Democracy Today: Artsakh Dispatch
Advocating for Justice
The first publication of Artsakh Dispatch is dedicated to the International Human Rights Day and The International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime
In this inaugural edition, we champion the cause of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) and strive to shed light on the ethnic cleansing and displacement of over 100,000 indigenous Christian Armenians. Through regular newsletter editions, we hope to spark global conversations about the future of this small, unrecognized nation, which aspired to establish an independent democratic state.
Post-Soviet Independence Journey
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, we commend Artsakh's people for choosing the path of democracy by conducting a legal referendum for independence. Across millennia, Artsakh, with its profound historical and cultural significance, has faced constant threats of occupation and wars. Despite these challenges, Artsakh has persistently built and reinforced democratic institutions, held free elections, and safeguarded its rich cultural heritage against Azeri aggressions.
Post 2020 War Realities: Artsakh’s Recent Struggles for Justice
The recent attempt to annihilate Artsakh's Christian Armenian population unfolded with Azerbaijan's full-scale war in September 2020, backed by Turkey and Israeli arms. The 44-day conflict will be remembered for bolstering regional authoritarian regimes and power brokers, violating democratic norms, and disregarding international human rights standards. Azerbaijan employed mercenaries, indulged in predatory lending to impoverished Syrian soldiers, and used white phosphorus weapons, thereby violating the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons with impunity. The indiscriminate targeting of hospitals, journalists, and civilian hubs sets a dangerous precedent for future conflicts. Moreover, Azerbaijan's capture and torture of hundreds, including women, led to the imprisonment of over 200 civilian and military Armenian POWs in Baku following sham court trials.
Despite the atrocities occurring with impunity in our modern world, the Democracy Today (DT) team conducted thorough research into Azerbaijan's war crimes. The comprehensive findings, documented in the "Never Again 44 Days War" publication, are available on the DT website. Notably, the Republic of Armenia's government utilized these documented sources as evidence submitted to the International Court of Justice contributing to ICJ’s February decision.
International Inaction Enabled Ethnocide
The silence from the international community and world powers, especially those championing the rule of law and human rights, emboldened Azerbaijan's authoritarian regime, implicitly endorsing heightened violations against Artsakh. The silence set the stage for subsequent transgressions, commencing with the "eco-blockade" on December 12, 2022.
A group of Azerbaijanis, claiming to be "environmental activists," blockaded the Goris–Stepanakert Highway, a critical link connecting Artsakh with neighboring Armenia and the outside world used for the transport of vital food, medicine, and other crucial supplies. Azerbaijan launched the initial phases of a well-coordinated, multistage campaign, aiming to complete the ethnocide of the Armenian population of Artsakh.
Among the purported "eco-activists" there were well-recognized Azerbaijani state-sponsored special services agents dressed as civilians, providing undeniable evidence of the Azerbaijani government's full endorsement of the blockade. Democracy Today members were astonished to discover well-known women peacebuilders among these "eco-activists"–individuals with whom DT had collaborated for many years.
The blockade employed traditional patterns of ethnic cleansing by falsely accusing the indigenous population of using the road for military transport. Azerbaijan further claimed that the supposed military transport had support from, and occurred under the watchful eyes of Russian peacekeepers.
Second Stage of Ethnocide
When world powers, including regional "partners" failed to act against the illegal blockade, Azerbaijan escalated the situation on April 23, by blocking the Goris-Stepanakert Highway in Shushi, and the Hakari Bridge, physically obstructing Artsakh's sole lifeline for over nine months.
Overnight, an illegal checkpoint on the bridge over the Hakari River on the Goris-Stepanakert Highway replaced the “eco-activists” with Azerbaijani military police. The checkpoint violated territorial borders beyond Azerbaijani control. Notably, Russia and its alleged "peacekeepers" did not protest against the checkpoint's location or its sole purpose of controlling the free movement of people and life-saving cargo to Artsakh. The total blockade of Artsakh disrupted shipments of essential supplies, compounding daily hardships with rolling blackouts and internet interruptions.
In April, Azerbaijan also occupied nearly 215 square kilometers (83 sq mi) of Armenia’s sovereign territory and its troops remain on internationally recognized Armenian territory despite calls by the European Parliament, United States, and France–two of three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group.
These major violations of individual and collective human rights introduced multifaceted existential and security threats. The full blockade, coupled with Azerbaijan's consistent armed attacks, aimed at ethnic cleansing through physical and psychological intimidation, created unbearable living conditions and a near-starvation state.
The Third Stage of Ethnocide: September 19
The third and final stage of Azerbaijan's ethnic cleansing policy unfolded with large-scale military aggression on September 19. Day-long attacks on the civilian population included brutal killings of adults and children, inhumane treatment, kidnappings, and threats against children's lives. The bombardments forced mass evictions of over 100,000 Artsakh Armenians who fled to neighboring Armenia. The entire population, except for a handful of the elderly and sick, left behind Artsakh’s trail of tears as they journeyed from their ancestral homes, abandoning livelihoods, lush fruit orchards, and fertile farmlands rooted in a homeland for thousands of years.
The Mass Exodus: Over 100,000 Forcibly Displaced
The Azerbaijan checkpoint on the Stepanakert-Kornidzor highway conveniently facilitated the refugees' exodus into the neighboring Republic of Armenia. By early October, Artsakh was entirely depopulated of its indigenous Armenian population for the first time in over 5,000 years. As international aid organizations joined forces with the Republic of Armenia's humanitarian volunteer workers, Armenia welcomed over 100,000 Artsakh natives into its territory. Despite facing trauma and challenges in temporary shelters in Armenia, Artsakh Armenians express a heartfelt longing to return to their ancestral homeland and root.
Voices of the Displaced
In each issue, we will feature a testimonial from Artsakh Armenians who fled from their ancestral homeland into neighboring Armenia.
Azniv 85 from Hadrut
I thought about setting my house on fire, but my heart didn't agree. I washed the dishes, arranged them on the shelves, laid the table as if I was expecting guests . . . Women cannot hate.”
Azniv only took with her some small items that she could carry – and a lifetime of “memories.” During the blockade she was forced to walk long distances and line up in bread lines, expecting in vain that the Russian peacekeepers would allow the delivery of her medicine that she relied on daily.
“This year the harvest of dates is excellent but will be used by those who will come to live in my house. I decided to write them a letter which read: ‘This is home of honest people and loving family who with the sweat on their faces, keep it clean and happy.’ I begged them to water the flowers and not to burn our books as even if they are not in the language they understand, books contain generational wisdom and not only of one nation. And I said, ‘I wish you peace in my house and hope to return and see it one day.’