End of Artsakh War Marked by Unanswered Questions, Confusion and Civil Unrest

ARF members march through Yerevan to demand PM Nikol Pashinyan’s resignation, December 2, 2020 (Photo: ARF Youth Union of Armenia)

As Armenia grapples with the fallout from the Artsakh War, several issues critical to ensuring security remain unresolved, including the demarcation of the borders of Armenia and Artsakh and the exchange of prisoners of war. 

Significant problems have arisen in the past week due to the absence of definitively demarcated boundaries in the aftermath of the November 10 trilateral ceasefire agreement handing over a significant portion of the Artsakh region to Azerbaijan. Armenian residents of these surrendered territories, displaced by the dictates of the agreement, have been leaving their homes and departing for Armenia in time for the entry of Azerbaijani soldiers. Armenian servicemen left Karvachar by November 25 and Lachin by December 1, according to the timetable agreed on by the parties to the deal. However, the Armenian departure from Lachin, the final region handed over to Azerbaijan, has been marked by intense confusion as to the status of the towns and villages located along the Lachin Corridor. 

At the time of this writing, we do not know who is determining the borders and how demarcation is taking place. Demarcating the border is a serious issue and I wonder if the authorities in Armenia are approaching border drawing in Artsakh seriously and responsibly,” Dr. Ohannes Geukjian, chairperson of the department of Political Science and Public Administration at the American University of Beirut, told the Armenian Weekly. “The authorities in Armenia are either not transparent on all the details of the ceasefire agreement or unwilling to reveal the realities to further avoid political tension and civil unrest in Armenia.” 

On November 26, residents in Berdzor started organizing trucks to head to Armenia after receiving word that they must evacuate by November 30. The following morning, they were instructed to stop the evacuation, only to be alerted once again on November 30 that they must leave the town. Hakob Tshagharyan, a former advisor to the Prime Minister, expressed the collective frustration of the town’s residents in a Facebook post addressed to the government. “Now what will happen with our Armenian compatriots? If today they were to be evacuated, why did you deceive them and keep them here until today?” he wrote. Even as Azerbaijani troops entered Lachin on December 2, residents of communities like that of Berdzor have not received official confirmation as to whether they should remain or depart. 

Residents set fire to their homes in Berdzor, November 30, 2020 (Photo: Arman Gharibyan)

The uncertain status and implementation of the Sotk gold mine is also embedded in the trilateral agreement. On the day that Armenian armed forces left Karvachar, a video of 80 Azerbaijani soldiers entering the mine was circulated online. The mine is located in the province of Gegharkunik and borders the territory that has now come under Azerbaijani control. The Armenian Ministry of Defense promptly decried any news that Azerbaijani soldiers had entered the mine and ordered employees to leave as false. Yet Hakob Avetyan, the mayor of the nearby Geghamasar community, confirmed the presence of Azerbaijani soldiers, stating that they entered Sotk and demanded that it be liberated and evacuated. During a press briefing that night, Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Armenian Armed Forces Tiran Khachatryan stated that the newly demarcated border between Armenia and Azerbaijan runs through the Sotk gold mine. Negotiations are underway to determine the ultimate fate of the mine. The mine is run by GeoProMining Gold LLC, which is largely owned by Russian billionaire businessman Roman Trotsenko. 

Meanwhile Armenian refugees displaced from Artsakh during the war have been returning to their homes. More than 26-thousand people have safely completed their return from Armenia. 

Since the end of the war, family members of detained and missing soldiers have been demanding clearer answers from Armenian authorities on the status of their relatives. Russian peacekeeping forces and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have been facilitating the exchange of prisoners of war and bodies of soldiers killed in combat as stipulated by the trilateral ceasefire agreement. Yet Armenian officials have been openly criticizing Azerbaijan for deliberately prolonging this exchange. On November 26, Armenia’s Human Rights Ombudsman Arman Tatoyan claimed that Azerbaijani authorities have been artificially protracting this process, refusing to cooperate with the two mediating bodies, with the goals of “creating an atmosphere of uncertainty and tension in the Armenian society” and disrupting the “mental immunity.” Armenia and Azerbaijan have since confirmed their commitment to exchanging prisoners of war on an “all for all” basis this week. 

According to Dr. Geukjian, Azerbaijan might have an interest in protracting tension in the region. Regardless of the intentions of the Azerbaijani government, “as long as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is not solved fear and tension prevail and will recur between Armenians and Azerbaijanis,” he explained. “Establishing trust and building the peace between both communities is a long and tortuous journey. I am afraid to say peace building may not succeed.”

During a public discussion, Artsakh Human Rights Ombudsman Artak Beglaryan estimated that between 50 and 60 Armenian prisoners of war remain in Azerbaijani captivity, 30 of whom have been identified. He also said that among 30 missing civilians, an unspecified number of whom are assumed to be detained in Azerbaijan, 11 have been confirmed dead. During this same conversation, ICRC Armenia spokesperson Zara Amatuni denied reports circulating online that there are 150 Armenian prisoners of war in Azerbaijan. According to Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan, over 600 bodies have been removed from the conflict zone so far, and the process continues every day.  

Armenian lawyers have been working hard to secure the safety of these prisoners of war, in light of evidence of their inhuman treatment by Azerbaijani soldiers. The European Court of Human Rights accepted a fifth application regarding the protection of Armenian prisoners of war and detained civilians, requesting information on their location, the conditions of their detainment and medical care from the government of Azerbaijan. Human Rights Watch, for its part, has confirmed the mistreatment of Armenian prisoners of war based on analysis of videos depicting Azerbaijani soldiers “slapping, kicking, and prodding Armenian POWs, and compelling them, under obvious duress and with the apparent intent to humiliate, to kiss the Azerbaijani flag, praise Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, swear at Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, and declare that Nagorno-Karabakh is Azerbaijan. In most of the videos, the captors’ faces are visible, suggesting that they did not fear being held accountable.” 

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan continues to resist calls for his resignation, facing various criticisms including his administration’s lack of transparency surrounding the negotiation of the ceasefire agreement and its role in precipitating a decisive Armenian defeat. During a video address broadcast on November 27, PM Pashinyan reiterated his claim that the majority of the Armenian people do not support demands for his removal. “In Armenia there are people and groups that are trying to create the perception…that there is anarchy in Armenia, who are trying to instill chaos in our country,” he said. “They want to transfer the war into Armenia…in order to secure their return as saviors. We will not allow this, not because we cling to power, but because the people do not want this.” 

Still, thousands have been taking to the streets of Yerevan demanding the PM’s resignation. On December 2nd the youth wing of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) organized a “Dignity March” and called on the citizens of Armenia to participate in acts of civil disobedience in the coming days, including shutting down city streets. “Our generation will contribute to the work of building our nation,” asserted ARF member Gor Sargsyan during the demonstration, “We will have a strong Armenia, a nation-state, from here on, starting tomorrow and the next day, and the following day we will remove Nikol Pashinyan and his team from power.” 

Meanwhile Yerkir Media director and ARF representative Gegham Manukyan ended his hunger strike on its ninth day after meeting with Catholicos Karekin II, who urged him to undertake his political struggle by other means.

ARF member Gegham Manukyan meets with Catholicos Karekin II, November 30, 2020 (Photo: Gegham Manukyan)

In a series of Facebook posts, the PM alleged that Levon Ter-Petrosyan and Robert Kocharyan attempted to secretly plan a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during the course of the war. On October 20, PM Pashinyan accepted a proposal to arrange a meeting between the two former Armenian presidents and their Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev, yet rejected the idea of sending them to meet the current Russian president as special envoys. He later learned that they had already scheduled a meeting with Lavrov without his knowledge. In response to this assertion, Ter-Petrosyan’s spokesperson Arman Musinyan wrote, “President Levon Ter-Petrosyan considers it pointless to respond to the mental tribulations of this national scourge. Let him do whatever he wants. All the same, he cannot justify himself. The Armenian people will never forgive him.” 

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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    • Synthia, Putin did not let Su 30SM fly and bomb those trapped Azeris and Jihadists near Shushi, where 3 quarter of Azeri drones were destroyed already. Armenia could have implemented major damages to Aliyev’s military forces by those warplanes and they were going to do so, that this is why there were huge pauses and negotiations between Putin and Aliyev and Pashinyan. Armenia lost this chase game knowingly he could have beat the opponents if the “Queen” was not taken away from the board.
      Putin knew his 20% Muslim population are watching him, he knew Turkey’s Jihadists are on his Southern border Daghestan, where Tatar-Turks are eying on him. He just let it go for them, I could see his eyes when he was talking and every second twisting his seat back and forth during finalizing the war game outcome in his Moscow office.
      Armenia is a chaotic place now, but I am sure they will overcome we had so many up and down we outlived Empires such as Persians, Romans, Ottomans, Soviets, and maybe Russians. In Armenia people are screaming and demanding their children’s bodies dead or alive, where Aliyev regime does not cooperate, maybe this is another “military secret” that corrupt Aliyev hiding from his people not to know the numbers of KIA Azeri martyrs and ruin their celebration in Baku. Tomorrow anti PM and pro-Russians will be on the streets and will demand PM’s resignation after all he is a “defeated PM” and a traitor. This will be Putin’s choice if PM resigns. Well done Mr. President Vladimir Putin.

  1. This is NOT a Peace Agreement. The Muslims are delighted in abusing Armenian Christians Prisoners of War. The so called Peace Agreement is worthless and dangerous, and makes a mockery of the human rights of Christians. How can Armenians, Russians and the world’s Christians accept Muslim cruelty inflicted on Christian innocent POWs. The evil that Muslim Turks inflicted on millions of Christians in the Armenian Genocide is a warning to ALL Christians. History repeats itself.

  2. Get rid of Nicol Pashiniayn, Armenians!

    Armenia’s interests and state sovereignty will be much better protected if the Armenian Folk joins the European Union& NATO!

    Again Putin( his” maznaya uluibka!) praised today Pashinian in Moskow for signing the “deal”(that’s how Putin names the agreement)with Azerbaijan.

    In my native country( in Eastern Europe) you say:” Two are fighting, the THIRD wins!”

    Putin is happy now…he got Artzakh with all its natural resources.

    And Pashiniayan and his generals are still running to Moskow like subdued dogs and kiss Putins feet!

    • @Valeria – After this recent war and after what has happened in the region throughout history, I can’t believe that Armenian’s are still waiting for Europe and NATO to save them.

      Wake up and see the reality. Russia is the super power that guarantees Armenia’s safety and existence. Europe is all talk denouncing Turkey and Az’s but no action and will never put boots on the ground. Turkey is a NATO member so I don’t see how NATO as an organization would help Armenia.

      The reality is that there are 2 Russian military bases in Armenia proper and now protecting what’s left of Artsakh. If it were not for Russia’s presence Armenia would not exist as a country today.

      I’m not saying Armenia should be kissing anyone’s feet, but we need to be smart about our foreign policy.

    • Pashinyan wanted exactly what you have described, and you saw what happened to Artsakh Armenians. Putin will never let Armenia join the EU, never mind NATO, next designated PM will have no other choice but to jump on Putin’s lap. No European wants to live in a rough neighborhood as Armenia does. All we need to be calm and no street fights, otherwise, Putin will put his next “peacekeepers” there.

  3. This morning BBC said here, in Berlin, there are still unrests in Armenia.

    Someone commented here: “Well done Mr.President Vladimir Putin!”
    Ich lache mich zum Tode!

    Do you really mean it? Putin may be won Artzakh, but he lost the Armenian Folk…exactly as it happened in Ukraine when he annexed Crimea and started the war in Donbas. Now the whole Ukrainian Folk hates him!

    The Armenian DIASPORA( and as I know there are EIGHT million Armenians spread in the world) ought to support the opposition parties in Armenia proper so that ARMENIA joins at least the European Union. It is not necessary for Armenia to join also NATO…FINNLAND and SWEDEN and AUSTRIA are in the European Union, but NOT in NATO.

    In case, Armenia wants to join NATO, there is the danger, Putin will deploy the Russian Army to Armenia as he did it in Gruzia( Georgia).

    • “Putin will deploy the Russian Army to Armenia as he did it in Gruzia( Georgia).”

      @Cornelia – Russia already has military bases in Armenia. Why would any European country put deploy their military to Armenia/Artsakh? What would they gain politically? Do you think countries make decisions based on morals?

    • Before pointing fingers at the Russians, Cornelia, maybe consider the following from Die Welt:

      Warum Deutschland seine schützende Hand über Erdogan hält
      Frankreich und viele andere Länder in Europa haben die Geduld mit der Türkei verloren. Nach Monaten des Lavierens wollen sie beim EU-Gipfel diese Woche harte Sanktionen gegen das Regime Erdogan beschließen. Aber vor allem Angela Merkel bremst.

    • 4 million Turks live in Germany and few of them are a member of Markel party. Germany is out, therefore Germans can’t vote a rightful decision for Artsakh. Actually no European will fight against Turkey or even Russia. No other Europeans were involved in any war after the 2-nd world war.

      They preach for human rights, sitting in their fancy comfortable chair in Strasburg or Brussell, and making decisions for “civilized” law obedience countries.

      Armenia must rely on its own power and ability, have a stronger bond with Diaspora Armenians, and create a joint military force like Israel.

      We shall never forget the 1921 shameful Moscow Treaty, with the help of another Vladimir, who sold our stolen western part to Ottomans Turkey for the confidence-building scenario. Attaturk happily got the land and joined with NATO against USSR.

  4. Honestly getting tired of the same people posting that we need to join the EU. That feckless organization did absolutely nothing during the war. There really needs to be an understanding among us that the “western values” nonsense is simply economic interests, nothing about morality.

    Another thing, the endless theorizing or conspiracy mongering about Putin is getting embarrassing. We were not ready for this war, and it showed. Stop looking for someone to blame. This lack of introspection is getting really annoying.

    • I assume you meant PM. In that case the answer would be: Shot myself because my stupidity has significantly contributed to the inevitable.
      If you meant any MP: Get myself straight to jail.

    • I would have asked my defense minister to brief me about the war situation during Parliamentary sessions in the parliament (closed doors because of the war situation). I would have asked my top generals to report me rightfully on daily basis.

      The most important part I would have asked for help politically or militarily during the war, shut my mouth for sensitive information literally, as much as I could. In the end, I would have told my people about the situation of the war, the outcome of the war for MPS and, for the whole country, and the reason for the defeat, and the signing of a hurtful paper, publicly.

      Then I would have fired my defense minister first, dismiss my top army generals, after all that, I would have submitted my resignation as PM and asked parliament to chose a temporary PM from a majority party opposition leader, until the next general election, or dissolve the Parliament for a new Palimenatery election.

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