Republican New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith called on his colleagues Wednesday to recognize that 120,000 Armenian Christians living in Nagorno-Karabakh are facing extinction.
“Delay is denial,” Smith, who chaired the emergency congressional hearing on Nagorno-Karabakh as co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, said in a statement to The Daily Signal. “The Biden Administration must say immediately that this is genocide—and stop it.”
The Capitol Hill hearing, held Wednesday, examined the ongoing blockade of the Lachin corridor in Nagorno-Karabakh, a region between Eastern Europe and western Asia that is referred to as the Republic of Artsakh by Armenians.
The region is a disputed territory that Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought over for several decades, and the Azerbaijani government has blockaded the Armenians since December 2022. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has warned that Armenians face dire shortages of food, medical supplies, baby formula, fuel, and more.
“This blockade of the 120,000 Armenian Christians is reaching a critical juncture,” warned Turkish journalist and political analyst Uzay Bulut in an August 2023 op-ed. “Food and medicine are running out, and starvation is beginning to set in. Currently, there is no fuel — which has led to a complete transportation shutdown. The Armenians of Artsakh are thus being forced into submission to Azerbaijan through a policy of starvation.”
“This crime—it is the crime of genocide—was planned, tested, and imposed by the government of Azerbaijan, that is to say by President Ilham Aliyev, who rules Azerbaijan as a dictator,” Smith said Wednesday. The congressman has met with Aliyev twice, his office said, once in 2013 and again in 2014, to discuss his human rights abuses.
“The situation in Nagorno-Karabakh is much more desperate now, and two-and-a-half more months of inaction raises the question whether there is, within our own government, any will to help,” he said. “In August, when the Security Council met in special session to discuss the crisis neither the U.S. nor any other member took this action.”
Smith continued: “Meanwhile, the Azerbaijani government taunts the very people it is starving, as when President Aliyev said his blockade is necessary to deal with the smuggling of cigarettes and iPhones, and Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the U.N. held up photos of supposed Karabakh residents partying and enjoying the high life.”
Smith emphasized that the Biden administration does not want this genocide to end in the deaths or “ethnic cleansing” of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.
“But that is exactly where events are headed,” he said.
“The Biden administration must wake up, recognize the absolutely grave responsibility it has here, and focus on finding and implementing a humane solution,” the congressman added. “And this must mean that the blockade is lifted and the people can continue to live in their ancient homeland—and not be subject to violence and threats. This situation is now a three-alarm fire.”
One of the witnesses who spoke to lawmakers on Wednesday was Luis Moreno Ocampo, the former prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, who released a statement Aug. 7 warning that “there is a reasonable basis to believe that a Genocide is being committed against Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh in 2023.”
“There are no crematories and there are no machete attacks,” he wrote. “Starvation is the invisible genocide weapon. Without immediate dramatic change, this group of Armenians will be destroyed in a few weeks.”
The International Association of Genocide Scholars condemned that blockade in February 2023, warning against the “ongoing aggression against the indigenous Armenian population of the region” and “the risk of genocide against the Armenian population of that entity.”
In late July, a spokesperson for Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said that Blinken had spoken with Azerbaijan’s President Aliyev and expressed “deep concern” for the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Secretary Blinken underscored the urgent need for free transit of commercial, humanitarian, and private vehicles through the Lachin corridor, and emphasized the need for compromise on alternative routes so humanitarian supplies can reach the population of Nagorno-Karabakh,” Blinken spokesman Matthew Miller said. “The Secretary stressed the need for all parties to keep up positive momentum on peace negotiations.”
Some have expressed concerns in recent weeks that the Azerbaijan is amassing troops and weapons ahead of a coming invasion.
“There’s a very real chance in the coming weeks that #Azerbaijan will seize the rest of #NagornoKarabakh and continue on to southern #Armenia,” warned Robert Nicholson, president of The Philos Project, a Christian organization that advocates “for pluralism in the Near East.”
“Russia, Turkey, and Iran will have signed off on it,” he continued. “And unless something changes, the US will watch it all happen. Where are our leaders?”
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