AND IN OTHER NEWS: Armenians In Karabakh Under Siege

Armenians around the world continue to bring attention to the blockade, including the superstar Cher through an op-ed in Newsweek. President Aliyev’s calculation that he could impose the blockade without any notice or harm to his reputation was clearly wrong, but the question remains if it will matter as the world still treats him with kid gloves in deference to gas deals.

A central figure in the blockade has been the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has consistently been the only international humanitarian group allowed to operate in Nagorno-Karabakh. It tweeted out a progress report of what it has been doing to get food and medicine and reunite separated families. Their presence is constantly used by Azerbaijani propagandists to assert there is no blockade or humanitarian crisis, despite the obvious fact that the Red Cross is a humanitarian organization which responds to humanitarian crises. Despite the assurances of propagandists like Huseyn that “everything is fine” and Armenians are receiving what they need, the entire population cannot rely on the Red Cross’s emergency services indefinitely: a form of ‘soft ethnic cleansing’ which will break the population’s will and lead them to flee the moment the opportunity is given.

Meanwhile, how are the “Lachin protests” going? Let’s just say things there have gotten pretty weird. American and European visitors have also been brought in to make the site into some sort of perverse tourist attraction.

As the truth of the siege against Armenians brings new attention in international outlets, Azerbaijan has relied on Adnan Huseyn, a digital marketer who “coincidentally” decided to join the protests on the very first day. He’s been making extremely repetitive daily videos on location – standing in front of Red Cross vehicles driving by saying “see, there’s no blockade!”, along with issuing periodic frustrated rants about how nobody believes him. His latest video only got 15 views, something he blames on Armenians. Then on Sunday he declared that all Armenians who have wanted self-determination will be “deported” from their homes in Karabakh, which is in line with the warnings and fears being issued now about where Azerbaijan’s plans are headed.

Noted journalist Amberin Zaman is the latest international reporter to visit the region and reported from Goris in Al-Monitor, talking with people who have been trapped on one side of the blockade. She quotes the Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Vahan Kostanyan, who laid out the reason for the blockade: “Azerbaijan has three objectives: the ethnic cleansing of Nagorno-Karabakh, to provoke large-scale military tension in the region and finally to push the Armenian side to give Azerbaijan an extra-territorial corridor.”

Political figures continue to speak out about the blockade and ask questions of their governments on what action will be taken, as seen here from British MP Rupa Huq, particularly notable due to the United Kingdom’s stridently pro-Azerbaijani policies due to oil deals (the UK still does not even recognize the Armenian Genocide). Such videos are amassing far more than 15 views on social media;for example, this one has been viewed over 40,000 times.

California Governor Gavin Newsom replied to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s latest call to open the road and remove the blockade. Azerbaijani claims that the blockade is a lie are so divorced from reality and totally ignored by world leaders that major articles on the topic only quote Azerbaijani officials in relation to what they expect to gain from the blockade. Those who are pushing the “blockade is a lie” narrative are not even entertained anymore and have made themselves completely irrelevant,

A reminder that “eco-protesters” aren’t the only ones able to mobilize, Armenian-Americans from all over the US descended on the US Capitol last week to demand changes to US policy in order to hold Azerbaijan accountable for its actions. They were joined by congressmen including the ever-supportive Rep. Frank Pallone.

This story is worth highlighting because it shows how the Azerbaijani “ecological” ploy for closing the Lachin Corridor has been working. Last round-up, we brought you the story of how a “spin campaign blew up in Azerbaijan’s face”, in which the UK-based lobbying group BTP+Advisers was revealed working for the Azerbaijani government to promote the ‘eco-protest’, even though the government claims it is not behind the campaign. The lobbyists “tricked” a New Zealand scientist to sign-off on a pre-written op-ed piece in support of the eco-protest, but he rescinded his signature when he learned the full story behind the Lachin crisis and the whistle was blown on the operation. However in a creative move, Azerbaijan has sued Armenia on environmental grounds under the Bern Convention, news which received this write-up from an environmental law-focused journalist who saw it as a unique story in her field. The article lacks any context on the Lachin crisis, and as it turns out the author was completely unaware of it.

Furthermore, as this international lawyer tweeted, in his opinion it is not clear if Azerbaijan even has the grounds to sue under the Bern Convention and the entire case is much ado about nothing. Another grand distraction to try and co-opt the passion for environmental activism onto its side against Armenians, despite the fact as a fossil fuels producer and major polluter, Azerbaijan is emblematic of everything the environmental movement opposes.

The author received a tidal wave of protest, to which she defended herself in saying she had no idea about the Lachin crisis and that she was merely approaching it from the perspective of environmental law, “but context IS important, and it might not have been deep enough here”, and thanked the many people who contacted her to set the record straight. Most interesting among her tweet thread is the mention that Azerbaijan has filed a legal case and “publicises it with the help of top US lawyers & communication agencies”. We already know BTP+Advisers has been on the case, but they are not American and they were not in contact with the author. Therefore, the implication is that there are more lobbyists trying to get traction for the “eco-protesters” claims, and likely they were the ones who reached out to this author and likely others trying to get an article out of it, which they did. It comes as no surprise Azerbaijan has more than just one lobbyist on the case, the tentacles of the “Azerbaijani Laundromat” are far reaching, but it’s important to understand how exactly they are operating, and this incident gives important insight.

The past few weeks have shown that the Karabakh Armenians aren’t the only ones under threat. This video of an attack by far-right Israelis on an Armenian wine bar in Jerusalem is the latest escalation in what has been decades of attacks, everything from Armenian clerics being spat upon to threats against the community. This attack was followed by another one in which an attempt was made to remove the Armenian flags from the Jerusalem Patriarchate, while yelling about how they intended to erase the Armenian Quarter in a bid to “Israelify” the whole city. Such attacks come in the midst of wider political turmoil in Israel, with far right groups having an ascendency while mass rallies have been held against them as well. And possibly as importantly, these new sorts of attacks come at a time when the Azerbaijan-Israel axis is strong.

The attacks were condemned by Israeli figures on social media, as the small community holds its breath. The parallels with arbitrary attacks on Israel’s Palestinians is not to be dismissed.

While all this is unfolding, hateful fliers appeared in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, alluding to the close ties between Azerbaijan and Israel and stating they will “wipe Armenia off the map”. Despite the frightening message, the fliers were written in an almost cartoonish way, and it is unknown who is responsible. Nevertheless their upsetting hateful nature triggered a profound response, especially in context of the various threats to Armenians now ongoing globally. Many organizations such as the ADL condemned them and individuals rallied to support the LA area Armenian community.

Last week Armenia and Azerbaijan were at the International Court of Justice on the latest hearings related to the “Application of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD)”, with a focus on the blockade as further evidence of an attempt at racially purging Armenians from the area. Both sides must prove that actions against them are racially motivated and that the court has jurisdiction to address it under CERD, a tall order for both sides.

On the US diplomatic front, Secretary of State Blinken announced the appointment of Louis L. Bono to replace departing Ambassador Philip Reeker. It seems like only yesterday we had included Blinken’s tweet of Reeker’s appointment, actually little more than five months ago. One thing to note, unlike Reeker’s tweet, there is no mention of becoming Minsk Group Co-Chair. Azerbaijan often brags about having “killed” the Minsk Group platform for conflict negotiation and bristles at any mention of it. Perhaps this is tacit recognition from the United States of that, especially given the very raw nerves around US-Russia relations, as Russia is one of the other Minsk Group co-chairs, along with France.

In addition, there is also a new US Ambassador to Armenia, Kristina Kvien, who had been serving as charge d’affaires at the US embassy in Kyiv. This tweet was posted by her fellow Ambassador to Armenia John Heffern (2011-14). She replaces Ambassador Lynne Tracy, who served at a critically consequential time for Armenia and the region.

Now for something different, listeners of National Public Radio in the United States heard Armenian-American Dr. Patricia Kaishian discuss whether we have to worry about whether a “zombifying fungus” could take over minds and lead to the Apocalypse. Seriously though, the mycologist was called upon in regards to the massive popularity of the HBO drama series “The Last of Us” which is based on that very scenario. Mycology, the study of fungi, has gained a great deal of popularity in recent years, and Dr. Kaishian is one of the founders of International Congress of Armenian Mycologists (ICAM) which promotes the study in the homeland. One fascinating fact, contrary to what you might think, fungi are more closely related to humans than to plants!

On second thought, perhaps a zombifying fungus might help explain what’s going on at the Lachin Corridor protest video we shared above…

Finally, set your calendars for this Tuesday February 7, when an episode of PBS’s show Finding Your Roots will trace the ancestry of actor Joe Manganiello. He has spoken in the past about his great-grandmother’s survival of the Armenian Genocide, and this episode will delve deeper into her experience during it, while also discovering surprises such as how another branch of his family is actually of African-American descent.

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