Suren Sargsyan

US Response to Lachin Corridor Blockade

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The population of Artsakh has been under blockade for more than 7 months now. The only road connecting Armenia to Artsakh-Lachin corridor is blocked. The situation is deteriorating as Azerbaijan has cut off all shipments of food, fuel and all other indispensable supplies to the Nagorno-Karabakh region. As a result of this blockade 120,000 Armenians living there face the threat of extermination.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), “Tens of thousands of people rely on humanitarian aid reaching them through these routes. The civilian population is now facing a lack of life-saving medication and essentials like hygiene products and baby formula. Fruits, vegetables, and bread are increasingly scarce and costly, while some other food items such as dairy products, sunflower oil, cereal, fish, and chicken are not available. The last time the ICRC was allowed to bring medical items and essential food items into the area was several weeks ago.”

The ongoing situation in Nagorno-Karabakh is so dire that Luis Moreno Ocampo, a leading specialist in international law, former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and lecturer at Harvard and Yale Universities,  claims that Azerbaijani blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh in fact constitutes genocide. He defined starvation as an invisible genocide weapon claiming that “without immediate dramatic change, this group of Armenians will be destroyed in a few weeks. In many respects, the starvation of the ethnic Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh represents the archetype of genocide through the imposition of conditions of life designed to bring about a group’s destruction. It closes a tragic circle because “[t]he treatment of the Armenians by the Turkish rulers in 1915 provides the paradigm for the Genocide provision dealing with imposition of conditions of life.”

Azerbaijan is providing two choices: either submit to Baku’s rule, or the deprivation and suffering will continue.

In the face of this humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh it is important to analyze the response of the US authorities to this situation. The US authorities have referred to this issue starting from the second day of the blockade. As the blockade persisted for months, more and more responses followed. However, those are only statements and specific steps have not been taken.

The reactions came from the US Department of State through comments by the spokesperson during the press briefings, individual statements as well as phone calls between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the Azerbaijani president. Another US body that has been quite vocal about the situation is the US Congress – predominantly members of Congressional Armenian Caucus.

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The first reaction to the blockade of the Lachin corridor by US authorities came from the spokesperson of the US Department of State. During the press briefing of December 13, 2022, Ned Price stated that “we call on the Government of Azerbaijan to restore free movement through the corridor.” A similar statement was made in the spokesperson’s Twitter (now X) account. Since then the issue of the Lachin corridor was raised during the State Department’s press briefings.

Apart from press briefings, phone calls also took place between Blinken and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. The first such phone call happened around a month later after the blockade, on January 23, 2023. During this phone call, Blinken urged “an immediate reopening of the Lachin corridor to commercial traffic.” This was followed by a few phone calls with similar messages, on March 21April 23 and April 30, 2023, where the US also expressed its deep concern over Azerbaijan’s establishment of a checkpoint on the Lachin corridor, on July 12, and the latest one was on July 30, in which one could notice a slight change of wording. The secretary underlined the urgent need for free transit through the Lachin corridor. This was connected with reports of a worsening situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Another statement on the situation in Nagorno Karabakh was issued by Samantha Power, the Administrator of the USAID. The first statement came one month later, where Power called for restoration of movement through the corridor. The latest statement from Power came just days ago, on August 1, where she joined the statement of Blinken.

The members of the House of Representatives and Senate of the US Congress were quick to react to the blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijan, among the first were the representatives of the Congressional Armenian Caucus. The Congressmen and Senators made statements condemning the actions of Azerbaijan, and also sent letters to the members of the US administration. The key areas they have been working on include, inter alia, passage of anti-blockade legislation, stopping military assistance to Azerbaijan, sending emergency assistance to Nagorno- Karabakh and Armenia, calling on the Biden administration to act immediately to bring the crisis to a peaceful end, and calling to internationally recognize the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh.

So far, despite the active involvement of the United States in the negotiation process between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the United States has not made any other specific efforts against Azerbaijan in the form of sanctions or even political pressure. Moreover, humanitarian assistance, including by the USAID. has not been provided to the starving people of Artsakh. In other words, the statements coming from US officials have not yet turned into specific and concrete actions. That might leave the impression that the administration wants to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict at any cost and doesn’t care about the future of the Armenian population of Artsakh.

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