Prof. Tessa Hofmann at a conference of the Lepsius House (photo Ulrich Rosenau)

Tessa Hofmann: The Situation in Artsakh Corresponds to UN Genocide Convention

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Tessa Hofmann, a well-known German scholar of Armenian and Genocide studies, PhD, research scholar at the Free University of Berlin, on April 11 gave an interview to the Orbeli Analytical Research Center about the severe humanitarian situation in Artsakh caused by the blockade of the Lachin Corridor, the ultimate goal of the genocidal policy of the Azerbaijani authorities, and about the possibilities of settlement of the problem within the framework of international law.

Orberli: Since December 12, 2022, a severe humanitarian crisis has been created in Artsakh as a result of Azerbaijan’s blockade of the Lachin Corridor, which is the only road of life connecting Artsakh to Armenia and the whole world. Artsakh President declared the country a “disaster zone”. 120.000 innocent civilians are struggling to survive in the absence of food, medicine and other vital supplies. Human deaths are recorded as a consequence of the blockade. How would you characterize this policy of Azerbaijan?

Hofmann: The blockade of the only land route connecting the Republic of Armenia with the Republic of Artsakh, which has now lasted eight months, is contrary to international law in several respects. First and foremost, it violates the trilateral ceasefire agreement of November 9, 2020, which provides for access to Artsakh / Nagorno-Karabakh controlled by Russian peacekeepers, the so-called Lachin Corridor. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) had already ordered Azerbaijan to immediately lift the blockade on 22 February 2023. However, Azerbaijan did not comply with this order, nor with similar appeals by the European Parliament or individual states. The authoritarian Aliyev regime in Baku can be sure that no sanctions will be imposed because of its importance in the energy sector as a “reliable energy supplier” (Ursula von der Leyen). The lack of consequences of the ICJ decision also illustrates the helplessness of international jurisdiction. The situation is similar with the principle of international responsibility to protect, introduced in 2005, which is limited to purely peaceful means of influence or intervention.

To make matters worse, the blockade is taking place in the shadow of the Ukraine War, and international attention is thus very limited or one-sidedly focused. This is particularly true of Germany. Appeals by local human rights organizations to the foreign minister about the blockade of Artsakh have so far gone unanswered. But Germany in particular is obliged, due to its military alliance with Turkey in the First World War, not to sit idly by and watch Armenians being exterminated once again.

Orbeli: What do you think, can these actions of Baku be observed within the framework of Article 2, Clause C (Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part) of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide?

Hofmann: The blockade of the Artsakh region, inhabited almost exclusively by ethnic Armenians, has had existentially threatening consequences for all of the approximately 120,000 inhabitants, but especially for very young children, pregnant women, the elderly and the chronically ill. The blockade has not only cut off the supply of food, medicine and fuel. It has also driven numerous inhabitants to economic ruin, especially since Azerbaijan has repeatedly interrupted the supply of gas and electricity from Armenia to Artsakh, often for weeks at a time.

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Orbeli: Arayik Harutyunyan, the president of the Republic of Artakh, has drastically but vividly compared the situation of the people there with genocide in a large concentration camp. Why is Harutyunyan’s assessment accurate? The situation in his homeland corresponds to the definition of Art. II, c) of the United Nations Genocide Convention. 

Hofmann: Luis Moreno Ocampo, the first chief prosecutor of the International Court of Justice from 2003 to 2012, also confirms in an legal expert opinion published of 7 August 2023, that the blockade constitutes genocide. President Aliyev has genocidal intent: “(…) he knowingly, willingly, and voluntarily blocked the Lachin Corridor, even after he was made aware of the consequences of his actions by the ICJ’s preliminary orders.”

Even before the blockade, since August 2022, associations and institutions of genocide scholars warned of a “significant genocide risk” to the “indigenous Armenians of the South Caucasus,” including the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention in its repeated Red Flag Alerts and the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS). It is the largest professional association of genocide scholars. They consider the danger of genocide to be imminent, among other things, because for decades the media and schools in Azerbaijan have systematically spread hatred against Armenians. As a telling example I quote the following:

Ruslan Novres:

“Armenian

If he is sleeping in his cradle, slaughter him quickly, don’t drag it out,

Find a knife, a sharp one! The Armenian is a scum! What an epic! The Jew is not alone on earth,

The foul Armenian has surpassed the Jew now.

Thank Allah, Jew, there is a second son of Shaitan,

The dirty, loathsome Armenian will go to the stake with you.”

Another example: Dissenters such as the writer Akram Aylisli face political persecution and death threats. A. Aylisli had addressed the persecution of Armenians in the past and present in his novel Stone Dreams (2012, written in 2005). The impetus for the publication of this remarkable work, which was initially withheld by Aylisli, was the triumphant reception in Baku of Ramil Safarov, who had beheaded a sleeping Armenian officer at night with an axe in Budapest and is celebrated as a national hero in his homeland.

President Ilham Aliyev then canceled Aylisli’s pension and his honorary title of “Writer of the Nation.” Aylisli’s works were removed from the curriculum, his plays may no longer be performed, and his books were publicly burned. The pro-government Müasir Müsavat Partiyası party announced that it would pay ten thousand manats (about $12,000) to anyone who cut off the writer’s ears.

Orbeli: The authorities of Artsakh and Armenia claim that Baku’s ultimate goal is to evict Armenians from Artsakh. This will mean that again a part of the Armenians will be uprooted from their ancestral lands, as in 1915. What is the place of the concept of “deprivation of the fatherland” in the crimes of genocide?

Hofmann: Azerbaijan wants Artsakh, but an Artsakh without Armenians. Whether this goal is achieved through starvation or expulsion is ultimately secondary. Loss of homeland is not listed as a criminal offense of genocide, but it is empirically present in every genocide. The survivors can no longer live in their homeland, at least not visibly as members of the genocidally annihilated group. As the example of the Republic of Turkey shows, they can exist there at best as crypto-Armenians, completely dependent on the mercy of their oppressors and deprived of any dignity and human rights.

Orbeli: What do you think, is Baku implementing its policy against Artsakh and Artsakh Armenians alone?

Hofmann: Baku is supported by Turkey; the father of the current president coined the phrase “one nation in two states,” declaring Turkey a brother nation and the protecting power of Azerbaijan. But Azerbaijan certainly also feels emboldened by the disinterest and indolence of the international community. Moscow, Washington, Brussels, and Yerevan all agree that Artsakh is an integral part of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

As for Armenia’s official Artsakh policy, it is far from the ‘Miatsum, Miatsum’ shouts of 1988. And also far from Nikol Pashinyan’s statement in 2019, “Artsakh is Armenia, and basta!” But Armenia is mistaken if it thinks to save its existence by sacrificing the remnants of Artsakh. Azerbaijan has an omnivorous appetite, even for Syunik, even for Yerevan.

More difficult to assess is the attitude of militarily weakened Russia, which is often mistakenly seen as the supposed protective power of Armenians. In its most recent statements, the Russian Foreign Ministry points out that Nikol Pashinyan has recognized Artsakh as part of Azerbaijan since May 2023, thus rendering the agreements of the 2020 cease-fire obsolete. Russia also has no international mandate for its peacekeeping forces.

Orbeli: How can the international community help resolve this catastrophic crisis? Do you see any political mechanisms that can be implemented to prevent the commission of a new serious crime against Artsakh Armenians?

Hofmann: What we are seeing at the moment is an unfortunately very delayed reaction in some Western countries. In Great Britain, in France and in Canada, parliamentarians are calling for the blockade to be lifted. The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the German Bundestag is also calling for this.

Moreno Ocampo’s expert opinion suggests that the United Nations Security Council refer the Lachin Corridor and the situation in Artsakh to the International Criminal Court (ICC). If this could be achieved, it is certainly helpful. Sanctions would be as well.

The Armenian diaspora and its institutions can play an important role in mobilizing decision-makers. If they want to.

It seems to me of particular importance that we succeed in changing the internationally widespread narrative: The conflict in and around Artsakh does not originate from a territorial conflict between the republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan. It arises from the oppression of a region that was arbitrarily annexed to Soviet Azerbaijan against the will of its people at the beginning of Soviet rule. Legally, it is a conflict between the right to national self-determination and the principle of sovereignty, although post-Soviet Azerbaijan’s claim to Artsakh is legally questionable anyway. Moreover, in the conflict between self-determination and sovereignty, the former takes precedence.

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