by Giuseppe Morabito

A few weeks ago Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan declared that Azerbaijan is conducting a "blatant policy of ethnic cleansing" and forcing Armenians living in the Nagorno Karabakh region to leave.

For the past couple of months, the Azeris have been arbitrarily claiming environmental protection and blocking the Latcin corridor, a strategic humanitarian corridor connecting Armenia to the Armenian-inhabited Nagorno Karabakh region. Because of the blockade, food, medicine, and fuel begin to run out in the mountainous region with its approximately 120,000 inhabitants.

The Armenian prime minister declared:

This is obviously a blatant policy of ethnic cleansing. And I must say that while until now the international community has been skeptical about our concerns regarding Azerbaijan's intentions to subject the Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh to ethnic cleansing, we now see that this perception is slowly but steadily strengthening in the international community. According to the information we have, Baku's plan is as follows: to exert maximum economic and psychological pressure in Nagorno Karabakh and then open the corridor (of Lacin) for several days in the hope that the Nagorno Karabakh Armenians, the people of Karabakh will leave their homes en masse. About 6,000 kindergarten children, about 19,000 middle school students, and 6,800 university students have been deprived of one of the most important rights of the 21st century: the right to study, because kindergartens, schools, and universities have been closed for a month in Nagorno Karabakh.

Italy and our parliament have not turned a deaf ear to what is happening in the Caucasus region, so much so that on January 24 the House Foreign Affairs Committee invited for a hearing the Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia to Italy, Tsovinar Hambardzumyan, who said she was confident of cooperation in the near future as a representative of a nation friendly to Italy that, like Italy, can vaunt ancient roots, common values and centuries-old bilateral relations.

Today Armenia and Italy enjoy a good level of political dialogue, with mutual visits and multilateral cooperation in the economic field. Despite the condemnation of history (the genocide of Armenians by Turkey), it must unfortunately be noted that a policy and methodology of persecution by Turkey and Azerbaijan toward Armenians is still fully in place. As indicated, since last December 12, the Nagorno-Karabakh region has been blockaded by Azerbaijan. At present, so-called "environmental activists" on instructions from the Azerbaijani government are blocking the Lachin Corridor, Nagorno-Karabakh's only link to Armenia and the rest of the world.

The humanitarian crisis in Nagorno Karabakh worsens with each passing day. The shortage of basic necessities, food and medicine is becoming more and more evident. The danger of famine is tangible and the situation is exacerbated by the cut in gas (in the middle of winter), electricity grid and Internet connection operated by the Ankara-backed Baku government.

Some observers confirm that kindergartens and schools are also closed, hospitals have suspended surgeries, and there is no more powdered milk for babies.

It should be mentioned right away that the term Armenian Genocide, better known as the Armenian Holocaust or Armenian massacre, refers to the deportations and eliminations of Armenians perpetrated between 1915 and 1919 by the Turks (then the Ottoman Empire) that resulted in about 1.5 million deaths. One hundred years have passed since the genocide but Armenians around the world have not forgotten and, indeed, cannot forget.

The United States, the European Union, the United Nations Secretary General and more than a dozen countries have already called on Azerbaijan to unblock the road to Nagorno-Karabakh. Most recently, the European Parliament, by a very large majority, voted for a resolution to that effect. In response to these international urgings, the Azerbaijani president did not hesitate to confirm that the "activists" who blocked the link did so on his instruction, adding that those who do not want to be citizens of Azerbaijan can safely leave and the corridor will be opened should they decide to leave their land.

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict for 30 years has been the main security and stability challenge for the Caucasus region and now presents a number of threats, political and military in nature to Armenia, the entire region and consequently to the stability of Europe itself.

The roots of this conflict go back to Soviet times. Nagorno Karabakh or Artsakh, historically Armenian, was forcibly included in the Republic of Azerbaijan as an autonomous region by decision of communist dictator Stalin in 1921. This 70-year "Soviet" period, the only time frame in which Nagorno-Karabakh was part of Azerbaijan, was marked by massacres, deportations, discrimination, and other forms of intolerance against Armenians. Suffice it to say that in 1920 there were about 300,000 people living in Nagorno-Karabakh, over 95 percent of whom were Armenians; by 1988 there were only 140,000 left (today there are only 120,000 left).

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In 1988, in the last period of the Soviet Union's existence, the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh began to protest and demand rights that were always denied them. Azerbaijan, not liking those protests, responded with a crackdown on Armenians living in the cities of Sumgait, Baku and Kirovabad. It was precisely the Sumgait massacres that played a decisive role in the outbreak of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in a context that sadly evoked the past Turkish genocide.

In 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union in place of the former Azerbaijani Soviet republic, therefore, two separate state entities were formed: the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.

In response, Azerbaijan launched a full-scale war that lasted from 1992 to 1994, in which there were more than 30,000 casualties on both sides. The Armenians, in their struggle in defense of freedom, managed to resist, maintain the independence of the newly formed small state and ensure its security by taking control of some surrounding territories.

Armenia, the majority of whose population is Eastern Monophysite Christian, became independent under terribly difficult conditions, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, dismantled economy, changing political system, and blockade by Muslim Azerbaijan and Turkey. In addition, the entire northern Armenia was leveled by a devastating earthquake in 1988, with 25,000 casualties.

As for the 44-day war in 2020, it was a devastating war because new generation weapons were used, there was direct involvement of Turkey with its Bayraktar planes and drones (the same ones "sold" and not ''donated" to Ukraine). Azerbaijan appears to have made extensive use of weapons prohibited by international conventions such as cluster and white phosphorus bombs; in addition, there is a suspicion that Turkey recruited thousands of mercenaries (probably former Isis terrorists) by transferring them to Azerbaijan to fight against the Armenians, something Ankara had certainly done during the civil war in Libya. The latest conflict lasted, precisely, 44 days, and on November 9, 2020, with the mediation of the Russian Federation, a trilateral declaration was signed that stopped the war.

The aforementioned declaration, however, did not bring regional peace, and to date, Azerbaijan, taking advantage of the still uncertain international situation and Ankara's support, continues its aggressive policy through infiltration and attacks even in Armenia's territory.

Unfortunately, what is happening shows that the leadership of Azerbaijan is in no way interested in establishing peace and stability in the South Caucasus. The President of Azerbaijan - strong in his recognition as a "reliable energy partner" for Europe - pursues his policy of aggression against Armenia with Turkish complicity.

In conclusion, it should be remembered that Nagorno-Karabakh is not just a territory but a people ready to follow the European formula for solving the problem, but the blockade of the Lachin Corridor should be ended immediately and access to Nagorno-Karabakh should be provided to international organizations.

Certainly, it should be emphasized that there are obvious economic brakes on proceeding with a Baku condemnation because the draft agreement signed between the EU and Azerbaijan includes an Azerbaijani commitment to double the capacity of the Southern Gas Corridor to transport at least 20 billion cubic meters annually to the EU by 2027. This will ensure a contribution to the diversification goals outlined in the "RePowerEu" plan, but more importantly, it will facilitate Europe's decoupling from Russian gas. In fact, Azerbaijan has already increased gas deliveries to the EU in 2022.

All that matters is that no one will be able to say, "I didn't know that," when, in order to free ourselves from the blackmail over the energy shortage that followed Russia's aggression against Ukraine, we will find ourselves witnessing that we underestimated the damage caused by another aggressor producing the gas that Western economies are so interested in.

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Senior Fellow of the Machiavelli Center for Political and Strategic Studies. Brigadier General (Aux.) of the Italian Army, member of the Directorate of the NATO Defense College Foundation. For years director of the Middle East Faculty within the NATO Defense College.