THE NATIONAL LAWYERS GUILD INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE STATEMENT ON THE ATTACKS ON ARMENIA AND THE DE FACTO INDEPENDENT REPUBLIC OF ARTSAKH/NAGORNO-KARABAKH
The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) International Committee denounces in the strongest terms the large-scale military offensive against the autonomous Republic of Artsakh (also known as Nagorno-Karabakh) and Armenia by the authoritarian regime in Azerbaijan. The NLG International Committee also denounces the financial, military, and logistical support of the government of Turkey for the military offensive, part of a pattern from Turkey’s ultra-nationalist leadership. The country has been actively contributing to the destabilization of the South-West Asia and North Africa (SWANA) region with invasion and the occupation of land in Northern Syria and Iraq, Libya and now the South Caucasus.
Shortly before the official disintegration of the Soviet Union, the predominantly Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast declared its independence from Azerbaijan following a referendum in September 1991. This referendum came after government-sanctioned targeted attacks, harassment and pogroms towards local Armenians which started in 1988. Under international law, minority groups that qualify as “peoples” have the right to self-determination, which means the ability to freely determine their political fate and form a representative government. The government of Azerbaijan’s refusal to accept the results of the referendum culminated into a regional conflict that lasted from 1991 to 1994. The ceasefire agreement reached in 1994 secured the autonomous de facto independence of the Republic of Artsakh. Despite the ceasefire, the governments of Azerbaijan and Turkey have imposed an economic embargo on landlocked Armenia and Artsakh in an attempt to punish the Armenian nation and force it into perpetual poverty. Furthermore, the ceasefire has been in name only as since 1994 the government of Azerbaijan has persisted in its periodic attacks on Artaskh and territory in Armenia proper.
Turkey’s military involvement and the now-confirmed recruitment and transfer of Syrian mercenaries to the conflict zone set dangerous precedents for the security and stability of the entire region. Not only has an unrepentant Turkey led an international campaign of denying the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923, but its intervention in today’s conflict is an escalation that could result in an all-out war and culminate the ethnic cleansing of Armenians from Artsakh. These events must be understood as part of the legacy of Turkey’s perpetration of the Armenian genocide and the ongoing campaign of terror against Kurdish, Armenian and other minorities in Turkey.
We call on the mainstream media to accurately and responsibly report these attacks. Attempts at a false equivalency between Armenia and Azerbaijan erases the struggle of indigenous Armenians fighting for their ancestral homes, lives and their right to self-determination.
Journalist reports and video evidence show that Azerbaijan has bombed settlements tens of miles away from the Line of Contact, damaging or destroying schools, kindergartens, hospitals, apartments and other civilian buildings, and causing casualties among the civilian population both in Artsakh and Armenia. Journalists have been injured and hospitalized in the reckless bombardment. This severe escalation, starting on September 27, 2020, violates international human rights laws and norms, including the UN Secretary-General’s call for a ceasefire in all corners of the globe due to the deadly pandemic. As recently as July of this year, Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense threatened to bomb the Armenian nuclear power plant, which would have catastrophic, possibly Chernobyl-like consequences for the civilian population of the entire region.
There is no doubt that international law is suffering from vagaries of weakness. To this day, international bodies have failed to recognize the independence of Artsakh despite meeting the elements of what constitutes the right to self-determination according to the United Nations Charter. From the article titled “Genocide as Conflict Resolution? Nagorno-Karabakh’s Uncertain Future published by the Institute for the Study of Genocide (IGS) in the Summer of 2017, Christoph H. Benedikter notes that if Azerbaijan and Turkey assume control of the Republic of Artsakh, this could lead to ethnic cleansing and/or genocide of Armenians. The hegemonic powers of the region, including Turkey, Russia and Israel have exploited the unrecognized status of Artsakh for war profiteering as well as for securing a major oil and gas pipeline corridor from the Caspian Sea to Europe. Both Israel and Turkey are the top suppliers of military weapons to Azerbaijan and played a significant role in “modernizing” its army. The immediate recognition of Artsakh will defuse the tension between regional rivals and prevent them from continuing to exploit the people of the South Caucasus towards their own geopolitical advantage.
As an organization of lawyers, legal workers, law students, and jailhouse lawyers, we affirm the importance of international law and human rights. We welcome the European Court of Human Rights decision to apply Rule 39 of the Rules of the Court after Armenia lodged a request for interim measures against Azerbaijan on September 28, 2020 to “cease the military attacks towards the civilian settlements along the entire line of contact of the armed forces of Armenia and Artsakh; to stop indiscriminate attacks; and to stop targeting civilian populations, civilian objects and settlements.” The Court was of the view that “the current situation gives rise to a risk of serious violations of the Convention.”
UN General Assembly Resolution 2625, the “Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations,” states that “No State or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State. Consequently, armed intervention and all other forms of interference or attempted threats against the personality of the State or against its political, economic and cultural elements, are in violation of international law.”
We call on human rights organizations and international bodies to act to uphold these key principles and act diplomatically and politically to stop the continued attacks on Artsakh and Armenia, to prevent crimes against humanity, and to recognize the enshrined rights of self-determination codified in the 1975 Helsinki Final Act for the Republic of Artsakh. We note further here that Turkey is a member of NATO, and thus the U.S. government as well as those of the United Kingdom and the European Union are implicated and complicit in the military invasion and being supported by the Turkish state. NATO has always been a mechanism of instability and war rather than the protection of the right to peace, and we once again underline the damaging role played by NATO member states and the alliance itself in destabilizing and dangerous military interventions.