Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), a self-governing enclave in the South Caucasus, remains under total blockade by Azerbaijan. Over 120,000 Armenians—including 30,000 children—are on the brink of an unspeakable humanitarian catastrophe as food runs scarce, medicine cabinets fall bare, and children now suffer malnutrition.

A single mountain road connects Artsakh to Armenia; it is the sole lifeline for the indigenous Armenians who live there. Pursuant to the November 9, 2020 Trilateral Statement, Azerbaijan is under strict legal obligation to keep its hands off the Berdzor (Lachin) Corridor through which that road passes. But Azerbaijan has not heeded demands from the UN, US, or Europe to end its blockade.

Azerbaijani agents have blocked the mountain road for more than 44 days—at one point, even causing 270 children to be left stranded on the road for days in Arctic conditions and, more recently, storming a bus and terrorizing 19 Armenian children trying to reunite with their families. In fact, Azerbaijan has orchestrated ruthless measures to render living conditions unbearable for the Armenians. It has cut Artsakh’s heating gas connections, severed its electricity lines, blocked humanitarian aid, and sabotaged its internet link to the outside world. Some have already died, and more will, as starvation and scarcity now grip the population.

Numerous international watch groups have already red-flagged Azerbaijan’s conduct. Genocide Watch has raised the genocide threat level facing Artsakh Armenians beyond the “dehumanization” and “preparation” stages into the “persecution” and “denial” stages. The International Association of Genocide Scholars has proclaimed that “[s]ignificant genocide risk factors exist in the Nagorno-Karabakh situation concerning the Armenian population.” The Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention has warned that Azerbaijan’s “actions are part of a larger genocidal pattern, demonstrating Azerbaijan’s Armenophobia and genocidal intent [aimed at] the eradication of Armenia, Artsakh, and the Armenians.”

While Azerbaijan openly ratchets up this man-made humanitarian disaster, some policymakers and think tanks in Europe and Washington still suggest that the most feasible outcome for Nagorno-Karabakh would be some sort of “protected status” within Azerbaijan. This suggestion is carelessly imprudent and patently misguided. It reflects an appalling disassociation from the realities on the ground and an utter blindness to the extent of institutionalized, rampant Armenophobia and ethnic cleansing Azerbaijan has already engineered. Any recommendation of a “protected status within Azerbaijan” is a patent nonstarter.”

First, the suggestion is politically antithetical for the West. Every Artsakh government since the 1991 referendum on independence has been democratically elected in fair and free elections–elections actually monitored by international observers. It would be quite the about-face for the West to condone the forceful subjugation of a democracy, even an unrecognized one, to the whims of an authoritarian, hereditary dictatorship that has openly called for—and is currently engaged in—a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Further, the idea of a “protected status within Azerbaijan” is morally and legally bankrupt. Given the extent of ethnic cleansing and the now widely recognized risk of genocide, it’s blatantly oxymoronic. Just imagine the outcry if the solution suggested during a blockade of Jews by a government espousing institutionalized, state-sponsored antisemitism was, quite literally, the forceful subjugation of Jews to that Nazi state. It would be abhorrent, even criminal. The same is true here.

International law has clear mandates on these sorts of things. Self-determination today comes in two accepted variants: internal self-determination (legalese for a protected status within a state) and external self-determination (legalese for an independent status outside a state). The rule as to whether internal or external self-determination applies has become well established in the three decades since Artsakh’s referendum on independence. It would be rather prudent, one would think, to understand the rule properly before postulating “solutions” impacting the lives of actual human beings.

Internal self-determination is best exemplified by the case of Quebec. When Quebec exercised its right to self-determination and sought to secede from Canada in the mid-1990s, the Canadian Army was not assembled at the gates of Montreal clamoring to exterminate the Quebecois or force them into the Atlantic. This, it turns out, was critically important. The Canadian Supreme Court specifically held that the need to protect Quebec’s cultural, linguistic, or religious character (the basis of Quebec’s claim for secession) could be realized through internal self-determination—a protected status within Canada. The reasoning was clear: internal self-determination in the Canadian context would not open the door to the ethnic cleansing of the Quebecois.

The context here, of course, is profoundly different. Azerbaijan has engaged—and is actively engaged right now—in the ethnic cleansing of the Artsakh Armenians. The blockade itself is evidence of that sadistic campaign. The Azerbaijani president, parliamentarians, and many cultural figures openly espouse hatred, dehumanization, removal, and extermination of the Artsakh Armenians. Armenophobia has been intentionally, and strategically, institutionalized throughout Azerbaijani society.

The backstory is unavoidable too. Azerbaijan has already ethnically cleansed Armenians from every city that has fallen under its authority and control. There are no more Armenians in Baku, Sumgait, Kirovabad, Nakhichevan—and, since 2020, there are none in Shushi and Hadrut either. The pogroms, massacres, and/or war crimes committed by Azerbaijan against Armenians in those areas are a well-documented and dark chapter of Azerbaijan’s treatment of Armenians–a chapter that simply will not end.

Azerbaijan’s ethnic cleansing campaign, moreover, is achingly comprehensive: it even labors to cleanse the land itself of any evidence of Armenians—destroying Armenian churches, unearthing Armenian cemeteries, scraping away ancient Armenian biblical inscriptions, and claiming that Armenian churches are actually “Albanian.” In fact, just weeks ago, the Azerbaijani Ambassador told the UN Security Council that even the word “Nagorno-Karabakh” does not exist anymore.

Imagine, for a moment, a Canadian Ambassador telling the U.N. Security Council that the word “Quebec” does not exist anymore. The Quebec model—protected status within another state—may work in the Great White North, but it simply does not fit the bill here.

Right now, Azerbaijan holds Artsakh Armenians—including women, children, the disabled, and the elderly—hostage in a total blockade that is starving and freezing actual human beings in the dead of winter, in complete isolation and in utter darkness. What comes next has played out like clockwork from the Armenian Genocide to the Holocaust, from the Rohingyas to Darfur, and from Cambodia to, well, Kosovo.

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