As a leader in the advancement of human rights and democracy, America is respected around the world for effectively deploying its diplomatic and economic influence to solve global problems and find peaceful solution to regional conflicts.
With the Biden administration pledging greater diplomatic engagement, defense of democracy and prioritization of human rights, we hope more attention will be given to the fragile situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.
In late September, amid a global pandemic and the hotly contested election season, Turkey and Azerbaijan launched a war in Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh, that left thousands dead and displaced tens of thousands more.
As one of the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, set up in 1992 to help resolve conflicts in the region, the United States recently called for a “negotiated, comprehensive, and sustainable settlement” for Artsakh. We applaud this call but, with no consequences for their aggression, Turkey and Azerbaijan will learn the wrong lessons from this conflict.
Azerbaijan, with Turkey’s backing, disregarded the U.S. role as a peacemaker, flaunting its disdain for even the most basic of international norms. Using Azerbaijan as a client state for conducting war, Turkey openly admitted to subverting an active peace process co-chaired by its NATO allies, the United States and France.
Turkey employed NATO’s AWACS system, as well as American F-16s in support of Azerbaijan in open violation of its agreement to refrain from deploying these aircrafts. Turkey was credibly accused by both Western governments and respected media outlets of recruiting and transporting Syrian jihadist fighters into the region.
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan repeatedly shelled maternity hospitals, markets, and cathedrals far from the frontlines and used internationally prohibited cluster munitions in residential areas and incendiary weapons like white phosphorus bombs.
In an effort at ethnic cleansing, there has been widespread desecration of Armenian cultural and Christian religious heritage in the occupied territories. Since the latest ceasefire, Azeri soldiers have posted torture of Armenian POWs to social media. Horrific videos posted online featured the ISIS-style beheading of elderly civilians by Azeri forces.
Lasting peace is not possible if Azerbaijan and Turkey go unpunished. They will continue their aggression toward Armenians and beyond.
Recently, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev claimed that areas within the Republic of Armenia—including capital city Yerevan—all belong to Azerbaijan. Without strong international repudiation, such statements can lead to renewed violence. Given the history in the region, including the Armenian genocide of a century ago that Turkey continues to deny, these claims cannot go unnoticed.
In the latest demonstration of hostility, Turkey and Azerbaijan have conducted military exercises along Turkey’s border with Armenia, far from Nagorno-Karabakh.
Armenians in the United States and across the world hope the United States will take a principled stand by supporting a comprehensive political settlement of the conflict. This cannot happen as long as the root cause of the conflict—the issue of the status—has not been resolved.
As a starting point, America must join us in demanding that Azerbaijan unconditionally return an estimated 200 Armenian prisoners of war. Absent this basic humanitarian gesture, dialogue and negotiation cannot succeed.
Second, the Biden administration can cut off foreign assistance to Azerbaijan’s military. In FY 2018 and 2019, the Trump administration provided more than $100 million in military and security aid to Azerbaijan—resources that were likely used against Armenian civilians and soldiers.
Further, all arms export licenses to Turkey and Azerbaijan must be rejected. Global economic and political sanctions need to be imposed on the Erdogan and Aliyev governments.
The U.S. Congress should follow the principled example of both houses of the French Parliament and a number of other European parliaments, which have voted in favor of the self-determination of the Republic of Artsakh.
As part of its co-chairmanship of the OSCE Minsk Group, we urge the United States to support de-occupation by Azerbaijan of the territories of Nagorno-Karabakh. This includes the safe and dignified return of the recently displaced population of Artsakh to their homes.
Finally, the United States must oppose any role for Turkey in either peacekeeping or the peace process in Artsakh. The international community cannot reward Ankara for outright aggression that undermines a globally mandated peace process.
If Azerbaijan and Turkey are allowed to hijack the OSCE Minsk Group peace process that America co-chairs—using force to twist regional security architecture toward their expansionist aspirations—they will not stop.
As we are now seeing in Syria, Libya, Cyprus, the Aegean and Artsakh, Turkey is becoming a regional menace, using mercenary armies of jihadists and states like Azerbaijan to project and expand its power.
To contain belligerent behavior by Turkey and its clients like Azerbaijan, the United States must enforce international norms through economic and diplomatic means. The alternative is a more dangerous world for everyone.
Varuzhan Nersesyan is the ambassador of the Republic of Armenia to the U.S.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.
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