Photo: Azerbaijani Presidential Press Office via Associated Press Even if Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev (in the photo) has pledged to respect the rights of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh and to offer amnesty to the fighters, the fear of “ethnic cleansing” persists.
While more than 100,000 refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh are resettled as best they can in Armenia, many want at all costs to go to the north, near the capital, Yerevan, considered safer than the south, where the fear of Azerbaijan's imminent invasion is growing due to skirmishes near the border and military tests between the country and its Turkish ally.
After about forty minutes of traveling the increasingly mountainous roads north of the Armenian capital, Yerevan, the truck full of donations from the diaspora finally stops at the gates of the village of Nor Hachn.
In an abandoned and ruined building, which appears to be a former primary school, Armenian volunteers from all over the world display shoes, clothes, blankets and hygiene products for the fifty refugee families from Nagorno-Karabakh living there. in the vacant housing of the small municipality.
Far from the hubbub of children trying on pants and sweaters, Nela Danielyan, standing in a corner of the large room, is lost in her torment. She, who has experienced all the conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh since 1991, resettled for the first time far from the southern Armenian borders.
“This time, it’s different,” she told the Duty. Before, I always had hope of returning home. But there, it will not be possible and I feel safer in the north with all the provocations [of recent weeks] in the border regions. »
Even though Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has pledged to respect the rights of Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians and offer amnesty to the fighters, fears of “ethnic cleansing” persist. Especially since after several decades of conflict, neither party has confidence in the other.
Visiting Armenia a few days ago for the opening of the Canadian embassy in Yerevan, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mélanie Joly, has also announced that she will increase humanitarian aid to $3.9 million to “save the lives of civilians” like Nela Danielyan. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 100,000 Armenians have fled Nagorno-Karabakh.
Of this number, more than half are now in the north of the country. Several refugees are found in the regions surrounding the capital, such as Nor Hachn, but a very large majority have come to join family in Yerevan.
“Azerbaijan cannot be trusted. They say there will be peace, but those are just nice words,” says Vladimir Khachatryan, 67, who came to pick up a box of food offered by the Armenian Red Cross at a service point in the capital.
“We feel safer here. If we stayed in the border areas, we couldn't be sure that something else wouldn't happen and that we would have to relive the same traumas again,” adds his wife, Nargiz Khachatryan, in her sixties.
“An imminent invasion”
While any aid to refugees is welcome, it does not respond to their growing fear, that of an invasion of the country by Azerbaijan.
In fact, another territorial conflict is looming on the horizon. President Aliyev has always wanted to recreate a corridor crossing Armenia to connect Azerbaijan to its exclave of Nakhchivan, which would allow road traffic to bypass Iran and provide land continuity with its Turkish ally. And Ilham Aliyev has said in the past that he was ready to take it by force if necessary.
“Azerbaijan is trying to draw an equivalence between the Lachin corridor and this future Zanguezour corridor. And this equivalence, it advances Azerbaijan's objectives [notably the 2020 war] which are not reasonable with regard to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Armenia,” explains Taline Papazian, lecturer and lecturer at Science Po Aix-en-Provence and member of the NGO Armenia Peace Initiative.
Armenia also recognizes Azerbaijan’s right to have a road that connects its territory to Nakhichevan. Since the end of the 2020 war, Yerevan has always said that a transit right could be discussed in cooperation with Baku. However, it is unthinkable for Armenia that an extraterritorial corridor would be created over which the country would have no say and would receive no compensation.
“The Armenians’ fear is that Azerbaijan will do as it pleases, as it has become accustomed to doing for three years. Never punished. Never sanctioned. Nothing ever happens, so why not continue a strategy that, so far, has proven particularly successful? And Azerbaijan clearly has the means to do it [without being sanctioned],” adds Ms. Papazian.
This fear was recently confirmed by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, who warned that Azerbaijan could soon invade Armenia. In addition, Azerbaijan and Turkey began joint military exercises last week in Nagorno-Karabakh, but also in Nakhichevan.
An isolated country
Probably too busy in Ukraine, the former Russian ally seems to have completely abandoned Armenia in its conflict against Azerbaijan. He who was supposed to ensure the maintenance of peace in Nagorno-Karabakh has visibly failed in the task and Armenia seems to find itself more alone than ever.
There are obviously some Western capitals trying to get closer to Armenia, such as Washington or Paris, with whom Yerevan organized military exercises for the first and whose capital received promises of arms deliveries from the second. But would these countries come to the aid of Armenia if it were attacked by its neighbor, richer, better armed and supported by Turkey? Nothing is less certain.
“I think the challenges are perfectly understood by everyone. But beyond the declarations in the case of an invasion of southern Armenia, will there be anything else? Will Armenia receive diplomatic support? Will Armenia receive military support? Personally, I think not, or very little,” analyzes Taline Papazian.
Even in Armenia, which did not send its army into Nagorno-Karabakh during the Azerbaijani offensive of September 19, there appears to be no appetite for a military confrontation that could spill the conflict across the entire territory. Even if the opposition is having a field day against Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who is accused of being a traitor for having abandoned Nagorno-Karabakh.
In this context, peace, even in bitter taste, seems the only possible way out to protect Armenian sovereignty.
“When you are in a situation where your adversaries are determined and more powerful than you, when you have no allies and you are not sure what military support you might have [in the event of an invasion], so peace becomes absolutely necessary. And this is what the Armenian government is trying,” explains Ms. Papazian.
Peace negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, on the other hand, are at a standstill at the moment.
< p>Still looking deep in her torment, Nela Danielyan takes a moment before responding. “I just hope that no matter what happens, I can stay Armenian,” she finally says, a tremor in her voice, as she leaves the donation center with a mountain of blankets for herself and her family. .