Panel Held at MIT Featuring Artsakh Ombudsman and Former Armenian Ambassador to U.S.


‘Spotlight on Nagorno-Karabagh: The Four Day War and its Aftermath – Perspectives on Security, Diplomacy, and the Prospects for a Lasting Peace,’ Took Place on March 9

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – On March 9, the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR)/Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Lecture Series on Contemporary Armenian Issues, in conjunction with the MIT Armenian Society (MITAS), presented a panel discussion titled “Spotlight on Nagorno-Karabagh: The Four Day War and its Aftermath – Perspectives on Security, Diplomacy, and the Prospects for a Lasting Peace” at MIT.

Artsakh Ombudsman Ruben Melikyan presenting (Photo: The Armenian Weekly)

Held at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the panel was moderated by Tufenkian Foundation program director Dr. Antranig Kasbarian and featured panelists Ruben Melikyan (Artsakh Ombudsman), Ani Sargsyan (Tavitian Scholar at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy/NKR Foreign Ministry spokesperson), and Ambassador Rouben Shougarian (Tufts University Professor and Armenia’s first Ambassador to the U.S.).

The event began with a set of brief remarks by Marc Mamigonian, NAASR’s Director of Academic Affairs, who spoke about the recent works of NAASR and their cooperation with student organizations in the Boston area.

Former Tavitian scholar at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Ombudsman Melikyan presented the human rights report he published following the April War that took place between Artsakh and Azerbaijan in 2016. Melikyan began by noting that he refers to the events of April as the “April War”—not the often-used “Four Day War”—since fighting and heavy casualties continued until the end of April 2016.

Melikyan explained that the first interim report, which included war crimes against civilians, war crimes against Artsakh Defense Army servicemen, and Armenophobia was published on April 21, 2016. He defined Armenophobia as “a policy of the Azerbaijani state by injecting hatred into the Azerbaijani society toward Armenians.” He recalled his experiences with it and stressed that it was a very crucial aspect of the first interim report.

According to the Ombudsman, the second document produced was a legal assessment issued on May 2, which covered indiscriminate attacks and human shielding. He added that these first two documents were produced using open sources.

Following his appointment as the human rights defender, he began an independent fact finding mission in May to create a report analyzing all the human rights violations from the April War. Melikyan explained that his methodology consisted of on-site visits, interviews, data requests from relevant authorities, consultations with experts, and the monitoring of open sources.

Melikyan said that the report was ultimately published in Talish—the site of much Azerbaijani aggression—on on Dec. 9, the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims, with two additions: one private and one public.

Melikyan’s report covered definitions of relevant war crimes, facts of atrocities, responsibility, and his conclusions.

In regards to the war crimes, his presentation listed the different types of crimes committed by Azerbaijan including torture, execution, and mutilation. He provided the statistics and geographic locations of where the violations occurred.

“The martyrs seemed to be executed simply for being Armenian,” said Melikyan during his presentation. “This evidence is even stronger today, following the recent events, than it was on Dec. 9,” he added.

During his presentation, Melikyan also displayed videos that were posted on social media by Azerbaijani’s portraying the inhuman acts they committed during the war. The videos were taken down shortly after being posted but were downloaded by the human rights defender’s office to use as evidence.

“It was a systemic and well organized nature as they were done in all regiments of the Azerbaijani Defense Army,” added Melikyan.

The statements by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) condemning the violence but failing to blame one side was also mentioned in Melikyan’s report.

“We have many details of alleged atrocities by the Azerbaijani side,” said Melikyan. “War crimes are war crimes everywhere and we need to handle them.”

Melikyan concluded his report by bringing up the recent escalation in late February in Martuni and Askeran—the most serious escalations since the April 2016. In this case, the Azerbaijani side suffered five casualties. He reiterated that there was a lack of reaction from the international community, which has lead to further impunity of the Azerbaijani side. “This is very dangerous,” said Melikyan.

His report concluded with a poll, which showed that the main concern of the Artsakh population is their security.

In between the panelists, moderator Dr. Antranig Kasbarian addressed questions ranging from the factors that facilitated the April 2016 war, what was learned from it, and how do the different role players view the dispute.

As he expressed some of his opinions, Kasbarian explained how he believed that a part of why the war was sparked was Azerbaijan’s desire to test out some of its new weaponry. He added that Artsakh’s presence at the negotiating table is essential and that principles like the Madrid principles need to be revaluated in light of these human right violations being committed by Azerbaijan.

Panelist Ani Sargsyan discussed a series of points that explained Azerbaijan’s intentional provocation of war last April. She explained how Azerbaijan had been preparing actively by building up their military and had also instigated anti-Armenian sentiments in the country.

Sargsyan also mentioned that Azerbaijan had rejected any suggestions made on the negotiating table ranging from removal of snipers, placing an OSCE office in Yerevan, and the implementation of mechanisms to track who violates the ceasefire.

She noted that in the last year, the caliber of the weaponry used my Azerbaijan has steadily increased. She mentioned that based on its actions, Azerbaijan shows that their attempt at solving the issue is only by resorting through military means.

She concluded her remarks by stressing that efforts need to be concentrated on implementing the use of mechanisms at the Line of Contact (LoC) in order to ensure a peaceful coexistence of Nagorno-Karabagh and Azerbaijan.

Ambassador Shougarian began his presentation by discussing the need for Armenia to readjust its negotiating position in this conflict. Shougarian touched upon the seriousness of the issue and added how a once local issue has now transitioned into a global security concern.

“It became a unique example of Russian, American, and European cooperation in the former Soviet Union,” said Shougarian when explaining the complexity of the case.

According to Shougarian, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s statements regarding shooting down civilian aircrafts in Artsakh, the Ramil Safarov case, and the April War are significant because how these events happened can be compared to ISIS.

“The style, the beheading, mutilation, and torture, is showing that Azerbaijan is trying to transform this conflict into a religious one,” said Shougarian. “It is not a religious conflict, but the fact that Azerbaijan is trying to transform it needs to be spoken about today.”

Shougarian then went on to explain the notion of responsibility to protect and how the international community needs to interfere in the sovereignty of the state if that state persecutes and commits crime against their own people.

“Azerbaijan considers the people of Nagorno-Karabagh their citizens, and if that’s the case, the crimes committed against them should not be tolerated by the international community,” said Shougarian.

“Nagorno-Karabagh was able to win against Azerbaijan in the first war, but the price they paid was international recognition,” added Shougarian.

Shougarian stressed that that because Karabagh is facing this constant threat, a message to the international community needs to be sent in addition to territorial integrity and self-determination, which is remedial recognition.

Following the panelist’s remarks, several questions by audience members were asked that addressed the role of Russia and the OSCE, the effect of the Trump administration, Artsakh’s recognition by Armenia and the international communtiry, and Artsakh’s current state of preparedness.

Efforts by Armenia to stop “playing by the rules” and criticisms of how Armenia and its Foreign Ministry handled the situation during the April War were also discussed during the question and answer period.

Dickran Khodanian

Dickran Khodanian

Dickran Khodanian is an LA-based entrepreneur, researcher and writer who holds a Master's Degree from Boston University in History and a Bachelor's Degree from California State University, Northridge in History and Armenian Studies. He has served as the former Communications Director of the Armenian National Committee of America - Western Region (ANCA-WR) as well as the assistant editor of both Asbarez News and the Armenian Weekly. He plans to pursue a Ph.D. in History in the future. His research interests include Artsakh, the Armenian Diaspora and cuisine.

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