Azerbaijan Takes Over Artsakh Territories, Armenia Embroiled in Political Turmoil

Artsakh welcome sign getting dismantled, November 24, 2020 (Photo: Lika Zakaryan)

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.

Families return to Artsakh (Photo: Areg Balayan)

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.” 

Hunger strikers and ARF members Garik Avetisyan and Gegham Manukyan

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. 

Memorial service at Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, November 22, 2020
Lillian Avedian

Lillian Avedian

Lillian Avedian is a journalist based in Los Angeles, California. She has written for the Daily Californian, Hetq and the Armenian Weekly, covering topics ranging from the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Armenia to the Armenian feminist movement on Instagram. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley with a Bachelor of Arts in Peace and Conflict Studies and a Bachelor of Arts in Armenian Studies, and applies her human rights expertise to uncover silenced narratives. When she is not on the hunt for a story, Lillian enjoys writing poetry and attending quarantine "Zoom-ba" classes.
Lillian Avedian

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15 Comments

  1. What a loser Pashinyan is who unfortunately represents all of us. “We are all to blame” doesn’t correspond to reality. I found the war information was a complete lie. His readiness and preparedness was totally lacking almost indifferent and a devastating counter attack was apprehensive and non existent at best. He is neither politically nor militarily savvy. Just as the the entire war was controlled by Turkey the now disastrous aftermath is being controlled by useless Armenian screw light, Russia and its continued hegemony yet once again. He is good at sacking his useless party members as a supposed remedy and of course crushing any criticism and calls for his just removal. I don’t believe he represents any of us anymore. How can he? Most would agree of no confidence.

    Regarding the military reshuffle he says “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.” Victories? IS he going to rearm and start another war to liberate? Or is he trying to save whats left of our historic lands so more are not stolen? Diaspora Army units indoctrinated within the Armenian Army to massively increase ready, able and trained soldier counts and also ading direct contribution via world wide Diaspora resources IS A MUST! Fund raising and calling useless congressmen and Senators to ‘come to our rescue’ is a losing cause as a main staple of “security and justice” Again Im safe to say most all of us have no confidence in Pashinyan who unfortunately, forever will be known as the loser of Armenian historic lands.

    Last, there are 17 factions to our government? My God! What a bunch of tribal idiots we Armenians are. It should be 2-3 at most.. Or we are truly divided and get what we deserve.

  2. Why has Russia betrayed Armenia in protecting Artsakh against the Azeri’s. How much more territory does Armenia have to give up. We lost our Historic lands in Turkey & now the Azeri Turks want to eliminate & take over Artsakh. None of the world Powers have come forward to help Christian Armenia. Armenia & Artsakh are pinned between Azerbaijan & Turkey & if no outside help comes forward, Armenia’s territories will be lost forever. May God help Armenia and our brothers & sisters in Artsakh. Shame on the world powers for no help.

    • Russia has always backstabbed Armenia, just like it did in Operation Ring in 1991 or when it gave away Artsakh and Nakhichevan to Azerbaijan. What’s ironic is that you will probably get some Russophile Armenian replying to your comment saying that Russia did nothing wrong or that Russia somehow ‘saved’ Armenia.

    • I think enough people commented on various warning shots from Russia that went ignored for two years, so here’s a different comment: christianity doesn’t mean anything to anyone. It hasn’t for at least two centuries now. Probably enough time to understand that but who knows. This is especially true of a relatively esoreric middle eastern branch that has neither ethnic nor linguistic ties to any of the larger denominations.

    • Relying on outside help to “save us” is a losing cause. Its helpless victim mentality that needs to be rid. Relying on ourselves is the only remedy.

    • Indeed, that’s where much of the blame lies: Russia, the OSCE, Western Powers and the World; also, Armenia needed to take the bull by the horns, and simply do what was necessary, namely, the absorption of Artsakh into its nationhood. Really, it wasn’t so hard to figure out, but Armenia was intimidated, and it received no encouragement whatever from Russia, the OSCE, or anywhere else in the world.

  3. Armenia is at fault of never acknowledge Artsakh as independent country.
    I can only see as something that was planned a long time ago.
    Shame on Armenian government officials.
    They have been completely bought.

    • You’re right, but I think that the blunder, miscalculation and stupidity was fear-based, due to the threatening posture of Turkey. The miscalculation and blunder exhibited a lack of geopolitical diplomatic savvy, triggered by intimidation. Meanwhile, Russia, and the OSCE, did nothing to encourage Armenia to take that step, and officially recognize their stronghold. It was the obvious thing to do; and yet, even now, we haven’t seen Armenia take that step. Very craven, but probably not a sell out, on the part of Armenia’s leadership.

  4. While Pashinyan has a lot to explain, he cannot be solely responsible for this disastrous outcome. After all he led the country for only two years. Previous leaders must also be blamed for allowing the army to fall behind our enemy’s high tech investments. Where were our military leaders? Where were our drones? This is not the 1990’s! We thought our army was invincible when it came to azerbaijan. Didn’t they notice the amount of drones the azeris were purchasing from Israel? Why didn’t anyone sound the alarm? Aliyev made no secret that he was going to solve the Artsakh issue by military means. It is safe to say that every one was in a deep coma in the homeland and we might never recover from this nightmare!

  5. Yes…Pashinyan sold Artzakh to Putin. Soooooooo…firstly he sends the Russian troops to Artsakh and wait…some months later a horde of geologists; geophysicists; oil drilling and mining Russian companies will follow.

    That is the way how the Russian Empire required new and new territories!

    Soooooo…now YOU, Armenians, noticed what a wonderful friend Putin ist, did you?

    But our “impotent” politicians here, in Germany and other European countries are also to blame as they allowed, that the NATO member TURKEY through its proxies kills their foes Armenians!

    • Armenia is between a rock and a hard place. Loose land to murdering turks or loose land to smiling russians!

    • Cornelal Shnidt-Reichelt makes a fair point. And, we need to remember that Western Powers (not only Germany) have proven impotent and no better than Russia. At the 1922 Smyrna Fire, 100,000 Greeks and Armenians perished, under the watch of Ataturk, even then Standard Oil was in collusion with the Turks. Not only did the Bolshevik Russians help finance Ataturk’s Wars against Greece and Armenia, but also many Western Powers (Germany among them) were in collusion with Ataturk (and Turkey) against Christian Greece and Christian Armenia. Without such backstabbing, there wouldn’t have been a Smyrna Fire.

  6. SMILING RUSSIANS? ICH LACHE MICH ZUM TODE! In English: I laugh myself to death!

    I have to live every day with Russians…they populated Germany! Already 3,7 million Russians live here, but they are NOT laughing…vice versa…they started demanding more &more from the German Government…RUSSIAN has to be thought in the public schools in Berlin. There are also Turks Gastarbeiter here…also around THREE million, but they are not as arrogant and aggressive & assertive as the Russians. What I learned is: RUSSIANS ALWAYS WANT TO SUBDUE THE COUNTRY THEY OCCUPY! Therefore..ARMENIANS( I had had many Armenian friends in the school here) be precautious…ONCE in your Land, the Russians will NEVER EVER leave!

  7. Of course, the Russians smile! They got your Artzakh, Armenians!

    WHY YOU, Armenians are leaving your home country?

    When I lived in Los Angeles all my neighbors were Armenians( Wilshire Blvd.)
    I know HOW the Russians were “smiling” in Bulgaria, Romania; Slovakia; Chechia; in Eastern Germany! Everybody, who criticized them either was deported to Respublika Komi or shot!

    Come to Berlin and see all the graves of Eastern Germans from DDR, who wanted to escape to West Berlin.

    Putin turned the Russian Federation into an athoctaric state. I read every night the Russian newspapers in RUSSIAN( it is very similar to my native language) and know exactly what happens in Russia. ONCE in Armenia the Russian Army will NEVER leave.

  8. Living in Glendale California I see many cars with Armenian flags, with stickers of AR-15 assault rifles proclaiming to violently defend Armenia. They have their own school system to maintain their language and culture and they are proud of it.
    The Armenian community needs to understand that they are viewed by many people in this area as being extremely nationalistic, and they are the antithesis of a multi-cultural American society. It appears that they don’t want to be part of our shared social fabric, excluding Kim Kardashian, and they make that clear to all of us non-Armenians who live near them.
    They get don’t too much sympathy from most multi-cultural, native born, public school educated Americans because of that overt dismissal of all things not “Armenian”…. The Christian/ Nationalism is a turn off in a free society, might work in Armenia but here in the USA we don’t have to be Christians with AR-15s if we don’t want to be thankfully. That’s the beauty of America, and that’s why I don’t live in Armenia and they don’t either.

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