In 2021, President Biden recognized the 1915 removal of Armenians from their lands in Anatolia, in today’s Turkey, as genocide. The United States had been silent on the issue for more than a century, and its silence had grievous consequences. Luis Moreno Ocampo, the first chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, noted this in his article published in The Washington Post. He added as follows, in particular:
Today, Armenians need global leaders, including Biden, to stop a new genocide — one that started this past winter and is now evolving into a more brutal phase.
On Tuesday, after a months-long blockade and military buildup along the border of the Armenian-majority enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan’s military launched an attack. Within a day, Azerbaijani forces quickly overwhelmed local defenses, killing more than 200 people, including civilians. In short order, a shaky cease-fire was announced.
In return for stopping the bombing, Azerbaijan demanded the surrender of Nagorno-Karabakh’s top leaders and the disarmament of all the armed forces of the Karabakh authorities.
As Azerbaijan’s victory became more apparent, scores of Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenian civilians gathered around the airport in Stepanakert (the enclave’s biggest city) looking to flee their ancestral lands.
They have every right to fear the next steps Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev might take. Since December 2022, Azerbaijan has blocked the Lachin Corridor, the only connection between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. On Feb. 22, the International Court of Justice, after hearing arguments from both sides, ruled that the blockade produced a “real and imminent risk” to the “health and life” of Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenian population.
Rather than comply with the court’s binding order to end the blockade, Azerbaijan security forces doubled down in June, sealing off the enclave entirely, preventing even the transfer of food, medical supplies and other essentials. Since then, Aliyev has repeatedly ignored calls from the U.N. secretary-general and the U.S. secretary of state to comply with the court’s ruling. He correctly understood that Azerbaijan would bear no serious costs from the international community for its actions.
Azerbaijan’s defiance is ominous. In international law, the Genocide Convention of 1948 makes it clear that one way to commit the crime is by “deliberately inflicting on [a] group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part” (Article II c). By blocking the Lachin Corridor, Aliyev turned Nagorno-Karabakh into a vast concentration camp for 120,000 Armenians. This week’s military intervention added killing (Article II a) and causing serious bodily and mental harm (Article II b) to the ledger.