CNA Staff, Sep 21, 2023 / 18:08 pm (CNA).
The “destruction” of an enclave of 120,000 Armenian Christians in the Nagorno-Karabakh region is imminent, warns Siobhan Nash-Marshall, a U.S.-based human rights advocate.
“The impact of the recent attacks and subsequent disarmament will almost certainly result in the destruction of the people of Artsakh,” Nash-Marshall told CNA.
In 2011, Nash-Marshall founded the Christians in Need Foundation (CINF) to help Armenian Christians in the region and in 2020 she started a school for children and adults in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Nash-Marshall said that as the Azeri government seeks to further assert its control over Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh, the ethnic Armenians will be forcibly removed.
“There are those Artsakhtsi who will not leave their homeland — those lands that their people have inhabited for millennia. They will be forcibly removed or worse,” Nash-Marshall said.
For those Armenians who choose to leave, Nash-Marshall said they “will bear permanent scars akin to those of the descendants of genocide survivors.”
Though internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh is made up almost entirely of Christian ethnic Armenians who claim self-sovereignty under the auspices of the Republic of Artsakh.
On Wednesday, ethnic Armenians in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh agreed to lay down their arms and dissolve their military forces following a short but intense Azerbaijan offensive on Sept. 19.
The attacks, which included rocket and mortar fire, were perpetrated by Azerbaijan under the leadership of President Ilham Aliyev.
In just over one day, over 200 Armenian Christians were killed, including 10 civilians, and many more were injured, the New York Times reported.
According to the Artsakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the attacks also forced over 10,000 people, including women, children, and elderly, to evacuate their homes.
Ruben Vardenyan, former Artsakh state minister, called on the United Nations Security Council, which will be meeting Thursday afternoon, to take “concrete steps” to protect the Armenian Christians in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“The U.N. Security Council must go beyond mere calls for action. No more empty rhetoric; we need concrete steps,” Vardenyan said in a Thursday X statement. “Currently, 120,000 Armenians are facing a dire situation, with hundreds killed, wounded, and missing. We urgently require a U.N. mission to be dispatched to Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh.”
Vardenyan said that without aid from the international community, “the risk of massive ethnic cleansing will inevitably increase.”
The Armenian people in Nagorno-Karabakh, who have been cut off from receiving supplies because of an Azeri blockade of the Lachin Corridor, are in urgent need of food, medicine, and doctors.
“It is imperative that you take action now!” Vardenyan said. “We implore you to show that words carry weight and that aggression and the use of force cannot lead to lasting peace. Dictators must be held accountable for the suffering they inflict upon humanity, and hatred directed at any ethnic group, in this case, Armenians, is unacceptable.”
Why the fighting?
Armenia and Azerbaijan have been fighting over the Nagorno-Karabakh region for decades.
Since December 2022, the single road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, known as the Lachin Corridor, has been blockaded first by Azeri-aligned protestors and then by the Azeri military.
The blockade has resulted in what Vardenyan has previously called a “humanitarian catastrophe,” due to a critical shortage of food and essential supplies.
For the first time since November 2020, the tensions in Nagorno-Karabakh erupted into outright military conflict on Tuesday, with Azerbaijan unleashing missile strikes and offensives on Artsakh.
Nash-Marshall said she thinks it is likely that the Azeri government will continue its blockade of the Lachin Corridor.
“The blockade, in my understanding, was a means for Aliyev. It locked up the people he wants to destroy,” Nash-Marshall said. “Now that he has invaded the lands of those whom he wants to destroy, will he open up the door of their prison?”
She also said she fears the Azeri success will encourage them to begin construction of a proposed railway cutting through the Zangezur Corridor in Armenia’s Syunik province.
“Another part of me is worried about the precedent that Aliyev’s violation of the cease-fire … that is the blockade of Lachin [sets],” Nash-Marshall added. “Will Aliyev begin construction of the Zangezur Corridor in Syunik?”
United Nations Security Council holds emergency meeting
The United Nations Security Council, at the request of France, held an emergency meeting Thursday afternoon to address the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
During the meeting, which took place in New York City, representatives from 16 different nations, including the U.S., Russia, and China, condemned the violence unleashed during the conflict, especially the violence against civilians.
The representatives also applauded the cease-fire but cautioned that more must be done to protect the human rights of the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Catherine Colonna, French minister for Europe and foreign affairs, said that “what is at stake is the possibility for the Armenian people in Nagorno-Karabakh to be able to live with their rights, history, and culture being respected.”
“France has taken note of the statement of President Aliyev made yesterday, affirming his wish to live in peace with the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh and to preserve their rights,” Colonna said.
Colonna went on to say that “if Azerbaijan really wants to arrive at a peaceful and negotiated solution it must here and now provide tangible guarantees” including that Azerbaijan commit to not use deadly force against the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, to grant amnesty to the authorities who surrendered, to allow international humanitarian aid into the region, and most notably, to “re-establish unconditionally and without delay traffic on the Lachin Corridor.”
Also present at the emergency meeting were the foreign affairs ministers of both Armenia, Ararat Mirzoyan, and Azerbaijan, Jeyhun Bayramov. The two ministers accused each other’s nations of violating international law and of being responsible for the outbreak of violence.
Despite France’s demands, Bayramov did not make any additional guarantees, only reiterating Aliyev’s position that the Azeri government wishes to peacefully reintegrate the people of Nagorno-Karabakh into Azerbaijan.
How is the international community responding?
Speaking to more than 15,000 people in St. Peter’s Square on Sept. 20, Pope Francis said he was troubled by the news he received about Nagorno-Karabakh, where “the already critical humanitarian situation is now aggravated by further armed clashes.”
“I make my heartfelt appeal to all the parties involved and to the international community to silence the weapons and make every effort to find peaceful solutions for the good of the people and respect for human dignity,” the pope said at the end of his Wednesday general audience.
In the United States Congress, Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, who called an emergency hearing to address the Nagorno-Karabakh issue in early September, called on President Joe Biden to take immediate action to help the Armenians in the region.
“Now more than ever, President Biden must immediately push the United Nations Security Council to establish a mandate and peacekeeping mission to protect the Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh,” Smith said in a Wednesday press release.
“The people of Nagorno-Karabakh are in a moment of grave danger,” he went on. “They have been forced to disarm and surrender their independence to a ruthless dictator whose government has repeatedly committed horrific abuses against them over many years, expressed its will to ethnically cleanse them, and even initiated a genocide by starvation with the blockade of the Lachin Corridor.”
“Tragically, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has called the Biden administration’s bluff that it ‘will not tolerate’ an attack,” Smith added. “I urge President Biden to immediately dispatch diplomats and expert observers in the Nagorno-Karabakh region to monitor the situation and immediately report any atrocity or abuse. The Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh have, as ever, every right to continue to live in their ancient homeland — and to do so in safety.”