Ethnic Armenians who left Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) after Azerbaijan took full control of the region in a lightening military operation in September are entitled to return home, a senior United States official has said.
During a Tuesday press briefing in Washington, a journalist asked Matthew Miller, a spokesperson for the US Department of State, to give a preview of what would be discussed during a congressional hearing on the future of Nagorno-Karabakh that was planned for the next day. November 15.
The correspondent, in particular, said: “You have Azerbaijan on [the] one hand celebrating the victory… in a town surrounded by [the] Russian army. You have Armenia [that] is being bullied by Russia every single day, saying that [it] won’t go anywhere… So is there any happy ending there, in your opinion?”
According to the State Department’s official website, Miller replied: “I will just say what I said before. I don’t want to talk about tomorrow’s hearing, but I will say that we continue to believe that people who left Nagorno-Karabakh have the right to return home if they want to do so, and that right must be preserved.”
More than 100,000 ethnic Armenians fled Nagorno-Karabakh in the days that followed Azerbaijan’s offensive on September 19-20. According to different estimates, a couple of dozen ethnic Armenians currently remain in Nagorno-Karabakh that is under full Azerbaijani control now.
Despite scaling back its peacekeeping mission, Russian servicemen still remain in the region where they were first deployed under the terms of a Moscow-brokered ceasefire agreement that stopped a six-week war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh in the fall of 2020. Under that tripartite deal, the Russian peacekeeping force would stay in the region at least until 2025.
After the exodus of the local Armenian population and before that, in conditions of an effective blockade imposed by Azerbaijan, Armenia has repeatedly criticized Russia for failing to fulfill its main mission, which is to protect Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenian population.
Officially Azerbaijan does not object to Armenians returning to Nagorno-Karabakh and living under Baku’s jurisdiction as Azerbaijani citizens, but authorities in Yerevan and representatives of Nagorno-Karabakh point to the absence of security guarantees for such returnees after what happened in the region during the past several years and months.
Azerbaijan, at the same time, promotes the idea of the return of tens of thousands of ethnic Azeris to the places where they lived in Armenia before the conflict began in the late 1980s. In doing so Azerbaijani officials and media often use the term “Western Azerbaijan”, suggesting that Azeris who left Armenia lived in their “historical lands.”