With a deadly new wave of violence rocking the post-Soviet South Caucasus, Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the United States has told Newsweek that Armenia risks isolation as the top diplomat of an unrecognized separatist state at the heart of the fighting appealed for international action.
Reports first emerged early Tuesday that Azerbaijan had launched artillery strikes against territory claimed by the self-proclaimed Artsakh Republic, which is led by ethnic Armenians in the Nagorno-Karabakh region that is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. The so-called “anti-terrorist operation” was said to have come in response to the death of military personnel by landmines.
But Khazar Ibrahim, Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the U.S., told Newsweek that the catalyst for the latest operation was two-fold, rooted both in separatists allegedly perpetrating “daily killings, daily harassments, having troops, having all this weaponry in our land” as well as “completely destroying constitutional order” through political processes such as an independent presidential election held earlier this month without international recognition.
He said Azerbaijan has demanded that the unsanctioned leadership in Nagorno-Karabakh “dismantle” their de facto republic in full.
The attacks came just one day after the United States, which has recently taken a more active role in attempting to mediate the dispute, celebrated the shipment of aid to Nagorno-Karabakh residents via an Armenia-linked corridor subject to a months-long blockade by Azerbaijan. The news was overshadowed, however, by warnings from Armenian and Nagorno-Karabakh officials of a growing military buildup by Azerbaijan.
Sergey Ghazaryan, foreign minister of the self-proclaimed Artsakh Republic, appealed for international support to halt Azerbaijan’s assault.
“The time for action is long overdue,” Ghazaryan told Newsweek. “The Azeris have learned the craft of ignoring those statements, rendering them totally useless. You must understand this, our people are exposed to annihilation, ethnic cleansing, and we don’t need any more statements, we need concrete actions to stop Azerbaijan.”
In addition to the recent U.S. attempts at mediation, Russia, an ally of Armenia, has historically played an influential role in the decades-long Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Moscow’s deployment of around 2,000 peacekeepers helped bring an end to the brief but bloody war fought over Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020, during which Azerbaijan emerged as the victor.
But Russia’s role in the long-running feud has declined since launching a war against Ukraine, another former Soviet republic, in February of last year.
And, as Ghazaryan pointed out, “the presence of the Russian peacekeepers is not a deterrent for Azerbaijan’s offensive actions.” He argued that the latest Azerbaijani moves are “a result of inaction of the international community and failure to heed our concerns and warnings.”
“Now it is an active phase of ethnic cleansing. There have been abundant warning signs before today’s developments,” he said. “Azerbaijan has been executing various methods to instigate humanitarian crisis, attrition, force displacement and ethnic cleansing. This is the next phase.”
“It has been a very difficult time for the people of Artsakh,” he added. “Their lives, the lives of their children are threatened. They are given a choice to subjugate or die. The people of Artsakh expect concrete steps from the international community.”
Groups such as the Armenian Assembly of America have already rallied in response to the latest clashes, calling on the U.S. to institute sanctions against Azerbaijan. A number of lawmakers, including Democratic Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menendez and Democratic Armed Services Committee Leader Jack Reed, have also issued condemnation of Azerbaijan.
Ibrahim, for his part, acknowledged that the cause for Nagorno-Karabakh autonomy, to which he referred as “illegal and illegitimate,” has elicited sympathies abroad in countries like France, Russia and the U.S. He was doubtful, however, that the issue would arouse such a substantial response, pointing out the international consensus regarding the territorial status of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Should Armenia continue to support this cause, the Azerbaijani ambassador warned, Armenia will be “isolated regionally,” a form of “self-isolation” over its position.
In addition to targeting “local terrorist units,” the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry has also alleged that it was striking positions of Armenia’s own armed forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, a charge denied by the Armenian Defense Ministry.
As the United Nations General Assembly convened in New York, Armenia has requested a special session of the U.N. Security Council to be convened over what it called a “large-scale military aggression” by Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh. The motion was also endorsed by France, and was set to be discussed on Thursday, according to the Armenian Foreign Ministry.
Newsweek has reached out to the Armenian Embassy to the United States for comment.
Ibrahim also cast accusations of ethnic cleansing throughout a conflict that has loomed over the region straddling Asia and Europe for three decades.
“It’s very hypocritical that those forces are calling for so-called intervention when they tolerated when Armenians massacred and committed genocide against Azerbaijanis, killing the elderly, women and kids,” Ibrahim said.
Allegations of ethnically motivated atrocities have plagued the region for more than a century.
In April 2021, the U.S. became among the latest out of 34 countries that currently recognize the mass killings of ethnic Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire during and after World War I as a genocide. Turkey, a close partner of Azerbaijan, has vehemently rejected this narrative, and both Armenia and Azerbaijan have denied any participation in ethnic cleansing in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute that first broke out in war in the late 1980s through the early 1990s, with Armenia coming out on top.
Azerbaijan began to reverse these gains in the second major war that erupted between them three years ago and appears poised to take further action should the two sides continue to fail to reach a lasting resolution.
“We extended our hand of peace, and our hand of peace still hangs in the air,” Ibrahim said. “Usually, countries on the winning side that extend their hand in peace don’t keep it as such for so long.”
“We still keep it [extended], but we will never tolerate [any aggressions],” he added, “and, from the other side, our other hand will always defend … so that’s what we’re doing today.”