Nagorno-Karabakh condemned to famine in the indifference of the international community

Nagorno-Karabakh condemned to famine in the indifference of the international community

The situation of some 120 people who live in Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan claimed by both Yerevan and Baku, today is tragic.

Cut off from the rest of the world, and especially from Armenia, the inhabitants, ethnic Armenians, see the specter of a disastrous famine looming, imposed by the Azerbaijani authorities, who thus wish the to force an exodus.

Neither Russia, though supposedly close to Armenia, and whose peacekeeping forces are deployed in the region, nor Western countries are intervening to prevent the humanitarian catastrophe that is looming. How to explain it?

Decades of sometimes violent, sometimes "frozen" conflict

This map shows the distribution of land following the peace agreement in 2020. The ethnic Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh are now cut off from Armenia, with the areas separating the two territories having been taken over by Azerbaijan. kamilewski/Shutterstock

Nagorno-Karabakh has been a disputed region between Armenia and Azerbaijan since the fall of the Soviet Union. In the 1920s, this area populated by more than 90% of Armenians had been attached to the Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) of Azerbaijan. In 1991, after the fall of the USSR, Nagorno-Karabakh proclaimed its independence. Baku sends the army. Supported by Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh (called Artsakh by the Armenians) ended up, in 1994, winning this war with a very heavy toll (several tens of thousands of dead). On this occasion, Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh conquered lands from Azerbaijan over which they decided to retain control, in order to establish a cordon sanitaire around Nagorno-Karabakh and to be directly linked to each other. other.

In the nearly thirty years since, Armenia, which itself has never recognized the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh, has not signed any peace treaty with Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan prepared its revenge, keeping its refugees in temporary accommodation despite the wealth induced by hydrocarbon exports (unlike Armenia, Azerbaijan has large oil and gas reserves).

In 2018, a velvet revolution occurs in Armenia. It brings to power the journalist and until then political opponent Nikol Pashinian, which raises hopes, now almost evaporated, of democratization and the fight against corruption. Vladimir Putin sees a parallel with the Orange Revolution (2004) and Dignity Revolution (2013-2014) in Ukraine, as well as with Rose Revolution in Georgia (2003). That is why he does not intervene in September 2020 when, with the borders closed and the world watching the Covid-19 statistics, Azerbaijan violently attacks Nagorno-Karabakh.

After forty-four days, Armenia and Artsakh, ill-prepared, must admit defeat. The protocols of November 9, 2020 provide for the return of the districts of Kelbajar, Aghdam and Lachine to Azerbaijan, and the installation of a Russian peacekeeping force on the Lachine corridor, in order to ensure security along of this essential route for the transit of goods and people between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

The impact of the war in Ukraine

The war in Ukraine has upset the balance of power in the region. The sanctions adopted against Russia have officially put a stop to Russian hydrocarbon exports to Europe. But a few days before the start of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Ilham Aliyev, the irremovable and very authoritarian president of Azerbaijan, who succeeded his father Heïdar Aliyev in 2003 after his death, went to Moscow, where he met Vladimir Putin. During these discussions, there was talk of Azerbaijan's ability to increase its gas exports to Europe.

In November 2022, Azerbaijan concluded an agreement with Russia: the latter exports part of its gas there, which is then re-exported to Europe. The EU buys gas from Baku, turning a blind eye to its real origin.

German statements by Ursula von der Leyen claims that the EU has succeeded in ending its energy dependence on Russia are therefore window dressing, and intended to maintain an acceptable diplomatic posture in the context of the European response to the invasion of Ukraine. However, the consequences of this posture are extremely serious for the Armenians.

In conclusion its gas deal with Azerbaijan, Europe has strengthened the position of a dictatorship whose all indicators are even more alarming than those of Russia, in its region and on the international scene. Convinced that no one would fly to the aid of the Armenians, and finding themselves in a position of strength against Russia, the Azerbaijani authorities blocked the Lachine corridor from December 12, 2022.

First, the country has sent fake eco-activists, who blocked the corridor on alleged environmental pretexts. This operation was sewn with white thread: on the one hand, Ilham Aliev himself encouraged the demonstrators, and on the other hand, the genuine Azerbaijani eco-activists were arrested in connection with other protests. On April 23, 2023, under the eyes of Russian peacekeepers, and despite the 2020 agreement, Azerbaijan set up a checkpoint in Lachine. Nothing, or anyone, could enter or leave without the agreement of the Azerbaijani authorities.

The strangulation of Nagorno-Karabakh

From December 2022, it is therefore the ICRC which took over to transport patients from Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia. To do this, he always agrees with the local Azerbaijani authorities. However, on July 29, 2023, and despite the prior agreement of these authorities, the Azerbaijanis stopped the convoy carrying Vagif Khachatryan to Yerevan for urgent treatment. The man was accused of participating in the Meshali massacre on December 22, 1991, when Armenian soldiers killed twenty-two Azerbaijani villagers. Only, the investigations carried out in particular by the Armenian rights defender showed that whoever participated in these crimes was a namesake, as the man arrested was not drafted into the army until the following year.

Moreover, all Armenians have at one time or another taken part in the conflict. If having taken part in one of the wars becomes a crime, the whole population is threatened with arrest. Armenophobia is systemic in Azerbaijan, especially since the end of the USSR. In school textbooks, Armenians are portrayed as bloodthirsty barbarians. The official Azerbaijani theses present the Armenians of Karabakh as intruders having settled by force on lands stolen from the Azerbaijanis. They are also doing the same with the Republic of Armenia, thus showing that the project was never to recover Nagorno-Karabakh but to complete the land connection between Azerbaijan and Turkey. Any researcher in the human sciences knows, however, that demography is plural within the confines of empires such as the Caucasus.

Moreover, if all war crimes should be condemned, then in order to build peace, the war crimes committed by Azerbaijan should also be prosecuted. However, this is not the attitude of Baku, on the contrary, as shown in particular by the case of Ramil Safarov. In 2004, during a NATO-sponsored exercise in Hungary, this Azerbaijani soldier murdered Armenian soldier Gurgen Margarian with an ax in his sleep. Sentenced to life in 2006, he was extradited in 2012 to Azerbaijan, where he was welcomed as a hero and pardoned by Ilham Aliev himself. The invocation of war crimes – uniquely Armenian – is used by the Baku authorities to justify their actions targeting the Armenian populations of Nagorno-Karabakh.

On June 15, 2023, Azerbaijan finally prohibited the ICRC from passing through the Lachine corridor, accusing its employees of trafficking, including cell phones and cigarettes. While no foodstuffs could be transported there since December 2022, at the end of July 2023, a convoy of 19 trucks carrying 400 tonnes of food aid was blocked in Kornidzor, the last village before the border.

Flour stocks are slowly dwindling, and locals are now relying on a less rich mixture to make some bread. On the Facebook groups, the inhabitants organize themselves and exchange their last reserves against a little formula milk, or some chocolates for the children. They now line up all night hoping to get a loaf of bread. Transport is at a standstill for lack of fuel. A 40-year-old man is starved to death on August 15.

On August 16, 2023, the Armenian authorities called on the UN Security Council to end the blockade. Demonstrations regularly take place in Yerevan, in front of the UN headquarters, but also in other cities around the world, such as Paris, Sydney or Los Angeles. The situation there is deteriorating day by day, and is undermining any hope of peace in the region; that's what denounces a feminist collective for peace in Azerbaijan.

Peace cannot be achieved under these conditions, but that is not what the Azerbaijani authorities seek. Their policy is intended to force the Armenians of the region to leave or die, and that is why on August 18, the Lemkin Institute for the Prevention of Genocide published a alert on the dramatic situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The situation in Nagorno-Karabakh has provoked only timid reactions on the international scene, and many states are calling on both parties to reopen traffic in both directions. At the UN, only France and Malta have denounced the attitude of Azerbaijan. In Europe, no one, apart from a few Armenian activists, denounces the gas agreement. To end the blockade, we need a response much stronger in the face of Azerbaijan's attitude.

Elodie Gavrilof, Historian, National Institute of Oriental Languages ​​and Civilizations (Inalco)

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

Image credit: Shutterstock/ Alexandros Michailidis

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