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On 19 September 2023 Azerbaijan launched what it called “an anti-terrorist operation” in Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave in Azerbaijani territory that has a 95% ethnic Armenian population of approximately 120,000 people.

Even though the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, it has been mostly governed as a self-declared republic (the Republic of Artsakh), backed by Armenia, since the early 1990s.

Since full-scale conflict broke out over the disputed region in late-2020, Russian peacekeepers have been deployed to maintain what has been a fragile peace.  

Military escalation in 2023

The offensive operations that began on 19 September were short lived. Just over 24 hours after operations began, Karabakh authorities accepted a ceasefire proposal put forward by the Russian peacekeeping command in the region. Azerbaijan declared military victory while Armenia accused the Azerbaijani Government of pursuing a policy of ethnic cleansing.

The offensive followed a nine-month blockade of the Lachin Corridor, the only road linking the enclave to Armenia, which has resulted in a shortage of food, fuel, medicine and basic supplies. In August 2023, the UN had already declared a humanitarian emergency in the region.

Current status of Nagorno-Karabakh

Nagorno-Karabakh is now fully under Azerbaijan’s control. Under the terms of the ceasefire agreement Armenian forces must withdraw and disarm. Discussions over the reintegration of the region into Azerbaijan are also underway. On 28 September the leader of the self-declared Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), Samvel Shahramanyan, issued a statement confirming that all state institutions will be dissolved by 1 January 2024, after which time the state will cease to exist.

The international community has called on Azerbaijan to guarantee the rights and security of Karabakh Armenians and for the immediate and unimpeded provision of humanitarian assistance.

Azerbaijan has said that it will guarantee the rights and security of Karabakh Armenians in the same way as any other ethnic minority group in Azerbaijan. It has also said that any individual who chooses not to accept Azerbaijan’s proposals, is free to leave Karabakh.  

However, a high level of mistrust exists between Karabakh Armenians and Azerbaijan and, amid a pre-existing humanitarian crisis, there has been a mass exodus from the region. As of 28 September, 65,000 people have left for Armenia, over half the ethnic Armenian population of the enclave.

In response to the situation, thousands have protested in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, and called on Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan to resign.

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