For more than two months, Armenians in Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh region (a de facto republic for over 30 years) have been isolated because of a road blockade that connects the disputed territory to Armenia and the rest of world. The blockade has impacted the more than 120,000 inhabitants and prevented them from gaining access to basic needs, including food, medicine, fuel, and communication.
A group of Azerbaijanis began blocking the Lachin corridor in what they say is a protest of environmental damage caused by mining companies. Make no mistake. None of these actions are borne out of any environmental concerns, nor are there any protests allowed in Azerbaijan unless directly sanctioned by the government. Using agents guised as eco-activism protesters, the Azeri government is behind the blockade.
Only the International Committee of the Red Cross has succeeded in occasionally delivering small quantities of emergency supplies or transporting the critically sick for treatment in Armenia, but this is not sufficient to supply the entire population with basic necessities. These shortages have resulted in the rationing of food, medicine, and electricity. Medical operations have been halted, schools are closed, and lives are endangered in the harsh winter conditions of the mountainous region.
President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan has clearly stated his goal of taking control of the territory, raising fears of the ethnic cleansing of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, called Artsakh by Armenians, as well as other lands in Armenia proper.
The Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention issued a statement Dec. 12 in response to the blockade: Azerbaijan “intends to create terror and unbearable conditions of life for the population of Artsakh. These are not isolated events; they are, instead, being committed within a larger genocidal pattern against Armenia and Armenians by the Azerbaijani regime. Separating Artsakh from Armenia, and isolating and terrorizing ethnic Armenians residing in Artsakh, are both methods of implementing further genocidal policies in the region.”
Scholars participating in the December United Nation’s 4th Global Forum Against the Crime of Genocide have stated that “the actions of the Azerbaijani government pose a threat of genocide to Armenians in the region” and have called on international organizations and governments to ensure the free entry of people and goods to Nagorno-Karabakh. Additionally, the International Association of Genocide Scholars has issued statements on the Azeri aggression in Artsakh.
Last month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Aliyev to restore access immediately and renew a peace agreement with Armenia. Following the Nov. 9, 2020, cease-fire agreement signed by Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia, Russia assumed the peace-keeping role in the region, including maintaining free access to and from Artsakh.
Canada, France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, and other European governments and international bodies, such as Amnesty International, have also condemned the blockade, but Aliyev has continued to thumb his nose at calls to end it. A bill in the US House, with more than 69 cosponsors, would call on the president to suspend US aid to Azerbaijan and condemn the Artsakh blockade. This is a welcome step.
The brutal massacre in Srebrenica, Bosnia, was a direct result of the inaction of the international community. The parallels between Srebrenica and Artsakh are clearer than ever today.
Having persevered through a genocide and many other atrocities, Armenians stand against the continuation of such acts into the 21st century. For this reason, the Armenian American community of Greater Boston, concerned by the immediate dangers of this blockade, urges the federal government to immediately stop all aid to Azerbaijan; issue sanctions against the Azeri government to end the blockade; and organize an international airlift of supplies and aid to Artsakh.
Ara Nazarian is an associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Harvard Medical School and a member of the Armenian National Committee of Eastern Massachusetts.