While our country continues to deal with a health pandemic not seen in more than 100 years, another humanitarian crisis is taking place in a remote region of the world that many Americans may not be aware of but should. It harkens back to one of the darkest chapters in world history where sadly that past is repeating itself.
Last September, Azerbaijan launched an attack on ethnic Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh, known as Artsakh to Armenians. The Azerbaijani offensive was carefully planned, coordinated and executed with the help of the Turkish government who provided air power (F-16s) and Turkish-made strike drones. It was also widely reported that Turkey sent Syrian mercenaries, including Islamic terrorists, into the region to help wreak havoc upon Armenians in the region.
Despite Turkish denial, an increasing number of objective news and policy sources confirmed that Turkey was behind this war, which quickly became a humanitarian crisis involving war crimes being committed against Armenians by Turkey vis-a-vis Azerbaijan.
Turkey’s destabilizing actions should come as no surprise and follows a very troubling pattern, from its wholesale slaughter of the Kurds in northern Syria to its decision to move forward with Russia’s S-400 missile defense system. Ankara’s recent behavior in trying to broaden its influence in the region should be a wake-up call for the U.S. and the rest of the world.
As victims of oppression, Armenians around the world and in the U.S. see this latest aggression as a continuation of the 1915 Armenian Genocide and a threat to their very existence. It is one of the reasons why Azerbaijan during the six-week war indiscriminately bombed churches and other historical holy sites in attempt to wipe out any remnants of Armenian culture and identity in the region.
More alarming was that Azerbaijan bombed civilian-populated areas in Stepanakert, the capital of Artsakh, with ballistic missiles and cluster munitions, which are internationally banned.
And according to a joint report issued by the human rights ombudsman of Armenia and Artsakh, beginning in late October of last year, Azerbaijan unleashed incendiary weapons of mass destruction containing chemical agents, including white phosphorus munitions on civilian-populated areas.
Azerbaijan’s targeting of civilian populations with such weapons was a clear violation of international humanitarian and environmental laws, including the Geneva Conventions and the Chemical Weapons Convention to which Azerbaijan is a signatory. The use of such weapons has resulted in widespread human suffering and long-term environmental damage in Artsakh, including the burning of over 1,815 hectares of ancient forests.
To help stave off further damage and the growing risk of thousands of Armenians dying, Armenia agreed to a tenuous peace agreement with Azerbaijan that was brokered by Russia. As part of the deal, Armenia agreed to hand over certain lands of Artsakh to Azerbaijan by the end of November last year.
While the United States should welcome any peace agreement that saves lives, there are still many issues that need to be fully addressed to ensure that this agreement is lasting, equitable and fair.
For starters, the United States and the international community need to condemn and punish Azerbaijan and Turkey for their human rights violations, rampant expansionism, and ethnic cleansing.
This should be an inflection point in the U.S.-Turkey relationship that has seen Washington for years turn a blind eye to Ankara’s malfeasance and wonton disrespect for the rule of law, including its ongoing campaign to deny the Armenian Genocide.
The United States must impose severe sanctions on Azerbaijan and Turkey for violating Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act and end military assistance to Baku. Since 2018, the United States has sent more than $100 million in security assistance to Azerbaijan despite Baku’s abysmal record of human rights abuses.
The United States must recognize Artsakh as an independent nation. That is the only way to ensure that the fundamental rights of the Armenian people are upheld.
The United States must also provide an initial $250,000,000 package of emergency humanitarian relief, reconstruction and development assistance to Artsakh and help Armenia support more than 100,000 refugees who were forcibly displaced from their native lands.
The United States must show leadership and exert pressure on Azerbaijan in securing the immediate and unconditional release of Armenian prisoners.
Finally, the United States and the international community must demand that Azerbaijan protect and preserve historical churches and holy sites in the newly controlled Azerbaijani areas. These are rich and irreplaceable monuments that not only reflect Armenian culture and identity in the region but offer a window into the past for all future generations to learn from.
As a grandson to survivors of the Armenian Genocide, I know the pain and suffering that the Armenian people have gone through. But I also know of their perseverance, determination and grit. That is why we need to make sure that we as a country stand united in our support of Armenia during these precarious times. The survival of the Armenian nation and its people depend on it.
• Stephan Pechdimaldji is a public relations professional who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. He’s a first-generation Armenian American and grandson to survivors of the Armenian Genocide.