Nagorno-Karabakh and the Armenian Cultural Diplomacy in Italy

Nagorno-Karabakh's event in Rome
A moment during the photographic exhibition organised in Rome and dedicated to the situation in the Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh (Credits: SpecialEurasia)

Kavkaz Files ISSN 2975-0474 Volume 20 Issue 3
Author: Silvia Boltuc

The recent photographic exhibition about the Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh organised in Rome underlined the role that the Armenian cultural diplomacy might play to inform the Italian public opinion and audience about the problem that the region has been experiencing after the Azerbaijani military aggression in September 2023.

This report wants to contextualise the impact and importance for Armenia that cultural events such a photographic exhibition can have in Italy, a country which in the last years has developed a strong commercial partnership and connection with Azerbaijan and has demonstrated less attention and interests to the Yerevan and Stepanakert’s position about the Nagorno-Karabakh while has privileged Baku’s narrative.

Artsakh Photographic Exhibition in Rome: Information Background

On November 28th, 2023, the Italy-Armenia Parliamentary Friendship Intergroup sponsored the photographic exhibition titled “Artsakh: The Forced Exodus of Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh in 2023,” curated by Nicolò Ongaro in collaboration with the Armenian General Benevolent Union Milan. This exhibition documented the mass exodus of the Armenian population of the Artsakh following the Azerbaijani military operation aimed at acquiring control of the territories of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Tsovinar Hambardzumyan, the Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia to Italy, Gayanè Khodaveerdi, President of the sponsoring Association, Nicolò Ongaro, the photographer, and Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Pontifical Legate of the Armenian Church in Western Europe and Representative of the Armenian Church to the Holy See (Vatican), attended the event and informed the audience about the current humanitarian crises and the harsh conditions that local Armenians have faced since the beginning of Baku’s military offensive in September 2023.

Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh Today: Geopolitical Scenario

The Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, called Artsakh by the Armenians, has faced a serious humanitarian crisis since the blockade of the Lachin Corridor (the route connecting Armenia to the Republic of Artsakh) imposed by Azerbaijan starting from December 2022.

The situation worsened in April 2023, when Azerbaijan established a new checkpoint, ultimately leading to a complete closure of the road on June 14th, 2023. Because of this blockade, Artsakh experienced severe scarcity, with supermarkets empty, public transportation halted due to fuel shortages, districts facing electricity, gas, and water shortages, and limited access to medical supplies and treatments.

Although Baku’s authorities offered to supply the region through an alternative route via the Azerbaijani city of Aghdam, residents of Artsakh believed that Azerbaijan’s offer was a strategy aimed to assimilate the republic into its territory rather than addressing the urgent humanitarian crisis faced by its people. Indeed, further developments proved them right.

On September 19th, 2023, Azerbaijan began what Baku referred to as ‘local anti-terrorist measures’ in Nagorno-Karabakh to restore the constitutional order. Since the end of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict, the government in Stepanakert has consistently alerted the Armenian and international authorities about Azerbaijan’s significant buildup of military strength following the war and the potential for provocations.

Despite Baku publicly stating a desire to prevent further conflict in the region, Baku’s decision to launch a so-called ‘counter-terrorism operation’ suggested a deliberate and planned strategy of territorial assimilation and conquest.

The Azerbaijani military offensive on Nagorno-Karabakh has led to a severe humanitarian crisis, prompting numerous Armenian civilians to leave the area. This mass exodus stems from Armenians’ deep concerns about living under Baku’s governance. Despite repeated statements from Azerbaijani authorities about their dedication to building a diverse and tolerant society, there might be evidence showing a contradiction with this stated goal.

Grounded in openly available sources and public information, SpecialEurasia’s team previously showed that a segment of Azerbaijani society or Azeri Diaspora in the post-Soviet Space on different Telegram channels in the Russian language exhibits pronounced sentiments of Armenophobia, manifesting in a discernible hostility towards Armenians in occasion of the Nagorno-Karabakh crisis.

In response to the threats of genocide and ethnic cleansing by Azerbaijan, over 100,400 ethnic Armenians, nearly the entire present population of Nagorno-Karabakh, had fled by the end of September 2023. International experts have labelled this mass displacement of people as a war crime or a crime against humanity.

The repercussions of Azerbaijan’s blockade stretch beyond the immediate humanitarian crisis. The tactic of implementing a blockade under the guise of environmental concerns sets a risky precedent that other nations might adopt in the future. This approach could effectively pressure a targeted nation into accepting unfavourable terms, jeopardising principles of sovereignty and self-determination.

Furthermore, the Azerbaijani blockade highlighted the Baku’s confidence in its ability to engineer a humanitarian crisis to coerce the governments in Yerevan into compliance without international interference.

The final military intervention in Artsakh stands as a tragic event broadcasted to the international community, which has proven ineffective in safeguarding the human rights of the 120,000 Armenians affected.

Within the broader geopolitical landscape, Azerbaijan’s role as a strategic partner to the European Union holds significant weight, particularly considering the EU’s efforts to diversify its energy sources following the Ukraine conflict.

Consequently, President Ilham Aliyev holds a privileged position, partly because of the Azerbaijani lobby and the so-called ‘caviar diplomacy.’ This special relationship between Baku and Brussels significantly influences the EU’s approach to the crisis.

In this context, Italy has proven to have become one of the main commercial partners of Azerbaijan in the European Union. Indeed, when Ilham Aliyev visited Rome in September 2022, Italian official state media covered the news by emphasising Baku’s strategic role in supporting Italy and Europe’s energy diversification.


Although geopolitics matters and military victories do change the regional balance of power and territorial division in the Caucasus, the issue of the Nagorno-Karabakh will continue being a significant aspect for those Armenians who left their homeland in September 2023.

Therefore, we might ascribe initiatives such as the photographic exhibition organised a Rome as part of the Armenian struggle to counter Baku’s narrative, which has always promoted in Europe the idea that Artsakh is historically part of Azerbaijan.

Considering the rising relations and cooperation between Italy and Azerbaijan although Rome and Yerevan have a strong cultural and historical connection, by fostering people-to-people connection and raise awareness among the public audience though artistic exhibition Armenia can strive to balance Baku’s narrative and influence in Italy.

Inform Italian citizens and politicians about the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh can also hinder the Italian government to extend its cooperation with Azerbaijan, a country which international non-governmental organisation such as Freedom House or Reporters Without Borders have classified as ‘non free’ and an ‘authoritarian regime’.

The exhibition’s success in raising awareness in Italy could lead to increased international pressure on Azerbaijan to address the humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh. Therefore, Italy may find itself at the center of diplomatic efforts to mediate or facilitate dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan, given its position as a commercial partner to both nations and Rome’s cultural connections with the Caucasus, especially Yerevan.

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