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The UK government must change tack and urgently bring to justice those responsible for war crimes against the Armenian people

The UK government must change tack and urgently bring to justice those responsible for war crimes against the Armenian people

We must no longer turn a deaf ear to their cry for help, writes Baroness Cox | PA Images

4 min read

Despite a ceasefire, reports of brutality against military and civilian prisoners have emerged. The UK must intervene and help the people of Nagorno Karabakh.

Among colleagues in Parliament, little is spoken about Azerbaijan’s brutal war against Nagorno Karabakh. Partly, I suspect, because ‘Nagorno Karabakh’ is a difficult-to-pronounce and hard-to-reach location in the South Caucasus. But mainly because there is no appetite for taking a stand against Azerbaijan – irrespective of its appalling human rights record.

As someone from the Foreign Office once told me: “No one has an interest in other countries; only interests. We have oil interests in Azerbaijan. Good morning.”  

I was in Nagorno Karabakh many times during the previous war (1990-94). I used to count 400 Grad missiles a day, fired by Azerbaijan on to the small city of Stepanakert, together with the low-flying aerial bombardment of civilian targets with massive, 500-kilogram bombs. Yet whenever I (or a handful of other MPs and Peers) raised these tragedies with our government, they refused to listen. Even when we showed photographs of children shredded by cluster bombs, UK officials chose to look the other way.  

In September this year, less than three decades since the previous war, Azerbaijan once again launched an aggressive military campaign against Nagorno Karabakh. Supported by Turkey, its forces targeted civilians with tanks, helicopters, drones, heavy artillery, multiple-launch rocket systems, including Smerch – in contravention of international law – as well as reports of the use of phosphorus.  

The scale and ferocity of these offensives intensified the justifiable fear among local people, who are 94% Armenian Christians, of the possibility of ethnic cleansing from their historic land. According to a ‘Genocide Emergency Alert’ issued last week by Genocide Watch, Azerbaijan reached stage 9, “extermination”, and stage 10, “denial” of the ten stages of the genocidal process.

It is within this context that I arranged an emergency visit to Armenia to bring aid to our partners and to show solidarity with the Armenian people as they seek to hold their frontline of faith and freedom. I have had the painful privilege of meeting some of the families who have been forced to flee Nagorno Karabakh. A mother-of-four told me today: “My husband, a firefighter, was killed during Azeri attacks in the North, in the Mataghis region of Martakert. His body was so destroyed that we needed DNA to identify him.” She said: “My home is destroyed, and I have nothing left.”  

I also heard the experience of one family whose son, an Armenian soldier, was captured by Azeri forces. His phone was stolen by his captors and they posted an image of his beheaded body and sent this to his own social media account for his own family and friends to see. 

Now is the time to respond to the century-long call for self-determination by the people of Nagorno Karabakh

After 45 days of intense conflict, a ceasefire brokered by Russia has finally been agreed, which took effect on Tuesday from 1am, local time. We hope – and pray – this means the darkest days are over – that the ceasefire will bring an end to the military offensives by Azerbaijan, that the people of Nagorno Karabakh will be able to re-build their lives, and that peace will prevail.  

Serious concerns nevertheless remain, with reports emerging of brutality inflicted on military and civilian prisoners, including torture and beheadings, with claims that equivalent brutalities have been perpetrated by jihadists who receive payment for every Armenian beheaded.

There is an urgent need for the British Government and all relevant international authorities to bring to justice those responsible for such war crimes, and to take effective measures to prevent Azerbaijan from abusing and killing these prisoners, whom they have already captured or may capture during the ceasefire evacuation.  

There must be no impunity for the most serious international crimes.

Continuation of the UK Government’s current approach – an ill-conceived policy of moral equivalence, in which Azerbaijan is regarded as no more responsible for violence and civilian destruction than Armenia – ignores reality and risks deepening the crisis.  

Surely now is the time to respond to the century-long call for self-determination by the people of Nagorno Karabakh, to enable them to decide their own governmental arrangements, and to ensure the survival of their historic land. We must no longer turn a deaf ear to their cry for help.  

  

Baroness Cox is an independent member of the House of Lords and CEO of Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART).

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