Posted on February. 12. 2023
“Siege starvation… [is] a war
crime of societal torture”.
By Z. S. Andrew DemirdjiaN
Despite the November 9th (2020) trilateral ceasefire agreement (signed by Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia), Azerbaijan has been violating the spirit of the treaty. President Ilham Aliyev has been attempting different ways to intimidate, or even force the people of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) into inhuman deprivations to subdue them by submitting to his will by laying on them a weapon called “siege starvation”.
Ever since Russia has been occupied with the Ukraine war, Azerbaijan has gone on a spree of nibbling away swathes of Armenian territory by killing soldiers and civilians alike without any provocation. The tidal wave now has stopped at blockading the Lachin (Berdzor) Corridor to isolate the people of Artsakh into submission or ethnic cleansing. Almost two months have gone by, the siege still continues.
The situation now is very serious. According to the independent Genocide Watch organization the genocide threat level facing Artsakh Armenians has gone beyond the “dehumanization” stage and into the final stages of “persecution” and “denial”.
While all these shenanigan “war crime of societal torture” is taking place, the Western nations, Russian peacekeeping force, and even the Armenian Diaspora lethargy, if not indifference or apathy, continues at the expense of the plight of 120, 000 indigenous people of the Republic of Artsakh.
Moral imperative dictates that the international community should collectively attempt to somehow stop Azerbaijan’s cruel tactics to enforce its will on the stranded people of Artsakh. After all, a blockade is where one army tries to cut off supplies to another one, but in this case the civilians are targeted by Azerbaijan –a criminal act against humanity.
In this article, we want first to familiarize ourselves with the weaponization of “siege starvation” strategy, briefly discuss the 2019 statutory amendment to the International Criminal Court, and suggest a simple doable idea for the benefit of the Artsakh’s indigenous ethnic Armenians.
As you know, weaponization is the practice of using non-conventional weapons to harm or even to kill people. In this strategy, the belligerent resorts to other indirect methods to inflict harm and even death to an adversary.
For example, when you shut off the supply of heating gas in the dead of winter in a freezing climate, the people living in that locality would suffer from severe cold and even die from lack of heat in their living areas. Naturally, sooner or later, they will capitulate. This would be a case of “weaponizing winter”.
Implicit in the strategy of siege starvation is the practice of warfare by weaponizing the essentials for life (such as food, water, medicine, and shelter) by encircling or cutting off of a defended and populated targeted civilian locality (as in the case of Azerbaijan doing to the Armenians of Artsakh). The purpose is to elicit the capitulation of the besieged people and thereby avoid the necessity of capturing the area by assault.
I have once characterized the Lachin (Berdzor) Corridor as the umbilical cord of Artsakh joining it to Armenia for the essentials and necessities of life. The people of Artsakh are rightfully calling it the “Road for Life”.
The severity of the situation stems from the fact that there is a marked difference between the essentials for life and the necessities of life. “Essential” is something without which we cannot do, and “necessary” is something which is important but we can do without it.
Over 120,000 natives of Artsakh have historically and presently depended on Armenia for their standard of living and as a portal to reach the rest of the world communities. For example, 400 tons of food and other essentials are transported from Armenia to Artsakh almost on a daily basis.
Furthermore, most of the arable land for growing crops has become under the control of Azerbaijan. Before the 44-Day War, the Republic of Artsakh consisted of 12,000 square kilometers. Now, it has dwindled to a mere 3,000 square kilometers, which are of rugged mountain terrain hardly suitable for growing cereal crops.
Without food flowing from Armenia through the Lachin Corridor, austere days of hunger, or even of famine, are ahead for Artsakhtsi people.
On December 12, 2022, a few hundred Azerbaijani military personnel in civilian clothes, pretending to be environmentalists, have blockaded the Lachin Corridor to isolate the people of Artsakh from the rest of the world on the pretext of protecting the environment.
Over 120,000 people of Artsakh including 30,000 children lost the freedom of connecting to Armenia and the logistics of importing essentials of life was suddenly interrupted. Those who need immediate medical attention cannot go to Armenia, for example, for surgery. In this way, Artsakh has become an island in the hostile sea of Azerbaijan.
Due to the 44-Day War consequences, Artsakh finds itself now short of medical supplies, fuel for heating and cooking, food, and other essentials for life.
To complicate matters further, Azerbaijan turned off the gas lines from Armenia to Artsakh for days. As a result, the children were deprived of basic education by the closure of schools for lack of any fuel to heat the classrooms.
Obviously, this strategy is nothing but an attempt at weaponizing winter as well for the submission of the people of Artsakh. The intent may very well also be ethnic cleansing of the Armenian population of Artsakh.
From time immemorial, early humans have learned to use simple weapons to hunt and to defend themselves in their conflicts with their neighbors. They started throwing sticks and sharpened stones as weapons, and then invented the bows and arrows to fight from a longer distance.
When metal was discovered in 1200 B.C. (The event should be attributed to the Urartians, the proto-Armenians), humans used knives, swords, shields, and lances.
When gunpowder was discovered in China in the 9th century A.D., it led to the invention of explosive weapons, and in the 20th century, scientists of primarily of the United States developed the nuclear weapons, which have the power to obliterate all life on Earth.
Twenty-first century is characterized with the use of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), which were successfully used by Azerbaijanis’ allies (i.e., Turkey and Israel) against Artsakh’s Defense Forces.
Incidentally, the Ottoman Empire was one of the first places to build cannons at foundries that employed Turkish cannon founders and technicians (most likely Armenian black smiths/engineers). At the siege of Constantinople in 1453, the Ottomans employed a number of huge cannons, anywhere from 12 to 62 to make the Byzantines surrender and later slaughtered them all.
Unlike the Ottoman Turks and even modern Azerbaijanis, Armenians failed to fortify themselves with modern weapons to keep their historical territories regained from Azerbaijan in the 1900s. What a gross blunder of the generals of the armed forces, who focused on personal gains rather than on national security and interests!
Throughout history, humans used other strategies as weapons as well. One of the earliest weapons was siege starvation. For centuries, this was accepted as a way to wage war with the enemy until in 2019 when weaponizing food, water, shelter, winter, etc., were considered illegal weapons to be used to settle armed conflicts or to conquer other countries.
In 2019, the 123 states (countries), parties to the International Criminal Court, approved a salutatory amendment incorporating the war crime of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare in non-international armed conflicts.
The new provision proves to be the first step towards closing a major humanitarian gap in the International Criminal Court system.
Prior to the amendment, the Rome Statute had criminalized the employment of non-conventional weapon practice (e.g., weaponizing siege starvation) only in international armed conflicts, which happens less frequently than the common war between two countries.
What this means is that Azerbaijan’s weaponizing siege starvation, weaponizing winter, or any other weaponizing strategy used against the people of Artsakh is illegal as far as the International Criminal Court is concerned on account of their 2019 amendment to the Rome Statue.
Azerbaijan will most likely be found guilty, but who is going to enforce the penalty is another issue. President Ilham Aliyev knows full well that nobody will penalize him for his war crimes.
Silence of the international community lionizes a dictator into a tyrant. And thus, he gets away with murder. Matter of fact, Aliyev is no longer a dictator. He has graduated to become a tyrant, who rules his subjects through the weapons of fear and torture.
The fair-minded, righteous international communities should do two things immediately: Sanction Azerbaijani tyrant for its illegal and criminal ways in treating the besieged people of Artsakh; and the second urgent action to take is to –recognize the independence of the Republic of Artsakh!
As I have always said the cliché phrase before that ideas had changed the world; ideas, new or old, will also help Armenia to advance. Here is a feasible idea as a defense against siege starvation:
How to protect against Azerbaijan’s “war crime of societal torture” of the people of Artsakh? One idea is to plant war survival gardens for vegetables including fruit trees.
The people of Artsakh should grow urban “Gardens for Peace” or “Survival Gardens” for growing fruits and vegetables for the struggle against the genocidal acts of Azerbaijan when it attempts to harm the unarmed civilians of Artsakh by blockading, for example, the Lachin Corridor.
The only way to translate this idea into a practical reality in a short period of time is to get the disengaged Armenian Diaspora involved in it.
Seeds, for example, should be provided by the Diaspora for immediate vegetable planting. Concurrently, the fruit trees can be propagated and planted by the community oriented Armenia Tree Project organization (even though the yield of the latter will take time). This great organization is ready to plant trees in Artsakh.
The idea of urban Gardens for Peace will not only ensure an adequate food supply for civilians, but it will also feed the troops during the war. In this way, Artsakh would be able to counter Azerbaijan’s attempts at weaponizing food and other essentials for life.
President Aliyev knows how to perpetuate his dictatorship: fan the Azeri hatred toward anything Armenian and rekindle his nomadic people’s instinct to kill and plunder the Armenians wherever they happen to be in Artsakh or in Budapest, Hungary.
Too many times Armenians have been disappointed in the Western powers who had failed to come to their rescue despite the latter’s promises to return Armenia’s favors.
Armenians of Artsakh have been savagely treated, but none of the Western powers came to materially help them. Even the 2,000 Russian peace keeping soldiers are acting like tourists or spectators when Azerbaijan is attacking the Armenians right and left.
It is about time to learn to rely on self. Rebuilding the Artsakh Defense Armed Forces is crucial if we want them to keep their sovereignty. Ruben Vardanyan, the new State Minister of Artsakh, has recently echoed the resolve of the brave people by stating that “We [the Artsakh people] have chosen to fight.”
How or with what? With sticks and stones? The Armenian Diaspora of nearly 12 million strong, if not rich but comfortably situated, can afford to buy the latest attack drones required to pulverize the entire Azerbaijani Defense Forces. Where is the Armenian Diaspora’s leadership when the ship of Artsakh is sinking in the murky waters of the enemy?
Since the beginning of December 2022, the Republic of Artsakh has been in inhuman blockade by Azerbaijan and yet the world community and the Russian peacekeepers’ general apathy is palpable. Both are pretending not to see the severity of the situation. Once Artsakh is lost, it would have the same fate as Nakhichevan of being next to impossible to regain it in the future.
Where is the global Armenians’ sense of urgency to save the 120,000 beleaguered people from Azerbaijan’s treacherous cat and mouse play before killing the besieged innocent men, women, and children in their ancestral lands?
As they say, hope springs eternal; we do not despair for it is in human nature always to find new cause for better days.
In addition to fortifying themselves with modern weapons financed by the Armenian Diaspora, the Republic of Artsakh should distribute land to all Armenians for both Gardens for Peace and for staying in Artsakh. The lure of land is one of the best ways to make sure a country has a stable and patriotic population.