Azerbaijan’s attack on Nagorno-Karabakh raises the risk of genocide against ethnic Armenians in the region

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Nagorno-Karabakh Human Rights Ombudsman / AFP

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) is deeply concerned about Azerbaijan’s recent escalation of armed violence in Nagorno-Karabakh, which has caused civilian deaths and serious deterioration to an already dire humanitarian situation of the local population in the region. While a ceasefire has been concluded, FIDH remains concerned that there is a real risk of genocide of ethnic Armenians in areas coming under Azerbaijan’s effective control, and calls on all sides involved in the conflict to adhere to the ceasefire and Azerbaijan to respect its obligations under international law, including by facilitating urgent humanitarian assistance to victims.

21 September 2023. On 19 September 2023 the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan announced the launch of “local anti-terrorist activities” in Nagorno-Karabakh, citing, among others, the need to “restore the constitutional order of the Republic of Azerbaijan”. The announcement coincided with attacks from large caliber artillery, drones and mortars, which has caused dozens of civilian casualties, including children, displaced several thousand local residents, and damaged residential buildings and infrastructure.

On 20 September, parties to the armed conflict reported that a ceasefire agreement has been reached with a view towards a more lasting political settlement. The agreement provides for a complete disarmament of the separatist forces from Nagorno-Karabakh, cementing Azerbaijani’s control over the region. Rather than the result of diplomacy, this agreement comes as a consequence of Azerbaijan’s flash military victory. As such, it must be considered with caution. Moreover, it does not erase the magnitude of past violence and the ongoing suffering for the thousands of victims. FIDH is concerned about the precarious situation of the 120 000 ethnic Armenians that live in Nagorno-Karabakh.

“We have to prevent a mass expulsion of ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh,” remarks Oleksandra Matviichuk, FIDH’s Vice-President, “and we fear that the worst is yet to come for civilians who are left at the mercy of the advancing hostile forces unless the international community intervenes.”

The international community must intervene to prevent genocide

The sharp escalation of violence has come after a substantial buildup of forces by Azerbaijan following the bloody phase of the conflict in the fall of 2020 that ended in a Russia-brokered ceasefire. Despite the presence of Russian peacekeepers, the recent flare-up of violence was preceded by a prolonged blockade of the Lachin corridor connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, which has caused severe shortages of food, medical supplies, fuel and other basic necessities.

The blockade, which brought thousands of civilians to the brink of starvation and left them without access to vital necessities, and the recent attacks, coupled with Azerbaijan’s declared policy of resettling Azerbaijani citizens to the “territories liberated from occupation”, appear to be aimed at creating conditions of life conducive to the physical destruction of the ethnic Armenian community in Nagorno-Karabakh, one of the underlying acts of genocide.

FIDH calls on all sides to adhere to the reached agreement and calls on Azerbaijan to provide access to foodstuffs, shelter and other basic necessities of the civilian population in the Nagorno-Karabakh region under its effective control. It also calls on Azerbaijan to allow access to the International Committee of the Red Cross and other humanitarian organisations, and to ensure that all those wishing to remain or return to their homes in the region are allowed to do so whenever the security situation permits it.

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