Nagorno-Karabakh’s long and bloody dream of independence ended yesterday with a decree declaring that the ethnic Armenian statelet in Azerbaijan would cease to exist at the end of the year.
The dramatic announcement was issued moments after it became clear that more than half of the ethnic Armenian population has fled in the wake of last week’s assault by Azerbaijan.
It drew the curtain on one of the world’s longest and seemingly most irreconcilable “frozen conflicts” — one successive administrations in Washington and leaders across Europe failed to resolve in ceaseless rounds of talks.
However, it also raised the levels of anger in Yerevan.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan accused Azerbaijan of conducting “ethnic cleansing” and called on the international community to act.
Baku’s decisive 24-hour military blitz ended with a truce on Wednesday last week in which the rebels pledged to disarm and enter “reintegration” talks.
Two rounds of talks were held as Azerbaijani forces methodically worked with Russian peacekeepers to collect separatist weapons and enter towns that had remained outside Baku’s control since the Caucasus neighbors first fought over the region in the 1990s.
Azerbaijani forces have now approached the edge of Stepanakert — an emptying rebel stronghold where separatist leader Samvel Shakhramanyan issued his decree.
“Dissolve all state institutions and organizations under their departmental subordination by January 1, 2024, and the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) ceases to exist,” the decree said.
The republic and its separatist dream have been effectively vanishing since Azerbaijan on Sunday unlocked the only road leading to Armenia.
Tens of thousands have since been piling their belonging on top of their vehicles and taking the winding mountain journey to Armenia every day.
Armenia said that more than 68,000 of the region’s 120,000-strong population had left by yesterday afternoon.
Pashinyan said he expected the entire region to clear out “in the coming days.”
“This is an act of ethnic cleansing of which we were warning the international community about for a long time,” he told a Cabinet meeting.
However, Moscow issued a guarded response that appeared to absolve Baku of any blame.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there was “no direct reason” for people to leave Nagorno-Karabakh.
He added that Moscow had “taken notice” of the dissolution decision and was “closely monitoring the situation.”
“Our peacekeepers continue to assist people,” he said.
Nagorno-Karabakh has been officially recognized as part of Azerbaijan since the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.
No country — not even Armenia — supported the statelet’s independence claim.
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