It has been my privilege to visit the historic Armenian land of Nagorno Karabakh/Artsakh nearly 90 times (so I am told – I do not count my visits!).
I witnessed the war waged by Azerbaijan against the Armenians in the early 1990s and the courage of the Armenian inhabitants which resulted in their freedom to continue to live in their precious land. They have developed their political freedoms with the establishment of democracy and promoted numerous developments with high quality education, health care, agriculture and culture.
Then, in September 2020, Azerbaijan inflicted more military offensives succeeding in the capture of a significant proportion of Artsakh with devastating consequences for the Armenians living there. A ceasefire agreement was negotiated. However, Azerbaijan has failed to honour its ceasefire commitments and is committing crimes against humanity with impunity. For example, the agreement required the release of prisoners. Armenia released Azeri prisoners – but Azerbaijan has failed to release Armenian prisoners, who are suffering sustained anguish of imprisonment.
Then, in December 2022, Azerbaijan escalated military offensives and continues to violate the ceasefire with various types of weapons. I give just one recent example: between July 3 and 5 this year, the Azerbaijani Armed Forces violated the ceasefire in the regions of Sushi and Martakert, employing small arms and a 60 mm mortar.
Other crimes against humanity perpetrated by Azerbaijan include the blockade of the Lachin corridor – the only road connecting Armenia to Artsakh – preventing the transfer of essential food and medical supplies to the civilians in Artsakh.
A Human Rights Watch on-site investigation in Stepanakert found incidents in which Azerbaijani forces used “inherently indiscriminate cluster munitions and artillery rockets” or other weapons that did not distinguish between military targets and civilian objects. According to their report of an attack: “…multiple strikes hit residential homes in less than a minute suggesting possible bombardment – treating the whole area as a military target – which is prohibited under the laws of war. Azerbaijani forces also attacked infrastructure that may have an unlawfully disproportionate impact on the civilian population.” (Human Rights Watch, ‘Armenia: Unlawful Rocket, Missile Strikes on Azerbaijan’, 11 December 2020).
Azerbaijan has also completely or partially interrupted the supply of gas to Artsakh for at least 142 days and the supply of electricity has been completely disrupted for 180 days causing daily blackouts and emergency shutdowns of many facilities.
Schools have had to close because of food shortages and current film footage shows immensely poignant pictures of empty shelves in shops which should have been well stocked with food, medicines and equipment to supply everyday needs.
The ICRC (international Committee of the Red Cross) has provided life-saving support for the Armenians in Artsakh but their provision of essential supplies has been strongly curtailed by Azerbaijan and many citizens are now suffering severely from shortages of food, medical supplies and other essential provisions. Birth miscarriages have reportedly tripled as the reproductive health of women is affected by malnutrition – and perinatal mortality rates have reportedly increased, associated with high levels of stress and difficulties in access to essential medical services.
Azerbaijan’s brutal policies imposed to create this genocidal situation are well recorded and reported. They should generate appropriate responses from the international community. Some nations have raised serious concerns. For example, Amnesty International, the International Court of Justice and Freedom House (as well as many other significant organisations) have recorded their concerns and requirements to Azerbaijan to stop the illegal blockade of Artsakh by Azerbaijan. However, Azerbaijan continues the blockade with impunity.
And Azeri leaders have frequently voiced aggression and hatred regarding the Armenians of Artsakh. I give just two examples from recent years.
On 27 September, 2020, Azerbaijan launched a large-scale military offensive against Nagorno Karabakh, justified by President Ilham Aliyev, with these words:
“Enough is enough, we will not tolerate this occupation any longer. We said that we would drive the enemy out of our lands! We are not interested in any
negotiations… The Azerbaijani people’s patience had already run out… I said
that we would chase them, that we would chase them like dogs, and we chased
them, we chased them like dogs.”
And Mete Turksoy, an Azerbaijani political activist, posted on Twitter in October 2020:
“Not a single civilian should be left alive in Nagorno-Karabakh.”
On July 25th this year, mass rallies by the Armenians of Artsakh were held in Stepanakert and Yerevan to protest against Azerbaijan’s illegal blockades and the concern over an impending genocide of the Armenians in Artsakh.
Now, dialogues between the Armenian and Azeri representatives continue but the suffering of the Armenian civilians in Artsakh continues to escalate. Anyone who is concerned about the situation needs to do everything possible to call Azerbaijan to account for well documented crimes against humanity and to ensure a peaceful solution to the current crises – to enable the Armenians of Artsakh again to live in freedom in their historic lands.