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Responsibility to Protect Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh

Updated: Sep 30, 2023

The Responsibility to Protect doctrine, which underscores the international community's obligation to prevent and respond to mass atrocities, has been a guiding principle for global humanitarian action. It is imperative that this principle is applied rigorously in the ongoing tragedy unfolding in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian Republic of Artsakh.

Nagorno-Karabakh, adjacent to Armenia, is home to a rich history of Armenian civilization. The Armenian people have inhabited this area for over three thousand years, with a legacy marked by cultural, religious, and historical significance. From the establishment of Christianity as the state religion in the 4th century to centuries of Arab, Byzantine, and Mongol influences, the Armenians have preserved their distinct identity and traditions.

Tragically, the Armenian people's suffering did not end with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Nagorno-Karabakh was incorporated into the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan, despite legitimate Armenian protests. Only in the aftermath of the Soviet Union's dissolution in 1991 did Armenia gain independence, with Nagorno-Karabakh also declaring its independence.

At this juncture, the international community missed a crucial opportunity to facilitate self-determination for the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh. While Azerbaijan invoked self-determination to become independent from the Soviet Union, the Armenians living under Azeri rule were denied the same right. The world seemed indifferent to their plight.

The 2020 war in Nagorno-Karabakh witnessed systematic bombardment of civilian centers, causing high casualties and extensive infrastructure damage. The Armenian authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh were forced to capitulate, and their hopes for self-determination were dashed.

Azerbaijan's actions in Nagorno-Karabakh represent clear violations of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter, which prohibits the use of force. Grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and 1977 Protocols also occurred, yet no one has been held accountable for these crimes. The blockade of essential supplies by Azerbaijan, leading to starvation and suffering, may fall within the scope of the 1948 Genocide Convention.

The principle of self-determination, enshrined in the UN Charter and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, should not be selectively applied. The situation in Nagorno-Karabakh is reminiscent of the Kosovo crisis, where the International Court of Justice upheld the priority of self-determination over territorial integrity.

Denying self-determination often leads to conflict, as demonstrated in Nagorno-Karabakh. Recognizing this right is a conflict-prevention strategy, and suppressing it poses a threat to international peace and security. The international community cannot condone Azerbaijan's aggression, as it would set a dangerous precedent.


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