AFTER more than three decades of stalemate, the bloody conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh may be headed for a conclusion. Part of the ‘frozen conflicts’ that emerged after the fall of the Soviet Union, the dispute has, over the years, cost tens of thousands of lives, and resulted in large populations being uprooted. At the centre of the dispute is the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is located within Azerbaijan but has an Armenian majority. Up until a few weeks ago, it was ruled by separatists who rejected Baku’s sovereignty. While both Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought numerous wars over the region after the fall of the USSR, Baku’s forces handed the separatists a decisive defeat in a short operation last month. Nagorno-Karabakh’s separatists have called it a day and vowed to wind up their unrecognised administration. But the Azerbaijani victory has sent thousands of the region’s ethnic Armenian residents fleeing to join their kinsmen in Armenia, apparently fearing reprisals from Azerbaijan. The WHO says over 100,000 people have fled Nagorno-Karabakh.
It is hoped that the latest developments spell a permanent end to bloodshed in this volatile region, and that ethno-nationalist hatreds give way to an atmosphere of tolerance and tranquillity. It will not be easy given that the Armenians and Azeris have had historically tense relations. Nevertheless, the administrations in Yerevan and Baku must put aside their past enmity and try to forge a new path to peace. Particularly, Armenian residents of Nagorno-Karabakh must not be subjected to persecution or ethnic profiling, and those who have fled to Armenia should be allowed to return to their homes unhindered. Azerbaijani authorities have promised “sustainable reintegration” of Karabakh Armenians in society, which should be supported by confidence-building measures to assure the refugees that they will be safe. The Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders are due to meet soon; hopefully the framework of a permanent peace deal can emerge from this meeting.
Published in Dawn, October 4th, 2023