The Dichotomy of Perspectives on the Exodus from Artsakh

By Prof. Z. S. Andrew Demirdjian, Monarch Beach CA, 15 April 2024

By breaching the ceasefire agreement of Nov. 9, 2020 between Armenia and Azerbaijan brokered by Russia, President Ilham Aliyev subdued Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) with a blitzkrieg attack on indigenous people of Stepanakert on Sept. 19, 2023. Out of fear of war, violence, and persecution, the people of Artsakh fled their homeland en mass. As a result, pundits began to write whether the exodus constituted ethnic cleansing, or genocide or both.

It is important to know who in the international community is batting for the indigenous people of Artsakh and who is going against their rights.

The review of the literature I researched provided me with the dichotomy of perspectives on the forced exodus from Artsakh and thus gave me two categories of claims in which sources are not listed in any special order:

  1. Skeptical/Denialist Perspective: Those who express doubt, require more information, or outright deny wrongdoing by Azerbaijan are as numerous as those who claim that ethnic cleansing and/or genocide have taken place. Here are examples of comments made after the exodus from Artsakh:

Naturally, Azerbaijani officials have denied the war-crime accusations of many observers, including ethnic cleansing and have responded in such a way so as to maintain the innocence of their genocidal dictator-president of Azerbaijan.

According to Dr. Saeed Bagheri’s (lecturer at the University of Reading) article Forced Movement of Civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh?  published in Opinio Juris on Oct. 20, 2023, the mass displacement of Armenians fails to meet the requirements to be considered a case of “forced movement” (i.e., ethnic cleansing) under relevant international law.” Under relevant international law”? There are no laws enacted yet to govern ethnic cleansing. Dr. Bagheri has used intuition to arrive at his outrageous conclusion.

The gist of Dr. Bagheri’s article is the denial that there was an ethnic cleansing of the population of Artsakh and the UN assessment that no force was employed to make the Armenians flee their homes. There is a dire need to inoculate the public against false claims which exonerate Azerbaijan’s crimes against humanity.

To add insult to injury, recently a group of UN inspectors biasedly concluded that the exodus of Armenians from Artsakh had been done on their volition and that there has been no forced expulsion of Armenians. How credible is the claim that Armenians willingly left their homes? Would anyone suddenly leave behind his or her home, animals, and belongings without reason?

The United Nations Refugee Agency representative in Armenia said on Sept. 29, 2023 that there were no recorded incidents or cases of mistreatment against people on the move. In response to questions from the media, they said they could not comment on whether this constituted ethnic cleansing and that they viewed it as a refugee situation.

A spokesperson for the US State Department declined to comment on constituting the events as ethnic cleansing. A prejudiced position like that coming from the longest-lasting democracy in the world is an instance of double standard.

Samantha Power, the U.S. Humanitarian Aid Official and a former genocide scholar, declined to use the term “genocide” when she visited Armenia in October 2023, but she did say testimony was being gathered “from people who have fled violence, deprivation, and with the fear of living under the government of Azerbaijan.”

On Oct. 3, 2023, Charles Michael, the President of the European Council, sheepishly refrained from characterizing the forced exodus as an attempt at ethnic cleansing for fear of being ostracized by Azerbaijan.

Leo Docherty, the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, stated he did not agree Azerbaijan’s military operation in Nagorno-Karabakh constituted ethnic cleansing.

Maria Zakharova, the Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman of the Russian Federation, stated she would like “some facts to be provided regarding the alleged ethnic cleansing in Nagorno-Karabakh,” and asked for references to “at least some document from any international organization that is considered authoritative in Yerevan or a statement indicating that such ethnic cleansing did take place.” Like a true politician, she skirted the issue by asking for more information to avoid making a truthful statement.

The Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation Mikhail Galuzin stated most Karabakh Armenians left the region on their difficult, but voluntary choice, and that Russia was ready to facilitate safe return of those Karabakh Armenians who wish to do so. Who could stay home when the artillery and missile strikes are falling on their heads, Mr. Galuzin?

The United Nations in Azerbaijan sent on Oct. 1, 2023, a mission to Nagorno-Karabakh, led by the UN Resident Coordinator in Azerbaijan Vladanka Andreeva, to address humanitarian needs. The team also included the Director of the Coordination Division of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as well as representatives from the FAO, the UNHCR, the UNICEF, the WHO, and other UN bodies. The UN mission reported that “they did not come across any reports — either from the local population or from others — of violence against civilians following the latest ceasefire.” The obvious fact is that the local population did not report that out of fear for their lives, they had to flee their homeland. Those who had stayed in Artsakh most likely were afraid to speak against Azeri atrocities.

While visiting Stepanakert, the United Nations team reported to have found no evidence of damage to public infrastructure in the areas it visited. The mission reportedly “was struck by the sudden manner in which the local population left their homes.” Why would a flock of birds on the ground suddenly fly away when humans approach them? There must have been a reason for them to leave their homes, farms, and animals behind and flee to another country.

As an evidence of bias, the mission failed to mention the numerous casualties and injuries among Armenian civilians of Artsakh, the targeting of civilian infrastructure by Azerbaijan, and blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijan over the previous almost ten months along with the humanitarian crisis it caused.

It is amply obvious that the UN report is biased and tends to side with the oil-rich Azerbaijan. The team most likely chose areas of Stepanakert which had not been bombed and destroyed during the blitzkrieg on Sept. 19 and 20, 2023 surprise attack on the people of Artsakh.

To avoid trouble with Azerbaijan, most of the individuals who expressed ambivalence about the ethnic-cleansing genocide of the Armenians of Artsakh, chose not to speak out the apparent crime against humanity. Also, some seemed to try to win favor by not accepting the exodus as an ethnic cleansing and/or genocide act.

  1. Accusatory/Affirmative Perspective: Those people who judge Azerbaijan’s treatment of the people of Artsakh against the Genocide Convention laws of 1948 and arrive at the exodus from Artsakh as being ethnic cleansing and/or genocide. Here are some examples: International legal experts Priya Pillai and Melanie O’Brien, visiting professor at the University of Minnesota and president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, described the mass exodus as either a war crime or crime against humanity perpetrated by Azerbaijan. Furthermore, they accused Azerbaijan of committing genocide. Their characterization of the events is based on the created coercive environment, first through Azerbaijan’s blockade for almost ten months and subsequently the invasion on Sept. 19, 2023, leading to the potential genocidal destruction of the Artsakh Armenians’ distinct identity.

According to Prof. James Silk (Yale Law School): “Your motivation may be that you want the people out, but if in doing that you intend to destroy the group, then it’s also genocide.”

In the aftermath of the exodus from Artsakh in September of 2023, some high-ranking individuals accused Azerbaijan of ethnic cleansing such as Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan of the Republic of Armenia and the Cypriot Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the members of the French Senate.

Edward Hunt of the Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF) think tank accused Azerbaijan of ethnic cleansing. Additionally, he criticized United States officials for “endorsing” ethnic cleansing to further their geopolitical ambitions.

David Scheffer, the first United States Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice, wrote that the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh were ethnically cleansed. Scheffer also indicated that after finalizing its status at the International Criminal Court, “Armenia could apply for the ICC investigation, and Azerbaijani political and military leaders could be drawn into the jurisdiction of the ICC.”

The European Parliament and the Council on Foreign Relations accused Azerbaijan of committing ethnic cleansing against the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The USAID representative said they were aware of “troubling reports of violence against civilians,” and that testimony was being gathered from those who had fled “violence, deprivation, and with the fear of living under the government of Azerbaijan.”

The Council of Europe stated it was “extremely concerned about the serious humanitarian and human rights situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.” The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović visited Armenia and Azerbaijan, including the Karabakh region, from 16 to 23 October 2023, and published on 12 January 2024 her observations.

Commissioner Mijatovice reported: Numerous testimonies provided to her by Karabakh Armenians revealed a deep-rooted fear for their lives and future amid armed conflicts, exacerbated by Azerbaijan’s control resulting from unresolved past atrocities and ongoing intimidation.

Mijatovie further stated that Armenians of Karabakh felt abandoned by all parties. The heightened vulnerability experienced by them during the blockade, and the unexpected reopening of the Lachin corridor in late September 2023, prompted Karabakh Armenians to believe that leaving the region immediately was the only option available to ensure their survival and future well-being.

On Oct. 5, 2023, the European Parliament filed a joint motion for a resolution stating that the flight of Armenians from Karabakh “amounts to ethnic cleansing” and that Azerbaijan’s military offensive “represents a gross violation of human rights and international law.”

In early December 2023, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell stated: “In one week…150,000 people had to abandon their houses and run…but it happened [with] the use of force.”  This means the people of Artsakh were forced to leave in order to escape violence, deprivation, and death at the hands of Azerbaijani armed forces.

Luis Moreno Ocampo, inaugural Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, cautioned that conditions akin to another Armenian genocide were developing, stating that Azerbaijan’s blockade violated Article II c of the 1948 Genocide Convention, by “deliberately inflicting on [a] group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”

Ocampo elaborated that the invasion further violated Article II a and Article II b. He warned the international community’s inertia could embolden Azerbaijan and make Baku believe there would be no significant repercussions for committing genocide. Ocampo also countered Aliyev’s denial of seeking ethnic cleansing, noting that Aliyev often labeled Armenia as “Western Azerbaijan” and proclaimed that “present-day Armenia is our land.”

That Armenians were forced out of Nagorno-Karabakh, constituted genocide said Ocampo under the articles of the Genocide Convention and accused Azerbaijan of committing crimes against humanity. Ocampo also accused the United States and other international mediators of “deliberately ignoring the risk of genocide to avoid the obligation to prevent genocide.”

Although the heart-wrenching exodus from Artsakh is not a facsimile in magnitude of the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923, nevertheless, we need to present the facts to sway denialists’ opinion of Artsakh’s brutal treatment by Azerbaijan as being an ethnic-cleansing genocide.

We need to persuade the skeptics/denialists to change their views.



Prof. Z. S. Andrew Demirdjian In addition to his active academic pursuits, he has devoted his time since high school to researching ideas on how to advance Armenia. Among his published works,  he has two books on Armenian unity and hundreds of articles. Since just July 2019, over 105 articles have been published on Armenian affairs. To access his previous articles open the search engine of the website and insert his name.


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