The dire situation that few people know anything about: UN convenes emergency session on Azeri blockade of Lachin Corridor
Holding up photos of children who are currently living under siege in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian foreign minister appealed to members of the United Nations emergency session to restore hope to these people facing imminent starvation.
A few minutes later, the Azeri representative held up photos he said were posted on social media of living in that same region celebrating weddings and birthdays, saying that proves life there isn’t so bad.
Two vastly different tales, but since June 15, neither people, nor food or medicine have been allowed in or out of the sealed-off land. And no one can report on the extent of the humanitarian disaster for the ethnic Armenians living in what is now internationally recognized as Azerbaijan territory.
Just days after a man reportedly died from starvation in the region Armenians call Artsakh, an emergency UN Security Council convened on Wednesday to address the eight-month long blockade by Azerbaijan of the Nagorno-Karabakh republic, known to Armenians as Artsakh.
Most people have no idea this is even happening or where to locate it on a map. The situation doesn’t make the news. But then again, neither did the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1918.
Living in this swath of land are 120,000 ethnic Armenians, geographically cut off from Armenia, and now, according to modern-day maps, living in Azerbaijan. Since the war between the two ended in November 2020 with an Azeri victory, questions have remained over what will happen to the people there who have long maintained their independence in the contested area.
Will these Christians be seamlessly integrated into the nation of Azerbaijan that has long harbored hatred for Armenians? Will their protection and human rights be guaranteed? Will they be forced to leave their ancestral land?
Negotiations have not produced a satisfactory answer. So now the more time-critical question remains: Will they all die of starvation in a silent genocide that has been ongoing since the Lachin Corridor was blocked in December 2022 and then fully sealed by the Azeri military on June 15?
Last week, former International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo, said the Armenians there “will be destroyed in a few weeks.”
“Starvation is the invisible genocide weapon,” he said in his report calling the blocking of humanitarian supplies and natural resources to the region a second Armenian Genocide. (See the full report here)
He notes that Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev is quoted as saying, “Who will protect Armenia?” reminiscent of Adolf Hitler who said in 1939, “who remembers now the extermination of the Armenians?” Aliyev further intoned that Armenians “should understand that the situation where they are today would not change in their favor if they continue to ignore us if they continue to behave that we do not exist.”
Ocampo concluded that Aliyev “should be investigated” as the “mastermind behind the operations of the Genocide.”
In addition, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) twice ordered Azerbaijan top open the Lachin Corridor in February and again on July 6.
However, since June 15, even the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has not been allowed through to deliver humanitarian relief.
The Azeris, who will commission their own report on the matter, claim that Ocampo’s report is unsubstantiated and biased in favor of Armenians.
At the UN on Wednesday, Azerbaijan’s U.N. Ambassador Yashar Aliyev responded by “categorically rejecting all the unfounded and groundless allegations” of a blockade.
He accused Armenia of exploiting the situation for politics, undermining Azerbaijan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, siphoning natural resources and using the humanitarian aid to smuggle in weapons. Aliyev added that the military checkpoint was necessary in order to protect itself from Armenian military activity.
Armenia Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan listed the numbers of people impacted by the blockade of 120,000 residents “deprived of their basic human rights,” including 20,000 elderly and 30,000 children; 217 children who cannot return to their families in Nagorno-Karabakh; 9,000 people with disabilities; more than 13,000 who have run out of medicine for diabetes and circulatory diseases and Karо Hovhannisyan who died of starvation.
Mirzoyan said all of this has led to double the death rate in the last eight months.
The International Response
The director of Operations and Advocacy for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Edem Wosornu said her agency is “not currently in a position to independently verify” reports on the ground — because it has not been allowed in.
“The ICRC is doing everything it can, but as a single organization it can only cover the most urgent needs,” she said. “Other impartial humanitarian relief must also be allowed to reach civilians who need it, and a sustainable solution for safe and regular transit of people and goods must be found.”
U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said America is “deeply troubled by the closure of the Lachin Corridor.”
“Access to food, medicine, baby formula, and energy should never be held hostage. We urge the government of Azerbaijan to restore free movement through the corridor – so commercial, humanitarian, and private vehicles can reach the population of Nagorno-Karabakh,” she said.
At the same time as the UN meeting, a few dozen people rallied in Jerusalem outside the Foreign Ministry calling for Israel to demand Azerbaijan stop the blockade. Israel is the biggest arms supplier to Azerbaijan and has seen a steady rise in relations with Baku in recent years. Israel’s strategic ties with Azerbaijan have a lot to do with its neighbor in the Caucus: Iran. Azerbaijan having a strong border against Iran is in Israel’s favor.
Serop Sahagian, an activist in Jerusalem’s Armenian community, called on Israel’s foreign Minister Eli Cohen and the Israeli people to “wake up.”
“You have a moral obligation to another people — and this other people are undergoing a genocide,” he said at the rally, adding that the State of Israel’s cooperation with the Azeris is essentially funding the “murder” of ethnic Armenians.
In addition, last week several prominent Israeli rabbis, lawyers, academics and activists signed a letter to Israel’s President Isaac Herzog calling on him to intervene and “prevent a humanitarian disaster.”
“Should the siege continue masses of people are likely to die of starvation and disease,” they wrote.
But will any of this matter if independent observers cannot get inside Nagorno-Karabakh to see what is happening on the ground?
Ruben Vardanyan, former State Minister of the Republic of Artsakh, wrote on social media that UN members “may not fully comprehend the gravity of the circumstances” because no one has been able to see the situation for themselves.
“I implore the UN to dispatch a mission to witness the reality on the ground. I am confident that following this firsthand experience, they will be resolute in taking definitive actions to counter Azerbaijan’s genocidal policy,” he said.
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