London, September 26, 2023
from Mark Rice-Oxley, Executive Editor, Guardian, London
When the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991, it ushered in a brief period of optimism. A spray of new countries, a sudden openness, the hope of a path towards prosperity and personal freedom. I worked in Moscow for much of the 1990s; the sense of possibility there was giddy, at least at first.
Of course, it didn’t last. Within months new geopolitical uncertainties were flaring into war in Moldova, Georgia, Tajikistan, the north Caucasus and in Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous Armenian enclave which a quirk of Stalinist geocartography had positioned wholly within the territory of Azerbaijan.
After decades of on-off war, an Azerbaijani offensive last week looks to have been both decisive and disturbing. Thousands of Armenians are fleeing what looks more and more like a campaign of ethnic cleansing, says Andrew Roth, who is reporting on the situation from the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.
“We’ve seen 600 or 700 people coming through here in the past day,” Andrew says. “It looks like Azerbaijan is finally going to force out the Armenian ethnic population.”
He describes roads teeming with cars, hotels filled with refugees, large groups of children with nowhere to go.
“Those who have relatives inside Armenia are trying to reach them, Andrew says. “But many others are just being put in hotels. They say they feel let down, abandoned by the outside world. Most of them feel they can never go back – to the place where they grew up and lived. Some of them even tried to take headstones of relatives with them.”
Andrew predicts that most of the 100,000+ ethnic Armenian population will take flight, if they haven’t already. “The story is important to cover because it’s just the beginning of what is going to be a mass exodus,” he says. “A lot of international help is going to be needed to provide for whole families who have had to flee their homes with nearly nothing. And many are accusing Azerbaijan of a campaign of ethnic cleansing in the 21st century.”