Parked convoy of humanitarian trucks (courtesy Jirair Ratevosian)

Biden’s Long Legacy of Support to Armenians Is on the Line


By Dr. Jirair Ratevosian

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

Azerbaijan’s deadly attack in the Nagorno-Karabakh region this week is every Armenian’s worst nightmare come true. Today, 106 years after formally recognizing the Armenian Genocide, US President Joe Biden is presiding over a humanitarian disaster and repeat genocide of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh that threatens his long legacy of support.

In formally recognizing the Armenian Genocide during his first 100 days in office, President Biden instantly did more for Armenians and Armenian Americans than any other president before him. On April 24, Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, President Biden said, “We remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring.” In light of recent Azerbaijan aggression, many have pointed out the statement to be empty talk.

Despite the strong rhetoric, since December 2022, Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh have endured shortages of food, water and essential needs in their indigenous land at the hands of the Azerbaijani government which illegally blocked the Lachin Corridor – the only road that binds the Armenian population in both regions and allows for the transportation of essential goods.

Earlier this month, I entered the border zone between Armenia and Azerbaijan and was able to confirm that no cargo or humanitarian assistance has crossed into Nagorno-Karabakh over the past eight months.  After 90 tense minutes, we crossed the checkpoint and were escorted toward the Khakari bridge, where a convoy of 22 humanitarian trucks were parked. According to the Armenian government, this convoy, which was sent in July and contains nearly 400 tons of sugar, vegetable oil, flour, pasta, salt, powdered milk, baby food, and medicines, has been blocked by Azerbaijan.

Checkpoint to the Lachin Corridor at the Hakari Bridge, viewed from Kornidzor, Republic of Armenia (courtesy Jirair Ratevosian)

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Azerbaijan’s military attack on September 18 and plan to allow residents out through the Lachin Corridor is part of its well documented policy to depopulate the region through ethnic cleansing, while violating Armenians’ right to unimpeded movement. What’s more, the former Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Luis Moreno Ocampo referred to the Lachin Corridor blockade as a genocide as it impedesaccess to any food, medical supplies, and other essentials into Nagorno-Karabakh.

As a former advisor on the Biden-Harris national security transition team, I saw President Biden’s conviction firsthand when it came to recognizing the Armenian Genocide and taking decisive action after the Nagorno-Karabakh War in 2020. While the Biden Administration’s actions in 2021 were instrumental in bringing some stabilization to the region, the United States government must urgently retool its diplomatic approach and policy posture to stop violent ethnic cleansing in Nagorno-Karabakh and embrace Armenian’s Western’s pivot.

A greater US role in the region is also in the strategic interest of the United States.  With Moscow’s diminishing power, the US can assert a greater influence in a Russian-dominated security architecture, and provide security guarantees and an alliance-level partnership with Armenia to support its territorial integrity and democratic values.

At the United Nations and through direct diplomacy, the United States must prioritize upholding the rights and securities of the Armenian in Nagorno-Karabakh, including through the opening of a humanitarian corridor, and deploying international peacekeepers to guarantee the humanitarian and security needs of Armenian citizens, and the preservation of Armenian Christian churches and culturally significant monuments.

In recent weeks, Yerevan recalled its representative to the Collective Treaty Security Organization (CSTO) and sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine, further demonstrating its receptivity to deepen ties with the US. With a policy review toward Armenia, the United States must also reevaluate its policy posture with Azerbaijan, in light of its coziness to Russia. Punitive actions, including halting US arms and aid to Azerbaijan and Turkey, and imposing sanctions must seriously be on the table for the gross violations of human rights and destruction of cultural heritage.

For over a century, the United States has been home to a large and growing Armenian community who have contributed to America’s economic growth, ethnic diversity, and cultural richness. For months, many of us have taken to the streets in cities across the US to demand greater US leadership, more accountability and stronger representation in Washington.

Today, Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh and in Armenia are facing an existential crisis. By strengthening its approach to support Armenia and the Armenian population in Nagorno-Karabakh, working with bipartisan support in Congress, and exercising US leadership at the United Nations, the Biden Administration can meet the moment again and leave a lasting legacy.

(Dr. Jirair Ratevosian is a former senior advisor at the US Department of State, and legislative director to U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee.)

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