The Nagorno Karabakh crisis: far from the end

At the time of writing this statement, almost the entire ethnic Armenian population of Nagorno Karabakh [1]more than 100 000 people out of approximately 120 000—have fled to Armenia since last week’s large-scale military offensive of Azerbaijan. On September 28th, slightly over a week after Azerbaijan launched its offensive, it was announced that the Nagorno Karabakh Republic, sometimes referred to as Nagorny Karabakh or Nagorno-Karabakh, would ‘cease to exist’ as a political entity by 1 January 2024, putting an end to a 30 year struggle for independence of the unrecognised political de-facto state. However, this in no way means that the conflict is resolved.

In turn, this resulted in a mass exodus and a new geopolitical reality, deepening the already ongoing humanitarian catastrophe, as prior to the mass evacuation, the population of Nagorno Karabakh was under a nearly nine-month-long blockade without access to basic necessities, including food, fuel, transportation, and medicine.

Moreover, Armenia may find itself unprepared to host such a large number of displaced persons as no dedicated infrastructure or support frameworks have been put in place, and even many of those that have been displaced as a result of the Second Karabakh War in 2020, are still without legal status.

Under these critical conditions, it is of utmost importance to ensure that the basic human rights [2], safety, and security of the displaced population and the ones who remain in Nagorno Karabakh remain the highest priority, and that women and marginalised groups’ specific needs and priorities are considered when planning and distributing aid.

While large funders have pledged funding packages to support the displaced population and the current crisis, it is also key to ensure that these funds are distributed directly to local organisations [3] and through simplified access mechanisms. Women’s rights organisations and local civil society in Armenia have been on the frontlines of the support systems during the Second Karabakh War in 2020 and the global covid-19 pandemic, reaching the most marginalised groups.

Based on The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s observations, consultations with local partners, and global experience, the Nagorno Karabakh crisis is far from over, and the conflict sides are yet to find a settlement, and address the physical and long-term psychosocial impacts of the conflict. For long-lasting peace in the region, all involved parties should ensure that gendered perspectives in the post-conflict and (re)settlement processes are taken into account via consultations with women human rights defenders (WHRDs) and experts. 

The crisis will have long-standing implications over the coming period for all local communities. Therefore, it is important that the conflict sides continue negotiations towards normalisation, security guarantees, and strategies for dignified coexistence and social justice.

Mental health and psychosocial support, as well as trauma-informed mediation efforts should be at the forefront of continued work with the affected communities on all sides, as well as WHRDs, activists, and women’s rights organisations.

It is imperative to monitor early warnings of potential intra-community tensions, domestic and gender-based violence, and exclusion between host and displaced communities, and to observe general psychosocial impacts, which, if left unaddressed, could result in violence.

Moreover, during the post-conflict period, the level of propaganda and disinformation is expected to remain high, both across and within communities. This is also in relation to state-sponsored propaganda, which, in turn, has the potential to fuel violence, both physical and online.

Kvinna till Kvinna continues to stand in solidarity with the WHRDs and women’s rights organisations working to support the affected populations on multiple levels, and in light of the alarming criticality of the situation, urgently calls on the following:

  • For all responsible parties, to guarantee long-term support to displaced populations to live in dignity, such as food, shelter, medical and hygienic supplies, as well as legal and psychosocial support, long-term infrastructural projects, employment, education, and other forms of integration;
  • For humanitarian organisations to ensure that gendered means, such as hygiene kits, menstrual products, birth control/contraceptive options, and emergency supplies for pregnant women, are integral and regular components of humanitarian aid packages;
  • For all political actors, including those supporting mediation efforts, during all efforts towards normalisation, as well as planning for future steps and strategies, to maintain regular consultations with WHRDs, women’s rights organisations and marginalised groups to ensure gendered analysis and policy advice, and consultations on monitoring the human rights situation;
  • For all the parties involved, including local and national actors, to ensure measures for the mitigation of radicalised narratives and to refrain from spreading unverified information that could fuel conflict and violence;
  • For international donors and funders to provide flexible, emergency, crisis response, and sustainable resources to women’s rights organisations and marginalised groups working to support the affected populations.

Kvinna till Kvinna’s partner organisations on the ground suggest a list of trusted local women’s rights groups directly involved in the support of displaced communities and crisis response.  Please, see the list of suggested groups below:

  • Women’s Fund Armenia—a feminist Fund, mobilising resources in support of local and regional women’s rights groups and activists, working to support displaced communities (Please see WFA’s Call to Action);
  • Sose Women’s NGO in Goris—Providing first-hand humanitarian support to newly arrived forcibly displaced people in the Syunik region: one of the main recipient regions of the displaced population;
  • Women’s Center. Shushi—An organisation previously based in NK, now working with displaced women in Armenia and providing short and long-term support;
  • Women’s Agenda—Coordinating joint gender-responsive early warning efforts and providing crisis-response through working with journalists and international stakeholders;
  • Women’s Resource Center—Providing emergency kits, gender-sensitive hygiene products and focusing on the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of displaced women;
  • Armavir Development Center—Primary needs assessment and psychosocial support to the displaced population from NK;
  • Frontline Youth Network – Working with local government representatives to help them respond to crisis and receive the displaced people in regional towns;
  • FemForward NGO—Providing emergency support to women in the Gegharkunik region;
  • Spitak Helsinki Group—Providing psychosocial support and kits with essential hygiene products to displaced groups, particularly women in the Lori region;
  • Queer Sista platform—Safe space, trauma-healing psychosocial support and art therapy for the lesbian, bisexual, and queer community.

[1] The territory of Nagorno Karabakh has been at the core of ethno-territorial conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan for more than three decades. The Soviet Union established the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast in 1923 and nurtured its political status and identity, using the so-called method of on-the-territory social engineering: changing the demographic picture of the region and promoting the idea of an ethnic majority group having a right of self-determination connected to its territory. In 1991, the Karabakh Armenians declared the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic as an independent state; however, it has never been internationally recognised, even by Armenia. In late September 2023, the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic was dissolved and will cease to exist by the end of 2023. Thus, the dissolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh entity ends a hundred years during which Nagorno-Karabakh had its aspirations for territorial and political independence.

[2] The CEECCNA Collaborative Fund, a platform supporting intersectional movements in the region, has also shared an appeal to the international community, where they recommend, among other things, to ‘recognise the situation not only as a human rights crisis but also as a human rights crisis that demands immediate attention and support for long-term rehabilitation, sustainable crisis response, and peacebuilding efforts.’

[3] Also a recommendation from the CEECCNA Collaborative Fund.

—South Caucasus office, The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation 

To learn more about the conflict over Nagorno Karabakh, read the following resources: