(This is an article written for the House magazine by Baroness Cox found here at Politics Home.com where you can read the full article.)
The nature of my work often requires me to enter war zones.
For four decades, I have crossed borders, sometimes illegally, to deliver humanitarian aid and to stand in solidarity with people under fire. One might expect that, after so many years, my heart would
Each new day, we are exposed to further suffering. More bombs. More killings. More displacement. Column inches are filled with reflections of our collective sense of horror, as we try to process the sheer inhumanity of war and the invasion’s broader geopolitical significance. Yet to date, no attention has been paid to a small but very significant enclave in the South Caucasus, over 1,000 miles away from Ukraine, currently under the protection of Russian troops.
A forgotten enclave
The enclave is called Nagorno Karabakh – known locally as Artsakh. It is an historically-Armenian territory, which Stalin handed to Azerbaijan during his divide-and-rule policy in the 1920s. As Soviet rule collapsed in the late 1980s, a referendum was held with an overwhelming vote for independence. Armenians later established control of Nagorno Karabakh as a de facto independent state, with a functioning government and a viable economy, though its independence was never internationally recognised.
Fast forward to September 2020: Azerbaijan launched a renewed offensive in Nagorno Karabakh. This time with more advanced weapons and the backing of Turkey. For 44 days, civilians endured military offensives by heavy artillery missiles, combat unmanned aerial vehicles, aerial bombs, cluster munitions and Smerch multiple rocket launchers – weapons incapable of precision targeting – in breach of international humanitarian law and Geneva conventions.
The people of Nagorno Karabakh suffered widespread destruction of non-military objects, including medical emergency service centres and ambulances, schools and pre-schools, religious sites, food stocks, crops, livestock, electricity and gas plants, and drinking-water installations and supplies. These are war crimes, horribly reminiscent of what is happening in Ukraine.
The ceasefire, however, is fragile. Its eighth article commits each state to ‘the exchange of prisoners of war and other detainees.’ Armenia has since returned all Azerbaijani prisoners captured during the 44-Day War. Yet hundreds of Armenians remain in Azerbaijani custody, many of whom are undergoing speedy criminal trials. Some have been filmed or photographed in captivity but with no indication as to their current whereabouts. Tens of others remain vulnerable to killings, torture, indefinite imprisonment or enslavement, with evidence of humiliating treatment and desecration of corpses by Azerbaijani soldiers.
Genocide ‘a very real possibility’
The 2020 invasion was deemed so severe that Genocide Watch issued a ‘Genocide Emergency Alert’. It classified Azerbaijan at Stage 9 (extermination) and Stage 10 (denial) of the ten stages of the genocidal process. The Alert was emphasised by the International Association of Genocide Scholars, who said that “military actions by the Azerbaijani and Turkish leadership should warn us that genocide of the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, and perhaps even Armenia, is a very real possibility… Armenians can face slaughter if any Armenian territory is occupied.”
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there is now a broad and palpable fear that the Nagorno Karabakh ceasefire will not hold. I am told that “Artsakh is on high alert.” This ancient Armenian enclave could be lost, once and for all. And while the world’s eyes turn towards eastern Europe, Azerbaijan is taking full advantage in the South Caucasus.
Azerbaijan stand to benefit
I receive almost daily reports of Azerbaijani military offensives against Armenian villages. By megaphones and loudspeakers, villagers are ordered to leave their homes. Women and children are evacuated, including recently from Karmir Shuka and Khnushinak in Martuni and Khramort in Askeran, where Azerbaijani forces continue to accumulate military equipment and manpower.
Azerbaijan reportedly cut the gas supply from Armenia to Nagorno Karabakh in early March, exacerbating the already-terrible humanitarian crisis. Over 15,000 people are deprived of gas and therefore deprived of warmth. The pipeline cannot be repaired as Azerbaijani forces threaten any maintenance workers with violence. Azerbaijan also prohibits free passage of the Lachin humanitarian corridor (currently the only road linking Armenia to Nagorno Karabakh), all the while seeking to force Armenia into more concessions and further capitulation agreements.
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