Now that the world’s attention is diverted to Russia’s war with Ukraine, the Azeris and Turks are in the perfect opportunity to test the waters of the Russian brokered ceasefire. There are still Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh — that region that was governed by Armenians until 2020 when Azerbaijan, armed with Turkish Bayraktars, vanquished them — and the Azeris are beginning to pressure these Armenians to leave. There are Russian soldiers (part of a peacekeeping mission) present in Nagorno-Karabakh, but now with the war occurring in Donbas, the Azeris (and by extension, their Turkish patriarchs whom they ethnically identify with) are acting aggressively, testing the limits of the Russians. For example, in early March, Azeri forces were seen encircling Armenian villages and, with loudspeakers, demanding that the Armenian inhabitants leave Nagorno-Karabakh. This was seen in the village of Khramort where the Azeri military declared through a loudspeaker:
“Urgently leave the territory, otherwise we will force you. All responsibility for the casualties will fall on you․ Do not endanger your life and the lives of your loved ones. You are on the territory of Azerbaijan, and all actions are regulated by Azerbaijani law.”
What the Azeris want is not peace, but ethnic cleansing.
Depriving Armenians of natural gas has followed. On March 8th, a critical gas pipeline that was used to bring natural gas to the Armenians was cut off in Nagorno-Karabakh, leaving them without heat for two weeks. The pipeline was then “repaired” but was reportedly cut off again and then restored. The ethnic and religious hatred towards the Armenians was demonstrated in the recent desecration of the St. Harutyun church in Hadrut, which was condemned by Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia:
“These pre-planned actions carried out by the authorities of Azerbaijan, aimed at destroying and desecrating the identity of Armenian religious, historical and cultural monuments in the territories under the control of the Azerbaijani armed forces, are another manifestation of Azerbaijan’s ethnic and religious intolerance and the continuation of the policy of depriving Artsakh of Armenians and the Armenian trace.”
Azerbaijani soldiers then entered the area occupied by Russian peacekeeping forces, forced the evacuation of an Armenian village and even used drone strikes to kill numerous Armenian soldiers. The Russian Defense Ministry reported that the Azeri soldiers left, but both Azeri and Armenian sources denied this, and even the US, France and Russia have all denounced Azerbaijan for its violation of the ceasefire.
Even with the ceasefire, there has still been violence taking place in Nagorno-Karabakh. According to the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Artsakh, in early February “two members of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces were killed on the spot near the village of Khramort in the Askeran region, on the grounds of national, racial or religious hatred or religious fanaticism.” Following this event, “Unidentified gunmen opened fire on three” Armenian employees who were working in a mine in the administrative area of Khramort village, Askeran region.
On February 11th of 2022, shots were fired from Azerbaijani military positions located near the communities of Karmir Shuka and Taghavard in the region of Artsakh’s Martuni, according to Ombudsman of Artsakh Gegham Stepanyan in a statement on social media. Stepanyan observed:
“Given the distance between the settlements and the Azerbaijani positions, and the fact that the residential part of the village is directly observed from the Azerbaijani positions, it is undeniable that the Azerbaijani side has directly targeted the houses of the residents as a result of which residential houses, mainly walls, roofs, have been damaged.
The window of a house of Karmir Shuka resident was smashed during the same operations which are aimed at threatening civilians, and the bullet penetrated into the living room of the house”
“I reaffirm the claim that the criminal acts of Azerbaijan are of regular and systematic nature, aimed at creating an atmosphere of fear in Artsakh.
Azerbaijan will continue its criminal attempts against the people of Artsakh as long as the international community has not condemned unanimously the open Azerbaijani illegal acts against humanity”, he added.
The Azeris have found a loophole in the ceasefire to try to justify their actions. Article 4 of the ceasefire declaration calls for the withdrawal of Armenian soldiers. Three thousand Armenians reportedly left Nagorno-Karabakh, but local ethnic Armenian soldiers did not, giving the Azeris an avenue for their aggression. While Baku sees these self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Defense soldiers as illegal, the local Armenian population sees them as necessary for security from violence by Azerbaijani soldiers. But now, with the local defense not allowed in the region, the only thing standing between the local Armenians and the Azeri soldiers are the Russian peacekeepers. There are nearly two thousand Russian soldiers in Nagorno-Karabakh (and also around two thousand Russian support staff), and Baku sees this foreign presence as temporary, as there is an expectation that these troops will be sent to fight in Ukraine. The importance of Russian peacekeepers for the security of the Armenians is obvious. For example,on the 15th of February, 2022, Azerbaijani servicemen opened fire in the direction of Armenian farmers near Khramort. While a tractor was damaged, the civilians were saved thanks to the intervention of the Russian peacekeepers, according to the Prosecutor’s Office of Artsakh.
With such recent events, it is obvious that whatever relative peace is ongoing in Nagorno-Karabakh, it will not last long. Violence will resume in the region, and it will most definitely escalate tensions between Russia and Turkey. Such conflict will carry with it a resuming of where the Ottomans left off in the genocide of the Armenian people.