Opinion| The Truth about the Ethnic Cleansing of Armenians from Nagorno Karabakh by Azerbaijan

Hrachya Poladyan
11 Min Read

On September 19, 2023 Azerbaijan launched a full-scale military offensive against the people of Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh) aimed at ethnically cleansing the region from its indigenous Armenian population and, in presence of Russian peacekeepers, managed to fulfill it. Within several hours Nagorno Karabakh became a ghost region, with over 99.9 percent of its population being forced to flee.

As a result of September 19 military attack and aggression against the Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh more than 100,000 Armenians forced to flee the land they have lived in for over 2000 years after 10 months of siege and starvation. Only a few dozen of Armenians remained in Nagorno Karabakh under Azeri rule, among them elderly and handicapped people that were not able to leave their homes.  The confirmed death toll of the aggression exceeds 220, the majority of them being civilians. 

What Azerbaijani government did in Nagorno Karabakh is a vivid example of ethnic cleansing with genocidal features, at the very least, and Baku had long prepared for it. Though Azerbaijan continuously claims that it targeted only military objects, however a lot of residential-civilian buildings and houses were deliberately targeted, damaged and destroyed. 

In the period after the Trilateral Statement on Ceasefire, signed by the leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the Russian Federation on November 9, 2020, the Azerbaijani side has repeatedly grossly violated the provisions of the Statement, resorting to military escalation, disrupting the normal life and activity of the civilian population of Artsakh, initiating physical and psychological attacks and violence against the population.

Furthermore, starting from December 12, 2022, in violation of the 6th point of November 9 statement, Azerbaijan blocked Lachin Corridor physically obstructing the land route connecting Nagorno Karabakh to Armenia and the rest of the world, leaving its entire population, more than 100,000 people in a state of total isolation, depriving them from vital food and medical supplies. 

Along with the 10-month blockade of the Lachin Corridor, Azerbaijan has also deliberately disrupted the operation of the critical infrastructure of Nagorno Karabakh (natural gas supply, electricity supply, Internet and mobile communication) with the aim to further aggravate the already dire humanitarian crisis and cause excessive human sufferings to the Nagorno Karabakh people making their life in their homeland as harsh as possible. 

Thus, it is obvious that the lasted blockade of Nagorno Karabakh and disruption of vital infrastructure by Azerbaijan, as well as the regular and consistent armed attacks, was aimed at subjecting Nagorno Karabakh to ethnic cleansing through physical and psychological intimidation, which was completed on September 19-20 by the use of military force. Stepanakert and almost all other cities and settlements in Nagorno-Karabakh have come under massive and targeted attack of the Azerbaijani armed forces using mostly Israeli made missiles, heavy artillery, combat UAVs and aviation, including prohibited cluster munition, in serious violation of international law. This aggression is undertaken with the serious violations of international humanitarian law, including deliberate targeting of civilians, shelling of unprotected settlements, and civilian infrastructure, including schools, during the daytime. The attack was preceded by disseminating false information including by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan about mining and sabotage activities, which indicates the planning of the attack and the preparation of the information field. The Armenian Government has repeatedly stated the armed forces and military equipment of the Republic of Armenia are not deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh, all the claims about mining and sabotage operations are false and fabricated. Armenia has withdrawn all of its forces according to trilateral statement of 9 November 2020. The official Baku presents these cynical narratives only to justify its genocidal policy.  

It is obvious that the continuous aggressive actions of Azerbaijan against Nagorno-Karabakh, the unconcealed warmongering rhetoric, the absolutely false and reprehensible propaganda of calling the population and Defense Forces of Nagorno-Karabakh “terrorists”, as well as the illegal blockade of the Lachin Corridor, the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, pursued one goal: to subject the population of Nagorno-Karabakh to ethnic cleansing through the use of force and deprive the population of Nagorno-Karabakh from the right to live freely and in dignity in their own homeland. 

Now Baku is calling on Armenian residents of the territory to stay and “reintegrate” into Azerbaijan, saying their rights would be upheld, but Armenians do not want to live as part of Azerbaijan for fear of continuous persecution and ethnic cleansing, that already happened. The Azerbaijani mass media is busy spreading “scenes” claiming that there are Armenians who want to be integrated in Azerbaijan. It is clearly a propaganda of Azerbaijani authorities trying to get rid of the status of a country that committed ethnic cleansing. It is pretty cynical, indeed, to force over 100 thousand Armenians out of their homeland and then to simulate integration of a couple of dozens (not more than 50 people), especially if “integration” in Baku’s terms means forced assimilation.

International community has strongly condemned Azerbaijan’s military aggression and many of them have rightfully described Baku’s actions as an act of ethnic cleansing.

On October 5, for instance, the European Parliament stated that the current situation with Armenians fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh amounts to ethnic cleansing, calling on the European Council to adopt targeted sanctions against Azerbaijani government officials responsible for ceasefire violations and human rights abuses in Nagorno-Karabakh 

H.E. Ms. Catherine Colonna, the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of France, reflecting on the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh stated that it is indeed an ethnic cleansing clarifying that “People are forced to leave the land of their ancestors, forced to leave it after the last hostilities, or under the threat of new hostilities. It is not a voluntary departure.”

For years Azerbaijan has tried to give a religious context to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Azerbaijani officials often claim that Armenians keep pigs inside mosques and have destroyed the mosques of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is, of course another lie and propaganda of Azerbaijan. It is a well-known fact that the Soviet Union had an atheist ideology. More than 1,500 mosques were destroyed in Azerbaijan during the USSR, and the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh are not responsible for the policy of the Soviet Union. During the Soviet era thousands of churches, including Armenian ones, were also destroyed by the communists throughout the Union. It is an absolute lie as well that Armenians kept pigs in the Muslim shrine. As a matter of fact, Armenians have restored the Yukhari Govhar Agha Mosque in Shushi. Moreover, there is the Blue Mosque in Yerevan that was built in the 1700s is standing and operating today. 

On the other hand, Azerbaijan has great experience in eliminating Armenian sanctuaries and destroying any Armenian historic and cultural trace in the lands under their control. A vivid example of that is the destruction by Azerbaijan of tens of thousands of UNESCO-protected ancient stone carvings, Khachkars (Cross Stones) of Julfa, in Nakhijevan, in 1997-2006. It was a large-scale cultural massacre organized at the state level, as a result of which 28 thousand cultural objects were completely destroyed, 89 of which were medieval churches and about 6 thousand were medieval khachkars.  The deliberate targeting and destruction of hundreds of Armenian churches, cemeteries and shrines in Nagorno Karabakh during and after the recent aggressions are other examples of such policy of Azerbaijan, which are proved by numerous evidences disseminated by Azerbaijanis themselves. After the September 19 military attack and fleeing of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, the Azerbaijani armed forces destroyed the cross placed near Stepanakert and made attempts to distort the identity of Gandzasar, one of the most famous medieval Armenian monasteries. The mentioned steps once again demonstrate Azerbaijan’s intention to destroy any Armenian traces in Nagorno-Karabakh.

It is worth mentioning, that the Azerbaijani authorities, which are “very concerned” about the mosques in Nagorno Karabakh, have not expressed any concern or criticism of the mosques and Islamic sanctuaries that are being attacked and damaged in different European and Middle Eastern countries. 

The abovementioned anti-Armenian propaganda of Azerbaijan, which they try to implement also here, in Egypt, is clearly aimed at discrediting Armenians in the eyes of their Muslim and Arab friends. However, we are hopeful that the Egyptian people who know Armenians well and have lived with them for centuries, would not believe it. It is well known that Armenians, who have lived in Egypt and other Arab and Islamic countries for a very long time, have played a tangible role in the construction of mosques and other Islamic cultural sites. Even today, there are standing walls or gates in Cairo, constructed by Armenian engineers. Anyway, the fact that the Azerbaijani side is trying to spread hatred towards Armenia and Armenians in the land of Egypt, a friendly country and nation for us, is quite concerning and poses a serious threat for the centuries-old Armenian community of Egypt, and might as well have negative impact on the overall harmony and stability of the Egyptian society. 

Hrachya Poladyan  is the Ambassador of Armenia to Egypt

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