tourists have good reason to visit the area? “Believe,” “insist,” “are convinced” are better alternatives.

“Despite the region’s uncertain future, tourists like Andrey Hoynowski from Poland say they will be recommending a visit to their friends back home and that the added attention might even help Karabakh move on.

Karabakh has clearly moved on, it does not need “help” in doing so. The reporter herself alluded to this fact in other parts of her article. The problem is that the world community has not by failing to accept Nagorno-Karabakh’s legitimacy as a sovereign nation even 18 years since the ceasefire was declared. Peace is maintained in Artsakh by the will of the Armenian people living there, and so does its obvious determination to progress and grow economically.

The people of Nagorno-Karabakh are some of the most self-confident, secure individuals I have ever met anywhere. I will go so far as to say that I have not encountered another society where insecurities are virtually invisible on faces and demonstrated body language. This is quite evident when you stroll down the streets of Stepanakert and see how people interact with one another. And when you converse with people, you will find only resilience and determination in their voice. They as proud citizens of their nation, “self-proclaimed” in the eyes of the world, are cultured, mature and inspirational figures. Moving on is not a matter of aspiration, it is indeed an unwavering, luminous reality and has been for two decades.

So it’s a disheartening article, especially coming from an Armenian journalist. The terminology was arguably subjective against Armenia in some of the parts I mentioned, which is a real shame. Even the headline reeks of negativity. Karabakh deserves much better publicity than this, especially 18 years after the ceasefire. The tone of the article seems to suggest it happened only yesterday, with people struggling to find their place in the world. Nothing can be farther from the truth.