Artsakh US Rep. Robert Avetisyan (Ken Martin photo)

Artsakh Rep in US Wants Peace for Homeland, Action on ‘Second Genocide’


WASHINGTON — The Republic of Artsakh is currently experiencing some of the most difficult times in its tumultuous history. Azerbaijan is maintaining its chokehold on Karabakh (Artsakh) by blockading the Lachin Corridor, unrepentant in the face of the world.

Artsakh’s representative in the US, Robert Avetisyan, this week participated in a remote interview, during which he addressed some of the challenges his homeland is facing and the advocacy work he is conducting in Washington.

He discussed a variety of topics, including the need for international mediation in the face of Azerbaijan’s breaking of promises or violation of treaties. He also stressed that the actions taken by Azerbaijan are tantamount to genocide.

He said, “This situation is taking a human toll. Every third death in Artsakh is related to malnutrition. We are speaking in the 21st century, in a European zone. The blockade has affected every aspect of life in Artsakh, especially Stepanakert. There is no food, there are no basic products, no opportunity to get proper medical assistance, no opportunity to engage in educational processes. An entire set of civilian life has been severely affected by this blockade. Daily bread is a challenge. Kids faint in the line for daily bread because they have to stand for hours.”

“That’s the pattern of behavior we have seen from Azerbaijan throughout our entire course of interaction with that country. They assume an obligation, they put their signature on it, and violate it the next day, which makes the country and its leadership a non-trustworthy partner when it comes to negotiation. Trustworthiness is the essential component of successful negation. We don’t have it. That’s why we need international observation of the process,” he said.

Lantos Hearing

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On September 9, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the US Congress held a session dedicated to the blockade, with the participation of Prof. David Phillips and former International Criminal Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo.

Avetisyan also participated in the session.

Avetisyan expressed his gratitude to the efforts of both Phillips and Ocampo, who have written and spoken continuously about the issue.

However the report by Ocampo has gained traction in the international press and has been cited frequently by leaders and journalists.

Avetisyan said his “recent expert opinion [demonstrated] that whatever is happening in Artsakh is a manifestation of Azerbaijan’s genocidal policy.”

He added, “It kind of reiterated our opinion and our words that we’ve been saying for months now. This is one of the steps of genocidal policy toward Artsakh and pretty much everything Armenian in the region.”

He said this hearing was the second in a row dedicated solely to Artsakh, “which is a very important achievement on its own.” He added it demonstrates that both the legislative and executive branches in the US “continue to keep an eye on the situation on the ground and discuss possible future steps in the immediate future.”

At the hearing, Avetisyan recalled, all the speakers “stressed the importance of [taking]  urgent steps to prevent genocide.” They said as of now, there is “no time to discuss, instead we need to act now to prevent a genocide and then address the rest of the conflict issues.”

Avetisyan added that Chairman Christopher Smith (R-NJ), one of the co-chairs or the Lantos Committee, said “his office will consolidate the testimonies received from the testifiers. They will write a letter to the executive [branch] and the State Department with recommendations to take urgent steps.”

Avetisyan said that at the meeting Smith had expressed his disappointment that no one from the State Department had attended the session.

As for how Ocampo came to write the influential report, Avetisyan said it took place after then-Artsakh president, Arayik Harutyunyan, reached out to him and asked him to “provide his expert opinion.”

“We are grateful to Mr. Ocampo for responding to our appeal. It has been months that the Artsakh authorities, civil society organizations, angel sector and professional groups have been addressing all possible outlets and relevant structures to help raise awareness about the situation in Artsakh, to inform everyone that this is not exaggeration when Artsakhtsis say we are on the brink of genocide,” Avetisyan said.

Lachin Blockade

In December 2022, Azerbaijani government forces blockaded the Lachin Corridor, the only road connecting Artsakh and Armenia. The action was initiated under false pretenses, with self-described Azerbaijani eco-warriors blocking the road to bring attention to the republic’s environmental policies. Within a matter of weeks, the eco-warriors were replaced by Azerbaijani soldiers, and later the government of Azerbaijan erected a border crossing station manned by its soldiers.

While international condemnation has been loud — from the European Union, the US, Russia, France, Iran and the United Nations leadership — no action has been taken and Azerbaijan has maintained the blockade despite a decision handed down by the International Court of Justice, which ruled it needed to unblock the corridor.

In addition, Azerbaijan now is advocating the idea of opening up a corridor at Aghdam, through Azerbaijan, as a link to Artsakh. The governments of Armenia and Artsakh, as well as Armenians around the world, have expressed their opposition to the proposal.

Avetisyan explained the reason for the opposition: “The Aghdam corridor is, as another person put it, like someone stabbing a person and then offering a Band-Aid. It is a Trojan horse. It is an attempt to impose your political will through a seemingly humanitarian effort. This is not a sincere effort by Azerbaijan to ease the inhumane suffering of the people of Artsakh. If they were somewhat concerned, they should not have closed the border and blocked the Lachin corridor, which was done in violation of the statement cosigned by Azerbaijan in 2020 [at the end of the war]. It is also in violation of the ICC [International Criminal Court] ruling.

“If they are concerned with the security and property of the people of Artsakh, they should adhere to their own commitments, lift the blockade as it is demanded by the ICC and the international community, and remain true to their assumed obligations.” Anything else, he added, “is a manipulative step that will open up a very dangers set of actions that will threaten every person in Artsakh, and the Artsakh statehood and Artsakh’s freedom overall.”

“During the normal pace of life, urbanization is a natural process but this medieval cruelty that Azerbaijan has applied to Artsakh, kind of reverted the station and now Stepanakert is the most vulnerable community of Artsakh. In more rural areas, if they can cultivate something or grow something not to starve or find daily minimal food, in Stepanakert it is impossible. It’s an urban infrastructure. You don’t have fuel to bring something from so. People walk for hours to get water, one egg or one tomato for their child to eat.”

“A very telling characterization of the life in Stepanakert is that it is a humanitarian catastrophe,” assessed a month ago. “Now it is even worse.”

Need for Dialogue

Some international leaders, keep repeating the need for dialogue, in the face of open aggression by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, both toward Armenia as well as what remains of Artsakh.

Avetisyan said to a certain extent, and under the right conditions, he agreed.

“We say we also want dialogue and we agree and appreciate every effort which is constructively directed toward establishing a positive connection between Artsakh and Azerbaijan because all wars end in peace and we need to negotiate a settlement and we need to prevent unnecessary human sufferings if we can,” he said. “At the same time, it is no secret that any dialogue should be aimed at a positive outcome, at a better outcome. They should be constructive.”

He expanded: “We have attempted to dialogue with Azerbaijan and all we heard in response was an ultimatum. That’s why we say, ‘yes there should be dialogue,’ but when we talk with Azerbaijan directly, without international presence around the table, that process does not really help. … It serves Azerbaijan’s purpose to manipulate and spin it to its own advantage.”

“This is why we say of course we want dialogue but it has to be in an international format and we have to work out a mechanism that will guarantee that every assumed  obligation will be delivered on and that everything negotiated will be implemented by everyone.”

To have direct dialogue with Azerbaijan just leads to ultimatums, he added.

“It serves the goals of those who want to delay the peace,” he noted.

Avetisyan was also happy to say that of the at least five Karabakh natives who had been kidnapped by Azerbaijani authorities at the Lachin corridor in the past month, three university students, Alen Sargsyan, Vahe Hovsepyan and Levon Grigoryan, taken on August 28, were released this week.

“They are currently in Armenia, thank God,” he said.

He called the war crime charges against Vagif Khachatryan “trumped up”, suggesting that it showed the ability by Azerbaijani government “Everyone in Artsakh can be detained by Azerbaijani government under any pretext or fake allegation. This is another once again another manifestation and another proof of the position of Artsakh that any attempt to subjugate Artsakh to Azerbaijan is a direct way to de-Armenization of Artsakh, mass repression another manifestation of genocide.”

Azerbaijani Territorial Integrity

At the end of the disastrous war waged by Azerbaijan in 2020 against Armenia and Artsakh, the government of Armenia recognized the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, including all of Artsakh.

“It is a very difficult period in the statehood of Artsakh, and Artsakh as an Armenian entity. Probably the most difficult period for us. We see aggressive Azerbaijani expansionism not only toward Artsakh but toward Armenia. At the same time we see the level of commitment by the international community collectively and country by country level does not suffice for holding Azerbaijan accountable,” Avetisyan said.

He expressed his frustration again and again with the current situation. “People who live in Artsakh want very simple things. They want freedom, they want security, they want predictability and they want to live under a government of their choosing and in a democratic society. Several times Azerbaijan had a chance to deal with this issue,” he said.

Avetisyan added, however, that the recognition by the Pashinyan administration of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, including Artsakh, was dependent on the security of the population of the latter.

“Armenian recognition of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan … is conditioned by the same factor of stable strong guarantees of rights for Nagorno Karabakh,” he noted, adding, that is certainly not the case.

He went back in history and the creation of the first ever Azerbaijani state. “In 1918, the first ever Azerbaijani state was created, and upon coming into existence in the greater Russian empire, it lay claims on many other lands in Georgia and Armenia, such as Syunik and Artsakh  in Armenia, as well as Nakhichevan.

“Even throughout Soviet history, Artsakhtsis were fighting that injustice and demanding reunification with Armenia for the purpose of freedom and living in security, in our environment,” he said. “Only one power could suppress us under  a single political umbrella and that was the Soviet Union and now that is gone. Any attempt to squeeze Artsakh into Azerbaijan is completely artificial and it is pregnant with continued suffering and continued regional destabilization both for Armenians and for Azerbaijanis.”

For long-term security in the region, Azerbaijan has to release Artsakh, he said. In addition, he added, history has not been kind to Armenians living anywhere in Azerbaijan.

“We already historically know that any attempt for Armenians in Artsakh and Azerbaijanis in Azerbaijan to coexist under a common administration … leads to tragedy. They lead to regional instability.”

He added, “Realistically I know it’s very challenging to ask for recognition of the Artsakh state, but that is the only way for Artsakh to survive and remain Armenian.”

“We see that any Armenian historical territory that is under Azerbaijani control or occupation,” including those from 2020 war, “is completely de-Armenianized.” In fact, the destruction of Armenian monuments and churches dating back centuries has been well documented not only in Artsakh since 2020, but in Nakhichevan, which now is entirely devoid of any Armenian past.

He added, “There is not a single Armenian living there. All Armenian monuments are destroyed or remodeled. The levels of anti-Armenian sentiment in Azerbaijan is skyrocketing. The entire society has been poisoned by the state to hate Armenians.”

“Only if our statehood is recognized” can the people there really be safe.

“The entire world, especially after nine months of blockade and the attitude we continue to see from Azerbaijan, I don’t think realistically anyone thinks 120,000 Armenians will feel safe and have the ability to develop in a safe, dignified democratic manner under any sort of administration by Azerbaijan.”

Recognition of Artsakh by Armenia

Since the forces of Armenia and Artsakh wrested Karabakh back in 1994, no country has recognized the Republic of Karabakh, and that includes Armenia.

When asked why, Avetisyan said, the explanation successive governments of Artsakh have gotten is that during the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group negotiation process for the past three decades, co-chaired by ambassadors from Russia, France and the US, between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Armenia wanted to show good faith.

“It was Armenia’s position to refrain from any step that would predetermine the outcome of the talks, as a goodwill gesture, but at the same time Armenia has always been the guarantor of the security of Nagorno Karabakh and [President] Aliyev himself, in 2017, acknowledged that the international community and the mediators are pushing to recognize Nagorno Karabakh’s sovereignty. The process was absolutely moving in the right direction,” he said. “At the same time, Armenia was the physical guarantor of Artsakh.”

Still, the years and years of negotiations did not pay off and Azerbaijan simply attacked and took what it wanted.

He stressed that the 2020 war was disastrous for one major reason, and that was that Armenia was not just fighting Azerbaijan, but several other countries that were helping the latter in its aggression.

“Seven countries ganged up against Armenia,” he said.

Everything should have been done to prevent this war, Avetisyan noted.

“When we live in such a vulnerable region, with such an aggressive neighbor and tough geopolitics, we have to be very cautious in our every step, every statement and every initiative.

Russian Allies

Artsakh has few reliable partners, he suggested.

He said, “Churchill’s words are chilling yet sobering: ‘When it comes to international relations, there are no friends or foes, just interests.’”

Among those erstwhile friends are the Russians, who have had a peacekeeping force in Artsakh, which was supposed to prevent just the types of incidents that have gone on since 2020: Azerbaijani shootings into Artsakh and Armenia, kidnapping of citizens and of course, the blocking of the Lachin Corridor.

Avetisyan explained, “We see problems in the peacekeeping issue. We cannot say for sure what is happening. The expectations were different,” he said. “The expectation was that the peacekeeping presence was enough to keep the peace.”

He said he was pleased that the issue was discussed at the UN Security Council.

“We need a wider International attention and political commitment which will be sufficient to prevent a second Armenian genocide,” he added.

He expressed his bitterness that some people in Artsakh have lived through war so often.

“This [current situation] is a repetition but in many respects on a tougher basis. We have seen this tragedy already and I think it’s too much for any person to live through the same criminal policy and aggression by a repressive state like Azerbaijan twice. People have seen three wars.”

During the war, Azerbaijani soldiers routinely released videos of beheadings of Armenian soldiers. In one of the most horrific cases was that of Anush Apetyan, who was taken prisoner in Jermuk with 10 other Armenian soldiers, in 2022. The video of her body, with her legs and fingers cut off, and an eye poked out and replaced by a stone, surrounded by celebrating soldiers, made the rounds on the Internet. According to Avetisyan, someone in Azerbaijan, perhaps among the soldiers desecrating her body, sent the video to one of her children.

“It demonstrates once again the level of hatred toward everything and anything Armenian by Azerbaijanis,” he said.

For now, Avetisyan can only advocate for his homeland.

“We are grateful to all our compatriots who continue to keep Artsakh situation in their focus, who continue to treat as their own, as a piece of their homeland, because it is,” he said.

He added that those who want to help can do so in three ways: working with their governments to raise awareness and put pressure on Azerbaijan, continue reporting in Armenian publications about the issue and support humanitarian efforts for people besieged in Artsakh as well as Artsakh residents now stranded in Armenia.

“We have [supplies] in the warehouses ready to ship. We have tens of thousands of Artsakh natives who live in Armenia and we try to help them. Really the Artsakh government needs financial support because our entire economy has been killed,” he said.

As a result of the blockade, he added, “We are back at the stage where Artsakh needs help in every step of functioning as a state and society.”

(Robert Avetisyan will be the keynote speaker at the Armenian Mirror-Spectator 90th anniversary celebration gala on Saturday, October 28. During his talk, he will discuss the situation in Artsakh. For more information about the event, visit

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