Armenia will be invaded if West does not stand up to Azerbaijan, warns ambassador

Refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh region riding in a truck arrive at the border with Armenia
Refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh region riding in a truck arrive at the border with Armenia - IRAKLI GEDENIDZE/Reuters

Azerbaijan may launch an invasion of Armenia if the West fails to respond robustly to its takeover of Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia’s ambassador to Britain has warned.

Varuzhan Nersesyan said it was probably “too late” to prevent an exodus of ethnic Armenians from the enclave, but said firm security guarantees might not be enough to protect the few who remain and avert another war.

“Now that they see the international community’s reaction is a soft one… it’s not excluded that they may be tempted to carry out another attack on the Republic of Armenia,” he told the Telegraph.

“It is a serious situation and here the international community has a preventive and preemptive role to play, not to allow any country that is becoming a bully in international relations to threaten neighbouring countries and to present unfounded territorial claims.”

Azerbaijan launched what it called an “anti-terrorist” operation against an ethnic-Armenian separatist controlled region of Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh, on Sept 19.

The assault lasted 24 hours and ended with Azerbaijani forces claiming full control of the region for the first time since a war in the 1990s.

It has resulted in a vast refugee crisis as tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians flee down the narrow mountain road connecting the region with the Republic of Armenia.

Mr Nersesyan said there were now serious concerns in Yerevan about Azerbaijani claims to a so-called Zangezur corridor, which would cross sovereign Armenian territory to link Azerbaijan with an exclave called Nakhchivan.

“There is such a threat, because they have not seen the international community acting throughout the nine months of the inhuman blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh other than calls and statements,” he said.

“The international community needed to react to this in a very robust, harsh, harsh manner.”

Ethnic cleansing

Azerbaijan has denied ethnic cleansing in Karabakh.

Ilham Aliyev, the Azeri president, said last week that Armenians could “finally breathe a sigh of relief” and would be able to vote, receive state education and freely practise their Christian religion in mainly Muslim Azerbaijan.

Many ethnic Armenians say they do not trust such assurances and have fled, in what Armenian officials say is a clear example of ethnic cleansing.

The main road from Karabakh to Armenia has been choked for days by cars carrying refugees.

The Armenian government said 50,000 people, or more than a third of the Nagorno-Karabakh population, had crossed into Armenia as of 11am on Wednesday.

Azerbaijan said it had detained the former head of Nagorno-Karabakh’s separatist government as he tried to cross into Armenia.

Ruben Vardanyan, a billionaire businessman who made his fortune in Russia where he owned a major investment bank, moved to Nagorno-Karabakh in 2022 and served as the head of the regional government for several months before stepping down earlier this year.

The crisis has highlighted increasing instability on Russia’s periphery.

Russia is Armenia’s security principal ally and sent about 2,000 peacekeepers to the region to enforce the ceasefire that ended a war in the summer of 2022.

However, the peacekeepers did not prevent Azerbaijan from imposing a nine-month blockade on Nagorno-Karabakh by closing the so-called Lachin corridor, the only road linking it with Armenia. Nor did they contest the Azerbaijani assault last week.

Some analysts have suggested Russia was simply too weak to resist the Azeri attack because it is preoccupied with the war in Ukraine.

Others have suggested the peacekeepers’ inaction points to a secret deal between Baku and Moscow ahead of the assault.

The Russian foreign ministry on Monday accused Nikol Pashinyan, the Armenian prime minister of bringing the disaster on himself by flirting with the West at the expense of traditional ties with Moscow.

Armenian officials insist they continue to honour their alliance with Russia and have denied “flirting” with anyone.

But Mr Nersesyan said Yerevan would be “reassessing” its security arrangements in the aftermath of the conflict because the “current arrangements clearly have not worked.”

Baku says that it wants locals to stay and accept Azeri citizenship.

Roads have been choked with cars amid the mass exodus of ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh
Roads have been choked with cars amid the mass exodus of ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh - IRAKLI GEDENIDZE/Reuters

Russia’s failure to enforce the ceasefire leaves Yerevan diplomatically isolated.

Nato is not likely to assist it because Turkey, a key member of the alliance, is a close ally of Azerbaijan.

Baku has also built close ties with other Western powers in recent years, portraying itself as a reliable security partner and energy supplier.

Western officials have demanded access for international observers to ensure Azerbaijan keeps its promises but have also shied away from harsh criticism of Baku.

Samantha Power, the head of USAID, on Tuesday refused twice to use the term “ethnic cleansing” when asked by journalists whether that was what was going on.

She said there were “very troubling reports of violence against civilians”, adding, “There are a range of options under consideration,” when asked whether Azerbaijan might face consequences for its action.

The European Commission in a statement on Tuesday expressed concern for those who “had decided to flee,” but made no mention of what they were fleeing.

It issued an amended statement on Wednesday expressing “solidarity with those who had no choice but to flee.”

Mr Nersesyan declined to criticise the Commission or Ms Power, who he called “a great friend of Armenia.”

But he added: “Of course we wish the West called things with their own name. It is ethnic cleansing, whichever way it is trying to conceal and decorate it with fake notions of reintegration.”

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 1 month, then enjoy 1 year for just $9 with our US-exclusive offer.