Joint Statement by a Group of Armenian Civil Society Organizations on the Press Statement by Charles Michel

The undersigned civil society organizations in Armenia express their alarm over the press statement of July 15 made by Charles Michel, President of the European Council, following the latest trilateral meeting with Prime Minister Pashinyan and President Aliyev. Specifically, we are concerned that the announcement equates the Lachin Corridor and Aghdam as options to address the current humanitarian crisis. This proposal disregards the fact that the source of the humanitarian crisis is Azerbaijan’s continued blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh (NK), subjecting its population to hunger and malnutrition to force submission to their demands, or worse, push them physically out of the territory. Moreover, it does not solve other ongoing violations of human rights, including freedom of movement, access to health services, access to education, etc. We fear that should this proposal be pursued, it will worsen the current dire situation, putting the lives of people in Nagorno-Karabakh at risk.

The Lachin Corridor does not have an alternative. The February 2023 Preliminary Order (reaffirmed in July 2023) of the International Court of Justice confirms the importance of keeping the corridor open for the free passage of people, goods, and vehicles. However, the Azerbaijani side has not only ignored the Order but has further tightened the months-long blockade. Instead of addressing the root cause of the humanitarian crisis, the discussion of “alternative” routes, such as Aghdam, diverts the international community’s attention from the source of the problem – the illegal blockade of a humanitarian corridor and the policy of ethnic cleansing by the Azerbaijani government. Making the Aghdam road operational would inadvertently support this policy by giving additional political and economic leverage to Azerbaijan over the Armenian population in NK and further undermining their rights.

Using hunger as a negotiation tactic should not be normalized. If the current situation of a total blockade persists, the act of offering food and supplies through Aghdam resembles hostage-taking and undermines any efforts to build trust between NK and Azerbaijan within the context of a possible Baku-Stepanakert dialogue. Should the international community yield to Azerbaijan’s unlawful actions and clear intentions of ethnic cleansing, it would effectively validate the wrongful closure of the Lachin Corridor and the captivity of 120,000 individuals since December 2022. Furthermore, this endorsement would legitimize the non-adherence to the ICJ’s order and discredit all existing and future agreements or international legal rulings.

Additionally, the statement refers to the facilitation of the release of soldiers who inadvertently cross to the other side. While this is an important issue, it is crucial that the fate of all detainees and prisoners of war is not forgotten. There are at least 35 confirmed prisoners of war and other civilian detainees in Azerbaijan. There have been reliable reports that they have been subjected to torture and inhuman and degrading treatment. Two of them were kidnapped earlier this year from Armenia proper, and the court in Azerbaijan sentenced them to lengthy prison sentences for “trespassing” for allegedly attempting to supply a group of “saboteurs” and for “armed terrorism conspiracy”. Similar sham trials have also occurred in relation with other detainees captured during and after the 44-day war. It is obvious that access to justice is impossible under the current circumstances. Moreover, Azerbaijan appears to hold these detainees as a bargaining chip during the process of negotiations.

Thus, we earnestly request that the international community:

  • prioritize efforts to immediately unblock the Lachin Corridor in accordance with the ICJ ruling,
  • unite efforts in facilitating the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of war and other detained persons.

Democracy Development Foundation

Analytical Centre on Globalization and Regional Cooperation (ACGRC)

Center for Rights Development NGO

“Asparez” Journalists’ Club

“For Equal Rights” Educational Center NGO

Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly-Vanadzor

Non-Discrimination and Equality Coalition

Public Journalism Club

Peace Dialogue NGO

Protection of Rights Without Borders NGO

Real World, Real People NGO

Transparency International Anti-Corruption Center

The Head of Regional Center for Democracy and Security

Union of Informed Citizens NGO

Women’s Support Center

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