Azerbaijan’s military operation in Karabakh –Situation update as of 28/09/23.

The files we follow: Karabakh Conflict Resolution Process, Humanitarian and Security Update in Karabakh and the Lachin Corridor, Abkhazia and South Ossetia / Georgia Conflict, Georgia – EU/ US/Russia/Ukraine Relations and Georgian Domestic Policy, South Caucasian energy, trade and transport issues, Human Rights in South Caucasus, Various foreign policies Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia.

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65,036 people. This is the figure announced by the Armenian government on 28 September at 8 a.m. regarding the number of people who crossed the border into Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh! Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian even predicted in the Cabinet of Ministers that “all Armenians [would leave] Nagorno-Karabakh in the near future” denouncing “a direct act of disarmenianisation and deprivation of homeland” and “ethnic cleansing”.

Two hours later, the “president of Nagorno-Karabakh”, Samvel Shahramanian, signed the decree deciding to “dissolve all state institutions and organizations subordinate to them until 1 January 2024, the date on which the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) will cease to exist” and providing that “the population of Nagorno-Karabakh, including those located outside the Republic, after the entry into force of this decree, will familiarise themselves with the conditions of reintegration presented by the Republic of Azerbaijan, in order to make an independent and individual decision in the future on the possibility of staying (returning) to Nagorno-Karabakh”.

David Babayan, “adviser to the President of Nagorno-Karabakh” and former “Minister of Foreign Affairs” announced, in the morning, that he was going to Shusha from Stepanakert/Khankendi because “the Azerbaijani side demanded [his] arrival in Baku for a proper investigation”. The day before it was Ruben Vardanian, former “minister of state”, who was arrested at the Armenian border by the Baku authorities before being charged, as reported by the state security services, for “financing the terrorism”, “participation in the creation and operation of unplanned armed formations or groups” and “illegal crossing of the border of the Republic of Azerbaijan”. The Armenian government appealed to the ECHR on this subject.

The Azerbaijani Ministry of Health reported on 27 September the number of Azerbaijani victims of its anti-terrorist operation: 180 soldiers, 12 police officers and 1 civilian dead, 511 soldiers and 1 civilian injured. While on 26 September, Arman Tatoyan, former mediator of Armenia, reported the death toll of civilians on the Armenian side during the operation: “18 civilians, including 6 children, as well as women and elderly people.” The results of military equipment seized by Azerbaijani forces have been published by the Ministry of Defence.

At the same time, the humanitarian aid now provided by the Azerbaijani state to the inhabitants of the enclave continues, with the presidential administration announcing on 28 September a new delivery of a “vehicle with 32 tons of gasoline […] to meet the needs kindergartens, emergency medical services and firefighters in oxidizing and lubricating materials“, after the 2 vehicles with 38 tonnes of gasoline and 16 tonnes of diesel supplied on 26 September or the 30 tonnes of gasoline and 34 tons of diesel mentioned on the same day, the 15 special fire-fighting vehicles, fire brigades, medical equipment and other assistance devices following the explosion which occurred on 25 September in a fuel warehouse near the Stepanakert – Askeran highway which left 290 injured and around twenty dead. Hikmet Hadjiyev published via X an assessment of the aid provided to the enclave between 22 and 26 September.

ECHO announced 5 million in humanitarian aid for the displaced people of Nagorno-Karabakh, the United States 1 million $ via USAID and 10.5 million $ via the State Department and France 7 million . The Russian Foreign Ministry reported “large-scale humanitarian supportincluding the delivery of 125 tons of humanitarian aid and 65 tons of fuel on 25 and 26 September.

Furthermore, a meeting took place on 27 September between Ilham Aliev and Samantha Power, USAID Administrator, accompanied by Yuri Kim, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, and Louis Bono, Senior Advisor for Negotiations in the Caucasus. The Azerbaijani president’s commitment to “protecting the rights and security of ethnic Armenians” was noted while USAID requested two specific measures to this end: namely, unhindered humanitarian access to Nagorno-Karabakh and the deployment of international observers on the ground in Nagorno-Karabakh. Proposal refused the same day by Hikmet Hadjiyev, foreign policy advisor to the Azerbaijani presidency in these terms: “we are currently in contact with our UN counterparts in Baku, who are accredited for the entire territory of Azerbaijan , and some of their representatives, during a meeting of experts at the national level, can also have access to it […] but we do not see the need for any international observation mission because the realities on the terrain are obvious, Azerbaijan has nothing to hide”. The day before, the website of the Azerbaijani presidency already expressed this position following Ilham Aliev’s discussion with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in these terms: “the Azerbaijani side is ready to organize a visit to the office of the United Nations Resident Coordinator accredited to our country in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan in the near future”.

France’s position on the situation summarized by the statements of Catherine Colonna, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs in the National Assembly: “the military operation initiated by Azerbaijan a few days ago is unjustifiable and unacceptable. France condemned it and condemned it again during a meeting at the Security Council a few days ago, requested and obtained by our country […] The discussions between Baku and Stepanakert must be held under the auspices of the international community, we also ask for it”.

A meeting chaired by European Council President Charles Michel took place on 26 September bringing together Armenian Security Council Secretary Armen Grigorian and the Azerbaijani President’s foreign policy advisor Hikmet Hadjiyev as well as Emmanuel Bonne and Jens Ploetner, respective advisors to the French and German leaders , as well as Toivo Klaar, the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus. A future meeting on the occasion of the next EPC Summit in Grenada on 5 October was mentioned while the EU insisted on the need for “transparency and access for international actors in humanitarian aid and human rights, as well as more details on Baku’s vision for the future of Karabakh Armenians in Azerbaijan”.

The day before, Monday 25 September, a new meeting took place in Khojali at the headquarters of the Russian peacekeeping army contingent (following the first post-Azerbaijani military operation meeting which took place on 21 September in Yevlakh and then the one of 22 September in Shusha between Samvel Shahramanian and Ali Naghiyev), between Ramin Mammadov, representative of Azerbaijan for contacts with Armenian residents living in the Karabakh region, and representatives of Armenian residents of Karabakh: Davit Melkumyan, then member of the “Democratic Party of Artsakh” and “member of the permanent committee on foreign relations of the National Assembly of Artsakh” and Sergey Martirosyan, then “secretary of the Security Council of Artsakh”.

2.5 hour meeting which addressed the following questions:

– procedure for access to care for single or elderly people and cooperation with the Red Cross

– organization of a meeting of a working group with the Deputy Prime Minister of Azerbaijan on the solution of social, humanitarian, economic and infrastructure problems

– joint organization of a health service by Azerbaijani and Armenian medical personnel

– joint organization of a food supply service by Azerbaijani and Armenian military personnel

– creation of mobile medical teams composed of Azerbaijani and Armenian workers accessing isolated villages

– organization of visits by representatives of civil society and social activists of Armenian origin

– creation of a platform for dialogue with civil society.

By way of conclusion, it seems that the dismantling of the self-proclaimed institutions of “Nagorno-Karabakh” marks the beginning of the end of a territorial conflict which lasted 35 years. But under several conditions that can guarantee a lasting peace which still remains fragile:

– the effectiveness of the dialogue between the Azerbaijani State and the representatives of the Armenian minority of Azerbaijan and the resulting measures.

– the absence of additional territorial claims on the part of Azerbaijan, the rapid demarcation of the borders between the two countries and its official registration at the international level.

– the establishment by Armenia of transport routes between Nakhichevan and the rest of Azerbaijan, and consequently Armenian integration into the ongoing process of economic and commercial opening up of the region, in good understanding with all its neighbours.

– foreign non-interference, particularly from former supporters of the status quo and members of the former Minsk group: Russia, the United States and France.

There is no ethnic cleansing in Karabakh. People currently taking refuge in Armenia are simply choosing to refuse Azerbaijani nationality. And their return to Karabakh is not yet excluded by the Azerbaijani state. The violence exerted on the Armenian minority of Azerbaijan (the ethnic Armenian residents of Karabakh) is that of national assimilation: it is, until proven otherwise, not driven by a desire for destruction or of annihilation. The challenge of the current dialogue is the acceptance by these inhabitants that one can be ethnically Armenian and Azerbaijani by nationality. And that if they want to be ethnically Armenian and Armenian by nationality, this can only happen on the sovereign territory of Armenia.

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