Armenia and Azerbaijan: The Aftermath of Atrocity
Mary Grace Nimmer
In the past several decades, both Azerbaijanis and Armenians have called Nagorno-Karabakh home. In 1992, shortly after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, fighting broke out between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh territory. Hundreds of thousands of citizens, mostly Azerbaijanis, were displaced during those two years of war and following the 1994 ceasefire agreement which left much of the Azerbaijani territory under Armenian control. The agreement that ended the first war left remaining hostilities on precarious terms. Decades later on September 27, 2020, skirmishes erupted into a second war, and not unlike the end of the first war, the terms of the November 2020 ceasefire agreement have left many on both sides of the issue reckoning with the consequences and worried for inevitable future conflict.
After the establishment of the Russian-mediated deal, miles of cars lined the main road leading out of the Nagorno-Karabakh territory toward the Armenian capital of Yerevan, driven by Armenians forced to leave due to the Azerbaijani victory in the region, bringing with them as many of their belongings as would fit on their journey. An Armenian man tells a reporter about his wish to one day return to his home in Nagorno-Karabakh. He was wounded fighting in the first war, and his son was wounded fighting in the second. An elderly woman tells the reporter that there is no way she could bring everything she owns; the region had been her home for almost 25 years. In the Azerbaijani capital of Baku, a grandmother tells an interviewer that she is filled with joy at the thought of returning to the city where she raised her family until they were forced to flee from the war in 1992. Generations of both Azerbaijanis and Armenians have been impacted by the conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. For Azerbaijanis displaced almost 30 years ago, the Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire reignites hope of returning home. For the Armenians fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh after decades there, the deal is a devastating betrayal. For both countries, the aftermath of the war involves grieving the thousands who have died and rebuilding ravaged cities. The defeat of Armenia and the grim consequences of the war will continue to impact Armenian and Azerbaijani generations to come, strengthening the states' rivalry and prompting further militarization and conflict. Reflecting the uncertain terms of the 1994 deal, the most recent 2020 agreement, while effectively ending the conflict, has done little in the way of establishing long-term peace.
The deal gives Azerbaijan most of the territory it lost in the first war, in direct contrast to the 1994 deal that granted the territory to Armenia. The agreement ordered all Armenians to withdraw from the territory before December 1, 2020. It also called for the deployment of more than 2000 Russian peacekeepers and members of the International Committee of the Red Cross to the 5 kilometer-wide Lachin corridor that links Armenia to the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The peacekeepers, who will remain in the Lachin corridor for a minimum of five years, have been charged with protecting the territory and seeing out the terms of the agreement, and the Red Cross has facilitated ongoing prisoner of war transfers and casualty recovery.
As Azerbaijan and Armenia recover their dead and rebuild their cities, the wounds formed from decades of conflict have been cut deeper than ever. Citizens from both countries are returning to ghost towns and mourning the loss of those who have died, and both governments are reckoning with the thousands of videos surfacing on social media that depict gruesome war crimes. Many of the war crimes recorded have been at the hands of Azerbaijani soldiers, though Armenian soldiers have also been implicated. The atrocities caught on video and circulated on the internet have been described as nothing short of heinous. Many of the most circulated recordings show Azerbaijani soldiers torturing and killing Armenian prisoners and civilians. One video shows a civilian restrained by Azerbaijani soldiers before he is decapitated. An Azerbaijani soldier places the man’s head on a pig carcass and yells, “This is how we take revenge for the blood of our martyrs.” Similar videos were also captured of Armenian soldiers mutilating the casualties of war and murdering civilians, such as one Azerbaijani border guard. The government of Azerbaijan made a public statement that war crimes would not be tolerated, and began arresting soldiers charged with mutilating the war dead, encouraging Armenia to do the same. Armenia and Azerbaijan have since voluntarily agreed to an all-for-all prisoners of war and casualties exchange.
While the 1994 agreement left Armenia in control of the territory and Azerbaijan devastated, the 2020 agreement has reestablished Azerbaijan’s control of the region, leaving Armenia humiliated and both countries to face the aftermath of the war. The physical and psychological implications of the conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, since its beginning in 1992, will influence the lives of current and future generations of Azerbaijani and Armenian people. The 2020 agreement, like that of 1994, is ridden with fear and mistrust; by replacing clear animosity with threatening ambiguity, the end of the second war in Nagorno-Karabakh has left many fearful for the future.