Urgent Policy Recommendations around the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh

Urgent Policy Recommendations around the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh

photo credits: Marut Vanyan




On September 19, Azerbaijan initiated a large-scale offensive against Nagorno-Karabakh, marked by shelling and the targeting of key urban centers, resulting in extensive civilian displacement and casualties. Due to the nine-month blockade, and the lack of essential goods such as fuel, food, and munitions, as well as the significant power asymmetry favoring Azerbaijan, the Nagorno-Karabakh self-defense forces were overwhelmed. After approximately 24 hours of intense fighting, the Nagorno-Karabakh government was compelled to concede to all Azerbaijani demands, which included the disarmament of the Nagorno-Karabakh defense army and the dissolution of state institutions.


The Armenian government’s unilateral concessions have contributed to the current situation, effectively giving carte blanche and legitimizing President Aliyev’s aggressive actions on the ground.


This operation evidently received tacit approval from Russia. Moscow’s initial reaction was notably weak, and laid blame on Armenia for the situation. Furthermore, prominent Russian officials and propagandists have actively advocated for regime change in Armenia. There are also credible reports from the ground that Russian peacekeeping  forces withdrew from their positions in multiple locations during the Azerbaijani assault. Moreover, it appears that Russia already had a well-prepared PR strategy in place.


Both the EU and the U.S. have actively engaged in the peace process as mediators, and thus share responsibility for their failure to prevent the violence and the ensuing humanitarian catastrophe. There were multiple clear indicators that Azerbaijan was not acting in good faith. Despite these signs, in an effort to maintain Azerbaijan’s participation in negotiations, Western powers adopted a cautious approach in their statements and rhetoric. This included the U.S. blocking major actors from adopting a UNSC resolution on the blockade. Collectively, these actions conveyed a message to President Aliyev that there would be no consequences for resorting to military force.


U.S. Department of State official Yuri Kim affirmed just several days before the attacks that the “U.S will not countenance any effort or action short term or long term to ethnically cleanse or commit any atrocities against the Armenian people of Nagorno-Karabakh.” Yet this is precisely what happened. 


Humanitarian Situation


This brief war has led to a humanitarian catastrophe on the ground. The scarcity of essential supplies in hospitals has led to the loss of many wounded patients. Stepanakert is presently inundated with thousands of displaced individuals, a significant portion of whom have no access to shelter, compelling them to sleep in the open streets. The absence of electricity and gas has pushed residents to build fires in public areas for warmth and cooking. Furthermore, Azerbaijani forces are positioned on the city’s outskirts, posing a direct threat to the civilians and intensifying panic among the population.


The situation in the regions is even more dire. Entire towns and villages find themselves encircled by Azerbaijani forces, effectively cutting off access to vital necessities such as food, medicine, and electricity. There is a growing number of individuals who are wounded, missing, or deceased. This includes both fallen soldiers and civilian casualties.


Hundreds of civilians are still missing, leaving their loved ones without any information about their location or well-being. In Martuni, there are so many bodies that civilians are unable to bury them, and have resorted to storing them in a local gymnasium.


Given recent instances of how Azerbaijani forces have treated Armenian civilians they come into contact with, including reports of torture, mutilation, and murder, there are legitimate and deeply concerning fears for the safety of Armenians. As the disarmament process of the NK defense forces progresses, the already vulnerable Armenian civilians find themselves entirely defenseless.


Policy Recommendations


We recommend that international actors, particularly the U.S. and EU as well as various organizations to put pressure on Azerbaijan to:


  1. Immediately allow unimpeded access of humanitarian aid to the region.
  2. Establish a humanitarian corridor that facilitates the voluntary, safe, and dignified exit of the Nagorno-Karabakh population to Armenia. Everyone we have spoken to on the ground wants this humanitarian corridor. Prevent punitive measures or repression against Nagorno-Karabakh's current and former political and military representatives, including government officials and civil servants. 
  3. Embark on a concerted fundraising campaign aimed at furnishing accommodation, sustenance, and essential provisions for those resettling in Armenia. This assistance will expedite their integration and foster the emergence of employment prospects. Furthermore, to receive advisory support from the EU to enhance the efficient execution of this endeavor. 
  4. Address the aftermath of military operations, including the retrieval and identification of deceased individuals, search and rescue operations for missing personnel and prisoners of war, and a steadfast commitment to International Humanitarian Law. Ensure international access to regions that have come under Azerbaijani control since September 19, particularly those inhabited by civilians and where individuals are missing, is crucial for their rescue and well-being.
  5. Ensure an immediate international presence in Nagorno-Karabakh, established independent media outlets must also be allowed access. 
  6. Demilitarize civilian-populated areas, and facilitate the withdrawal of Azerbaijani forces to their positions prior to September 19.