The Harvard Armenian Law Students Association posing with Minister Beglaryan after the talk

At Harvard Law School Artsakh State Minister Beglaryan Details Azerbaijani Human Rights Violations

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By Cristopher Patvakanian

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — On November 8, the Harvard Armenian Law Students Association (ALSA) and the Harvard Law School (HLS) Advocates for Human Rights hosted a discussion with State Minister and former Human Rights Ombudsman of Artsakh Artak Beglaryan.

Beglaryan, who holds the highest governmental position in Artsakh after the president and speaker of the parliament, presented the experiences and stories of Armenians who suffered many human rights abuses on the ground during the 2020 Artsakh war.

The ALSA co-president, Hagop Toghramadjian, stated that the two Harvard groups wanted to organize the event to “give the Harvard community the opportunity to hear firsthand about Azerbaijan’s war crimes from someone who lived through them personally,” with hopes for the event to bring about a coalition for justice for Artsakh.

The talk was organized as an overview of the war and war crimes committed, followed by a separate question-and-answer portion.

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Beglaryan highlighted the fact that Azerbaijani atrocities committed during the war were a broader part of anti-Armenian government policy in Baku, which was heightened last year. Beglaryan explained: “During the war we witnessed the most intense violations through the deliberate targeting of civilian objects and the civilian population.” As examples, he cited the guided munition strikes on the Ghazanchetsots Church in Shushi and the more than 60 cases of civilians killed under Azerbaijani control, in some cases as beheadings. Beglaryan reminded the audience that during the war, Azerbaijani forces deliberately targeted international journalists reporting there, again in violation of international law.

He explained that much of the Azerbaijani strategy — before, during and after the war — is to instill fear to scare Armenians away from Artsakh. “They could not remove all the people by force, so they’re engaging in everything they can do using psychological terror,” Beglaryan emphasized. Psychological pressure aside, even today civilians in Artsakh are still being targeted physically by Azerbaijani forces, as evidenced by the recent killing of a 22-year-old Armenian man who was repairing water pipes.

After the formal lecture, audience members, primarily non-Armenian students of Harvard Law School, posed a range of questions. When asked about the importance of legal recognition, Beglaryan emphasized that as an unrecognized state, Artsakh is isolated from the international community in essentially all respects and being recognized would provide them with not only engagement, but security. On the role of Russia in the conflict, Beglaryan stated the fact that it was only through Russian mediation and peacekeepers that the war ended. He said, “Every country has their own interests, and in Artsakh, the Russian interests matched ours,” resulting in the ceasefire agreement.

Co-presidents of the Harvard Armenian Law Students Association Anoush Baghdassarian and Hagop Toghramadjian

When asked about the status of prisoners of war, and if more could be done to bring them home, Beglaryan answered that “given the Azerbaijani attitude and what we’ve seen so far, it will not be easy to get a result.” He referred to the examples of the Armenians providing landmine maps and some mediation efforts with Georgia and said that despite this “the Azerbaijanis were not satisfied and wanted much more,” despite the fact that all POWs were supposed to be returned home per the ceasefire.

The talk ended with a final question by Anoush Baghdassarian, the co-president of the ALSA and also co-president of the HLS Advocates for Human Rights, leaving the audience charged with a call to action. Baghdassarian asked what their organization, and students more broadly at HLS, could do to support Artsakh and help fill gaps in law or evidence gathering to facilitate a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Beglaryan emphasized the importance of research and publications, and that contributing to the scholarship on Artsakh is an important way to give a voice to the people on the ground who may not have the ability to reach the international community. Additionally, coalition building and working with law students in Artsakh, whether it be simply networking, mentoring or providing educational opportunities to the latter, would fill a great void and provide a more well-rounded education, something they are currently deprived of. By interacting with, teaching, and also learning from students in Artsakh, the HLS community can serve as a bridge and “ambassador for voices of Artsakh in the international community.”

In fact, this is now one of the goals of the Harvard Armenian Law Students Association. Though it was originally formed to foster a sense of Armenian community at HLS, the war changed the tenor of the group and its mission. “Our members became much more involved with Armenian affairs during and following the war, whether it be writing articles, working with the HLS Advocates for Human Rights to draft legal documents or hosting events like this to engage the community,” Toghramadjian explained. As a result of the talk, more students reached out to the ALSA and there is an interest in the group to expand on their initiatives with Artsakh in scholarship or educational opportunities.

State Minister Beglaryan discussing the Azerbaijani military trophy park, projected in the background

He added, “On future engagement with Artsakh, he explained, “realistically it has to be sparked by Armenians within HLS, but I do think the university is a good platform for us here to make connections and get non-Armenians involved in our cause. If we don’t do it, nobody is going to do it. The objective for the group is to organize in ways beyond the efforts of one person and create something that is lasting and will endure on its own.”

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