The Azerbaijani blockade in the Lachin Corridor is going unchecked. This must change
Armenia has a solid claim to be the world’s first Christian nation. Since St Gregory the Illuminator emerged from a long imprisonment for his faith at the beginning of the fourth century, the Armenian people have been no strangers to violence and atrocity. Surrounded by hostile neighbours and often – within and beyond their own boundaries - persecuted for their faith, they have preserved an unshakeable commitment. This has been an inspiration to many, just as their sufferings have been a cause of shock and outrage. Now they once again need our urgent help.
Since December of last year, more than 120,000 Christian Armenians — including elderly people, women, and more than 30,000 children — have been under siege. A long-standing territorial conflict with Azerbaijan has led to the blocking by Azerbaijanof the Lachin Corridor linking Armenia itself with the Christian Armenian communities of Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh, cutting off supplies of food, medicine, fuel, and other essentials. Luis Moreno Ocampo, a former prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has recently summed up the situation: “Starvation is the invisible genocide weapon. Without immediate dramatic change, this group of Armenians will be destroyed in a few weeks.”
This is no rhetorical exaggeration. Hospitals in the besieged region are operating at severely limited capacity, unable to perform vital procedures. Miscarriages and stillbirths have risen by a reported 30 percent. Malnutrition is widely spread and cases of death by starvation are regularly registered. And things are only getting worse.
“You will find no crematoria in Nagorno-Karabakh, nor machetes, but genocide by starvation is no less devastating for being silent,” Ocampo wrote in his damning report. “It was the same deadly method used against Armenians in 1915, against Poles and Jews in 1939, and against the people of Srebrenica in 1993.” Starvation as a tool of war is condemned by every principle of international law and natural justice. It is not acceptable to turn our faces away from this.
Yet the blockade continues uninterrupted and unchecked. We know from the recent meeting of the UN Security Council that Azerbaijan is preventing the International Red Cross from visiting Nagorno-Karabakh, and the government in Baku continues to ignore calls from a wide array of international organisations — including the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) — to restore freedom of movement and the transfer of vital supplies through the corridor.
Numerous religious leaders have already raised their voices to demand a response to this humanitarian crisis before it becomes much grimmer. All such crises grow more acute with the onset of winter. But the urgency is acute: lives are already being lost and blighted, and we are witnessing an open assault on a vulnerable civilian population.
If our own government, the United States and all the world’s other committed democracies are serious about the absolute duty of protecting civilian populations, they have tools at their disposal - diplomatic and economic - to bring pressure to bear so that lives may be saved.
It is a moment of opportunity. Russia – technically the guarantor of the Lachin Corridor - has been left significantly weakened by its brutal invasion of Ukraine. Its weight as the region’s traditionally most prominent player is diminished, leaving the door open to Turkey. Whilst Turkey is itself struggling with economic and political tensions it may, for this very reason, be more open to diplomatic pressures that might lead to some influence being brought to bear on an aggressive neighbour.
In September, the United Nations General Assembly will meet in New York. Such events are usually more to do with political theatre than political change, an occasion for varieties of grandstanding. But the situation in Artsakh is a clearly identifiable issue that is not beyond resolution. The leaders of our democracies, including our own government, have the opportunity to send an unambiguous message about the unacceptability of genocidal tactics and ensuring that the blockade ends without delay.
Time is running out – not only to save lives but to honour the possibility of a dependable moral commitment in international affairs. The Lachin Corridor crisis is not the only current threat to such a possibility, as we know all too well. But it is one that can and should be resolved without delay. Lives are at stake; but so is the principle of justice and security for the vulnerable.
The Azerbaijani blockade in the Lachin Corridor goes unchecked and the region faces a genocide.
(c) 2023, Telegraph