Six Key Takeaways from the Ocampo Hearing

On September 6, 2023, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC) held a powerful emergency hearing to discuss the pressing situation in Artsakh, where 120,000 Armenians are being starved by the Azerbaijani government in an effort to exterminate the Armenian population in the region, marking another Armenian Genocide. The hearing was hosted by Commission co-chair Congressman Christopher Smith (R-NJ). Witnesses present at the hearing were former International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo and Director of Columbia University’s Artsakh Atrocities Project and Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University David L. Phillips. 

Following are six key takeaways from the hearing:

  • “There are different forms to commit genocide. One form requires zero victims. Genocide, under Article 2(c) requires just creating conditions to destroy the people…blocking the Lachin Corridor with a life system for the Nagorno-Karabakh people is exactly creating conditions.”

Former ICC prosecutor Ocampo argued that Azerbaijan is currently committing genocide against the people of Artsakh, based on Article 2(c) of the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which states: “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” Azerbaijan’s 265+ day blockade of the Berdzor (Lachin) Corridor has stripped the 120,000 Armenians in Artsakh of access to food, medical supplies and humanitarian aid. If current conditions persist without intervention to put a stop to President Ilham Aliyev’s cruelty, the Armenians in Artsakh will starve to death. 

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  • “The negotiation is between a genocider and his victims. You cannot ask for a negotiation between Hitler and the people in Auschwitz. It’s not a negotiation.” 

Ocampo highlighted that President Aliyev and the people of Artsakh are not equal parties at fault who can come to an agreement through negotiation. The fundamental issue is that Aliyev is the genocidal oppressor, and there cannot be a negotiation between the power committing genocide and the victims. Azerbaijan’s genocide of the Armenians in Artsakh must be stopped, before negotiation is an option. Once the Berdzor (Lachin) Corridor is opened and the 120,000 Armenians in Artsakh have access to the outside world, then negotiations can be discussed. The present situation, however, has no room for negotiation, because Aliyev has made no room. 

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  • “This hearing has two empty chairs. Two. Those of the U.S. Department of State and USAID.”

Chairman Smith pointed out that despite numerous requests, representatives of the U.S. State Department and USAID did not respond to the commission’s invitation to participate in the hearing. “Since 1995, I have chaired hundreds of hearings with State Department or USAID witnesses. This is a unique case of absolute nonresponse,” explained Rep. Smith. The absence of the U.S. Department of State and USAID highlights a lack of accountability or of a justifiable defense of the current policy towards the blockade – a policy that promotes genocide and proposes impossible negotiations between the aggressor and the victims. If there was a policy worth defending or a reasonable claim as to why the United States has chosen not to act, there would surely have been two witnesses present, or a written response as to why they could not be there. 

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  • “Why are we denying this genocide?”

Ocampo posed this question, which requires an answer from the Biden administration. There is ample evidence that there is a genocide being committed against the 120,000 Armenians in Artsakh. The United States, a signatory to the Genocide Convention, is a nation built on the ideal of preserving and protecting democratic ideals at home and abroad. By remaining silent as President Aliyev, who Rep. Christopher Smith noted “rules Azerbaijan with an iron fist as a dictator,” cuts off Artsakh to access to the outside world, including humanitarian aid, the United States is allowing a genocide to take place in the 21st century. 

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  • “By being silent, by not acting, the Biden administration is making a statement that it values Azeri oil and gas more than it does the lives of Armenians in Artsakh.” 

Professor David Phillips identified where American interests come into play. The value of Azerbaijani oil seems great enough to the Biden administration that it can turn a blind eye to the humanitarian crisis in Artsakh and maintain relations with President Aliyev, a dictator who consistently acts in opposition to the U.S. ideal of democracy. American foreign policy is shaped by both ideals and interests, yet it seems ideals have been tossed to the side, as a genocide occurs without any response from the U.S. government. The hypocrisy here is strong, and the only ones who suffer are the people of Artsakh. Until there are consequences to hold Azerbaijan accountable for their actions, there will be no change for the Armenians in Artsakh. 

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  • “Delay is Denial” 

Chairman Smith captured the level of urgency needed from the United States in Artsakh. Delaying a clear and forceful U.S. condemnation of Azerbaijan’s genocide against Artsakh’s Armenia population is effectively complicity in that crime and its denial. U.S. denial and silence in the face of the genocide enable Azerbaijan to act without consequences. This emergency congressional hearing was held before Congress came back in session, because the situation in Artsakh is so pressing. It is essential that action is taken quickly without further delay, as every day counts for the Armenian people in Artsakh. The inability of the U.S. government to put forth a policy to assist the Armenians in Artsakh and condemn Aliyev’s actions is denial. 

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Madeline Bogdjalian

Madeline Bogdjalian

Madeline Bogdjalian is an undergraduate student at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, pursuing a degree in political science with a minor in Middle Eastern Studies. Madeline's academic interests include law and policy. She was a fall 2023 Hovig Apo Saghdejian Capital Gateway Intern in the ANCA's Washington, D.C. headquarters, a staff writer for the College Street Journal at Holy Cross, a member of the Moot Court team, as well as the treasurer of the Worcester "Aram" AYF Chapter.
Madeline Bogdjalian

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