The Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies is concerned over the recent re-escalation of violence in Nagorno-Karabakh (also known as Artsakh), in which Azerbaijan shelled civilian areas of Nagono-Karabakh, resulting in the deaths of over 200 people, with over 400 injured, and 7000 fleeing their homes as Azerbaijan has occupied villages. The attacking of civilian-populated areas is a war crime, violating one of the fundamental rules of international humanitarian law that requires protection of civilians. 

This violence comes in the context of the blockade of the Lachin Corridor, the road linking the people of Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, which Azerbaijan has blocked since December 2022. 120,000 ethnic Armenians have been unable to leave Nagorno-Karabakh. Those that managed to get out early in the blockade are not permitted to return, indicating ethnic cleansing of the area. Humanitarian aid is desperately needed for those living in the enclave, as food, medicine and fuel have depleted as Azerbaijan blocks entry for any supplies. Electricity is intermittent, and only as much as the citizens of Nagorno-Karabakh can get working themselves. Azerbaijan has blocked gas supplies too. No electricity and gas has been a serious issue during the freezing winter, and so it is hoped there will not be another winter like this. A long line of trucks filled with humanitarian aid sits on the Armenian side of the Lachin Corridor. For some time, not even the International Committee of the Red Cross has not been permitted to enter and bring in much-needed supplies such as food and medicine. This is contrary to Azerbaijan’s obligations under international humanitarian law, including Article 10 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

With a history of many risk factors of genocide, and early stage genocidal actions by Azerbaijan, including hate speech against Armenians, destruction of Armenian cultural heritage sites (such as churches), and the commission of war crimes in recent conflict flare-ups, the situation has been clearly escalating. It is evident that Azerbaijan is targeting the Armenians of Nagorno-Karbakh as an ethnic and/or national group, both of which are protected groups under the Genocide Convention. However, since the blockade of the Lachin Corridor, the deliberate starvation and denial of access to healthcare demonstrates an intent not just to ethnically cleanse Nagorno-Karabakh of Armenians, but to physically destroy them. Denial of food and healthcare only leads to death, and these actions are a crucial part of genocide, which we have seen in other genocides including the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide, the Cambodian Genocide and the Rohingya Genocide. It has also been made clear to Azerbaijan by the International Court of Justice that the blockade of the Lachin Corridor produces a real and imminent risk to the health and life of the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, so Azerbaijan is aware of this and continues the blockade. This is in addition to those killed in this week’s and previous bombings.

Azerbaijan is killing by bombing, starvation and denial of healthcare. Thus, using the definition of genocide, we see an intent by Azerbaijan to destroy, in whole or in part, an ethnic and/or national group (Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh).

Azerbaijan has now claimed it will provide food and fuel to Nagorno-Karabakh. It has also said it will open the Lachin Corridor to allow people- but not to return- which will ethnically cleanse the area of Armenians and likely result in the destruction of remaining Armenian cultural heritage in Nagorno-Karabakh. It is greatly hoped that the promise of food and fuel will be fulfilled, because the only other option is either the ethnic cleansing of the Armenian population from Nagorno-Karabakh, or the genocide by starvation and illness of those who remain.

CHGS urges states and the United Nations to take action against Azerbaijan, to prevent further deaths of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, by sanctioning Azerbaijan authorities, calling for a UN peacekeeping operation in Nagorno-Karabakh, and setting up truth-telling and investigative mechanisms to investigate and monitor any past and present human rights abuses and international crimes in Nagorno-Karabakh.