Has Azerbaijan finally overplayed its hand?

For decades, our cause has been “intermittent” to a world driven by self-interest. Our lands were not filled with fossil fuels to bribe potential investors and silence willing governments. Our population expansion was truncated by genocide and didn’t offer a strategic presence in resources or geography to a major power. The crime of genocide was mourned internally for half a century until we began the long and arduous, yet inspiring journey of recognition. Even with the tide of recognition shifting to the righteous, justice lives in the shadows. The empowerment of light is what enables these shadows to exist. The world sees us in the shadows because although we have established an identity, it is vague to outsiders and not yet worthy of their full investment. Unlike a mirror which reflects reality, we are struggling to escape the shadows. This was the case in 1894, 1909 and 1915 when the pain of genocide, dispossession and expulsion was our fate. We have not willingly accepted this evil. There were fedayees, gamavors and Sardarabad to set the record straight that we have God-given rights. Apparently, the endless appetite for destruction by the Turks was not satisfied with murder, theft and expulsion. The hopes of the post-Soviet world were met with Turkish blockades and genocidal inspired aggression by Azerbaijan. Once again, the Armenians defended themselves from those who have chosen to steal and destroy rather than build and contribute. The people of Artsakh chose life and freedom in 1988 versus the Azeri dictates of death and assimilation. Those of us who have been witness to their courage and bravery thank God for their inspiration in our lives. At face value, this latest round of Turkish oppression directed at Artsakh and Armenia’s sovereignty is horrific as we struggle for optimism. The world offers plentiful rhetoric. The homeland is slowly emerging from a self-imposed shell. Armenia’s “strategic partner” has manipulated its support to ensure its own influence in the South Caucasus. The diaspora has resources but is hardly an integrated force and is seemingly kept at a distance from making a significant impact. We worry about our brethren and what the end game is for this latest round of attacks.

A rally in solidarity with the Armenians of Artsakh outside the Peace Palace in The Hague as the International Court of Justice was holding public hearings on the Lachin Corridor (Photo: Twitter/@GlblArmMovement)

Most Armenians are frustrated and confused by the lawless nature of the Azerbaijani oppression on the people of Armenia and Artsakh. The human rights resources of Armenia and Artsakh have done a professional job in documenting the countless acts of violence, terror and murder inflicted on civilians, in addition to the violations of international laws and illegal weapons used by the Azerbaijani government. They essentially amount to an utter disregard for international law, human rights and the responsibilities of civilized nations. They are called war crimes. This information has been presented to various forums such as the European Commission on Human Rights, the governments of democratic nations and most recently in a case presented to the court of the United Nations, the International Court of Justice (ICJ). In response to questions published in Aravot, human rights attorney Siranush Sahakyan stressed the importance of waiting for the ruling of the court because, if favorable, it will provide a legal basis for ending the blockade of Artsakh. This case, which was recently argued before the court and is now awaiting the court’s judgment, is under an “urgent and interim” review. Still, Sahakyan warns that it could still be up to two weeks before a decision is rendered. Her view is that Armenia has a strong case, and the Azeri arguments of illegal mine placement, for example, are artificial and unfounded. Of course, enforcement of the judgment is always a concern, and Sahakyan stated that if a state fails to comply with the court’s decision and since the court operates under the auspices of the UN, it is a direct “threat to the authority of that institution.” Finally, she pointed out Azerbaijan’s earlier request to the European Court for an “immediate measure” which was rejected. It seems reasonable to conclude that despite millions spent in “petro-influence peddling,” the Azerbaijanis may be putting themselves in a corner.

The rogue state of Azerbaijan with the assistance of genocide denier Turkey has maintained a consistent strategy with the intent of destroying Armenian sovereignty. Funded by their energy dominated economy, Azerbaijan has bought or silenced a significant portion of the functioning nations of the world as they embark on revisionist history and international terror. Their diplomatic initiatives have been a combination of de facto extortion and token participation in initiatives they consistently renege on in favor of unilateral aggression. The Azeris have relied on a world that tolerates their criminal behavior in return for oil and gas contracts within changing global supply and demand. Israel, for example, has subordinated any moral priority to utilize Azerbaijan as a military market and spy base to Iran as Azerbaijan supplies 40 percent of their energy needs. While continuing to deny the Armenian Genocide, Israel has been complicit in the deaths of innocent and peaceful Armenians with the sale of destructive weapons to criminal Azerbaijan. I can only imagine the moral dilemma of sympathetic Jewish Americans with this behavior. Even the United States has refused to implement the 907 provision to block military aid to Azerbaijan.

The blockade of Artsakh may be the end of the line for Azerbaijan’s free pass. When conflicts are limited to political issues, it is easier for nations to hide behind their “neutrality” and not commit to overt preventative action. Artsakh has done its utmost to make a political, legal and moral case for self-determination. Despite this, most nations will defer to Azerbaijan’s “territorial integrity” because it serves their interest. After all, the next claim of “self-determination” may be against them. With the horrific blockade, the conflict has escalated to a humanitarian crisis of potential genocidal proportions. The political debate and other areas of conflict have been subordinated, and the humanitarian crime has been given singular visibility. It has an unprecedented urgency to it. The impatience of Aliyev to force the capitulation of the Armenians has finally created an error on his part. When people are intentionally denied the basis of life support, there is no room for the “balanced” comments that both sides should avoid violence and “work together” that Armenians have heard from an ambivalent world while the Azeris are free to commit crimes. Those utterly frustrating statements have been replaced with countless direct calls for the Lachin Corridor to reopen immediately. They are coming from individual governments, organizations and collective bodies. The message to Aliyev is clear. You have gone too far with your offensive tactics. Most Armenians will respond with, “It’s about time!” But we need to count our blessings at this point. Only Russia continues to straddle the line as Lavrov and Russia’s Ministry of Defense offer messages of hope and vagueness. This comes, of course, from the nation directly responsible for the integrity of the Lachin Corridor. It is obvious that Russia’s duplicity is driven by its dissatisfaction with Armenia and a desire to extract more control. This is a time for all Armenians to remain strong with clear resolve. Azerbaijan cannot sustain its blockade without paying a substantial price in leverage and credibility as a result of what is viewed as a deliberate humanitarian crime. With his pulse on genocidal acts, Aliyev will be compared to other authors of humanitarian atrocities. This is why the decision on the ICJ case is so important.

It will give Artsakh some ground to function on to resolve the blockade. If the judgment favors the Armenians, Aliyev must comply or face the ramifications. It may finally open the door to sanctions. In a related comment, I am always in favor of Armenia standing for human rights and humanitarian causes. Therefore, the response of the Pashinyan administration to dispatch rescue units and aid to Turkey and Syria for earthquake relief is the correct one. I would like to see the same resolve to get airlifts and ground transport into Artsakh from the RoA side. Diplomatic initiatives are important, but we have a responsibility to resist and challenge oppression.

The cracks in the filthy armor of the dictatorship of Azerbaijan are beginning to become visible. The western democracies will tolerate their political games, but overt humanitarian terror is simply too visible and has a negative perception for their self-interest. Continued resistance and a campaign of international media visibility are our collective responsibilityour Artsakh brothers and sisters, the diaspora and the Republic of Armenia. Azerbaijan is doing an effective job of outlining why they cannot have a governance relationship with Artsakh. The evidence has been ample, but it is now indisputable to even a casual observer. Armenians must learn from this experience that we are weak only if that is our self perception; that we have little to offer only if we subordinate ourselves; and that there are many effective ways to resist. It usually does not end well for regimes of terror that deny their citizens and others basic human rights. Eventually, those who have enabled their behavior with tolerance grow impatient as the oppression continues. Azerbaijan’s commitment to terror has become a red flag for some of our reluctant sympathizers. Aliyev has overplayed his hand. Stay strong, Armenian nation! 

Stepan Piligian

Stepan Piligian

Stepan was raised in the Armenian community of Indian Orchard, MA at the St. Gregory Parish. A former member of the AYF Central Executive and the Eastern Prelacy Executive Council, he also served many years as a delegate to the Eastern Diocesan Assembly. Currently , he serves as a member of the board and executive committee of the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR). He also serves on the board of the Armenian Heritage Foundation. Stepan is a retired executive in the computer storage industry and resides in the Boston area with his wife Susan. He has spent many years as a volunteer teacher of Armenian history and contemporary issues to the young generation and adults at schools, camps and churches. His interests include the Armenian diaspora, Armenia, sports and reading.


  1. The Aliyev regime may seem to hold most of the cards now, but in the near-to-medium term the regime will be under tremendous stress as oil fields dry up (its ACG field, accounting for 90%+ of exported oil, is project by World Bank to be depleted within 5 years, with no replacement fields found). Natural gas exports, which bring in only ~1/10th the revenue of oil, are nowhere near able to sustain the budget. Non-oil exports are trivial (after hydrocarbons, the #2 export of Azerbaijan is tomatoes). Chevron has already departed Azerbaijan, and ExxonMobil has been seeking to do so since 2020. The bleak oil production outlook means a reckoning for the regime in the next 5-7 years or earlier, which will be worse than Venezuela; the cracks showed in 2016 and 2020. This is what keeps Aliyev and the ruling clan up at night.

  2. Good points. I think Azerbajan exported merely 8 billion cubic meters (BCM) of natural gas to Europe over the last year (2022). EU consumes about 400 BCM per year.
    You can do the math…

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