Wednesday, July 24, 2024

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    Azerbaijan’s President Declares Sovereignty Restored in Nagorno-Karabakh After Military Offensive

    Tragic Milestone Reached as Ethnic-Armenian Forces Surrender Amidst Ongoing Crisis

    A historic moment marked by tragedy unfolded as President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan declared the restoration of his nation’s sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh following a 24-hour military offensive against ethnic-Armenian forces. President Aliyev lauded the heroism of Azerbaijan’s military shortly after Karabakh forces capitulated.

    Nagorno-Karabakh, a region in the South Caucasus with a population of approximately 120,000 ethnic Armenians, has been internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan now aims to bring this breakaway region firmly under its control.

    The military operation, described as an “anti-terror” campaign, commenced with a demand for Karabakh’s forces to raise a white flag and dismantle their “illegal regime.” Bereft of support from neighboring Armenia and besieged for nine months, ethnic Armenians found themselves with no viable options.

    Armenian officials reported casualties, with at least 32 people killed, including seven civilians, and another 200 wounded. However, a separatist Armenian human rights representative claimed a much higher toll, citing over 200 fatalities and more than 400 injuries. The precise figures remain unverified by independent sources.

    In response to the developments, thousands of protesters took to the streets of Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, holding him accountable for his handling of the crisis.

    The cessation of hostilities was announced as both Azerbaijan and Russia, with peacekeepers on the ground, brokered an agreement. The ceasefire, which began at 13:00 local time (09:00 GMT) on Wednesday, stipulates that local Karabakh forces must disband entirely and disarm.

    Despite denials from the Armenian government regarding any military presence in the region, the ceasefire also mandates the withdrawal of Armenian forces.

    Azerbaijan’s presidency disclosed plans to engage in talks with Karabakh’s Armenian representatives regarding “issues of re-integration” in the Azerbaijani town of Yevlakh on Thursday. President Aliyev emphasized that Azerbaijan’s concerns lay not with the population but with what he termed a “criminal junta.”

    The town of Yevlakh, situated approximately 100km (60 miles) north of Karabakh’s regional capital, Khankendi (known as Stepanakert by Armenians), serves as the designated venue for these pivotal discussions.

    As the ceasefire was declared, residents of Karabakh were urged to remain in shelters, refraining from heading to the local airport adjacent to a Russian peacekeeping base. Nonetheless, a gathering of civilians near the airport raised questions about their support and safety.

    Caucasus specialist Thomas de Waal of Carnegie Europe characterized the ceasefire terms as favoring Azerbaijan, leaving ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh exposed and vulnerable. He suggested that this could potentially signify the end of a decades-long project for the region’s Armenians seeking secession from Azerbaijan.

    Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan clarified that his government was not involved in shaping the ceasefire agreement and urged Russian peacekeepers to shoulder the responsibility for ensuring the safety of the local population. He previously accused Azerbaijan of “ethnic cleansing” in Nagorno-Karabakh.

    The protracted crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh has its roots in the dissolution of the Soviet Union and has seen Armenia and Azerbaijan engage in two wars over the region. The six-week war in 2020, backed by Turkey, enabled Azerbaijan to reclaim territories both inside and surrounding the enclave, leaving ethnic Armenians isolated.

    For the past nine months, Azerbaijan has effectively blockaded the only road into Karabakh from Armenia, known as the Lachin Corridor. The resulting shortages of essential supplies, including food, medicine, and toiletries, had left the enclave’s ethnic Armenians in dire straits.

    Though some aid was recently allowed through, the Azerbaijani offensive unfolded when the local population was already severely weakened and isolated.

    The presence of 2,000 Russian peacekeepers tasked with monitoring the 2020 ceasefire had not prevented the recent escalation. Moscow’s interest in Armenia waned during its ongoing conflict in Ukraine, despite Armenia’s membership in Russia’s CSTO military alliance.

    Last May, Prime Minister Pashinyan hinted at Armenia’s willingness to recognize Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan in exchange for the security of the ethnic Armenian population.

    Armenia’s pivot towards the West also strained its relationship with Russia. Recent interactions between Armenian and US military personnel and Armenia’s increasing engagement with Western nations have added to the tensions.

    President Vladimir Putin of Russia, while maintaining no issues with Armenia’s prime minister, underscored the complexity of the situation, stating, “If Armenia itself recognized that Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan, what should we do?”

    As protests erupted in Yerevan, Prime Minister Pashinyan voiced concerns about unidentified forces calling for a coup, further underscoring the deep challenges facing Armenia in the wake of this crisis.

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