While international attention is focused on the war between Russia and Ukraine, Azerbaijan has just carried out a new offensive on the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is mainly populated by Armenians.
A century or so after the beginning of the Armenian genocide, it looks like the Armenians’ calvary is still not over. In November 2020, Armenia and Azerbaijan clashed for several weeks over control of Nagorno-Karabakh, a region on the border between the two countries with a majority Armenian population. This territory—also known as Artsakh—has long been the subject of disputes between Armenia and Azerbaijan. A first war was fought between Armenia and Azerbaijan for the control of this region between 1988 and 1994, with Artsakh declaring itself independent in 1991 after the collapse of the USSR. Hostilities were temporarily suspended by a ceasefire signed in May 1994 under Russian control, but Artsakh’s independence was not recognised by the international community.
Since then, deadly skirmishes have occurred regularly, until open conflict resumed in September 2020. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian declared at that time that Azerbaijan had “declared war” on Armenia and declared “general mobilisation.” The Azerbaijani Ministry of Defence announced the launch of a “counter-offensive on the entire front line” of Karabakh, to “put an end to military activities of Armenia’s armed forces.” The situation escalated as Armenia received support from Russia, while Turkey supported Azerbaijan. A ceasefire was finally reached and signed on November, 10th, 2020 between President Ilham Aliyev of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian of the Republic of Armenia and President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation. A Russian peacekeeping force was dispatched. The ceasefire agreement provoked numerous demonstrations in Armenia because of the territorial gains made to the Azeris, calling for Pashinian’s resignation.
Russia accused Azerbaijan on Saturday, March 26th, of violating the ceasefire agreement with Armenia signed after the 2020 war, moving troops into the area under the control of Russian peacekeepers: “Between the 24th and 25th of March, the armed forces of Azerbaijan violated the trilateral agreement of the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, entering the zone under the responsibility of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh,” the Russian defence ministry said in a statement. Under international diplomatic pressure, Azerbaijan was finally forced to withdraw from the Parukh area, which was invaded in violation of the ceasefire.
This Azeri blitzkrieg followed a series of afflictions imposed on Armenia’s Christian populations over the past several weeks. About a month ago, a gas pipeline supplying a part of Artsakh populated by 110,000 people was damaged and its repair left to the discretion of the Azeri government, which left these populations without hot water and heating for several weeks. Azerbaijan is taking advantage of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and the diversion of the international community’s attention to establish its dominance over the Armenian population. Their latest offensive has specifically targeted villages nominally under the control of Russian peacekeepers, as no Russian response is to be expected in the current context. The government in Baku received encouragement from the Ukrainian Parliament, which then backed down.
The Armenian question is an important symbolic issue in the French presidential campaign, where two candidates—Éric Zemmour and Valérie Pécresse—have visited the country to show support for the Armenian community as a symbol of Western resistance to the Islamic push. The Armenian diaspora has about 600,000 members in France—the largest Armenian community in Europe.