OP-ED | Genocide is About to Unfold in Artsakh, and the West Has Secured a Front-Row Seat

The article was contributed to ZARTONK Media by Karnig Kerkonian.

For seventeen days, Azerbaijani special forces and military personnel—masquerading as “environmentalists”—have blocked the only road connecting Artsakh to Armenia. They have effectively severed the only lifeline the Artsakh Armenians have to the outside world—a lifeline guaranteed by the Trilateral Statement of November 10, 2020. With 120,000 Artsakh Armenians now completely encircled and isolated, Azerbaijan is poised to rid itself of the entire Armenian population this holiday season, and it will try to do so while Europe sips hot chocolate and watches.

Frankly, it is rare to have the opportunity to witness mass atrocity as it unfolds, but social media and Azerbaijan’s impunity have given the West an opportunity to watch the ongoing travesty on their iPhones. Azerbaijani sources excitedly publish their atrocities against Armenians online. In fact, Azerbaijan has proudly telegraphed its intentions to ethnically cleanse Artsakh of Armenians—and the lead-up has been quite entertaining, at least for the sadists.

The movie trailers promise a rather captivating show. An Armenian woman in Azerbaijani captivity, her eyes gouged out, her finger severed and shoved into her mouth, her empty eye sockets plugged with stones, hate speech carved into her bare, exposed chest. A video showing an elderly Armenian man in Artsakh, squirming on his back in the grass and weeds as an Azerbaijani soldier mercilessly continues to saw off his head with a dagger. Armenian POWs brought to their knees, tied and bound like animals. Azeri soldiers, in sickening euphoria, unloading bullet after bullet after bullet into the heads and backs of young Armenian boys. Yet, Azerbaijan assures the West that it is looking for peace and “coexistence”.

Independent observers, however, tell quite a different story. The International Association of Genocide Scholars has proclaimed that “[s]ignificant genocide risk factors exist in the Nagorno-Karabakh situation concerning the Armenian population.” Genocide Watch has raised the genocide threat level facing Artsakh Armenians beyond the “dehumanization” stage and even the “preparation” stage into the “persecution” and “denial” stages. Indeed, the former Armenian Human Rights Defender, Arman Tatoyan, along with the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention have warned that Azerbaijan’s “actions are part of a larger genocidal pattern, demonstrating Azerbaijan’s Armenophobia and genocidal intent [aimed at] the eradication of Armenia, Artsakh, and the Armenians.”

Azerbaijan demands that Artsakh Armenians be subjected to Azerbaijani authority—against their will. This is quite the cocktail: dictatorship, subjugation and genocide. But the West need remember that, after the Holocaust, it rewrote the book on watching dictators round up and deliver humans to their slaughter. Let’s be clear: “coexistence” under Azerbaijani authority is not only an utterly ridiculous proposition; it is patently inhumane, intellectually vapid—and, frankly, impermissible. We would never imagine subjecting a population of 120,000 Jews today to the authority of a rabid Nazi regime—or any Nazi regime, for that matter.

But, for the Armenians, let’s go with “coexistence”. After all, Azerbaijan is doing a rather bang-up job laundering sanctioned Russian gas through Baku to help Europe evade sanctions and stay warm for the winter. Only the French President has stated that he is not willing to trade winter warmth for the lives of the Armenian people. The rest of Europe seems to be just fine trading some dead Armenians for thick wool socks, a gas fireplace and some hygge.

And make no mistake: the Azerbaijani peace agenda has no credible basis—Azerbaijan has violated every single ceasefire since 2020, and its hereditary dictator (who, incidentally, sports a mustache curiously similar to Hitler’s) has openly admitted that he launched the 2020 war to bring an end to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict through force. Peace agendas usually involve negotiations—not summary executions, medieval beheadings, and open promises by a dictator to drive Armenians out “like dogs”. But then again, as long as the Europeans are toasty and warm, Azerbaijan appears free to starve and then ethnically cleanse the Artsakh Armenians.

There is a history of this too—and I am not even speaking of the Armenian Genocide (in which the Azerbaijanis, again with the help of their Turkish brothers, gladly participated). Azerbaijan’s march toward ethnic cleansing and genocide is blindingly clear in our own lifetimes. In response to peaceful demonstrations in Artsakh for unification with Armenia, Azerbaijan launched pogroms and massacres of Armenians in Sumgait, Kirovabad, and other cities in the late 1980s. Since then, Azerbaijan has only further institutionalized its Armenophobia, breeding and curating hatred toward Armenians at every turn. 

More recently, Azerbaijan has offered its viewers a slew of genocide party favors: a stamp issued by Azerbaijan displays an exterminator in a Hazmat suit “exterminating” Artsakh; a military trophy park showcasing the helmets of fallen soldiers, gruesome mannequins of Armenians for children to mock and degrade; President Erdogan of Turkey praising Nuri Pasha, of Armenian Genocide era fame, at a military parade in Baku. Frankly, it is unclear what else Baku has to do to telegraph to the world its intention to eliminate the Artsakh Armenians.

The smell of genocide wafts unmistakably in the air. Just a year ago, the International Court of Justice itself indicated provisional measures ordering Azerbaijan to “[t]ake all necessary measures to prevent the incitement and promotion of racial hatred and discrimination, including by its officials and public institutions, targeted at persons of Armenian national or ethnic origin.” The case against Azerbaijan was brought under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination—a treaty in place as a stop-gap measure to prevent (you guessed it) genocide. Of course, it has not stopped Azerbaijan from targeting the Artsakh Armenians or, for that matter, even claiming the capital of Armenia as its own. You really can’t make this up.

But back to the blockade. No consignments of food or medicine can now reach Artsakh, and patients cannot be transferred to Armenia for life-saving treatment. Azerbaijan, at one point, even deliberately cut off the gas supply to Artsakh, subjecting the isolated population to subzero winter temperatures. As a result of this cruelty, schools, kindergartens, and hospitals were unable to be heated. Two weeks on, the food shelves are empty, the medicine cabinets are bare, and families are separated. 

More than 270 children were left stranded on a road, meters from where civilian-clad Azerbaijani special forces kill peace pigeons and flash hand signs pledging allegiance to the “Grey Wolves”—an ultra-fascist hate organization banned in several countries.

There is no question a genocide is looming in Artsakh. The West, cozy with Russian gas laundered through Azerbaijan, can’t find that voice to condemn Azerbaijan or even call for humanitarian intervention. Europe has secured itself a front-row seat for this human catastrophe; now, let’s see if it has the stomach to watch it unfold.

Mr. Kerkonian is a distinguished international lawyer who leads the international and federal practice groups at Kerkonian Dajani LLP.

Mr. Kerkonian’s work focuses on suits involving foreign entities in U.S. courts, international sanctions regime matters, federal appeals, and cross-border transactions. His public interest practice involves a number of notable Armenian rights cases in U.S. and international courts, including precedent-setting matters against Turkey and Azerbaijan. He regularly advises states and international institutions on issues of public international law, state sovereignty and human rights.

Mr. Kerkonian is a coveted speaker at academic and professional conferences and regularly presents on matters of public international law, the International Court of Justice, the European Court of Human Rights, and the application of international law in U.S. courts. He is also an adjunct professor of public international law at Artsakh State University.

Karnig Kerkonian holds an A.B. magna cum laude in Government from Harvard University and two law degrees—a J.D. from the University of Chicago, where he served on the Law Review, as well as a post-graduate Diploma in Public International Law from Cambridge University, England, where he studied under James R. Crawford, Judge on the International Court of Justice. Mr. Kerkonian also holds an Honorary Doctorate from Artsakh State University. 

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