The war in Ukraine is a fight to preserve democracy, as President Zelensky declared in his speech to the US Congress last month. But there is another conflict in the region that poses a similar threat and is rapidly developing into a humanitarian crisis, yet has been virtually ignored by the West.
Nagorno-Karabakh, the self-declared republic inside Azerbaijan that is home to 120,000 Armenians, has in effect been placed under siege after a group of Azerbaijanis in civilian clothes blockaded the Lachin corridor, the only road linking the territory to the wider world, a month ago.
Food, medical items and essentials are now desperately short — 400 tonnes of supplies are normally delivered daily down the corridor from Armenia — while Russian soldiers deployed as peacekeepers have proved unable or unwilling to halt the blockade. Human rights organisations have warned of genocide if the situation is not resolved.
As the first Armenian in the British parliament I have a personal interest in the dispute. I was born in Iraq to Armenian parents made refugees by the 1915 genocide in which more than a million ethnic Armenians were massacred by the Ottomans. I have watched the latest developments with a growing sense of terror that history could be about to repeat itself.
In 2020 the invasion of Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijan, supported by Turkey, forced 90,000 Armenians to flee their homes to escape the threat of ethnic cleansing. A ceasefire in November 2020 has been repeatedly breached. In September last year, Azerbaijani forces crossed the border and killed over 200 Armenians, mainly soldiers, in two days.
The blockade of the Lachin corridor has been condemned by the international community, including by the UK, US, France, Canada and the EU. The Russian foreign ministry declared it was “unacceptable to create problems for the civilian population” but rejected criticism of the peacekeeping force.
The episode demonstrates the urgent need for western nations to agree a wider plan to deal with the fallout from the Ukraine war, in which Britain must play a full part.
It was Hitler who said on the eve of his invasion of Poland in 1939, as he plotted the extermination of Europe’s Jewish population: “Who after all speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Unless we, as members of the international community, call out genocidal violence wherever it occurs, its perpetrators will feel emboldened and the vicious cycle will continue.
(c) 2023, The Times