Exodus from Nagorno-Karabakh amounts to war crime: Legal experts
International legal experts believe that the mass flight of Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh following a long blockade and the recent military offensive by Azerbaijan has essentially been caused by a "coercive environment," which according to the International Criminal Court's (ICC) founding documents can be created not necessarily only by actual physical force but also by fear of violence, detention and oppression, and that such a forcible deportation of Armenians amounts to war crime.
Nearly 100,000 people, over three quarters of the entire Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh, have fled their home country amid fears of ethnic cleansing and crossed into Armenia as of Friday evening.
A "coercive environment" was created in Nagorno-Karabakh before the offensive by Azerbaijan's obstruction of essential supplies, Reuters cited international lawyer Priya Pillai and Melanie O'Brien, visiting professor at the University of Minnesota and president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars.
"So the fear/apprehension of the population - due to the coercive environment created by the months-long blockade and the recent armed attack - would meet the threshold for this crime," Pillai said, adding that it would be a more severe "crime against humanity" if considered to be part of a widespread attack.
There is, however, no swift path to prosecution, Reuters noted, because neither state belongs to the ICC, the permanent tribunal for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
O'Brien believes the blockade - which Baku said was needed to prevent weapons smuggling - was in effect the start of a genocide because it was implemented with the aim of "deliberately inflicting conditions of life designed to bring about the physical destruction of the targeted group".
The first prosecutor of the ICC, Luis Moreno Ocampo, agreed with O'Brien's argumentation, noting that a ruling of genocide did not require mass killings.
"For me, it's obviously a genocide," he said.
The Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention, a legal think-tank, warned in a 127-page report on 5 September, days before Azerbaijan's offensive, of the dire potential consequences.
"It would almost assuredly result in the forced displacement of Armenians from Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) and the widespread commission of genocidal atrocities, reflecting those committed in the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War of 2020 and subsequent hostilities," it said.
"If the Armenians of Artsakh were to be displaced (...) it would result in the genocidal destruction of a people, as the Artsakh Armenians would lose their distinct identity."
Photo: Refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh sit in a bus upon their arrival in the border village of Kornidzor, Armenia, on 29 September 2023 (Reuters)