September 21, 2023
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Open letter to European Heads of State and Parliamentarians

Azeri offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh: AGBU calls on the European community to prevent another Armenian Genocide

Ladies and Gentlemen Heads of State,

Ladies and Gentlemen of the European Parliament,

On Tuesday, September 19, 2023, shortly before noon, Azerbaijani forces launched a large-scale offensive along the border with Nagorno-Karabakh, in violation of international law. Civilian populations have been subjected to intensive heavy artillery fire since yesterday, forcing thousands to hide in basements or evacuate their villages, due to the rapidly advancing Azeri invasion. Though Azerbaijan announced a safe route to “evacuate” the Armenian civilian population, eyewitness sources report that those who try to leave through the Lachin Corridor come under fire from the Azeri army.

A first report by the Artsakh authorities already shows around 200 deaths, more than 400 injured, are more than 10 000 displaced, including many children. Civilians are now assembled in the Russian military base near the ghost airport of Stepanakert. The 4th century Amaras Monastery, a center of Armenian heritage, has also come under Azeri control.

This week, while heads of state and international journalists focused on the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Azerbaijan launched this brutal military offensive, arguing the fallacious pretext that the Armenian defense forces installed landmines which caused several deaths of Azeri servicemen. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry stated that objective was to launch an anti-terrorist repression by “using high-precision weapons on the front line and in depth”. This propaganda is often taken literally by the international media, encouraging Azerbaijan to continue its ethnic cleansing enterprise with complete impunity.

For many years, Azerbaijan’s authoritative regime has implemented a disinformation strategy that has allowed it to violate United Nations laws and international conventions which aim to prevent acts of genocide. Yet the weak or even non-existent reactions of the international community to hold it accountable for such violations sends Azerbaijan a message that no one will check the facts, no one will intervene to prevent an impending genocide of the Armenians.

This recent violation of the ceasefire signed on November 9, 2020 comes after 10 months of the blockade of the Lachin corridor, which has resulted in a massive humanitarian crisis.  Last month, major international organizations and agencies sounded the alarm when their on-the-ground humanitarian efforts were thwarted by Azeri authorities. Former prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno Ocampo, published a report in which he characterized Azerbaijan's actions as the very definition of genocide - famine, deprivation of vital means and obstruction of humanitarian emergency interventions– emphasizing the imminent nature of the genocidal threat.

Despite calls from the international community to open the Lachin Corridor, and despite the various humanitarian convoys stopped at the border, including one led by prominent French local authorities with Anne Hidalgo, Xavier Bertrand and Bruno Retailleau, Azerbaijan refused to open the road to them. The day after their trip, Azerbaijan launched an attack on the sovereign territory of Armenia, causing the deaths of four Armenian soldiers. Thus, Azerbaijan is free to perpetrate a new Armenian genocide before what appears to be an indifferent world.

Nagorno-Karabakh local authorities, through the mediation of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in the area, were able to secure a ceasefire on September 20, immediately violated by Azeri forces. The agreement provided for the dissolution and complete disarmament of the armed formations of Armenian defense units and addresses the issue of reintegration of Nagorno-Karabakh into Azerbaijan, guaranteeing the rights and security of Armenians. A meeting is planned today in Yevlakh between the Armenian local officials and Azerbaijani officials, with the mediation of Russian forces. The survival of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh is now in the hands of two dictators. With a gun to their head, the Armenian authorities must make an existential choice between exile and death. Their only hope is that the world community will raise its collective voice to save the day and spare the Armenians from the worst-case outcomes.

AGBU, the largest Armenian humanitarian organization in the world, established in 1906, was already on the front lines when, in 1915, the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire suffered the first genocide of the 20th century. More than100 years later, history repeats itself in the deafening silence of the international community.

The Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh are not only fighting for their survival, they are fighting every day for the same values ​​that Europe defends: first and foremost democracy, respect for human rights, and safeguarding of our humanity. Today is your opportunity to reaffirm those values in the strongest possible terms. Otherwise, by sitting on the sidelines with nothing more than diplomatic words to offer, Europe is not only abandoning Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, but also renouncing itself.

As president of AGBU, I appeal to all heads of state and European parliamentarians to submit a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council to demand the immediate cessation of Azeri attacks against Armenians, the unconditional reopening of the Lachin Corridor, imposing international sanctions against the Azeri dictatorial regime, and protecting the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh through the presence of international peacekeeping forces.

Berge Setrakian

President of Armenian General Benevolent Union