By Thomas Becker, a Senior Clinical Supervisor at the University Network for Human Rights, has conducted three fact-finding trips to Armenia over the past year. He was accompanied by a team comprising of academics, lawyers, researchers, and students from various institutions, including the University Network for Human Rights, the Yale Lowenstein Project, and the Harvard Law School Advocates for Human Rights.
April 24th is a significant date in the calendar for many as it marks the annual commemoration of the Armenian genocide that took place in 1915. During this horrific event, it is estimated that up to 1.5 million Armenians lost their lives at the hands of the Ottoman regime.
However, as we observe this solemn occasion this year, it is also imperative that we reflect on the present-day situation that the Armenian people are currently facing. Once again, they are subjected to a fresh wave of atrocities, which the rest of the world is watching with indifference.
It is crucial that we do not turn a blind eye to the ongoing suffering of the Armenian people and take steps to address the situation to prevent any further harm. As we remember the tragic events of the past, let us not forget the struggles of the present and work towards a better future for all.
Throughout the last year, ethnic Armenians have been subjected to a range of inhumane actions, including decapitations, sexual mutilation, cultural destruction, and degrading remarks by authorities. Azerbaijan has been responsible for these atrocities, with direct military and economic support from Turkey, the Ottoman Empire’s successor state, constantly threatening to attack.
The current state of affairs has deteriorated into a humanitarian crisis, as Azerbaijan has obstructed the movement of families, food, and medical supplies across Armenia’s borders. This move has been criticized by the International Court of Justice and, more recently, by the U.S. State Department.
The threat to Armenians today resurfaced in September 2020, when Azerbaijan launched an offensive on Nagorno-Karabakh. This disputed territory is predominantly inhabited by ethnic Armenians but is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan based on the territorial boundaries established by the Soviet Union, which previously controlled the region.
This attack marked the beginning of a 44-day war, which resulted in over 6,500 fatalities and the displacement of tens of thousands of people. When a ceasefire was finally agreed upon in December of that year, Azerbaijan had taken control of most of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Joe Biden, the President of the United States, made history two years ago today by recognizing the Armenian genocide, promising to fight against hate in all forms and to stop atrocities. However, to turn his words into action, the US government must take measures to discourage and prevent Azerbaijan from attacking ethnic Armenians and entering Armenian territory. Those responsible for abusing Armenians must be held accountable.
During a recent fact-finding trip, Armenians and Nagorno-Karabakh residents stated that the abuse they have endured is part of a larger plan to eradicate Armenians from the region. Azerbaijani officials’ statements, including their use of language reminiscent of the Rwandan genocide and the Holocaust, lend credence to these claims.
Azerbaijan has referred to Armenians as a “cancer tumor” and a “disease” to be “treated,” and even issued a commemorative stamp in 2020 depicting a person in a hazmat suit “cleansing” Nagorno-Karabakh.
Additionally, Azerbaijani officials have declared that their goal is the complete elimination of Armenians and that Armenians have no right to live in the region. Azerbaijan’s leader, Ilham Aliyev, has also stated that Yerevan is their historical land, and Azerbaijanis must return to these Azerbaijani lands. He recently warned Armenians that one day they may wake up to see the Azerbaijan flag above their heads.
It is essential to take note of what tyrants and bullies say, as their words often lead to actions that cause harm. While words may not kill, they can incite others to do so.
While the world perceives the war to have concluded, the reality on the ground reveals the perpetuation of cruelty against Armenians.
During my most recent visit to Armenia, which marks my third visit in the past year, my primary concern was the persistence of human rights violations. Indiscriminate killings, torture, and arbitrary detention, which I had previously observed in Nagorno-Karabakh, are now being committed by Azerbaijan with impunity within Armenian territory that is rightfully under their sovereignty.
In March, my team and I conducted an investigation, which revealed the recent bombing of various structures such as buildings, homes, a cemetery, and tourist attractions in Armenia. We observed children’s drawings of their burning homes and posters educating them on how to identify cluster bombs and other unexploded ordnance in school hallways. The most distressing aspect was when a woman displayed videos of Azerbaijani soldiers beheading and mutilating her neighbors from the village she had fled.
While meeting with torture victims and displaced families, we had to remain alert as Azerbaijani soldiers, who had established posts in nearby Armenian territory, were shooting at people within their line of sight.
Azerbaijan’s preparation, persecution, dehumanization, and denial—each regarded as a “stage” of genocide—prompted Genocide Watch to issue a genocide warning about Armenians facing an attack from Azerbaijan. Many members of the global community, including the United States, have also expressed alarm.
Following the shelling of Armenian villages in September last year, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Adam Schiff condemned Azerbaijan’s assaults, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez called for an immediate halt to economic assistance to Azerbaijan.
Despite the outrage, Azerbaijan has yet to be held accountable for their actions.