Fearing Ethnic Cleansing, 90,000 Armenians Flee Nagorno-Karabakh After Azerbaijan Military Blitz
Written by GRB on 30/09/2023
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Nagorno-Karabakh, where the president of the self-declared republic at the center of a decades-long dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia announced this week the government will dissolve itself by January 1st. This comes just days after Azerbaijan carried out a military blitz to seize the territory, which is mostly made up of ethnic Armenians, after a 35-year fight for political autonomy. Hundreds were killed in the attack. Now Armenian officials report more than half of Nagorno-Karabakh’s 120,000 residents have fled to Armenia. Thousands remain without food, shelter and clean sources of drinking water. This is one of the refugees speaking from Goris, Armenia.
ALPINE MOVSYAN: [translated] We don’t know what happens to us next. We don’t know what the government has in store for us. There is not a single chance to go back. If there were chances, we would not leave in the first place. It is very dangerous there.
AMY GOODMAN: In response to the worsening crisis, Samantha Power, head of USAID, said the U.S. would provide $11.5 million in aid, and urged Azerbaijan to facilitate access to humanitarian workers. Armenia has warned of an ethnic cleansing campaign in the contested region.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Azerbaijan arrested the former head of the Nagorno-Karabakh government as he was trying to cross into Armenia.
For more, we’re joined by Roubina Margossian, managing editor with EVN Report, an independent media outlet based in Armenia. She reported from Nagorno-Karabakh during the 2020 war. She’s joining us from Yerevan, Armenia’s capital.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Roubina. Can you talk about exactly what’s happening, and for a global audience, to explain the historical context, as well?
ROUBINA MARGOSSIAN: Well, that’s a big question. That’s a question that goes back so long and [inaudible]. But let me start with what’s happening today.
Blatantly, this is ethnic cleansing. Just if we listen to the numbers of — see the numbers of people leaving Nagorno-Karabakh, their homeland, their centuries-old homeland, it was 78,000 people last night at 10 p.m.; at 10:00 a.m., 88,000 people have left, so 10,000 in 12 hours. These are people who are just leaving everything behind, getting out in any means possible, even in cars that are not functional.
“Why is this happening?” is basically the question that we’re going to try to answer, but there’s no one and short answer. This is, however, happening after 10 months of these people being starving, being in a blockade, being threatened, their lives constantly under threat. This is happening after they’ve been held hostage by Azerbaijan, and all of a sudden they’re told they can leave or reintegrate into Azerbaijan — this is like the Azerbaijani formal term, “reintegrate” — after being attacked. And on the 19th of September, Azerbaijan, as you called it, organized a blitz attack, calling it an “anti-terrorist measure,” which very much sounds like Russia’s “special operation” in Ukraine. So, after Azerbaijan’s special operation in Nagorno-Karabakh, you know, hundreds of civilians died.
And now these people have no option whether to — they have no options. If they want to survive, they have to leave. And they are leaving. And the assumption is, after a couple of days, there will be not a single Armenian left in Artsakh. Whoever is left will probably be arrested, as we saw with Ruben Vardanyan’s case. He was arrested upon — at the checkpoint and Lachin corridor. Reuters has reported that Azerbaijan has extensive blacklists of people they’re willing to, they want — looking for, they want to arrest. What charges, no one really is sure of, made-up charges. So this is the situation right now on the ground. People are fleeing for their lives because, time and again, they know there is no surviving Azerbaijan.
As for historically, well —
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me ask you — let me first ask you about the significance of the head of Nagorno-Karabakh saying that the area will — that Nagorno-Karabakh, as it’s known now, will cease to exist by the end of the year, and the fact that he’s been arrested trying to get into Armenia.
ROUBINA MARGOSSIAN: Well, we don’t know that he himself has been arrested. There is not a confirmed — that’s not confirmed, as we actually do not have news of — from Stepanakert altogether. The very few independent journalists that were left there reporting on the situation have already left. So, effectively, we have no communication with Nagorno-Karabakh. Those who are still there, some officials, that we have no news about. We don’t know if they’re there, if they’ve managed to get out. We are not hearing from them. And nothing is confirmed at this point.
As for — your question was with the government being dissolved? Is that the question?
AMY GOODMAN: Yes.
ROUBINA MARGOSSIAN: Well, they have until January 1st to do this. But this is not so much about whether or not a republic that no one recognized is still going to exist or not, whether or not those institutions that for over 32 years people have built, and whether or not a democracy that could have been and was and — well, a more established democracy than Azerbaijan. And this is not just me saying this; it’s every human rights report ever saying that even elections in Nagorno-Karabakh were more free and fair than elections have ever been in Azerbaijan.
So it’s basically this democracy dying, if you want kind of an explanation of what’s happening, under why Nagorno-Karabakh was never recognized by anyone. And if it ceases to exist, that means technically nothing other than a humanitarian disaster, the death of a possible democracy — of a democracy, a happening democracy, and also just a human rights failure all over the place, from any perspective, from a perspective of contemporary human rights and from a historical perspective. This is a humanitarian failure.
AMY GOODMAN: So, over the weekend, Armenia asked the United Nations for help monitoring the rights of ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, arguing they face the prospect of ethnic cleansing. Armenia’s prime minister said he needed guarantees from Azerbaijan that citizens — that civilians would be protected. This is what was said.
PRIME MINISTER NIKOL PASHINYAN: [translated] Unless real living conditions are created for the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh in their homes and effective mechanisms of protection from ethnic cleansing, then the likelihood that the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh will see exile from their homeland as the only way to preserve their lives and identity increases significantly.
AMY GOODMAN: So, is that happening? And, Roubina, you are just back from Goris, where many refugees are coming. Describe what you found.
ROUBINA MARGOSSIAN: It has happened. It’s almost done happening. And it’s not just last week that Armenia was warning about this. Armenia has been warning about this for years. And at least for 10 months, this is said. We had three U.N. Security Council sessions. But as we know and as like the whole situation has demonstrated, by acting like this, Azerbaijan has effectively demonstrated that at the highest platforms of humanitarian law, the highest platforms of the world, the foreign ministries of dozens and dozens of countries, their words mean nothing. Their resolutions will amount to not much. They basically are — Azerbaijan has demonstrated with what has happening right now that these platforms, these countries even, their foreign ministries are bankrupt, and especially anything they say is null and void of any effect. And I would say this is great news for any perpetrator regime in the world, and which we see happening all over the place. This is the victory of a dictatorship over democracy. And this is a dictatorship that has already also targeted Armenia.
What is happening now on the border, what was happening in Goris, these are people — people passed a two-hour — less than two-hour drive in 36 hours. These are people who just came with whatever they had, whatever they could pack, in whatever means they could. These are people who were just like crammed in the back of pickup trucks, in the back of trucks that are used for cattle, just to make it. They set on a corridor under enemy supervision for 36 hours with no communication.
Now they’re arriving in Armenia. What’s the situation here? They have no — the government is there. There’s like several humanitarian access points where they’re given all the help and they’re given direction as to where to go. They’re given directions as to how to get lodging, where. And they’re promised also kind of a livelihood and, effectively, jobs eventually. But these people — Amy, what I can tell you — are terrified. They just survived. And I would, like, not call them anything else than genocide survivors. And this is a very heavy word for any Armenian to use.
And now they’re being asked, “Well, where do you want to live?” And they say, “Nowhere on the border, because we cannot face the same enemy over and over again.” And as you know, Armenia, basically, most of its borders are with Azerbaijan and Turkey village, like stretches and stretches. There’s no place in Armenia, technically speaking, that is not a border. If you’re sitting in Yerevan and you’re looking at Mount Ararat, that’s Turkey. And if people are saying that “We do not want to go to any border communities, because we just can’t bear,” and there’s like — it’s just any other humanitarian disaster. And I was listening to your introduction. The world is full of them. The world has failed just over and over again in this respect.
And yes, Samantha Power was here, and the U.S. promised $11.5 million in assistance. And I don’t understand this term “humanitarian access.” To where? To a place where there are no longer people? To a place where, as Aliyev announced today, already kind of 2,300 Azerbaijanis have moved into the homes that are still probably warm from the Armenians that were there? And, you know, this is one kind of disaster the world can easily forgive itself for its failures, because if people are coming to Armenia as Armenian citizens, as Armenians, they will not be knocking on European doors. They will not be camped anywhere. They will be living with their own, and it will not be a sore sight for the world to see for decades. So it will not be like Shatila, like in Lebanon, with the Palestinians.
AMY GOODMAN: Roubina?
ROUBINA MARGOSSIAN: So, this — yes?
AMY GOODMAN: You see this — you’ve said you see this as a proxy war, with Turkey and Israel on one side. And Turkey and Israel are — explain the role of Turkey, Israel, Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
ROUBINA MARGOSSIAN: Well, it’s pretty clear, actually. This is [inaudible] Israel. Israel has been kind of a military partner for Azerbaijan, even before this latest. Before September 19, when the attack started on Nagorno-Karabakh, we saw — we were reporting about the increased fights from Israel with military equipment coming, with more, you know, controlization on the borders. And this is coming from Israel. The same thing had happened in 2021. The amount of flights from Israel to Azerbaijan were really indescribable.
As for Turkey, Turkey — well, there’s not much to say. It’s as they call themselves, you know, one nation, two countries. Turkey, blatantly a partner for Azerbaijan, Turkey always seems very vocal about its support for Azerbaijan. Turkey is also very vocal about its support. Turkey coordinated its normalization process with Armenia to Azerbaijan. So there was —
AMY GOODMAN: So you have Turkey and Israel —
ROUBINA MARGOSSIAN: — kind of like [inaudible] right there.
AMY GOODMAN: You have Turkey and Israel supporting Azerbaijan, and Russia has a mutual defense pact with Armenia. Where do you see this going? What do you think would lead to a lasting and just negotiated peace, Roubina, in this last minute we have?
ROUBINA MARGOSSIAN: I think the negotiated — just negotiated peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan, if you ask the question, well, the Karabakh conflict was a big part of this negotiation piece, which is like constantly being dragged into the peace discussions. Well, the thing is, it’s more than clear that Russia has, as political scientists have said, like, abdicated its duties power to Armenia time and again, time and again. And it’s now, effectively — these are my words — punishing Armenia for its Western pivot, with basically abdicating all — this humanitarian crisis in Artsakh would have been and should have been prevented, if not for the failure of the Russian peacekeeping mission. Well, this is through the watchful eye and helpful hand of the Russian peacekeeping mission and the Russian Federation that this has happened at this time like the way it has happened, because Russia is growing increasingly dissatisfied and concerned with Armenia’s Western pivot and Western, well, presence in Armenia, to start with. Also this is in regards to the U.N. monitoring mission on Armenia’s borders. So, Russia is losing Armenia, and therefore, if Armenia loses Artsakh, which it has fought for and died for for three decades now, maybe Armenia would come to its senses.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to have to leave it there, but we will continue to cover this. Roubina Margossian, managing editor with EVN Report, an independent media outlet based in Armenia, speaking to us from Yerevan.
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. Coming up, we’ll speak with Ukrainian American journalist Lev Golinkin. He’s the one who exposed the Ukrainian World War II veteran who was honored last week in the Canadian House of Commons, revealed that he was actually a Nazi. Stay with us.