Op-Ed by Emily Thompson
Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh have been locked in a conflict over their homeland with Azerbaijan since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Now, they face starvation and death.
Since last December, Azerbaijan has reportedly enforced a blockade on the primary road, known as the Lachin Corridor, that connects Nagorno-Karabakh to the world. This blockade poses a profound humanitarian threat as over 120,000 people, including 30,000 children, now face potential shortages of essential goods, medical supplies, and more. The global community’s limited awareness of this overlooked and underreported crisis means the scale of suffering is not fully understood nor properly addressed, underscoring the urgency for international awareness and intervention.
According to a recent UN Security Council report, on December 12, 2022, a group of demonstrators claiming to be environmental activists launched protests near the town of Shusha in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, blocking the Lachin corridor and effectively restricting the flow of food, medical supplies, and other essential goods. In a December 20, 2022 letter to the Secretary-General, Armenia alleged that the demonstrators were “acting under false pretenses and manifestly under the instructions and guidance of the authorities of Azerbaijan,” described the situation as an “imminent humanitarian crisis,” and called for an urgent and efficient response from the international community. Azerbaijani authorities have denied the existence of a blockade and a humanitarian crisis.
In February, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), in its consideration of the case Armenia v. Azerbaijan in relation to the application of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, granted Armenia’s September 2022 request for the court to indicate provisional measures, ordering Azerbaijan to “take all measures at its disposal to ensure unimpeded movement of persons, vehicles, and cargo along the Lachin corridor in both directions.” Although ICJ orders on provisional measures under Article 41 of the ICJ Statute are legally binding, Baku did not comply.
In April, Azerbaijani forces installed a checkpoint along the Lachin corridor, consolidating Baku’s control over the flow of goods into the Nagorno-Karabakh region. In a letter to the Secretary-General in July, Azerbaijan argued that the checkpoint was necessary to prevent the import of “weapons, military equipment and soldiers into Azerbaijan’s sovereign territory.” It denied, however, that the checkpoint is used as a blockade. Yerevan, in turn, accused Baku in a letter in July of violating international humanitarian law by impeding the provision of humanitarian aid, as well as contravening the 2020 ceasefire agreement, which tasked Russian peacekeepers with the responsibility of monitoring the Lachin corridor.
While the Biden administration appears unconcerned with this issue, other leaders have stepped in. Luis Moreno Ocampo, former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, released an explosive report in August stating that when assessing the Azerbaijani blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh, “there is a reasonable basis to believe that a genocide is being committed.” The report states, “Without immediate dramatic change, this group of Armenians will be destroyed in a few weeks.”
Following Ocampo’s report, on Wednesday Sep. 6, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission will hold a hearing on the ongoing blockade of the Lachin corridor in Nagorno-Karabakh. At the hearing, Ocampo will present his expert opinion on the situation.
As reported in The Telegraph, a recent meeting of the UN Security Council also highlighted the fact that Azerbaijan is preventing the International Red Cross from visiting Nagorno-Karabakh, and the government in Baku continues to ignore calls from a wide array of international organisations — including the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) — to restore freedom of movement and the transfer of vital supplies through the Lachin Corridor.
According to an AP report, “Mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh, smaller than the U.S. state of Delaware, has significant cultural importance to both Armenians and Azeris. It had a substantial degree of autonomy within Azerbaijan when it was part of the Soviet Union. As the USSR deteriorated, Armenian separatist unrest broke out, later turning into a full-scale war after the Soviet Union collapsed.”
Nagorno-Karabakh came under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by the Armenian military in separatist fighting that ended in 1994. Armenian forces also took control of substantial territory around the region. Azerbaijan regained control of the surrounding territory in a six-week war with Armenia in 2020.
In his report, Ocampo notes that starvation has been used in the past to subjugate and kill people and was often ignored by the international community.
“Starvation as a method to destroy people was neglected by the entire international community when it was used against Armenians in 1915, Jews and Poles in 1939, Russians in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) in 1941, and Cambodians in 1975/1976. Starvation was also neglected when used in Srebrenica in the winter of 1993/1994.”
Ocampo also notes that “there is reasonable basis to believe that President Aliyev has Genocidal intentions: he has knowingly, willingly and voluntarily blockaded the Lachin Corridor even after having been placed on notice regarding the consequences of his actions by the ICJ’s provisional orders.”
As leader of the free world, U.S. President Joe Biden must step in and get involved in this unfolding tragedy before it is too late. America has stood by far too often as genocides took place around the world. Today, America has the power to make a difference and save the lives of the 120,000 Armenians facing certain starvation. Now is the time to act.
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