Azerbaijan is in total war mode. So is Armenia. Both are engaged in the most intense fighting since the original conflict in the early 1990s over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh (or Artsaj), an ethnic Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan.

For 26 years, the area has experienced a frozen truce, periodically interrupted by violent spasms.  Baku, who warned over the years that the use of force would be the last resort if the peace process were to be exhausted, has used in its favour the resolutions adopted by the Security Council in 1993 (822, 853, 874 and 884), which called on Armenian troops to leave all these territories. However, on 27 September, according to the Armenian Ministry of Defence, there was an attack on civilian settlements in Nagorno-Karabakh, including its capital, Stepanakert. For his part, his Azeri counterpart stated that five members of the same family were killed by an Armenian air strike in Azeri territory.

Yerevan is clear that the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh forms the Republic of Artsaj, and although it has wanted to maintain that it is an independent state, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled in 2015 that it is from the central government of Yerevan that the local administration of Nagorno-Karabakh is controlled.

No one agrees on the status of the territory or who started the latest escalation of violence. For some a homeland close to Armenia, for others an Azeri enclave, and in the meantime the number of deaths from the escalation of the conflict has already risen to over 250, though there has been no official figure from either side. 

This Friday (a couple of days after conducting this interview) the Armenian prime minister, Nikol Pashinián, has stated that there is no diplomatic solution because Baku only wants a military one.

The Armenian ambassador to Spain, Vladimir Karmirshalyan, the Soviet Union’s consul in Vietnam, ambassador to Argentina and, since last year, the Armenian ambassador to Spain, sees only one solution to the conflict: recognition of Artsaj’s independence.

What happened on 27 September in Nagorno-Karabakh?

That day, at 6:00 in the morning, the Azeris started to enter Artsaj territory with tanks, heavy artillery, unmanned aerial vehicles… and not only attacked Nagorno-Karabakh, nor the border with Azerbaijan, but also eastern Armenia.

And so this new chapter in the conflict began?

Yes, it did. We did not need a war. There was already a Republic, the Republic of Arstaj, which had everything that an independent state needs: executive, legislative and judicial power. And, moreover, it had international relations, something that is essential for an independent country.  I am not talking about diplomatic relations, but representatives of the Republic of Artsaj have participated in international events, and delegates from Nagorno-Karabakh have always been invited to present the vision of this area. It even has its own Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has very close relations with Armenia

Nagorno-Karabakh, for many is an enclave, for us it is a homeland. It is not only a territory, it is a place where Armenians have lived for centuries.

It is a political problem. We have never had any religious or ethnic problems against the Azeris or the Muslims.

But no country, not even Armenia, recognizes the Republic of Artsaj.

Yes, neither the United Nations, nor even we formally recognize the Republic. We don’t want to do it officially because we are trying to negotiate and solve this problem through diplomatic means through the Minsk Group. If we recognize that party, it would be to imply that we do not want a peaceful solution with Azerbaijan, and that is what we want, to find peace.

In 1988 the population of Nagorno-Karabakh voted for independence and in 1991, with the fall of the Soviet Union, it was established as an independent republic on the basis of the laws that existed in the USSR, but this independence was not recognised and Azerbaijan appropriated this territory, which Stalin had given to Baku as a gift.

Fuerzas enfrentadas en el conflicto
PHOTO/AFP-Forces in conflict

90% of the population of Nagorno-Karabakh is Christian. Is this an ethnic, religious or political conflict?

It is a political problem. We have never had religious or ethnic problems against Azeris or Muslims. There are more than six million Armenians around the world, in countries like Lebanon or Iran, and there have never been any problems. They have.  In Stepanakert, the capital, the Azeris destroyed a church during a mass, while people were praying. But the 150,000 people who live in Nagorno-Karabakh are not going to give up. They are very strong and will stay there, they will not abandon it.

Ankara is involved because it could not finish what it started in 1915 with the Armenian genocide. What they want is to finish us. We Armenians are the last Christian obstacle in Turkey’s way to ottomanisation and Islamisation

What role is Turkey playing?

On the first day, September 27, Turkish planes have already flown over the area. For several weeks, the Turkish army was carrying out military training with the Azeri armed forces, and about 600 Turkish soldiers participated in these exercises.

They transferred Turkish armament for these exercises and once the Turkish officers left the area, although quite a few of them have stayed fighting, Azerbaijan is using this armament for the war. For Baku there is only one solution, and that is force. The other day Erdogan, the elder brother of Azerbaijan said that he was with his Azeri brothers until the end. But we know very well that any war ends in a negotiation table. We also know, and this has been shown by institutions such as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, that mercenaries are sent to the conflict zone.

What are Erdogan’s interests?

Nagorno-Karabakh is a fairly rich area and that is why Turkey has interests, but so do many European countries such as Great Britain and Russia.

Ankara is involved because it could not finish what it started in 1915 with the Armenian genocide. What they want is to finish us. We Armenians are the last Christian obstacle in Turkey’s way to ottomanisation and islamisation. Erdogan wants to be an emperor of this 21st century Ottoman empire and therefore he has to remove this obstacle which is Armenia. Turkey is the only country that not only does not recognize the Armenian genocide, but denies it. They tried to eliminate all the Armenian people.  They said “if there are no Armenians, there is no problem” then one million Armenians were massacred.

Un hombre llora sobre la tumba de un compañero de lucha en Stepanakert
PHOTO/AFP-A man cries on the grave of a comrade in struggle in Stepanakert

What about Russia? It has always been pro-Armenia.

With Moscow the situation is somewhat different because it has to maintain good relations with both sides. Russia is one of the three countries, together with the United States and France, that make up the Minsk Group, and has strategic and economic interests with both Armenia and Azerbaijan. It attempts to balance, but it should be borne in mind that Armenia is part of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty (CSTO) and if a third state attacks Armenia, the members of the CSTO would intervene in the conflict by defending Armenia. But I hope that this situation does not arise, because it would become a regional conflict. The proximity to Iran must also be taken into account. Battles are being fought on the Iranian side of the border, so it is not appropriate for it to become a regional conflict.

A humanitarian ceasefire was declared a week ago, but neither side has respected it.

On 17 October, the Armenian and Azerbaijani ministries issued a simultaneous declaration of humanitarian ceasefire so that the bodies could be taken off the streets, but Azerbaijan refused Red Cross aid to collect the bodies of the victims and there are still many soldiers on the streets.

The ceasefire was achieved thanks to the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) Minsk Group and largely to the work of French president Emmanuel Macron. The declarations of the Azeri representatives that they will not cease hostilities until the victorious end of the war, accompanied by those of the Turkish president, show the total lack of will to fulfil the peace commitments. Minutes after the humanitarian ceasefire, the Azeri forces resumed attacks and on 18 October launched a large-scale attack on the southern front.

The European Union has called on both sides to cease hostilities

All the international organisations, the UN and the Security Council, the European Union, Josep Borrell as high representative of European diplomacy, have called for a cessation of hostilities and a peaceful solution. The most important thing is the ceasefire. The lasting decision can only be the proclamation of the independence of the Republic of Artsaj. No person in Nagorno-Karabakh will accept to live under the Azerbaijani administration.