After besieging and starving 120,000 Armenians of the South Caucasus Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) since December 2022, Azerbaijan launched a large-scale military offensive against Artsakh on September 19, subjecting the capital Stepanakert and other cities and villages to intensive fire using heavy artillery and drones.
Civilians, including children, are being killed and others seriously wounded. Thousands of Armenians who fled their villages and towns due to the Azerbaijani bombardments have become homeless.
Entire villages are currently surrounded and isolated by Azerbaijani forces, which have cut off the electrical supply in those areas.
There is no international presence including journalists there, so it is not possible to confirm at this point if the residents of these villages are still alive. Many Armenians are warning that Azerbaijan has blocked access to those villages in order to hide the traces of the massacres and other crimes they are committing against the Armenian locals.
Given the current lack of electricity and internet connectivity, thousands of people cannot find their relatives and family members these areas.
The Office of the Human Rights Defender of Artsakh (OHRDA) announced last week that there have been a minimum of 200 fatalities (including Aznavour Saghyan, the Mayor of Martuni) and more than 400 wounded. OHRDA has launched a fact-finding mission to collect data on persons whose fate is unknown.
Anush Ghavalyan, a journalist in Armenia, posted on X (formerly Twitter):
"My Facebook feed is full of pictures of missing children since yesterday. Most of them were at schools when the Azerbaijani military attacked so they were separated from their families. The lack of electricity, mobile and internet disruptions complicate the search efforts."
Azerbaijan's military, according to OHRDA, is targeting ambulances:
"Around 5:00, the ambulance of the Stepanakert's morgue, which was sent to the Martakert region in order to transport 8 bodies to the capital, was fired at by the Azerbaijani armed forces. The driver of the ambulance was injured and as a result is not able to evacuate the bodies to Stepanakert.
"Around 5:00, the ambulance of the Stepanakert's morgue, which was sent to the Martakert region in order to transport 8 bodies to the capital, was fired at by the Azerbaijani armed forces. The driver of the ambulance was injured and as a result is not able to evacuate the bodies to Stepanakert...
"As a result of Azerbaijan's targeting of the high-voltage electricity grid in Martakert region, since September 19, the entire population of Artsakh has been deprived of electricity...
"The deliberate targeting of such vital infrastructure, which adds to more suffering and deprivation of the civilian population, is yet another terrorist act by Azerbaijan."
In the face of the Azerbaijani offensive and its illegal siege preventing food and medical supplies from getting in and no intervention from the international community, Artsakhi authorities had to disarm their Defense Army.
On September 20, the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention issued "an SOS for the Armenians of Artsakh, who are currently being attacked by the genocidal regime of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev."
"Residents of Artsakh are now facing not only starvation and related medical emergencies after a 9-month siege by Azerbaijan, but also immediate death from airstrikes, drones strikes and the mass shelling of civilian areas. Azerbaijan's military attack came only one day after the country was finally forced to allow into the enclave the first aid shipment since June 15, 2023.
"At this moment in time, it is imperative that powerful leaders and states stand up to Azerbaijan and demonstrate clearly that any further aggression against Armenians will not be tolerated and will be met with all available options within the genocide prevention toolbox. Failure to do so will result in these leaders and states being responsible for complicity in genocide.
"Failure to stand up to Azerbaijan could also result in an escalation that leads not only to the total destruction of the Armenians of Artsakh but also to a wider war in the region as Azerbaijan and its ally Turkey pursue territorial ambitions in southern Armenia and northern Iran.
"There is no doubt in the minds of experts in genocide prevention – at the Lemkin Institute, but also at Genocide Watch, the International Association of Genocide Scholars, and among legal experts such as former ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo – that what Armenians are facing from Azerbaijan is genocide."
Azerbaijan intends to possess Armenian lands. As Muslim states, Turkey and Azerbaijan refer to their alliance as "two states, one nation". They share a goal, pan-Turkism, that aims to unite the so-called "Turkic world," from the Balkans to the Central Asia. They view Armenia – a non-Turkish, Christian nation – as an obstacle before that imperialistic project -- an obstacle that must be eliminated.
Artsakh has been a province of Armenia, since as far back as the Armenian Empire (which existed from 331 BC to 428 AD)
Artsakh has never been part of independent Azerbaijan. Artsakh -- ruled by Armenian monarchs, and even by Persian rulers -- has always preserved its Armenian identity.
Today, Azerbaijan is falsely claiming Artsakh as Azeri land, on the pretext that in the 1920s, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, as part of his strategy of divide and conquer, decreed that Artsakh should be part of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic as an autonomous oblast (province) even though Christian Armenia could not be less compatible with Muslim Azerbaijan.
In 1991, the people of Artsakh declared in a referendum their independence not from Azerbaijan but from the USSR. This declaration was consistent with their rights under the Declaration of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States (1970) in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations. The same year, as a result of the dissolution of the USSR, two legally equal republics – Artsakh and Azerbaijan – were established. Yet, Azeri violence against the Armenians never ended.
In 2020, from September 27 to November 10, Artsakh was exposed to yet another genocidal assault at the hands of Azerbaijan and Turkey. The entire world watched while the aggressors criminally assaulted and indiscriminately shelled the Armenians.
Additionally, during the war, the government of Azerbaijan, with Turkey's assistance, used mercenaries from Syria who had affiliations to Islamic radical groups – confirmed by a United Nations report, as well as by the testimonies of Syrian mercenaries and reports by international media outlets.
During this 44-day war, the Azerbaijani military forces committed war crimes against Armenians in Artsakh. They murdered civilians, wounded 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. As a result, at least 90,000 Armenians were forced to abandon their ancestral lands in Artsakh.
The war finally halted after 45 days -- a result of the Russia-brokered agreement imposed on Armenia. Even after signing the agreement, however, multiple videos emerged showing Azeri soldiers and their partners beheading, mutilating and torturing captured Armenian civilians, soldiers and prisoners of war. Azerbaijani soldiers filmed these gruesome crimes and proudly posted them on social media.
As these ISIS-like crimes were being carried out against Armenians, Turkish and Azerbaijani soldiers participated in a military "victory parade" in Azerbaijan's capital city of Baku on December 10, 2020. The parade, organized to celebrate the countries' joint "military victory" over Artsakh, was attended by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev.
During the "victory parade," complete with the Ottoman military march, Erdogan referred to the 1918 Islamic Army of the Caucasus, created by Enver Pasha and led by the Ottoman commander, Nuri Pasha. The Islamic Army of the Caucasus was responsible for the massacres to eliminate the non-Muslim population of Baku, mainly Armenians.
Erdogan delivered a speech in which he praised Enver Pasha, one of the planners of the Ottoman Empire's 1914-1923 Christian genocide, which cost the lives of around 3.5 million Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians:
"Today is the day when the souls of Nuri Pasha, Enver Pasha and the brave soldiers of the Islamic Army of the Caucasus are blessed."
Erdogan also confirmed Turkey's support for the Azeri assault against Armenians. According to the official website of Turkey's presidency:
"Turkey, with all its institutions and organizations, supported Azerbaijan's fight from the very beginning, underlined President Erdoğan, further stressing that it will continue to stand by the brotherly Azerbaijan with all its capabilities."
Aliyev, in his speech, also claimed that the Armenian capital of Yerevan, Armenia's Lake Sevan and the Syunik (Zangezur) region in southern Armenia are "historic lands of Azerbaijan."
Aliyev has referred to Artsakh and the Republic of Armenia as "Azerbaijani lands" before. In 2018, Aliyev referred to those Armenian regions as "historic lands of Azerbaijan." "Azerbaijanis' return to those territories," he added, "is our political and strategic goal, and we need to work step-by-step to get closer to it."
Both the Azerbaijani government and media have repeatedly referred to Armenia as "Western Azerbaijan." Aliyev and other Azeri state officials have echoed his desire to eliminate Armenians multiple times.
In 2015, Aliyev posted on Twitter: "Armenia is not even a colony, it is not even worthy of being a servant."
Azerbaijan has also long targeted the Republic of Armenia. On September 22, 2022, Azeri armed forces invaded the Republic of Armenia, which led to the Azeri occupation of some southern territories of Armenia -- a situation that is still ongoing.
The security of Artsakh's population, (citizens, officials and soldiers) cannot, therefore, be entrusted to the authorities of Azerbaijan, and needs to be guaranteed by an international peacekeeping force, probably mandated by the United Nations.
During the 1915 Armenian Genocide, 108 years ago, 1.5 million Armenians were exterminated by Ottoman Turkey. Today the dictatorship of Azerbaijan – with the support of its ally, Turkey -- is continuing the same crime, genocide, against the Armenians of Artsakh, openly before an apathetic international community.
Together, Azerbaijan and Turkey aim to take over not only Artsakh but also the Republic of Armenia. Aliyev made this clear, saying:
"Present-day Armenia is our land... Now that the Karabakh [Artsakh] conflict has been resolved, this is the issue on our agenda."
Both UN and strong international intervention, consistent with the UN obligations under the Genocide Convention, are urgently needed to put a stop to this ongoing slaughter.
The US government also has influence regarding Azerbaijan. President Joe Biden can discourage any such expansionist projects with one strong phone call to Aliyev, by urging him to stop the invasion of Artsakh and Armenia if he does not want serious consequences. Those could include U.S. sanctions on Azeri government officials and an end to U.S. military assistance to Azerbaijan. The latter would be consistent with the FREEDOM Support Act. The US should also send a humanitarian airlift to the starving population of Artsakh -- consistent with America's heralded tradition of aiding at-risk populations.
The frightening question is: Is the US internationally regarded as having leadership anymore?