Never Again? Echoes of the Past Threaten Armenia

In December 2023, as the 75th anniversary of the Genocide Convention passed, the international community faced multiple instances of potential genocide, including risks in the Nagorno-Karabakh. As reported by Luis Moreno Ocampo, the first Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the California-based Centre for Truth and Justice (CFTJ) petitioned the ICC to investigate Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev for genocide against Armenians in Armenia. Judge G. Apkarian presented evidence of Aliyev’s intent to destroy ethnic Armenians, including his derogatory language and military actions. Aliyev’s genocidal strategy extended beyond Nagorno-Karabakh to sovereign Armenian provinces, leading to unlawful displacements and brutalities against Armenian women. Azerbaijan’s ongoing genocidal policy poses a threat to Armenians within their own state’s borders.

D.J. Scheffer, first US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, highlighted the failure of diplomatic efforts to prevent the persecution of the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh. Despite the situation’s severity, international law’s tools are limited, he says. The term “ethnic cleansing”, described by the UN as a violent policy to remove civilian populations based on ethnicity or religion, has parallels with crimes against humanity and genocide. However, enforcement mechanisms, like the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle, are hindered by geopolitical interests, exemplified by Russia’s likely veto in the UN Security Council due to its focus on Ukraine.

Scheffer questioned the efficacy of international monitors and suggests deploying UN monitors on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. Additionally, he proposed truth and reconciliation efforts and turning to the ICC for justice, emphasising Armenia’s impending ICC membership and potential to prosecute ethnic cleansing. Furthermore, he warned of Azerbaijan’s military ambitions and suggested Armenia’s ICC involvement could deter aggression and seek justice for ethnic Armenians.

In hallowed halls where echoes of “never again” still resonate, a brutal stain of violence mars the soil of Nagorno-Karabakh. Innocent Armenians are being ruthlessly displaced, a tide of casualties rising because of this blatant assault on human rights. Azerbaijan’s alleged genocidal actions evoke the spectre of a horrific but relatively recent past, a chilling reminder of the barbarity mankind swore to forever eradicate. The international community now stands at a crossroads. Diplomatic failures highlight the impotence of words in situations of this magnitude. We must now demand a robust investigation by the ICC to hold these perpetrators accountable for their heinous crimes. The deployment of international monitors is no longer a mere suggestion, but an absolute necessity. Only through their unwavering vigilance can further bloodshed be prevented.

The Armenian Genocide is not ancient history. Historian Simon Payaslian tells us that a systematic campaign of extermination unfolded within the context of a crumbling Ottoman Empire during World War I. Tensions between the Empire’s Muslim majority and Christian minorities, including Armenians, had simmered for decades. However, the outbreak of war was a critical juncture. The Ottoman government, Taner Akçam says, was increasingly paranoid about Armenian loyalty and susceptibility to separatist ideologies, so much so that it viewed Armenians as a potential fifth column conspiring with Russia. This suspicion, fuelled by wartime propaganda, culminated in the arrest of Armenian intellectuals on April 24th, 1915, marking the unofficial start of the genocide, as reported by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Massacres, forced deportations into harsh desert conditions, and starvation became instruments of a state-orchestrated effort to eliminate Armenians from Anatolia.

The spectre of genocide in Nagorno-Karabakh casts a long shadow, threatening not only the lives of Armenians but also the fragile stability of the region and the world. The international community cannot afford to stand idly by. A resolute commitment to human rights and the principles enshrined in the Genocide Convention is an imperative necessity. Thorough investigations by the ICC, coupled with the deployment of international monitors, offer a glimmer of hope. Ignoring this conflict in favour of geopolitical expediency sets a dangerous precedent, jeopardising not only regional security but the very notion of a world order built on peace. The time for action is now.