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Genocide Scholar: “It is an ongoing genocide”

In an exclusive interview for Blankspot, genocide researcher Melanie O'Brien explains why the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh can be considered an ongoing genocide.

Already two years ago, Melanie O’Brien, Chair of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, warned that the developments in Nagorno-Karabakh could be likened to genocide. Two years later, her concerns have been repeatedly confirmed to the extent that she and her colleagues have appealed to the UN to stop what is happening.

Despite this, the blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh has turned into a full-scale offensive where the Armenian civilian population is given no way to flee.

In an exclusive interview with Blankspot, she explains why Azerbaijan’s actions constitute genocide.

In addition to being the chair of the Genocide Studies Society, she is currently a visiting professor at the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota in the USA.

What are the legal arguments for calling it genocide?

“It is clear that Azerbaijan is attacking the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh because they are Armenians. Therefore, the group is being targeted as an ethnic and, or, national group, both of which are protected groups under the Genocide Convention”, says Melanie O’Brien.

She continues to argue that the genocide process excelled with the blockade of the Latjinkorridor.

“However, since the blockade of the Lachin Corridor, the deliberate starvation and denial of access to healthcare demonstrates an intent not just to ethnically cleanse Nagorno-Karabakh of Armenians, but to physically destroy them. Denial of food and healthcare only leads to death, and these actions are a crucial part of genocide, which we have seen in other genocides including the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide, the Cambodian Genocide and the Rohingya Genocide”

How do the developments of the last few days affect this?

“Azerbaijan said it would open the Lachin Corridor to let residents of Nagorno-Karabakh out. However, they won’t be able to return. Thus, the choice of those 120,000 people in Nagorno-Karabakh is: stay and suffer genocide through starvation and lack of healthcare. This is despite the fact that the International Court of Justice in The Hague (ICJ) has made it clear to Azerbaijan that the blockade of the Lachin Corridor creates a direct risk to Armenians.”

Melanie O’Brien also argues that Azerbaijan is fully aware of this.

“Azerbaijan is aware of the order from The Hague but continues the blockade. In addition, Azerbaijan has bombed civilian areas in recent days, which is also considered a war crime. Thousands have fled from villages that Azerbaijan has taken and occupied without anywhere else to go but to other parts of Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan is now killing by bombing, starvation and denial of healthcare.”

She points out that Azerbaijan has committed to delivering fuel and food.

“Azerbaijan has said it will deliver food and fuel to Nagorno-Karabakh, but it remains seen as to whether this will be done, after 9 months of denying such humanitarian needs.”

You warned several years ago that it was beginning to resemble genocide, what has happened since then?

“The risk factors for genocide have been present for many years in Nagorno-Karabakh, including hate speech and destruction of Armenian cultural heritage sites such as churches. Hate speech and demonization have occurred, among other things, from leaders in the country, in the media, and in school education. However, from December 2022, when Azerbaijan blocked the Lachin Corridor and subsequently other roads out of Nagorno-Karabakh, this is when we saw the risk of genocide rise, and once this blockade continued, it has become genocide. This is because the people of Nagorno-Karabakh have been unable to leave the enclave”.

In recent days, tens of thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes in the areas that Azerbaijan has taken from Nagorno-Karabakh. So far, the Hadrut (2020), Shushi (2020), and parts of the Martakert, Martuni, and Chartar regions have been emptied of the Armenian population.

Civilians are flocking to the capital Stepanakert, where there has been a severe housing shortage since the 2020 war.

Top image: Melanie O’Brien is a genocide researcher. Photo: Private.