SOSEH HOVASAPIAN, ANI ARZOUMANIAN, AND SHARON ANOUSH CHEKIJIAN , CORNELL UNIVERSITY; COLGATE UNIVERSITY; YALE SCHOOL OF MEDICINE
For over 230 days, a humanitarian crisis has loomed over Artsakh, or Nagorno-Karabakh, an autonomous, ethnically Armenian region within the internationally recognized borders of Azerbaijan. The world has yet to take notice, and why should it? This seemingly unimportant area in the South Caucasus is the current lynchpin of geopolitics dividing East and West, NATO and Central Asia, Israel from monitoring Iran, and Russia from controlling its former republics. A peaceful, democratic populace including 30,000 children is in the crosshairs.
Since Dec. 12, 2022, the Berdzor (Lachin) Corridor, the only road connecting Artsakh to Armenia, has been under blockade by Azerbaijan in an escalation of tensions following the 44-day war of 2020. Now in its eighth month, the blockade is accompanied by increased threats and acts of violence against Artsakh and increasingly the Republic of Armenia.
Initial claims that the blockade was due to protests of “eco-activists” quickly proved to be a ruse to cover up Azerbaijan’s campaign of aggression against the region’s Indigenous Christians. The blockade has two immediate goals. First, to force assimilation into Azerbaijan; Second, to pressure Armenia to allow Azerbaijan to forge a road across its sovereign territory, uniting Turkey with its “brothers” in Azerbaijan, heralding Turkish domination across Central Asia. The intention is to make Armenia into a “rump state,” further isolated and its borders redrawn and diminished. Azerbaijan’s petro-dictator Ilham Aliyev and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s pursuit of geopolitical gain comes at the cost of 120,000 lives.
The implications are disturbingly clear. Erdogan and Aliyev intend to continue the genocide of 1915 and wipe Armenians off the map. Referring to the Armenian genocide, Erdogan said they will “continue to fulfill this mission, which our grandfathers have carried out for centuries in the Caucasus region.” Aliyev has chided Armenians to “behave yourselves” or suffer renewed attacks. Their intended ethnic cleansing has precedents in Turkey during the 1915 genocide, the 1988 and 1990 pogroms of Baku and Sumgait, and the forced depopulation of ethnic Armenians from Nakhichevan, Azerbaijan.
Regarding the right to self-determination of Artsakh’s Armenians, Aliyev made his stance clear with an ultimatum presented to Artsakh authorities: “Disband your government or prepare for the consequences.” This rhetoric is expounded by pro-regime media in Azerbaijan with calls to integrate Artsakh into Azerbaijan. This offers an easy solution for powers who do not understand the history of Armenian persecution. Would the world suggest that the Jewish people assimilate quietly under a Nazi regime? This is what is being laid out—further marginalization and a sure death for the Armenians of Artsakh.
Activists block a road from Stepanakert, the capital of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, to Azerbaijani Aghdam offered by the Azeri officials as a way for humanitarian aid to the region demanding the reopening of the blockaded Lachin Corridor linking Karabakh to Armenia and to decry crisis conditions in the region, in Askeran on July 18, 2023. ANI BALAYAN/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
The ongoing blockade of the Lachin Corridor is in direct violation of international law, the 2020 Trilateral Agreement, and the International Court of Justice’s (IJC) ruling on Feb. 22. Emboldened by the lack of repercussions, Aliyev ignored these agreements and rulings. Azerbaijan’s installation of a military checkpoint at the entrance to the Lachin Corridor in April has led to a complete blockade, including the International Committee of the Red Cross’ (ICRC) aid efforts. Shortages of food, fuel, and medical supplies are currently critical. The de-facto attack on health care is further destabilizing Artsakh already targeted by Azerbaijan during the 44-day war of 2020. Miscarriages have tripled under the blockade. The complete blockade has prompted statements warning of impending genocide by Genocide Watch and the Lemkin Institute.
Comparable crises have received far more attention and assistance. Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian grain met with swift sanctions by the U.S., U.N., and EU. Humanitarian aid by the U.N. for the blockade of Gaza totaled over $5 billion. Azerbaijan’s blockade of Artsakh has gone unanswered. The inability to respond comes in large part from a lack of recognition of the sovereignty of the Republic of Artsakh, rendering international aid impossible.
Azerbaijan’s actions have undermined one international law after the other, but it seems that dictators don’t care about humanitarian law. Expressions of “deep concern” have not and will not bear fruit. We need to speak the language of dictators. and send a clear message to those who seek to obliterate the Armenians.
First, recognition of the right to self-determination and recognition of Artsakh is vital. Second, immediate personal sanctions against Aliyev and embargoes on oil exports by Europe are critical to pressure the Aliyev regime to end Azerbaijan and Turkey’s tireless efforts to ethnically cleanse Artsakh and the world of Armenians. Third, the U.N. Security Council should uphold the ICJ ruling and send peacekeepers to the region to end the blockade. To not do so is equal to being complicit in the impending genocide of the people of Artsakh.
Soseh Hovasapian is a student at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York