Former NATO chief warns of imminent threat of ethnic cleansing in Nagorno Karabakh

Former NATO Secretary General, founder of Rasmussen Global political consultancy firm Anders Fogh Rasmussen warns of imminent threat of ethnic cleansing in Nagorno Karabakh.

“All eyes are rightly fixated on Russia’s war in Ukraine. But that is no excuse for ignoring another crisis that is brewing on Europe’s doorstep. Tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan are rising again, raising the prospect of another war,” Rasmussen writes in an article published by Project Sindicate.

Last week, he visited the Lachin corridor, the only road linking the ethnic Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia and the outside world. Since December, access to the corridor has been blocked by Azerbaijanis under the pretext of an environmental protest. This is clearly happening with the backing of the regime in Baku.

“Azerbaijan is using the blockade and other measures to strangle Nagorno-Karabakh. Residents are often prevented from returning to their homes, and gas and electricity are regularly cut off without warning or explanation. The intent, clearly, is to make life as difficult as possible for the Armenian population, and there is a serious risk of imminent ethnic cleansing. We must not divert our gaze from what is happening,” the former NATO chief writes.

“For its part, the Azerbaijani regime (and its online trolls) have continued to downplay the effects of the blockade – or even its existence. Yet they also refuse to grant international observers access to assess the situation. The first priority for the international community, then, is to send a fact-finding mission to the corridor under the auspices of the United Nations or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. We must make clear that Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, will face consequences if he continues to flout the ICJ’s binding order,” he continues.

Rasmussen notes that Azerbaijan still keeps its troops on Armenian territory and refuses to return Armenian prisoners of war. “With peace talks having stalled, there are clear warning signs that Azerbaijan believes it can achieve more through military means than through peaceful negotiations. A renewed offensive against Armenia in the coming months cannot be ruled out,” he says.

He stresses that the European Union must play a greater role to preserve peace and stability in the region. Both European Council President Charles Michel and French President Emmanuel Macron have recognized this and devoted significant political capital to the issue. Following the renewed outbreak of hostilities in September, the EU dispatched a civilian mission to Armenia to monitor the border with Azerbaijan.

“But much more still needs to be done. The EU mission, which is currently deployed only on Armenian territory, should be rapidly scaled up to monitor the full length of the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. European leaders need to press Aliyev’s government to allow EU personnel on to Azerbaijani territory. Of course, an unarmed EU mission would not be able to stop hostilities; but scaling up its presence would put further pressure on Azerbaijan to choose negotiation over military confrontation,” Anders Fogh Rasmussen writes.

“Armenia is an emerging democracy in an immensely challenging neighborhood. With Russia’s influence waning, Europe must play a bigger role in the region. This is not a form of charity. Acting now to prevent another significant conflict – or even ethnic cleansing – in our backyard is in everyone’s interest,” he concludes.

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