Hard Talk on Karabakh

There are some important things emerging from the protests along the Lachin road in Azerbaijan which Armenians have called a “blockade”.

The campaign against the Azerbaijani environmental protests has undoubtedly provided a degree of momentum for those in Yerevan, and in the Armenian diaspora in France and the US, who wish to break free of Russian hegemony and take Armenia on a Westward path. As a result some political space has been opened up between Armenia/Armenia in exile and the remaining Armenians in Karabakh. This is an interesting development with geopolitical implications for the battle between the West and its enemies.

The Armenian campaign to depict a small protest by a few dozen protesters on the Lachin road as a “blockade“, “humanitarian catastrophe”, “ethnic cleansing” and “attempted genocide” has scored undoubted success in the West, most notably with the passing of a resolution against Azerbaijan in the European Parliament. An earlier resolution presented at the UN Security Council had been blocked, much to the annoyance of Yerevan, chiefly by Russia (it was also opposed by the UK and UAE but for different reasons). But Russia has no veto in the EU so the Armenians won in the European Parliament.

The passing of the resolution on 19 January is evidence that the Europeans have fully bought into the Armenian narrative. Armenia’s Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, had summed up the gist of the Armenian narrative in the following statement:

“The illegal blockade of the Lachin corridor by Azerbaijan is aimed at breaking the will of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh to live in their homeland. But I believe their will to be unshakable.”

The Press Secretary of the Armenian Foreign Ministry, Vahan Hunanyan, in an interview with the Caucasus Jam News organisation, elaborated on this position, referring to statements made by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan:

“With his statement that everyone who does not want to live in Nagorno-Karabakh as citizens of Azerbaijan can leave, because the way to leave is open for them, the President of Azerbaijan actually admits that

  • Azerbaijan, grossly violating its international obligations stipulated by the tripartite statement of November 09, 2020, has been blockading 120,000 Artsakh Armenians for more than a month,
  • deliberately pushes Nagorno-Karabakh into a humanitarian catastrophe.

Azerbaijan recognises that the ultimate goal of these actions is ethnic cleansing in Nagorno-Karabakh and depriving the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh of the opportunity to live in their homeland. Under these conditions, we call on interested international partners to oblige Azerbaijan to stop blocking the Lachin corridor and save the Armenians of Artsakh from the impending catastrophe through clear actions.”

There is no evidence that Azerbaijan has any intention of ethnically cleansing Karabakh of its Armenians. It was, after all, the Armenians who actually ethnically cleansed the region of its 750,000 Azerbaijanis around 30 years ago. But facts don’t matter much in the Armenian narrative and never have done. What matters is feeling and the stoking up of humanitarian passions in the West, which is in a state of hysteria lately over events in Ukraine.

US backing for Armenia

Some initial success for the Armenian lobby was achieved when US Senators Bob Menendez, Chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Jack Reed, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, wrote to US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, demanding that the Biden administration “strengthen efforts to end Azerbaijan’s month-long blockade of the Lachin corridor.” 

Their letter stated:

“Dear Secretary Blinken,

We write to express our deep concern with the month-long Azerbaijani blockade on Nagorno-Karabakh and the rapidly-worsening humanitarian crisis that has been created for the region’s ethnically Armenian population. Despite claims that the blockade has been formed by “eco-protestors”, it appears that the Aliyev regime in Azerbaijan bears ultimate responsibility.  Furthermore, Russian forces entrusted with keeping the peace have clearly failed in their duties.

This blockade is imposing devastation on an already vulnerable region, which is still reeling from the aftershocks of Azerbaijan’s 2020 attack on the population of Nagorno-Karabakh.  According to the Armenian government, Baku is denying 120,000 Nagorno-Karabakh residents freedom of movement, effectively holding them hostage in an effort to advance its own objectives… 

The United States cannot stand aside while the Aliyev regime callously threatens the lives of Nagorno-Karabakh’s citizens, and must hold Azerbaijan to account for blocking a civilian population’s access to food and basic necessities.

We were pleased to see the Department of State Spokesperson recently “call on the Government of Azerbaijan to restore free movement” in Nagorno-Karabakh. While we welcome the recognition that Azerbaijan is responsible for the blockade that is causing the ongoing humanitarian crisis, the United States must also take action to resume the free flow of humanitarian and basic goods to this besieged population. We must support organizations working to provide relief, and work with our like-minded partners across Europe who have also expressed concern over Baku’s actions to pressure the Aliyev regime to stop this unacceptable blockade.”

The international Armenian lobby, deflated after the 2020 defeat of Armenia, has been energised by this new “genocide campaign” and they have made their mark across the Western media.

A sample of recent headlines include:

The Humanitarian Crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh Is a Textbook Example of Ethnic Cleansing’ (Time Magazine, 12.1.23) ‘Europe watches on as humanitarian crisis unfolds in Nagorno-Karabakh‘ (Politico, 14.1.23), ‘Nagorno-Karabakh: 120,000 isolated Armenians risk humanitarian catastrophe’ (Vatican News, 13.1.23), ‘With The Lachin Corridor Blockage, Nagorno-Karabakh is Close To A Humanitarian Catastrophe’ (Forbes, 13.1.23), ‘With Russia’s fading power in Ukraine, a second catastrophe looms’ (CNN, 6.1.23). “Thousands of Armenians trapped in Nagorno-Karabakh face humanitarian crisis” (France24, 20.1.23)

It is noticeable how the same phrases reoccur across the headlines. But that is what passes for journalism in the West these days.

Initially, however, the Armenian narrative was not gaining the purchase expected in the West and various Armenians exclaimed frustration that their efforts had been largely in vain, despite the parroting of the Armenian catch-cries by the Western media. Then the Armenian propaganda machine scored their significant victory in the European Parliament.

After this, according to the US State Department Spokesperson, Ned Price:

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke today with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev to urge an immediate reopening of the Lachin corridor to commercial traffic.  He underscored that the risk of a humanitarian crisis in the Lachin corridor undermined prospects for peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan.  The Secretary encouraged President Aliyev to redouble efforts in bilateral peace discussions with Armenia.  He also raised human rights concerns in Azerbaijan.”

The Armenian campaign gained further recognition at the end of January when the “Save Karabakh Coalition” was launched on Capital Hill, Washington. It is composed of a number of Congressmen and women, including House Foreign Affairs Committee senior member Brad Sherman and other caucus and committee members from both Democrat and Republican parties. It “calls on the U.S. government to take all necessary measures to safeguard the Armenian population of Nagorno Karabakh, to apply economic pressure on Azerbaijan – including the suspension of military and economic aid – to pressure it to lift the blockade and to work within the framework of the UN Security Council to provide for adequate peacekeeping in the region to protect the people of Nagorno Karabakh.”  

Evidently, the Armenians feel that they can use the power of Washington to bring Baku to heel. It remains to be seen if this power is effective. However, Western threats tend to drive states unwilling to do the bidding of Washington in only one direction. Turkiye is a good example of that.

The Issue Obscured

The Trilateral Declaration, signed by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia on 10 November  2020, contained Article 6 stipulating that “The Lachin Corridor (5 km wide)… will provide a connection between Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia while not passing through the territory of Shusha” and “shall remain under the control of the Russian Federation peacemaking forces… The Republic of Azerbaijan shall guarantee the security of persons, vehicles and cargo moving along the Lachin Corridor in both directions.”

Azerbaijan by this provision granted special entry and exit to Armenian citizens, vehicles, and cargo along an 80 km road on the territory of Azerbaijan to its Karabakh region, at present populated exclusively by ethnic Armenians. This region had been depopulated of its entire Azerbaijani population 30 years ago in the course of the First Karabakh War. The depopulation was encouraged by the Khojaly massacre of February 1992 in which over 600 villagers were annihilated by Armenian forces in a day. Around 750,000 Azerbaijanis were ethnically cleansed by Armenians from the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast and surrounding areas, amounting to nearly 20 per cent of Azerbaijan’s territory which was occupied for nearly 3 decades until 2020.

As the road temporarily remains under the control of a Russian peacekeeping force, Azerbaijan’s security apparatus, including customs do not check persons and cargo. The Russian peacekeeping force exercise this function on behalf of Azerbaijan.

For about a year now tensions have been building up with Azerbaijan accusing Armenia of abusing the corridor’s “civilian and humanitarian” purpose for military use, in transporting weapons, including landmines, and the products of illegal mining activities in Karabakh, in contradiction to provisions of the Trilateral Declaration. 

It should be understood that the Lachin road is not an extraterritorial corridor because neither Armenia nor Russia have any rights over the route across Azerbaijan’s territory. The temporary visa-free conditions of travel do not grant Armenia the right to transport military personnel or supplies to remaining army units in Karabakh.  

Article 4 of the Trilateral Declaration stipulated that the “withdrawal of Armenian troops” must take place from the territory of Azerbaijan. However, this has not been implemented by Yerevan. Ruben Vardanyan recently admitted in an interview with Meduza that there are Armenian soldiers on Azerbaijani territory: “Near Shusha we have a checkpoint of Armenian border troops. Russian peacekeepers are behind them,” The pretence of an “Artsakh” pseudo-state and “Artsakh Defense Army” has been maintained. The International Crisis Group has estimated that there are still 12,000 Armenian soldiers in Karabakh, on Azerbaijan’s territory.

The suspicion was that the Russians were not doing a thorough enough job in monitoring the traffic in people and goods in and out of Karabakh. This situation prompted Azerbaijani environmentalists into starting protests close to the Russia-controlled checkpoint on the road to Stepanakert/Khankendi since 12 December, against illegal mining operations in Karabakh. In response the Russian peacekeeping forces stopped the corridor’s use except by Russian vehicles for supplies and for other humanitarian purposes.

The environmental protesters concluded an agreement with the Russian peacekeepers’ command in early December 2022 including a provision to inspect the environmental conditions at the two mineral deposit sites, monitor various areas, records, along with assessing potential risks and threats to the environment, including water sources. However, the planned initial inspection and monitoring did not take place after it was prevented by Karabakh Armenians who blocked the way to the mineral deposits. There has been no reference in the West to this significant event.

The protest camp has been successful in deterring the import of weapons and export of Azerbaijan’s natural resources in the absence of formal customs barriers and checking. In response to the protests on the Lachin road and the demand to inspect them, the authorities in Stepanakert decided to shut down the mines, depriving themselves of the large amount of tax revenues they had received from the illegal mining. Hundreds of Artsakh miners were laid off without income. Furthermore, the “Artsakh government” were forced into announcing that it would allow international inspectors to come and inspect the mines.

One high-ranking “Artsakh” official also made the mistake of announcing that Armenian smugglers were using illegal back roads that bypassed the Lachin Corridor to smuggle people and supplies in and out of “Artsakh”.

The main result of the Lachin road protests has been a degree of inconvenience for those in transit and periodic shortages of some goods in the Armenian populated part of Karabakh due to the curbs on the freedom of traffic. To emphasise the inconvenience shelves have been cleared in supermarkets and ration coupons issued to maintain the pretence of a starvation blockade. However, by no stretch of the imagination could this be termed a “blockade” by any reasonable observer. Around 400 Russian trucks have passed through the road since the start of the protest and humanitarian aid proceeds without delay. Regular protest demonstrations, industrial action and picket lines in the West cause the same level of inconvenience without being termed “blockades”. They are seen as examples of pluralistic and democratic societies where citizens exercise their rights of free assembly and dissent.

It would be unreasonable to expect Azerbaijan, or any country in the world, to tolerate the use of its territory by a foreign state for illicit mineral exploitations and cross-border weapons trafficking. One only needs to look at the protracted dispute between the European Union and Britain on the Northern Ireland Protocol to see how sovereignty is taken seriously across national boundaries. And yet European parliamentarians treat the borders of Azerbaijan with absolute disdain.

The European Union to the Rescue.

On January 19 the European Parliament adopted a very hostile resolution against Azerbaijan that could have been written by Yerevan itself. Many European deputies in their speeches asserted that the Lachin road was being blocked by “the Aliyev regime and a group of fictitious environmentalists.” Many, evidently in Slava Ukraine mode, condemned not only the actions of Azerbaijan, but also the inaction of Russia and the Russian peacekeepers stationed in the place they call “Nagorno-Karabakh”.

The EU resolution stated that the Azerbaijani “blockade” had led to a “severe humanitarian crisis”, which has deepened “due to Azerbaijan’s violation of the supply of natural gas to NK”. It further asserted that:“Obstacles to the functioning of the Lachin corridor hinder the peace process between Armenia and Azerbaijan and undermine international confidence”. According to the resolution, by blocking the corridor “Azerbaijan is violating the international obligations that it assumed according to the tripartite ceasefire statement of November 9, 2020” when Baku had undertook to “guarantee the safety of persons, vehicles and goods moving along the corridor in both directions.”

The EU resolution called on Azerbaijan to: “Respect the provisions of the November 9 tripartite statement and immediately unblock the Lachin corridor”; “continue to refrain from disrupting transport, energy ties and communications between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh”; and to “protect the rights of the Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh and refrain from inflammatory rhetoric calling for discrimination against Armenians and calling for them to leave Nagorno-Karabakh.” The document proclaimed the need for a comprehensive regional peace agreement, which “should guarantee the rights and security of the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh.”

The resolution also contained demands for more assertive European interference in the peace process and the sidelining of one of its originators, Russia. It condemned the inaction of the Russian peacekeepers in protecting the Armenian population, and demanded that they be replaced with OSCE international peacekeepers acting under UN mandate. It called for the EU to have more active participation in the region so that the Armenians of “Nagorno-Karabakh” are no longer “hostage to Baku’s activity, with the destructive role of Russia and the inaction of the OSCE Minsk Group. The resolution also called for “unhindered access to Nagorno-Karabakh for international organizations and the dispatch of a UN or OSCE fact-finding mission to the Lachin corridor”.

It is evident that the parliamentarians of the European Union see blows on behalf of Armenia against Azerbaijan – and by extension Turkiye – to be part and parcel of the Western war effort against Russia.

As a result of the resolution, a EU observation mission to Armenia was announced, to be in place for a period of 2 years. Yerevan apparently rejected a proposal for CSTO monitors in favour of the EU ones. At the same time Baku rejected EU missions to Azerbaijan.

The expansion of the EU monitoring mission in Armenia on the border with Azerbaijan was condemned by Azerbaijan and the Russian Foreign Ministry. The Russian statement read:

“The EU’s attempts to get a foothold in Armenia and sideline Russia’s mediation efforts may damage the core interests of Armenians and Azerbaijanis as they pursue a return to peaceful development of the region,” a statement released by the ministry said. Moscow described the EU as “an appendage of the US and NATO” saying its “confrontational policy” can only “bring geopolitical confrontation and aggravate existing disagreements”. The mission’s stated civilian nature should not “deceive” anyone, Russia said.

The original peace efforts regarding the Karabakh conflict were a product of the 1990s, in very different geopolitical circumstances, when the Russians were down and out. But the Minsk OSCE Group (US, France and Russia) failed over the course of 3 decades and the management of the peace process passed over to Moscow and Ankara in the wake of the 1920 Azerbaijani victory. However, once the West lured the Russians into Ukraine through the onward march of NATO, it has sensed the possibility of re-establishing the 1990s conditions at the expense of Russia.

There are 2 groups of separatists in Europe that European parliamentarians have radically different approaches to:

Firstly, there are the Armenian separatists of Karabakh. These people were responsible for the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 people from their homes, the killing of around 20,000 more, including many women and children, and the establishment of an occupation regime encompassing nearly 20 per cent of a neighbour’s country in violation of all international law and 4 UN Security Force Resolutions.

The European Parliament has rewarded them with its resolution and moral support and would do far more if it had the military means to do so.

Secondly, there are the Russian/Ukrainian separatists of the Donbas and Crimea. These people ethnically cleansed no one and were content to live in a shared state that respected the diversity of its citizens and maintained a balance between their identity and that of the Western Ukrainian nationalists. They found the President of Ukraine they democratically elected with the rest of the people of Ukraine, overthrown in a Western backed coup in 2014 and their rights and existence threatened by the putschist government in Kiev which proceeded to launch a military assault on them which claimed the lives of 15,000 citizens of the state over the course of 7 years. In this case citizens of a heterogeneous state were suddenly turned into traitors by the homogenising process of radical nationalism, egged on by the West.

The European Parliament has supported the armed assault of the Kiev government on these separatists with generous military supplies and unprecedented moral support of a totalitarian character. This has enabled Kiev’s forces to keep up an incessant anti-civilian bombardment of Donets and other centres of civilian population. And the Europeans have remained silent when “collaborationist” Ukrainians are dealt with by Nazi-sympathising forces in summary fashion.

Europe is guilty of gross double standards in its attitudes and that is not lost on the populations and governments of both Azerbaijan and Turkiye.

Man of Mystery, Ruben Vardanyan

Ruben Vardanyan, is described by the Economist as “the de facto ruler of Karabakh“. He is, again according to the Economist:

“a Russian-Armenian billionaire well-known for his philanthropy in the Armenian world, who rose to power in Karabakh quickly and in murky fashion: he unexpectedly renounced his Russian citizenship last autumn and moved to Stepanakert. Within two months he was in charge. His arrival has enraged Azerbaijanis, who see him as a Kremlin asset there to sabotage the peace talks. Formerly an adviser to Vladimir Putin, Mr Vardanyan is cagey about his current ties to Moscow and studiously avoids criticising Russia.”

The credentials of Ruben Vardanyan – Russian oligarch, former “adviser to Vladimir Putin” etc. – should make him close to the Devil himself for Western commentators. But he has had a remarkably free ride of it in the West so far, whose media and political class have maintained a discreet silence over his role, despite Vardanyan being on the very first list of Russian oligarchs sanctioned after the launch of the Russian military operation in Ukraine.

He was, however, the subject of an interview with Stephen Sackur on BBC HARDtalk on 23 January. Sackur, it should be remembered, was responsible for the disastrous interview of Nikol Pashinyan just before the 2020 war. Vardanyan, who has much better English than the Armenian Prime Minister, must have chosen to take on the interview with Sackur to demonstrate his superiority to Pashinyan in the international media sphere. Maybe he wishes to trod the well-worn path of Armenian Karabakh leader to Armenian leader done so by every Armenian President before Nikol Pashinyan, the present incumbent.

Below are some extracts from the BBC HARDtalk interview:

Steven Sackur – … What we saw in 2020 is that the Azerbaijani troops won a big victory, and you lost more than two thirds of the territory that you controlled until 2020. Now you control a tiny enclave that is isolated by an economic blockade, and it seems to me that your only realistic option is either to make a political deal with Azerbaijan, or the people, the Armenian community of Nagorno-Karabakh, will decide that the situation is no longer stable and leave this territory. So what will happen? Political deal or outcome?

Ruben Vardanyan – … The European Parliament a few days ago approved a resolution with a tough message to President Aliyev, demanding the road be unblocked. Not only Russia, but also France, the European Parliament, the United States are surprisingly unanimous on this issue, which is actually something very special, because we all know what the relationship is today between major European countries and Russia. Secondly…

Steven Sackur – Mr. Vardanyan, even if the blockade is lifted, my question remains: how can the community of Nagorno-Karabakh be viable in the long term? Even the Armenian government says that this is no longer a territorial issue, they no longer claim to turn Nagorno-Karabakh into an independent state or part of Armenia. They say in Yerevan that this is just a matter of rights, a matter of contractual guarantees of security and human rights for the Armenian community in your territory. Everything indicates that in the long run you will be part of the sovereign Azerbaijani state. Do you accept it?

Ruben Vardanyan – Back in Soviet times, in 1988, the people of Artsakh said that they would never be part of Azerbaijan. They are fighting for their freedom and have taken all the necessary legal steps. And today we turn to the world with a very simple question: do we have the right to self-determination in a state that violates all human rights in relation to its own people? How can we live in a country where out of 104 years of existence of the Republic of Azerbaijan for 44 years (first as part of the Soviet Union, then as an independent republic), one family rules the country where an Azerbaijani has no rights, not to mention the Armenians? With the way they treat us, how do you imagine the possibility for an ethnic minority to have rights? For us it is not a matter of whether we want to or not; we do not see any possibility. By the way, in this blockade, the last example was very revealing. Children who were separated from their families and remained in Armenia, unable to return, six weeks later, with the mediation of Russian peacekeepers, tried to return to Artsakh, and the Azerbaijanis stopped them, checked them, and subjected them to psychological pressure. Xenophobia is so high, for this reason…

Steven Sackur – I want to make this clear, sorry to interrupt, but you say that you are and of course many people sincerely say that right now you are in charge in Nagorno-Karabakh. Do you say that you are in no way ready to have any kind of negotiations or dialogue with President Aliyev and the government of Azerbaijan?

Ruben Vardanyan – No, we are ready to negotiate if Azerbaijan understands that negotiations are for both sides. Because what we have been saying since the first day of the demand for independence — we understand and accept that we will live side by side, but we will be a separate territory, a separate state, there will be separate rules and laws, since we are a democratic country, we do not see ourselves as part of Azerbaijan, but we respect that we will live in the same region, and we need to find a way, despite all the difficulties, to find a solution that will be acceptable to both sides, because …

Steven Sackur – So I understand that you fundamentally disagree with the government in Yerevan, which says that now for your people it’s just a matter of negotiating the right deal, frankly, within Azerbaijan. They say it’s a matter of rights, that human rights and the right to security for your people be guaranteed, but they say it’s no longer a matter of territory or sovereignty.

Ruben Vardanyan – First of all, the government of Armenia, the leader of Armenia said that whatever decision the leadership of Artsakh makes, they will follow our choice. We have already received clear messages from France, the USA, Russia: they do not even consider this issue closed. Despite all the rhetoric of Azerbaijan, thanks to the international community, discussions in the UN and the UN Security Council, it became clear that everything is not over, because we have the right to self-determination, because ethnic cleansing is prohibited by the UN Charter.

Two interesting things came out of this interview: Firstly, Vardanyan’s reluctance to engage in Moscow-denunciation or criticism when invited to by the Western interviewer. There have been some statements in the Azerbaijani media that Vardanyan is a Kremlin agent. Of course, being accused of being a Russian agent is fairly meaningless these days. And the Western-educated Vardanyan with his high-level connections in the US and Europe (name dropping George Clooney and King Charles of the UK) perfectly fits the type of person that is increasingly persona non grata in Moscow these days, as Putin realises that making friends with the West was a hopeless task and has been replaced with a more Eurasian orientation.

Thomas de Waal, the longtime English commentator on the Caucasus and author of the seminal Black Garden book on Karabakh, doubts that Vardanyan is an agent of the Kremlin: “If Vardanyan were a Russian puppet the road would be open” he told Turan News. And the actions of Moscow and Baku suggest he has a point.

Rather than being a Kremlin agent then it is more likely that Vardanyan has to express great care with regard to what he says about Russia both from a personal perspective, with his extensive business interests in Russia vulnerable to confiscation, and due to his position in an administration that would no longer exist without the Russian presence (which will now probably be terminated in 2025 as a result of Armenian intransigence in participating in conflict resolution).

This brings us to the second thing of significance: how Sackur was effectively briefed to attempt to prise open the widening gap between the more Russian-dependent Karabakh Armenians and the increasingly Western-orientating Armenian state. Vardanyan was extremely coy about bringing any attention on this important development. But it confirms the point made previously by the present writer that President Pashinyan of Armenia is increasingly intent on off-loading the Karabakh Armenians to the Russians to wash his hands of the problem which has drained the Armenian state for 3 decades and which threatens his position in Yerevan. And while he does so Armenia goes West.

(Note: Vardanyan was dismissed from his post in late February: The probability is that his hard-line intransigence was proving dysfunctional to life in Karabakh leading to his services being dispensed with. It is unlikely he was either dispatched or recalled by the Kremlin, although it is possible Moscow had an influence on his removal. Since Vardanyan’s removal low-level talks have commenced between representatives from Azerbaijan and Karabakh Armenians.)

Crying Genocide

The Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention is one of those new genocide industry organisations in which today’s well-meaning Westerner academics carve out careers in putting the world to right. Genocide used to be considered a form of progress in the West until comparatively recently. In fact, the Anglosphere used to boast, with good reason, that it was the most progressive force in the world because it exterminated the weaker races more thoroughly than other more reluctant Europeans. Of course, it wasn’t called Genocide back in the day of the main genocides but “extirpation”. But this did not matter much to the peoples who were “extirpated” in the cause of human progress. They never got to campaign for a Genocide designation. They were simply exterminated by the states who now accuse others of genocide.

The Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention has a very selective focus on genocide according to its website: It runs projects on Turkish/Azerbaijani genocide of Armenians, Muslim genocide of Christian Yazidis in Iraq, Russian genocide of Ukrainians, and the “Genocidal Nature of the Gender Critical Movement’s Ideology and Practice” (this means the people who continue to insist on calling a woman a woman are genocidal in nature! The Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention has all all female Leadership Team for Gender reasons, although I must desist from describing them as such, just in case any of them has an identity crisis. Welcome to the West!).

Describing its Armenia project the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention states:

“The Lemkin Institute’s Armenia Project aims to raise awareness around the world about the global threats to Armenian life. Starting in 2021, we have repeatedly warned of the threat of genocide to Armenia from its neighbor, Azerbaijan. This threat is unfortunately flying under the radar of the international press, the international NGO community, and diplomatic circles. The Armenia project hopes to bring genocide prevention to the South Caucasus region by offering the information and training necessary for long-term peacebuilding and human security.”

The Lemkin Institute issued a “Full Red Flag Alert opposing all international pressure on Armenia to cede territory including Artsakh in light of Azerbaijan’s ongoing war crimes, genocidal language, and genocidal aims toward Armenia.” This accompanied a statement condemning the Sackur interview of Vardanyan as an invitation to genocide. It expressed “surprise to have to point out that genocide should never be offered to threatened peoples as a possible “realistic option” going forward.”

The Lemkin Institute statement said:

“People threatened with genocide face choiceless choices. If Armenians are forced to flee in the face of Azerbaijani threats, that is not a “realistic option,” that is genocide. Sackur’s framing of the question places him in the position of the perpetrator, who in this case is Ilham Aliyev. By coopting Artsakhtsis (people of Artsakh) into a fantasy scenario where political negotiations with the current anti-Armenian, genocidal Azerbaijani regime are possible, Sackur engages in not-so-subtle genocide denial and even blames the victim: Artsakh is under blockade not because of the genocidal designs of Azerbaijan, but because of some inexplicable stubbornness on the part of Armenians in Artsakh or their leaders – or both, as he seems to believe.

“By deploying a tactic called DARVO (Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender), Sackur is mirroring a common strategy of genocidaires. Not once does Sackur note that Azerbaijan’s blockade of Artsakh is a violation of the Ceasefire Agreement that ended the 2020 war, nor does he note that siege tactics against civilians constitute a violation of international law. In fact, he appears to excuse the blockade by referring to a “misunderstanding” between Azerbaijan and Armenia on the terms of the 2020 agreement after Vardanyan rightly points out that the blockade is a clear violation of the aforementioned ceasefire.

The Lemkin Institute is appalled at Sackur’s insistence on the usage of the name Nagorno-Karabakh. Sackur’s “clarification” suggests the illegitimacy of the name Artsakh, which is in fact the historical Armenian name for the region. His insistence also ignores the political undertones of the term Nagorno-Karabakh, or simply Karabakh… Sackur’s comment, which he frames as a revealed and incontestable truth, suggests a total ignorance of the history of the Artsakh conflict, and ignores the fact that Artsakh was given to Azerbaijan under the colonial rule of the Soviet Union, without the consent or input of the majority Armenian population residing within.

The entire interview in fact is characterized by assumptions and frameworks that appear to be sourced from Baku. At times, Sackur seems to use social media as the sole source for enormous truth claims, such as that Artsakhsis believe that Vardanyan’s “time as … state minister has been a disaster.” At one point Sackur names “political scientist” Elkhan Sahinoglu, the head of the Atlas Research Center in Baku, as a source, and quotes him as saying that “Ruben Vardanyan is Moscow’s man in Karabakh.” Sackur seems completely unaware that all research institutions in Azerbaijan, like all media, are under the total control of President Aliyev’s regime. If Sackur is going to mention Azerbaijani propaganda as a source, he has an obligation to let listeners know that there is no freedom of inquiry, research, or speech in Azerbaijan.

We also call on the BBC and other global media outlets to ensure the accuracy of their reporting on the South Caucasus. We further suggest that more media companies focus on educating editors and journalists on laws and approaches related to mass atrocity and its prevention. Finally, we insist that journalists do not propose genocidal outcomes as “realistic options” faced by threatened communities.”

That sounds like it could be written by an Armenian. And guess what? The Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention has one Emily Ekshian as an intern in its Leadership Team:

“As an Armenian American, Emily is interested in learning more about how international law can work to better resolve and mitigate genocide prevention and war crimes, and she is excited to be joining the Lemkin Institute to expand her knowledge in the field.”  

But is the question of Genocide an Azerbaijani one or an Armenian one?

In the Economist Ruben Vardanyan let the cat out of the bag when he said that Baku’s pressure will not work on the Armenians of Karabakh:

“We can stay a long time in these conditions… It’s not about food. It’s about are we living in our homeland, or will we be part of Azerbaijan?”

Of course, Armenians “living in our homeland” and being “part of Azerbaijan” are not mutually exclusive possibilities, although they seem to be asserted that way by Vardanyan. The implication being that if the Armenians of Karabakh do not exclusively control that territory, excluding the 40,000 or so non-Armenians from it that were ethnically cleansed, then it ceases to be a “homeland” for them by becoming an integral part of Azerbaijan.

The West is not reporting that the 90,000 or so Armenians of Karabakh are not interested in becoming normal functional citizens of the state in which they reside, under any circumstances. The Armenians, therefore, are determined to maintain a separate existence from their former Azerbaijani neighbours and a separate existence from the state, despite representing only 1 per cent of Azerbaijan’s 10 million population.

What happens when the Azerbaijani army establishes control over this territory in 2025 and tens of thousands of Azerbaijanis return to their homes among the less than 100,000 Armenians, Sackur might have reasonably asked? There are around 650,000 Azerbaijani IDPs awaiting return to Karabakh and surrounding liberated areas, along with another 350,000 refugees who were driven from Armenia. That type of question may just be too hard for BBC HARDtalk, like the question of what happens to the people of Donbas and Crimea if Kiev’s army reappears there one day?

A people who will never countenance being part of a state and who fear the reappearance of their former neighbours back in their homes, whose relations and friends they drove out and killed 30 years ago, are unlikely to passively accept absorption from the kindliest government with the best of all intentions. They will have an ethnic-cleansing and genocide wish in them to prove a point. And they are already exercising that in their “Cry Genocide” reflex to the small Lachin protests, in a desperate attempt to cheat their fate through the provoking of Western humanitarian intervention.

When the Azerbaijan army had defeated and surrounded Armenian military forces in Karabakh in early November 2020 it engaged with the enemy diplomatically to end the conflict and, in conjunction with the Kremlin, brought about a managed conclusion of the war which left the Armenian civilian populace unmolested. Encircled Armenian forces were allowed to withdraw and retire from the battlefield without being destroyed in their thousands. The Armenian civilians were spared the fate of the Azerbaijanis who were hunted down and killed by Armenian paramilitaries or who perished with their children fleeing across snow covered mountains in 1992-4. The main centres of Armenian population were not militarily assaulted and they were provided, through agreement, with the protection of Russian peacekeepers for a period not less than 5 years in which a peace process could bridge the gap between war and conflict resolution.

But alas, the Armenians, instead of engaging in a meaningful transition to peace and conflict resolution, have reverted to their “Cry Genocide” mode. If they are taken seriously, they have determined on a course of ethnic cleansing and genocide for themselves. And nothing can stop this self-destruction if they are determined to see it through. It appears, therefore, that Armenia, in defining its entire identity on the basis of a single event in 1915, is doomed to live within the parameters of it for eternity.

So what does the European Parliament think of this? Could one ever conceive of the European Union giving the same support to Baku to reincorporate its national territory and reintegrate the Armenian population of Karabakh within the Azerbaijan Republic as it has to Kiev to win back Luhansk, Donets and Crimea?

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made an interesting comment to a hostile journalist last week when challenged on international law. He proceeded to explain how the Kremlin sees the relationship between the territorial integrity of states and demands for self-determination. He said that Russia supported the territorial integrity of states if governments made it possible for minorities to live functionally within them. Kiev had made it impossible for the people of Donbas and Crimea to do this from the 2014 coup and had, as a consequence, raised the question of self-determination above that of territorial integrity. Around 17 per cent of the population of Ukraine identified as ethnic Russian in 2001. That is a substantially more significant national problem confronting Kiev than the one that Baku has to deal with in the order of 1 per cent.

Lavrov’s position seems reasonable and consistent. But the West’s position on territorial integrity and self-determination is both contradictory and inconsistent at every level. And one wonders what it will do in 2025 when bit comes to bit in Karabakh and the Armenians there are confronted with the full reality of their position.

Finally, it should be noted that the latest RAND report, Avoiding a Long War (January 2023), says something very interesting about the US attitude to territorial integrity of states. The powerful RAND Corporation reports have been the blueprint for Washington’s Foreign Policy and US geopolitics in recent years. While suggesting that “Ukrainian control of more of its sovereign land may reinforce the territorial norm” (p.7) it indicates that there are significant potential costs to US state interests in continuing to support full Ukraine’s territorial integrity. It also points out that Secretary of State Blinken has stated that the goal of US policy is to enable Ukraine “to take back territory that’s been seized from it since February 24” i.e. not to enable Kiev to take control of Crimea or Donbas. And rather devastatingly for Kiev’s territorial aims it concludes:

“Our analysis suggests that this debate is too narrowly focused on one dimension of the war’s trajectory. Territorial control, although immensely important to Ukraine, is not the most important dimension of the war’s future for the United States. We conclude that… avoiding a long war is also a higher priority for the United States than facilitating significantly more Ukrainian territorial control.” (p.25)

The rest of the report suggests that the major problem for the US is in escaping from the escalation of the conflict it has been engaging in, to keep Ukraine fighting for its full territorial aims. That will be very difficult, it concludes, and “a dramatic, overnight shift in US policy is politically impossible” (p.26) Washington will have to engage in stealth and persuasion of Kiev and European allies to accomplish a retreat from the demand for Ukrainian territorial integrity.

Azerbaijan knows well from the 30 years of international inaction on its own territorial integrity that this is the reality of the world and cannot be wished away by well-meaning people who bring about nothing but destruction and catastrophe with the best of intentions.

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