After Evacuation of Nagorno-Karabakh, Fears Grow over Azerbaijani Incursion into Armenia
Following Azerbaijan’s assault and takeover of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region that sits in the southern Caucasus mountain range between Armenia and Azerbaijan, fears are growing that Ilham Aliyev, the Islamist Azerbaijani president, may attempt a further incursion into Armenia.
The conflict between the two countries has a long history, but the most recent hostilities erupted in December of 2022 when Azerbaijan’s military initiated a blockade of the Lachin corridor, a crucial road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, which served as a supply route to ship essential goods and imports into the region. The region was largely populated by ethnic Armenian Christians, who have ancestral claims to the area stretching back thousands of years. In the 1920s, the Soviets rose to power and took control of Azerbaijan as well as Nagorno-Karabakh, but after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, Armenia and Azerbaijan have repeatedly clashed over control of the region.
As a result of a months-long blockade of the Lachin corridor by Azerbaijan, which experts saw as an attempted genocide of the ethnic Armenians that lived there, the population was deprived of essential food, medicine, and other basic goods. Then in September, Azerbaijan launched a lightning offensive that forced Nagorno-Karabakh’s armed forces to surrender. Consequently, approximately 120,000 ethnic Armenians were forced to flee their homes and seek refuge in Armenia. In response, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced Tuesday that it would provide an additional $4.1 million to the displaced Armenians, bringing the total aid given to $28 million since 2020.
The ease with which Islamist Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev was able to take control of Nagorno-Karabakh is worrying U.S. officials and lawmakers that he may attempt to invade Armenia. In October, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told lawmakers that “State saw a possibility that Azerbaijan would invade southern Armenia in the coming weeks.”
Amid the growing concerns, the Senate last week unanimously passed legislation that would suspend military aid to Azerbaijan for the next two years. Previously, between 2002 and 2020, the U.S. has provided the country with $164 million in “security aid.”
Observers remain worried about Aliyev’s increasingly aggressive language regarding Armenia. As noted by Defense News, he “has called on Armenia to establish a corridor through southern Armenia to directly connect Azerbaijan with its exclave that borders Turkey and Iran, at times threatening to do so by force.” In the wake of Nagorno-Karabakh’s fall to his forces, Aliyev used triumphalist language. “The enemy has knelt before us,” he told his troops in Nagorno-Karabakh’s capitol city of Stepanakert.
As reported by The New York Times, Aliyev has made “little secret” of his forceful beliefs about reclaiming Armenian territory that he believes was stolen from Azerbaijan. Altay Goyushov, an Azerbaijani historian, observed that Aliyev “was a victor, and he could have used this position to mend the situation, to stop the rhetoric of hatred and start building real peace. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen that.” Aliyev has publicly accused ethnic Armenians themselves of “savagery,” ethnic cleansing, and genocide.
In comments made on the Senate floor last Wednesday after the passage of the military aid suspension legislation, Senator Gary Peters (D-Mich.) underscored the importance of sending Azerbaijan a clear message in the face of their aggressive behavior. “We must send a strong message and show our partners around the world that America will enforce the conditions that we attach to military aid,” he said. “If we do not take action when countries willfully ignore the terms of our agreements with them, our agreements will become effectively meaningless and toothless.”
Arielle Del Turco, director of Family Research Council’s Center for Religious Liberty, pointed to the protracted difficulties that Armenia will continue to face going forward.
“Now that over 100,000 Armenian Christians have fled Nagorno-Karabakh after Azerbaijan’s onslaught, the headlines have subsided,” she told The Washington Stand. “But the problems are far from over. Now Armenia, which is a small country surrounded by unfriendly regional neighbors, is faced with a massive humanitarian disaster. These refugees have left everything they’ve ever known and now must reestablish their lives within Armenia’s borders.”
Del Turco continued, “Azerbaijan, for its part, may destroy the ancient Christian cultural artifacts that remain in Nagorno-Karabakh, as they have been known to do. The erasure of Christianity from this part of the world would be a grave tragedy.”
Dan Hart is senior editor at The Washington Stand.