A clear message needs to be sent to Azerbaijan.
By Ardem Patapoutian and Vicken Cheterian
We are both Armenians born in Beirut who met some 50 years ago in
kindergarten. We grew up in war-torn Lebanon, embedded in a bubble of
Armenian language, school, and culture. We immigrated to the West (the
United States and Switzerland), built careers as a scientist and a
lecturer/columnist, and managed to stay in touch.
The last time we saw each other was last summer in Armenia. We fondly
remember sitting together in a loud jazz club in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital,
entertained by the proprietor who presented us with a 15-year-old Armenian
brandy from Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed enclave to the east of Armenia
mainly populated by Armenians. We were there because the government of
Armenia was celebrating one of us winning the Nobel Prize in Medicine, a
first for an Armenian. A few months later, on Dec. 12, 2022, Azerbaijan
imposed a blockade on Nagorno-Karabakh. The painful disconnect between
the Europe-like scenes in the capital, the celebration of scientific discovery,
and the struggles of the persecuted population in Nagorno-Karabakh have
become urgent anguishes we share today.
The blockade of the 120,000 ethnic Armenian residents has caused a
humanitarian crisis. Azerbaijan has blocked access to essential commodities
such as food, medicine, electricity, and gas, bringing daily life to a standstill.
Azerbaijani military personnel regularly open fire on agricultural workers,
effectively prohibiting them from cultivating their own food; the intent seems
clear: to slowly starve them into submission. We, the diaspora Armenians, are
anxiously watching the unfolding of this humanitarian crisis that seeks to
force Armenians from their ancestral lands. Armenians experienced
genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in the early 20th century, a
horror that feels all too familiar to us now. The UN Security Council is
scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss this crisi
The Armenian presence in the Caucasus is challenged by Azerbaijan, a state
with a population several times larger than Armenia. Caspian oil has
permitted Azerbaijani rulers to invest heavily in military equipment.
Moreover, Azerbaijan has the unconditional support of Turkey, which
provides political and military aid to Azerbaijan.
During the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in 2020, it was Turkish aviation
— including US-made F-16s and Bayraktar TB2 attack drones — that
pulverized Armenian defenses, while Turkish generals overlooked Azerbaijani
military operations. Armenia is left alone against this powerful alliance.
Russia, which on paper has a security alliance with Armenia, has been
preoccupied with its war in Ukraine or unwilling to intervene.
Armenia, a democratic nation with a thriving technology sector, finds itself in
a region largely dominated by autocratic regimes. We have been heartened to
see the international support for Ukraine, another democratic nation that has
also endured a neighbor’s aggression. However, we also feel a sense of
abandonment as our Western friends have given scant attention to the plight
of our compatriots. Our concerns extend beyond Nagorno-Karabakh and its
population; even the existence of the fragile state of Armenia seems to be
threatened by its hostile neighbors.
Nevertheless, our states, particularly the United States, have the power to
alleviate this suffering. In the early 1990s, during the First Nagorno-Karabakh
War, when Azerbaijan imposed a crippling blockade against Armenia, the
United States adopted Section 907 of Freedom Support Act that banned any
US government aid to Azerbaijan. A clear message is necessary to stop
Azerbaijan and put Aliyev on notice that the country’s oil exports and bank
accounts could be sanctioned if he persists in his crimes against humanity. We
urge the US and European governments to respond effectively and
efficiently. The United States should lead the democratic world by threatening
severe sanctions against Azerbaijan’s hydrocarbon exports, and by freezing its
bank accounts if it continues its blockade. An emergency airlift like in the
times of the Berlin Wall is another step to be considered. The UN Security
Council is one arena where multilateralism and international law can be put
into a new test.
At this stage of global geopolitical upheaval and reshuffling of alliances, the survival of a small democracy in the Caucasus very much depends on whether Western states decide to act instead of expressing their “concern” while watching this humanitarian crisis unfold in slow motion from afar.
The Bostone Globe
August 16, 2023
Ardem Patapoutian is professor of neuroscience at Scripps Research and a 2021 Nobel Prize laureate in medicine. Vicken Cheterian, a lecturer in history and international relations at the University of Geneva, is author of “Open Wounds: Armenians, Turks and a Century of Genocide.”