Armenia faces an inflection point following its defeat in the 2020 Artsakh War as it grapples with charting a path forward in the face of humanitarian and refugee calamities, uncertain security for the Armenians of Artsakh and a crisis of political legitimacy.
On November 20, the Azerbaijani armed forces took control of Aghdam—one of the three territories outlying Artsakh to be handed over to Azerbaijan under the terms of the trilateral agreement enacted on November 10. Armenian residents were given just days before the entry of the Azerbaijani military to depart from the region. Many of these families have been burning down their homes after collecting their belongings and loading up their vehicles, ahead of their expected handover to Azerbaijan. The original deadline in the Karvachar district was extended from November 15, just days after the truce was announced, to November 25 in order to offer time for local Armenian residents to leave. The Lachin district is scheduled to be handed over by December 1.
The deployment of Russian peacekeeping troops along the new Line of Contact as well as the Lachin corridor connecting Artsakh and Armenia has been completed. A total of 1,960 troops and 552 units of equipment have been deployed and 23 observation posts set up. Turkey is expected to send troops to a joint monitoring center that will be established at a location decided by Russia. According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian and Turkish forces will oversee the situation on the ground in Artsakh using unmanned aerial vehicles.
Russia has also deployed deminers in Artsakh following a mine explosion in the village of Mataghis that killed one Azerbaijani soldier and wounded one Russian officer and four employees of the Artsakh State Emergency Service. These individuals were part of a contingent collaborating with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to collect and identify the bodies of deceased soldiers. The sappers are conducting engineering reconnaissance to clear minefields where Russian peacekeeping forces are positioned.
Disturbing videos of Azerbaijani forces torturing Armenian POWs and desecrating their corpses have been circulating online. These videos represent the latest allegations in a string of war crimes committed by the Azerbaijani military during the war, including targeting civilian settlements with cluster munitions and executing POWs. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) accepted a fourth application regarding the protection of the right of Armenian prisoners of war to be free from inhuman treatment. The ECHR demanded detailed information from the government of Azerbaijan regarding the location, medical care and detention conditions of 17 POWs by November 27. The Court noted that Azerbaijan has not previously provided credible and substantiated information about Armenian POWs when requested. According to Armenian human rights lawyers, over 100 Armenian POWs are currently detained in Azerbaijan.
The whereabouts of dozens of missing soldiers who have not been declared dead or captured are still unknown. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan met with the families of missing or captured soldiers on Tuesday to discuss the mechanisms being implemented to return captured soldiers and clarify the fate of missing persons. An interdepartmental group has been created to carry out these tasks, while the ICRC continues to facilitate the exchange of dead bodies.
In light of the pressing humanitarian concerns facing the population of Artsakh in the aftermath of the war, Pashinyan and Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan met on November 21 for the first time following the establishment of the ceasefire agreement to offer a road map to the restoration of normal life in Artsakh. They discussed the provision of social services to the families of deceased soldiers and civilians, the identification of missing soldiers, the provision of social services to their families and general psychological rehabilitation. Financial support, critical in light of the oncoming winter, will be provided to Artsakh residents, including a one-time state subsidy of AMD 300,000 to all civilians left homeless by the war. Since November 10, 25,000 people displaced by the war have returned to their homes in Artsakh.
The PM has also been replacing members of his cabinet in response to widespread anger and discontent over the crushing terms of the ceasefire agreement and the lack of transparency surrounding its negotiation. The Minister of Defense Davit Tonoyan, the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Zaruhi Batoyan and the Minister of Education, Science, Culture and Sports Arayik Harutyunyan were all fired and replaced within the past week. The Minister of Emergency Situations Feliks Tsolakyan and the Minister of the Economy Tigran Khachatrian both submitted letters of resignation. During an introductory meeting with the new Minister of Defense Vagharshak Harutyunyan, who previously served in the same role between 1999-2000, PM Pashinyan explained his reasoning for replacing the Minister, stating, “It is very important that, without harming the healthy and competitive logic and traditions of our army and Armed Forces, we can build a new logic, new tactics, new strategy, which will bring victories to our army and Armed Forces.”
Regardless of these efforts, protests in Yerevan continue, led by the 17 opposition political parties that issued a joint statement on November 9 calling for Pashinyan’s resignation. The director of Yerkir Media (an affiliate of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation) Gegham Manukyan has declared an indefinite hunger strike with this purpose. “A defeated man who would sign that document of capitulation cannot negotiate tomorrow for the safety of the nation and of Artsakh,” he asserted. “He cannot negotiate with the enemy. He has received a terrible blow from the enemy.”
Meanwhile on November 22nd Armenia marked a nationwide day of remembrance for the war dead. The Prime Minister and his wife Anna Hakobyan as well as President Armen Sarkissian attended a special memorial ceremony at Etchmiadzin that was presided over by Catholicos Karekin II in honor of the soldiers who died during the war. The Artsakh Defense Ministry continues to release the names of Armenian soldiers killed in combat, while Azerbaijan is yet to provide an official military casualty count. Over 2,000 Armenian soldiers have been reported dead.