The most known interstate armed conflict these days is the one occurring between Azerbaijan and Armenia. This three decade long conflict dates back in history, but the nowadays’ escalation of hostilities brought an attention of international community. This analysis will briefly introduce the role and position of migrants within this conflict throughout history.
Operation Goranboy was a large-scale operation led by the Azeris in the summer of 1992, whose goal was to take control of the entire Nagorno-Karabakh. This offensive is considered the only successful breakthrough of the Azerbaijani army and the greatest Azerbaijani success in the six-year-long conflict. It also marks the beginning of a new, intense phase of the war.
More than 8,000 Azeri soldiers and four additional battalions, at least 90 tanks and 70 infantry fighting vehicles took part in the operation, and Mi-24 helicopters were also used. On June 12, 1992, the Azeri attacked the Askeran region in the center of Nagorno-Karabakh. Two groups of about 4,000 soldiers attacked positions in the north and south of Askeran. As a result of fierce fighting, they managed to establish control over some settlements in the region. Control was established in Nakhichevan, Dovshanli, Pirjamal, Dagraz and Agbulak. On July 4, 1992, the Azeri conquered the largest city in the region, Mardakert. It is estimated that 30,000 Armenian refugees were forced to flee the region. However, the Armenians managed to reorganize the army and go on the counter-offensive. By the fall of 1992, the Azerbaijani army had suffered heavy losses, and in February and March of the following year, the Armenian counter-offensive reversed the course of the war.
The UNHCR estimates that ethnic strife that erupted there as the Soviet Union broke apart phased quickly into open warfare. Over a million people were forced to flee – from Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia; from Armenia to Azerbaijan; and from Armenian-occupied sectors of Azerbaijan to other Azeri villages. The colossal scale, and wide-ranging implications, of the nationalities issues that had frozen into quiescence under Soviet rule were now made evident in the world’s headlines, along with the suffering, loss and displacement they would cause.
According to Azerbaijani government at the time of the ceasefire in 1994 there were about 250,000 Azeri refugees from Armenia. According to the 1998 Citizenship Law they are all eligible for citizenship. By the end of 2001, UNHCR estimated that most of them were believed to have naturalized or be in the process of doing so.
According to State Committee of Republic of Azerbaijan for Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons, there were 603,251 IDPs in Azerbaijan in March 2009. The majority live in and around Baku, as well as in Sumgayit. Significant numbers of IDPs also live along the central-southern route of Füzuli–Aghdam–Agjabedi–Barda–Mingechevir–Ganja, the northern route of Shamakhi–Ismailli–Gabala–Sheki and the southern route of Sabirabad–Saatli–Imishli–Beylagan.
On another side, starting in 1990, and growing in intensity in April 1991 during what became known as Operation Ring, Azerbaijan forced out tens of thousands of Armenians from over two dozen settlements in Dashkesan, Khanlar, Shaumian, Hadrut and Shushi Districts. During Azerbaijan’s military offensives in 1992-4, most of the population of the Mardakert District in the north of Nagorno Karabakh was similarly forced out. Some of the displaced from Azerbaijan, who resettled in the relative safety of Armenian populated settlements in and near Karabakh, were thus displaced for the second time in just a few years. In all some 71,000 Karabakh Armenians were thus internally displaced.
Many endeavours have been done to facilitate the peace process in the Southern Caucasus. However, this escalation of armed conflict could potentially bring new mass wave of migrants, which, in times of Covid19 crisis and another migrants’ problems such as the one in Europe, would not be easy for international community to cope with.