December 2, 2023

Tens of hundreds died combating for and in opposition to it, destroying the careers of two presidents — one Armenian, one Azerbaijani — and tormenting a technology of American, Russian and European diplomats pushing stillborn peace plans. It outlasted six U.S. presidents.

However the self-declared state within the mountainous enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh — acknowledged by no different nation — vanished so rapidly final week that its ethnic Armenian inhabitants had solely minutes to pack earlier than abandoning their properties and becoming a member of an exodus pushed by fears of ethnic cleaning by a triumphant Azerbaijan.

After surviving greater than three a long time of on-off conflict and stress from massive outdoors powers to surrender, or at the least slim, its ambitions as a separate nation with its personal president, military, flag and authorities, the Republic of Artsakh contained in the internationally acknowledged borders of Azerbaijan collapsed nearly in a single day.

Slava Grigoryan, one of many hundreds this week who fled Nagorno-Karabakh, stated he had solely quarter-hour to pack earlier than heading to Armenia alongside a slim mountain street managed by Azerbaijani troops. On the best way, he stated, he noticed the troopers seize 4 Armenian males from his convoy and take them away.

Mr. Grigoryan took with him just a few shirts and the negatives of household pictures, abandoning his house and a rustic home with beehives and a backyard.

One among his final acts, he stated, was to destroy a private video report of his homeland’s journey from triumph to destruction. His movies began in 1988, when each Armenia and Azerbaijan have been a part of the Soviet Union and Nagorno-Karabakh first erupted in violence as ethnic Armenians demanded after which secured self-determination.

“With tears in my eyes,” he stated, “I burned 100 cassettes.”

Sergey Danilyan, a former Artsakh soldier, fled to Armenia on Saturday, after the village headman advised everybody to go away as a result of “the Turks” — a standard slur for Azerbaijanis — have been gathering close by. “They may slaughter kids, minimize off their heads,” he stated.

He stated he had fled his village, Nerkin Horatagh, thrice earlier than due to eruptions of combating. “At all times conflict, conflict — 30 years of conflict.”

Life had been insufferable for months beneath an Azerbaijani blockade, stated his brother, Vova. “There was starvation. No cigarettes, no bread, nothing,” he stated.

Till final week, the tiny self-declared republic, with fewer than 150,000 folks, had been a permanent function of the political and diplomatic panorama of the previous Soviet Union. Russia, Armenia’s conventional protector and ally since 1992 in a Moscow-led collective safety group, despatched peacekeepers to the realm in 2020 and promised to maintain open the one street linking the enclave to Armenia, an important lifeline for Artsakh.

However Moscow, distracted by its conflict in Ukraine and longing for nearer financial and political ties with Azerbaijan and its ally Turkey, didn’t intervene this 12 months when Azerbaijan closed that route, reducing off provides of meals, gasoline and medication. The Kremlin ordered its peacekeepers to face apart throughout final week’s lightning assault on Artsakh’s skinny defenses.

Hardly anyone, together with the U.S. authorities, foresaw the speedy collapse.

“We’re all in shock. Everybody understands that that is the top — the entire destruction of Artsakh,” stated Benyamin Poghosyan, the previous head of the Armenian protection ministry’s analysis unit. “The one factor that basically issues now could be getting folks out safely.”

Nagorno-Karabakh, which declared independence in 1991, has for greater than three a long time been a byword for diplomatic failure — an interminable drawback akin to the Israel-Palestine dispute or Northern Cyprus.

Nearly within the blink of a watch, nonetheless, Nagorno-Karabakh has now been “solved” — by power of arms, leaving terrified ethnic Armenians on the mercy of President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan, a frontrunner who has for years stoked hatred of Armenians.

In 2012, Mr. Aliyev pardoned, promoted and hailed as a hero an Azerbaijani army officer who had been convicted in Hungary of murdering an Armenian classmate in a NATO course with an ax. After serving six years of a life sentence in Hungary, the assassin was despatched residence to Azerbaijan, which had promised to maintain him in jail. He was met on the airport with flowers and let loose.

“Anybody who thinks that Armenians can reside beneath that regime is a fantasist,” stated Eric Hacopian, the host of a weekly present on CivilNet, a well-liked Armenian web tv channel.

Unverified studies of mass killings and rape have flooded social media and been exchanged by folks now in flight, stirring fears of a repeat of the 1915 Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Empire.

Artsakh has been erased, however the thought nonetheless has many supporters.

Edik Aloyan, a former gross sales supervisor in Nagorno-Karabakh, jumped off a truck carrying him to security as quickly because it reached the Armenian village of Kornidzor and declared that his misplaced homeland “is only Armenian land.” This, he insisted, would by no means change, however “the Russians didn’t assist us. They helped the Azeris.”

In Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, hundreds of protesters have gathered every evening since final week in a central sq. to shout curses at Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan for not sending troops to defend their ethnic kin and to chant, “Lengthy reside Artsakh.”

However supporters of the prime minister dismiss the protests because the work of two discredited former leaders who got here to energy by cheering on the reason for Artsakh.

The battle between the Muslim and Turkic Azerbaijanis and the Christian Armenians over Nagorno-Karabakh started beneath Soviet rule and escalated into full-scale conflict after Azerbaijan and Armenia gained independence. Ethnic cleaning on either side pressured greater than one million folks, by some estimates, to flee their properties. It led to 1994 with an impartial Artsakh, the Armenian identify for Nagorno-Karabakh, and Armenia accountable for a large space of Azerbaijan — modifications the world refused to acknowledge as professional.

Armenia was gripped by the euphoria of victory and by contempt for an enemy whose military was ill-equipped, badly led and no match for Armenia’s extra motivated forces. Armenia’s first post-Soviet president, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, was pressured to step down in 1998 after supporting a compromise deal over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Azerbaijanis blamed their poor army efficiency on their president on the time, Abulfaz Elchibey. He was ousted and changed by Heydar Aliyev, a Soviet-era chief of Azerbaijan and its former Ok.G.B. chief, the daddy of the present president.

For Mr. Hacopian, Armenia’s sense of superiority after 1994 was a deadly mistake that left the nation and the Republic of Artsakh blind to how a lot, within the years that adopted, the steadiness of energy had modified. Azerbaijan’s army turned a fearsome power, with new weapons purchased with oil and gasoline income.

“Hubris is the most important mistake you can also make,” Mr. Hacopian stated.

Azerbaijan went to conflict once more in 2020 and received handily, retaking a lot of the territory it had misplaced a long time earlier.

When Nagorno-Karabakh first went from being an area Soviet quarrel to a global challenge, it was so distant and obscure that “we needed to look in previous books to search out out the place and what this place was,” recalled Richard Giragosian, an Armenian-American tutorial who lives in Yerevan and advises the Armenian authorities.

Through the years, peace plans got here and went. All failed, torpedoed by the intransigence of 1 facet or the opposite.

Failed talks held in Key West, Fla., in 2001, with the USA among the many mediators, left such a bitter style that President George W. Bush stated he by no means wished to listen to concerning the challenge once more, in accordance with Thomas de Waal, the creator of “Black Backyard,” a ebook recounting 35 years of impasse over the area.

This week, Mr. Giragosian, who was in Washington to fulfill with officers blindsided by the rout of Artsakh, stated he had anticipated extra of a struggle. “From a army standpoint, I believed they’d take to the hills,” he stated of ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.

However the Republic of Artsakh was, by the top, bereft of supporters keen to affix its struggle. Many youthful residents had left, leaving a predominantly older inhabitants to defend its unrecognized republic. Months of deprivation had sapped folks’s wills to struggle on.

Small, militant nationalist teams in Armenia, just like the so-called Crusader detachment, made noisy statements about serving to however offered no vital help. The Armenian authorities of Mr. Pashinyan stayed out of the struggle.

Lower than two weeks earlier than their state collapsed on Sept. 20, elites in Stepanakert, the capital of the breakaway republic, have been caught up in an area energy battle, forcing out their elected president after he responded to the gathering storm by erecting a tent outdoors the federal government places of work and utilizing it to stage a sit-in protest.

On Sept. 9, the native Parliament chosen Samvel Shahramanyan, a longtime safety official, to be president.

“I’m not revealing a secret after I say that the partial after which full blockade of the Republic of Artsakh by Azerbaijan has created a lot of issues for the republic,” Mr. Shahramanyan advised legislators.

Whereas sneering at Armenia for pursuing a “so-called peace agenda,” he acknowledged that his beleaguered republic’s “concepts and expectations concerning worldwide legislation” had been “unrealistic and divorced from actuality,” an obvious reference to its longstanding opposition to any peace deal that didn’t grant Nagorno-Karabakh statehood completely separate from Azerbaijan.

As Azerbaijani forces overwhelmed the crumbling republic’s defenses final Wednesday, the brand new president held what was known as an “prolonged session of the Safety Council” and introduced that “Artsakh can be pressured to take acceptable steps.”

Mr. Shahramanyan has not been seen or heard from since and, like scores of different former officers, is feared to have been seized by Azerbaijani troops to face prosecution for “treason.”

“It’s an actual tragedy how years of worldwide efforts to search out an equitable answer to the battle have been chopped down in 24 hours,” stated Mr. de Waal, the creator.

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