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Nagorno-Karabakh: Armenia Demands End to Azerbaijan Blockade Amid Accusations of Genocide

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Image Credit: UN Photos

Armenia is calling on the United Nations Security Council to address a worsening humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh, a region of Azerbaijan home to ethnic Armenians that has been under a blockade for eight months. Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought multiple wars over the territory since the collapse of the Soviet Union, most recently in 2020. Azerbaijan closed the only road into the region in December, severely restricting the movement of food, medicine and other supplies for the roughly 120,000 people living there. “We cannot accept a new Armenian genocide in 2023,” says Luis Moreno Ocampo, the Argentine lawyer who served as the first prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. He issued a report earlier this month on the blockade. We also speak with Anna Ohanyan, professor of political science and international relations at Stonehill College, who says Azerbaijan is relying on “the use of hunger as a weapon” in order not to engage politically with the largely self-governing region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

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StorySep 29, 2023Fearing Ethnic Cleansing, 90,000 Armenians Flee Nagorno-Karabakh After Azerbaijan Military Blitz
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The U.N. Security Council met Wednesday to discuss the blockade imposed by Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh, as Armenia and other nations called for the immediate reopening of the Lachin corridor to allow for humanitarian aid for the roughly 120,000 people suffering severe shortages in the breakaway region. Twenty-three-year-old English teacher Nina Shaverdyan, a resident of Nagorno-Karabakh, described life under the blockade.

NINA SHAVERDYAN: We don’t have gas. We have electricity blackouts. So, for example, at 5:00, we will have a blackout again, so we will not have electricity for two hours, and then this is repeating itself. We don’t have water, because we have only one water reservoir, which is used right now to produce electricity, and it’s not enough. So right now we have also water shortages. And because of the water shortages and electricity shortages and no gas, the bakeries don’t work, so there is not enough bread even in the shops.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Nina Shaverdyan. She also noted there’s a shortage of fuel, further isolating those who are not able to walk or walk long distances.

A recent report by former International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo found the blockade amounts to a likely genocide of the local Armenian population. Azerbaijan has rejected the accusation.

Tensions have been running high in Nagorno-Karabakh since December of last year, when the blockade started. The crossing has been totally sealed off since mid-June. The population of the disputed region is majority Armenian, but it’s part of Azerbaijan, after Azerbaijani forces regained control of the territory in the 2020 war, leaving the Lachin corridor as the area’s only connector with Armenia.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we’re joined by two guests. In Boston, Anna Ohanyan, professor of political science and international relations at Stonehill College, is joining us. Her latest book is The Neighborhood Effect: The Imperial Roots of Regional Fracture in Eurasia. And joining us from the capital of Colombia, Bogotá, Luis Moreno Ocampo, Argentine lawyer who served as the first prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. He also was the deputy prosecutor in Argentina’s Trial of the Juntas.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Luis Moreno Ocampo, we last had you on with the Oscar-nominated film Argentina, 1985, which was about the Trial of the Junta against the leaders of the Argentine coup, led by Jorge Rafael Videla. Right now you’re talking about Azerbaijan. Can you talk about your findings?

LUIS MORENO OCAMPO: It’s very basic. Some Armenian people asked my expert opinion. I have experience. I prosecuted for genocide President al-Bashir for Darfur genocide. And it’s very simple because the facts are exposed by the International Court of Justice, who said to Azerbaijan they cannot blockade the corridor that provides food and other essentials to the Armenians living in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. So, it’s very basic, as just the facts are there. It’s just like the king is naked.

You know what? The International Court of Justice say Azerbaijan is blocking the essentials for the life of these Armenian people, and that’s exactly, exactly what Article II of the Genocide Convention say. The genocide have different forms to be committed. Killing massive numbers is one, (a), but (c) require not [inaudible]. It’s just creating conditions to destroy the life of the group. And that is what’s happened today in Azerbaijan. That’s why it’s funny. It’s funny because it’s like a shock, but it’s obvious. It’s a genocide today. The question is now not debate genocide; the question is prevent the killings, prevent the death of these people. You present one of the victims. In a few minutes, I will be in a press conference with the people of Nagorno-Karabakh by Zoom. So, they are there, and they are dying.

So, what do we do? And that’s the question. Because I was listening to your show, and when you have a national crime, you have judges and prosecutors. When George Floyd was killed, you had judges and prosecutor. Here, there is no judge or prosecutor for this chosen case, because the International Criminal Court has no juridiction. So, the U.N. Security Council is the only global institutions who can solve the problem.

And the problem there is there are tensions today — that’s obvious — between Russia, U.S. and France. These are the three key actors. If they agreed how to manage the problem, they stop this genocide in one minute. And that’s why it’s interesting. Here, the solution is very, very simple. It’s an agreement between the U.S., France and Russia to stop the genocide. It’s easy. And my last point is, Ukraine is a big conflict, is a big crime, but Armenian victims could not be collateral damage of the Ukrainian conflict, could not be. We should not accept a new Armenian genocide in 2023.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Could you explain, elaborate on that point, what you mean when you say that the Armenians who are stuck in Nagorno-Karabakh should not be collateral damage of the war in Ukraine? If you could talk about that? And then also say — you say that you based your decision on the — your findings on the decision taken by the International Court of Justice earlier this year. Explain what that decision was. It was legally binding. And what followed that decision? What happened as a result of what the International Court of Justice found?

LUIS MORENO OCAMPO: Starting from the second question, the International Court of Justice, which is a court who deal between states, received a request from Armenia against Azerbaijan based not on Genocide Convention, based on a treaty that forbid — against discrimination. So, the International Criminal Court of Justice is not analyzing genocide. It’s analyzing a different treaty against discrimination.

But in this case, since February — since February, for the last six months — the International Criminal Court of Justice gave a binding order to Azerbaijan to free the blockade of what is called the Lachin corridor, that provided food and the essentials for the life of the Armenians in Azerbaijan. And Azerbaijan is refusing. In fact, it’s sealed off completely, since June. And that was not just ICJ, the International Court of Justice, say. In July 26, the Red Cross say that. Since June, we provide — you cannot move nothing from the Lachin corridor. So, that are the facts. And this is genocide, creating the conditions.

The solution, as I said before, and why the Armenians are collateral victims, because the solution is an agreement between U.S., Russia and France. If they agree that they will stop this, they will do it. Because they cannot agree, they just call for negotiation. Remember the Rwanda time, an ambassador say calling on negotiations in — no, sorry, in Srebrenica, when they talk about the Balkans, talking about negotiation is to asking the Jews in the concentration camps to negotiate with Hitler. That it is.

So, this is a good moment. It’s a time for President Biden to transform and stop a genocide. We’ve got great people in power. President Biden is the first president, U.S. president, who recognized Armenia 1915 was a genocide. Yesterday, the Armenian ambassador in the U.N. Security Council meeting said, “We need not just commemoration. We need prevention.” And we have Secretary of State Blinken, who has a family affected. And we have Samantha Power, who really wrote the most important book on how to prevent genocide. But Samantha Power, in her book, said something very important. She explained how every time a genocide happened, since 1915 through the Jewish genocide, there’s always reason to not be involved, a denial, how many efforts the political leaders are doing to deny the genocide. And that’s why my report was basically saying the king is naked. It’s a genocide. Now, the solution is political. The leaders have to agree to stop the genocide. That’s the chance.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I’d like to bring in professor Anna Ohanyan, a professor of political science and international relations at Stonehill College. Professor Ohanyan, if you could respond to the ongoing crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh and what you understand occurred at the meeting, Wednesday’s meeting, of the U.N. Security Council yesterday?

ANNA OHANYAN: In addition to the severe humanitarian crisis that the blockade, the siege of Nagorno-Karabakh Republic by Azerbaijan has created, the genocidal violence, essentially, that has created, as described by Mr. Ocampo, it also is taking place in a context of broader use of violence in the region. In 2020, when Azerbaijan, with Turkey’s backing, engaged in an offensive on the Nagorno-Karabakh entity, Azerbaijan was victorious, emerged victorious, recovered the territory surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as parts of Nagorno-Karabakh. The November 9 agreement, as your previous speaker mentioned, created and maintained the Lachin corridor connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia.

What this peace process has been continuing since then by the Western — European Union, United States has been very, very active. This is in parallel with Russia’s continued attempt to remain relevant and provide security with its peacekeeping troops inside Nagorno-Karabakh. But what is transpiring, what the siege, what the blockade, the use of hunger as a weapon is demonstrating is that Baku, essentially — Baku’s strategy is to consolidate the victory it has achieved in the battlefield through the use of nonkinetic, non — tools that are not directly violent, such as the weapon as a hunger, in order to coerce the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to either relocate — soft ethnic cleansing — or to fully submit to Azerbaijan, which Azerbaijan government refers to as “integration.” The key here, I think Baku’s objective is to not engage, to not provide political accommodation to the entity. And this is an entity that has been a de facto state, has been a self-governing unit since the First Nagorno-Karabakh War ended in 1994, and it was part of — as a result of Stalin’s gerrymandering, this entity was given to Soviet Azerbaijan, but even then, as part of Soviet Azerbaijan, it was an autonomous republic, self-governing. So, the siege, the hunger, is an attempt to eliminate, to not engage with the entity politically.

And in that respect, it’s quite dangerous. Using hunger as a weapon essentially creates the conditions of hybrid war. And as such, it’s very dangerous not just for the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, but also for other conflict regions in general. Much more recently, that strategy was also used in Ethiopia relative to the Tigray population in its north. So it’s quite troublesome as to what is happening. And it’s devastating also because there is opportunity that Azerbaijan has in moving towards pacifying the region. There are various actors involved. And this historic opportunity, considering that Russia has weakened, creates an opening in moving the region forward. And as such, it is a historic opportunity, because Russia, for almost a century, has been using interethnic cleavages, tensions, to remain relevant. So, geopolitical stakes of a peaceful, principled, dignified resolution of this conflict remain significant.

AMY GOODMAN: Anna Ohanyan, we want to thank you for being with us, professor of political science and international relations at Stonehill College, joining us from Boston, and Luis Moreno Ocampo, Argentine lawyer who served as the first prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. He also was the deputy prosecutor in Argentina’s Trial of the Juntas.

This is Democracy Now! Coming up, The Intercept reports a secret Pakistan cable documents U.S. pressure to remove Imran Khan as prime minister. Stay with us.

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