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The crisis we ignore

Armenians are in danger as the world looks the other way

Artillery Row

Beneath Armenia’s hauntingly beautiful folk music, delicious cuisine and enduring pride lies a tragic history of deadly persecution, genocide and abandonment. Now, past horrors could be repeated if something isn’t done as soon as possible about the murderous intentions and actions of Armenia’s neighbour, Azerbaijan.

At this time, over 120,000 ethnic Armenians are trapped in desperate circumstances by Azerbaijani dictator Ilham Aliyev whilst the West twiddles its thumbs and gives him a wink. You’d hardly know this from much of the news media, which is more focused on blasting out self-righteous rhetoric about how America is saving “democracy” in Ukraine or hyperventilating over Donald Trump’s latest indictment.

At stake here is the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region, which held a referendum in 1991 and declared independence from the USSR. Azerbaijan didn’t recognize this and attacked pro-Armenian forces in the territory, who succeeded in pushing them back and establishing a safe haven for Armenians in 1994. Most of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh to Armenians) was occupied by Azerbaijan during its 2020 invasion, however. This cut off Artsakh from the rest of Armenia except for access via the Lachin corridor, which Armenians call “the road of life”.

Artsakh has never been part of sovereign Azerbaijan, which was only recognized in 1991 and has tenuous claims to nationhood itself. In addition to Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan claims it has owed “ancestral” land inside Georgia, Iran and other nations, though it never claimed its current enclaves such as Nakhichevan at the time of its independence. Now, Baku’s pan-Turkic ambitions are constantly expanding the list of areas that are supposedly becoming spontaneously and inherently “Azerbaijani”, with Artsakh at the top of the list.

In December of last year, a number of supposed “ecological” activists from Azerbaijan showed up to block the Lachin corridor, saying without proof that illegal mining was going on in the area. A few months later, Azerbaijani soldiers set up a checkpoint, charging that the route was being used to smuggle arms into Artsakh. Residents of Artsakh reportedly haven’t been able to leave or enter since that time. International and Armenian aid efforts to get food and medicine in via Lachin have also been stymied by Azerbaijani troops and the Russians backing them, as Artsakh’s residents descend into all-out misery and starvation.

As Felix Light reports for Reuters:

Karabakh’s population say they are only able to eat what can be produced locally, and even that is delivered only sporadically to Stepanakert [Artsakh’s capital], as farmers lack fuel to bring their products to market.

Artsakh has become “like a concentration camp” according to locals living there, with Telegraph reporter Jessie Williams observing that Azerbaijan’s “blockade is proving fatal and fuelling an ever-worsening — and largely unnoticed — humanitarian crisis on Europe’s doorstep”.

At least one death has already been recorded due to starvation, as well as numerous people collapsing due to malnutrition. Families are suffering without sufficient access to water, medicine, food or fuel.

Former ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo recently warned that ethnic Armenians in Artsakh face genocide via starvation, and Russia is partly to blame. As Ocampo notes, Russia made the last “peace” deal in 2020. It is technically in the “peacekeeping” position in this conflict.

Instead of doing anything to get Lachin reopened, Russia is reneging on its 2020 treaty commitments and protecting Azerbaijan. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan signed a ceasefire agreement with Aliyev and Vladimir Putin after the last Nagorno-Karabakh war in November of 2020, agreeing to keep the Lachin corridor open as a basic condition of peace. Armenia even concluded good faith agreements to further link Azerbaijani people in Nakhichevan with their homeland via “construction of new transport communications linking the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic with the western regions of Azerbaijan”.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought back and forth since the USSR fell apart

The West wants to continue the flow of Azerbaijani energy for Europe to replace lost sources from Russia, and NATO’s precious rhetoric about “democracy” is nowhere to be found when it comes to this crisis. Armenians bitterly recall EU commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen referring to Aliyev and his regime as “trustworthy energy suppliers” just last year. Credit is due to several members of the US Congress for expressing outrage. Still, a slow-motion genocide is underway, more than one century after the Ottomans caused the massacres of 1.5 million Armenians during the Armenian Genocide.

The West, from Secretary of State Antony Blinken on down, wants to paint Azerbaijan’s conflict with Artsakh as some kind of mild miscommunication where “both sides” have to compromise. How are Armenians supposed to compromise when the other side wants them dead? How can it be about “both sides” when the Biden administration has favoured Azerbaijan with mountains of military assistance each year, expecting Armenians to cede their land to a government that regards them as subhuman scum who are “not even worthy of being a servant.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought back and forth since the USSR fell apart. 160,000 Azeris were expelled from Armenia in the past century, as well as 40,000 from Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) and 300,000 from the seven buffer zone regions of the NKAO. Over 500,000 Armenians were also expelled from Azerbaijan around the same time period. Baku’s obsession with crushing Artsakh is pathological, and it has been ongoing since at least the 1940s.

After the first Artsakh war ended in 1994, many Azerbaijanis remained in Armenia. The converse was not the case, as ethnic Armenians in Azerbaijan fled out of fear for their lives. Aliyev boosters and apologists say Artsakh’s only choice is to become part of Azerbaijan, which would reward Aliyev’s weaponization of food and deny ethnic Armenians the right to self-determination.

Azerbaijan claims aid and food can be taken to Artsakh via the Aghdam Road instead, accusing Armenia of staging the current crisis as a “provocation. Aghdam road is inside Azerbaijan. The danger of Azerbaijan using this to simply increase their control and torture of the residents of Artsakh is obvious, in addition to the clear potential for Azerbaijani supply convoys to taint and sabotage food and medical supplies.

Aliyev’s foreign policy advisor Hikmet Hajiyev recently claimed Armenia is trying to derail peace in the Caucasus: playing “diplomatic games”, making “false claims” and organising “disinformation”. Hajiyev stated that the Lachin corridor has actually already reopened. Azerbaijan is the real victim here, he insists, whilst Armenia has consistently refused to dialogue by refusing to recognize Azerbaijan’s full right to Nagorno-Karabakh.

Despite blaming Armenia for everything, Hajiyev did admit Artsakh residents are in dire conditions. His words were contradicted by Baku’s own UN representative, who recently held up random photos of cookies from Twitter trolls and claimed that Armenians in Artsakh are doing fine.

The Caucasus can be a complex place, with conflicts often overlapping and diverging along ethnic, religious and geographical lines, or even temporary alliances of conjoined interest. The current situation in Artsakh, however, really isn’t that complex to any honest observer — Armenian or not.

The Western media is too prone to “both sides-ism”. There aren’t two or even three sides here; there’s one side: the Armenian people and their right to exist. Like the Yazidis, and other ethnic minorities in the region, Armenians are not just a pawn in a geopolitical game as Russian or American authorities may view them. They are human beings whose lives are just as real and important as any American or British person, something Armenian Americans recently drew attention to by blocking a highway in Los Angeles.

Azerbaijan is doing its best to ethnically cleanse every last Armenian from Artsakh or force them into a humiliating, enslaved position with no rights. It’s counting on Westerners turning a blind eye in order to accomplish this goal. Its offer to let Armenians remain unmolested inside Azerbaijan rings more than hollow coming from a racist, autocratic regime that awarded war criminals with its highest honours after they viciously murdered and beheaded Armenians, including ”National Hero” Ramil Safarov and Ibad Huseynov.

Aliyev has vowed to “chase away” Armenian “dogs” since taking over office from his father Heydar in 2003. The current crisis is no one-off, either. Azerbaijan has its eyes on isolating and ethnically cleansing Syunik and rampaging deeper into Armenia once it can squeeze the Armenian population out of Artsakh.

The Azerbaijani army committed numerous atrocities and war crimes during its 2020 invasion into ethnic Armenian territory, posting clips on social media with impunity and mocking and spitting on Armenian civilians before beheading or desecrating them in scenes worthy of the worst actions of ISIS.

Azerbaijani individuals on social media routinely send death threats to Armenian social media users, politicians and think tank members, mocking the potential starvation death of children and promising the elimination of Armenians from Artsakh as soon as possible. Other Azerbaijani dissidents have spoken out in various ways, including in an open letter of solidarity, but Azerbaijan is a dangerous place to be anti-Aliyev, to say the least.

The Aliyev dictatorship, which is in direct contravention of a binding statement by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the Hague and an order from the ECHR, has also expanded its aggressive rhetoric. It has used footage of Yerevan and the rest of Armenia as examples of its own true homeland — part of Baku’s revisionist, denialist history in which Armenians aren’t a real people.

Baku claims Armenians have no authentic, native history or right to their land, perhaps fearing what it would see if its own government and state looked in the mirror. Azerbaijan’s government has gone so far as to engage in some imaginative archaeological propaganda and claim Armenian churches aren’t even Armenian.

Russia has no real interest in helping Armenia anymore

Andrew Tate and Tucker Carlson may think Aliyev is great, but those who know the real situation on the ground aren’t nearly so glib. Just because Azerbaijan is a relatively small nation with clownishly incompetent and thuggish diplomats does not make these threats and delusions any less alarming, particularly considering its alliances with some of the richest and most powerful nations in the world. Azerbaijan continues to be a crucial locus point for Western military strategy and material, as it was during the Afghanistan war.

Turkey backs Azerbaijan, as does the government of Israel, the UK and the United States. These powerful states see Azerbaijan as a useful oil supplier and a bulwark against Iranian influence in the region.

Russia has no real interest in helping Armenia anymore as it proved by falling short of CSTO commitments in the last war. At this point, Moscow clearly favours Azerbaijan and is cozying up to Aliyev. Russian “peacekeeper” troops have actively deployed against peaceful Armenian protesters at the Lachin Corridor entrance whilst doing nothing to stand up to Azerbaijan when it shut down the corridor. So much for a neutral peacekeeping force.

France talks a lot about supporting Armenia, but it is not willing to actually do anything. Armenia’s only other potentially powerful ally, Iran, prefers to benefit as it can from Aliyev’s rich regime.

Where does that leave Armenia? There are some signs of hope stateside, with regard to direct military support for Azerbaijan. As the head of the Regional Center for Democracy and Security in Armenia, Tigran Grigoryan recently said, “the first sign that the US is considering taking a tougher stance on Baku” came in news that the Biden administration is moving more slowly on renewing its usual massive military assistance to Azerbaijan and waiver a former block on assistance.

“Officials have offered no explanation for the delay,” noted Eric Bazail-Eimil and Gabriel Gavin in their article for Politico.

“However, it coincides with increasing concern within the international community that Azerbaijan is responsible for a worsening humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh.”

This is only a glimmer of hope. Dramatic action needs to happen soon before the worst nightmares of last century’s ethnic cleansing occur right under our noses with the tacit approval of NATO and the West.

Armenians have the right to survive and have their basic rights respected even if their country isn’t parked on top of massive oil wealth. Armenians have a right to get back their prisoners of war that Azerbaijan is still holding and find out how many other captured Armenian soldiers were executed, too.

The international community, including the UK, needs to step in immediately and put on pressure to get the Lachin corridor open again, before this situation becomes exponentially more horrific.

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