In a few days' time, there will probably be no Armenians left in Nagorno-Karabakh, part of a long history of ethnic cleansing. The self-proclaimed Republic, defeated by Azerbaijan, has announced its dissolution, signaling its historic failure. But it also has much wider geopolitical implications.
PARIS — It's a specifically post-Soviet tragedy, but also a reflection of the entire world's current state of disorder. History will remember Thursday's dissolution of the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh, Nagorno-Karabakh, announced solemnly by its defeated leaders. And it will remember above all this new mass ethnic cleansing, a practice perpetuated from war to war, over the centuries.
The images of the exodus of Armenians from the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, taken over by the Azerbaijani army, are heart-wrenching. More than half of the enclave's 120,000 inhabitants have already headed for Armenia — their only refuge. They are leaving everything behind, certain never to return to their homes.
A few more days and they'll probably all be gone. Not a single Armenian will want to remain under Azerbaijani rule. Ethnic cleansing will have been completed, a tragic regression that nothing and nobody, in the current context, can prevent.
In 24 hours of fighting last week, Azerbaijan regained control of this enclave, which had eluded it for three decades. It used force at a time when there was no longer any regional policeman, or arbiter of conflicts.
A mockery of borders
This is the product of a long, multi-century history, which was frozen for a time during the Soviet era, before starting up again at the end of the USSR. History, but also geography, and an entanglement of people that make a mockery of borders.
At the end of the 1980s, when the Soviet straitjacket loosened, then in 1991 when it shattered, the old conflicts came roaring back. Territorial claims between Armenia and Azerbaijan led to war and the first exoduses. An estimated 200,000 Azeris living in Armenia and 300,000 Armenians living in Azerbaijan left en masse.
The map of the region shows other simmering conflicts.
Then, when Armenia won the war in 1994, once again, hundreds of thousands of Azeris and Kurds had to flee their villages around Nagorno-Karabakh. They became displaced in Azerbaijan. until Baku's first victory in 2020.
Scenes of destruction in Stepanakert, the capital of separatist Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh
Not over yet
These individual lives, thrown into tumult by wars, are the real tragedies of a world that has failed to make the kind of progress that allows different people to coexist. A total human failure.
Is this the end of the story? Not yet, we're afraid. The map of the region shows other simmering conflicts.
Azerbaijan has an Azeri-populated enclave, Nakhchivan, to the south of Armenia, close to Turkey — and is demanding a corridor to link its two territories. That would be a corridor that passes through Armenian soil, but also borders Iran. If it pushes its advantage to obtain this strategic passage, a new war could be triggered.
Iran's role is quite fascinating: Tehran happens to have close relations with Christian-majority Armenia, against Muslim Azerbaijan. The explanation lies in the presence of a large Azeri minority in Iran, up to a quarter of the population, and Israel's support for Azerbaijan.
This human, geographical and strategic complexity has turned the region into a land of conflict. Ethnic cleansing, unfortunately, continues to be part of the arsenal of war. There is much work to be done to avoid the next conflict.