Nagorno-Karabakh: Armenians witness new genocide. Azerbaijan sees propaganda.

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The first-hand accounts are a basket case. There is no food on the shelves in the stores. Children stand for hours in bread lines to help feed their families. Mothers walk for miles in search of cooking oil and other supplies. Electricity, gas and water are scarce. Ambulances cannot move due to lack of fuel. Clinics report an increase in miscarriages in malnourished, anemic and stressed pregnant women.

Such a situation is similar to the remote and increasingly desperate ethnic Armenian enclave in Nagorno-Karabakh, where 120,000 people survive what local authorities and several international experts say as a deterrent at the hands of Azerbaijan, the country in which the region is located. . Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought several wars over Nagorno-Karabakh following the fall of the Soviet Union and the advent of their independent nation states. Although recognized by the international community as part of Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh and some of its surrounding areas have been ruled for decades by an ethnic Armenian separatist group.

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Residents of Nagorno-Karabakh say it is becoming more difficult to access food and medicine following the months-long Azerbaijani trade embargo on the region. (Video: Reuters)

All this year, Azerbaijan has restricted movement along the Lachin corridor, the only route that connects Armenia directly to the enclave, which Armenians refer to as Artsakh. The restrictions increased this summer, with the International Committee of the Red Cross able to deliver humanitarian aid to the area and trucks with hundreds of tons of supplies on the roads. Due to the situation of the troubled communities, Luis Moreno Ocampo, the former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, published an opinion earlier this month confirming that the act of murder- it was a racial situation of hunger that caused the starvation of ethnic Armenians in the enclave. He cited an article in the Genocide Convention that referred to “intentionally affecting the living conditions of a group designed to bring about its physical destruction.”

“The idea of ​​genocide is not just about killing, but about removing people from the land,” Moreno Ocampo told me during a phone call this week. In his report, he wrote: “There are no cremations, and there are no machete attacks. Hunger is the invisible weapon of genocide. Without immediate drastic change, this group of Armenians will be destroyed in a matter of weeks. “

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On Wednesday, the situation was discussed at critical session of the United Nations Security Council. Various officials, including US ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, called on Azerbaijan to “restore free movement through the corridor.” Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan said that the blockade was a form of war that would lead to the “ethnic cleansing of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh”.

That sentiment was echoed in Washington by a handful of US lawmakers. “Azerbaijan’s systematic ethnic cleansing of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh through a massive unprovoked attack is unthinkable,” Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) told me, referring to the land​​​​ during a six-week war in 2020 that saw thousands die. “Especially terrible is their military’s blockade to starve the people of Nagorno-Karabakh and prevent humanitarian aid. “

Responding to these accusations, Yashar Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s UN ambassador, described talk of a blockade as “groundless and baseless accusations” and said his government was under the control of Armenia’s “campaign” to “a ‘ to manipulate and deceive the international community. Officials in Baku claim that the restrictions on movement along the Lachin Corridor, which is supposed to be administered by Russian peacekeepers, are necessary to stop, among other things, the supply of weapons illegal from Armenia into the enclave. They point to the instability of the de facto authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh, who have refused to deliver supplies through another road east from Azerbaijan.

“Occupational administration is blocking the supply of food and medicine by the Azerbaijani government to the Azerbaijani region. Surprisingly, this is not mentioned anywhere in the Ocampo report,” wrote Hikmet Hajiyev, chief foreign affairs adviser to Azerbaijan’s long-serving President Ilham Aliyev. “Being claiming that they are in danger while engineering a crisis to boost the support of the international community he intends to convince the world that Azerbaijanis and Armenians cannot live together, as we once did.”

The horror shows the deep gulf between the two sides. Some analysts believe that Azerbaijan, richer and strengthened by Turkish and Israeli arms, is pressing the big advantage with the world distracted by the war in Ukraine to reduce the pressure of put a victim to the separatist siege in the middle. Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in rounds of talks on a permanent peace settlement that would normalize ties and find an acceptable accommodation over the status of Nagorno-Karabakh.

But the current crisis has highlighted the pressing fears and deep-seated animosities on both sides. As Armenians around the world raised the alarm about the blocked Nagorno-Karabakh situation, Azerbaijani media focused on the discovery of a mass grave of Azerbaijani people in the city of Shusha, going on back to the battles of the 1990s and the ownership of the area by clans. Armenian forces. The city was “liberated” by Azerbaijan in a brief 2020 war, where Baku’s forces seized large areas of land​​​​ that were captured by Armenian troops in an earlier phase of the conflict.

Now, some ethnic Armenians who fled Shusha – known as Shushi Armenians – in 2020 find themselves in even worse straits. One of them is Alvina Nersesyan, a resident of the enclave and a mother, who briefed reporters on a virtual call organized by Armenian officials on Thursday. She described the “scary” bread lines in Stepanakert, the de facto capital of the enclave, known as Khankendi in Azerbaijan, and lamented that she “doesn’t even say the words for sweets anymore,” fear that she would disturb the children who are poor who “too. little to understand the situation.”

Diplomats elsewhere recognize the cruelty immediately. “Access to food, medicine, infant formula and energy should never be withheld,” Thomas-Greenfield said Wednesday. “We urge the government of Azerbaijan to restore free movement through passage.”

“US officials believe Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh are getting by simply because of backyards and other home-grown food,” wrote Post columnist David Ignatius. “They are afraid that within two months, as the winter approaches, the people could starve. Armenians fear a repeat of the Ottoman genocide of 1915, a growing historical memory for Armenians around the world. “

Moreno Ocampo called that deep, bitter history, noting that hundreds of thousands of Armenians who died more than a century ago were driven from their homes by Ottoman forces and left to die of starvation. “Hunger was the tool of the genocide in 1915 and now Azerbaijan is using hunger against Armenians,” he told me. “It’s sad but history repeats itself, and that’s that is why humanity must respond.”

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