“Siege starvation,” according to Tom Dannenbaum, a Professor of International Law, is “a war crime of societal torture.”
For over 4 months, the indigenous Armenians of the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) in the South Caucuses have endured siege starvation: they are victims of an illegal blockade, causing starvation and mental anguish at the hands of the government of Azerbaijan.
From December 12, 2022 to April 28, 2023 so-called “eco-activists” of Azerbaijan blockaded the Lachin Corridor, the only road connecting Artsakh with the rest of the world, exposing the Armenian population there to starvation in an attempt to force them to leave their ancestral homeland. Then, on April 23rd, Azerbaijan declared it had established a military checkpoint on the Lachin Corridor. However, humanitarian aid shipments to Artsakh have been disrupted by Azerbaijan’s new checkpoint, Armenian media reported: “Artsakh authorities announced that humanitarian assistance delivered by Russian peacekeepers from Armenia to Artsakh could not be transported for three days following the creation of the checkpoint.”
Then, on April 28th, Azerbaijan announced it “temporarily suspended” the “eco-protest” it orchestrated to blockade Artsakh. It later turned out that the “eco-activists” were replaced by Azeri soldiers, thus making the road almost impossible to cross for the Armenians. The Artsakh / Nagorno-Karabakh Human Rights Ombudsman reported on April 29th:
“The Artsakh Blockade now continues at 2 sites: the illegally installed checkpoint on the Hakari Bridge on April 23, and at the site blocked since December 12th, 2022 near Shushi, where Azeri government agents in civilian clothes were replaced by law enforcement officers yesterday.”
Azerbaijan does not need the fake “eco-protest” to perpetrate its ethnic cleansing now that it has a military checkpoint. Azerbaijan has thus formalized and doubled down on its blockade through the checkpoint and deployment of the Azeri military personnel on the Lachin corridor. This means the blockade will be even stricter from now on.
This blockade has been denying Artsakh’s 120,000 Armenians access to food, medicine, fuel, and other essential supplies.
In accordance with the 2020 ceasefire agreement signed by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia following the 44-day war, “along the line of contact in Nagorno-Karabakh and along the Lachin corridor, a peacekeeping contingent of the Russian Federation was deployed in the amount of 1,960 servicemen.” The very limited transportation and humanitarian aid shipments between Artsakh and Armenia are currently provided by the Russian peacekeepers and ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross).
The Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention has issued several “Red Flag Genocide Alerts” to Azerbaijan pointing out the fact that “this blockade is part of broader genocidal aims of the Azeri authorities supported by their staunch ally Turkey.”
On February 2, for instance, the Institute announced:
“The blockade of this [Lachin] corridor, the only land route connecting the Armenians of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) with Armenia itself, has caused a humanitarian crisis isolating 120,000 people, including over 30,000 children, 20,000 elderly people, and 9,000 people with disabilities. Armenians in Artsakh are running out of food, essential medicines (such as insulin), baby foods and necessities, essential hygiene products for women, and other necessities. The serious humanitarian crisis caused by the blockade worsens daily. Additionally, there were constant gas and electricity cuts made by Azerbaijan during the harsh Caucasian winter. The responsibility for this humanitarian crisis lies solely on the Azerbaijani state, particularly with the regime of President Ilham Aliyev.”
Children, pregnant women, and the elderly, many of whom are already suffering from severe illness, are among the worst affected by the blockade. The Artsakh Ministry of Healthcare reports that newborns and their mothers in the region now face dire shortages of baby food, diapers, medicine, and other necessities, according to journalist Jackie Abramian.
According to a report issued by the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Republic of Artsakh on April 12th, during the 4-month-long blockade, 1,060 citizens of Artsakh were deprived of the opportunity to undergo surgeries to cure health problems due to postponements of programmed operations in all medical institutions of Artsakh.
The illegal blockade has also led to mass unemployment and an economic crisis in Artsakh. The Human Rights Ombudsman of the Republic of Artsakh has reported that most businesses involved with manufacturing, construction, agriculture, and trade have either completely stopped or almost completely stopped operating due to the impossibility of importing economic inputs as well as insufficient electricity and gas. An estimated 10,300 people have lost their jobs. The businesses that remain open are operating either partially or with governmental support.
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan keeps deliberately cutting gas supplies from Armenia to Artsakh. All of this so that Azerbaijan can cause as much suffering as possible to the Artsakh people. By such deliberate deprivation, Azerbaijan seems to grant only two options to Armenians: surrender or starve.
Given Azerbaijan’s callous treatment of Armenians, one could easily conclude that surrender would only lead to death and destruction for the Armenian community; Azerbaijan has unleashed murderous violence against Armenians several times, including during the 44-day war in 2020.
During the short war, Azerbaijani military forces perpetrated war crimes against Armenians. They murdered civilians, injured journalists and targeted homes, forests, hospitals, churches and cultural centers, among other non-military targets. They used white phosphorus and cluster munitions in violation of international law. At least 90,000 Armenians were forced to abandon their ancestral lands in Artsakh as a result.
Throughout these assaults, Azerbaijan was militarily and politically backed by Turkey, a NATO member and a European Union candidate. Together, Azerbaijan and Turkey utilized modern military technology to complete their century-long goal of ethnically cleansing Armenians from the region; Ottoman Turkey committed genocide against Armenians in 1915, with around 1.5 million Armenians perishing.
The 2020 war was supposed to have been suspended by the November 9th agreement signed by Armenia and Azerbaijan and brokered by Russia. However, not only did Azeri military aggression never stop, but it has grown worse through a blockade which is currently holding 120,000 Armenians hostage.
As part of its starvation policy, Azerbaijan is also trying to stop the work of farmers in Artsakh. On March 26th, for instance, civilians working in the pomegranate garden of the village of Martakert were fired at from Azerbaijani combat positions, leading to the disruption of harvesting. The use of starvation of the civilian population as a method of warfare is prohibited by international law.
Azerbaijan, however, continues to blatantly ignore the binding International Court of Justice (ICJ) decision on provisional measures issued on February 22nd, 2023, which ordered Azerbaijan to ensure free movement of goods and people through the Lachin Corridor.
The civilized world, however, keeps watching idly by as another Armenian genocide unfolds before our eyes. Will America also idly observe Azerbaijan’s crimes? The Biden administration should immediately sanction the government of Azerbaijan to stop this ongoing genocide against the Armenian people.