Top US senator calls for sanctions on Azerbaijan president amid Armenian genocide warnings

'Without immediate action, this group of Armenians will be destroyed in weeks,' warns Bob Menendez

Demonstrators in Armenia's capital Yerevan, demanding the reopening of a blockaded road linking the Nagorno-Karabakh region to Armenia. AFP
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The US has failed to address the dire humanitarian situation in contested Nagorno-Karabakh, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Menendez said on Tuesday as he called for sanctions on Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev.

Mr Menendez also called for an immediate halt to US aid to Baku in a powerful 15-minute speech on the Senate floor.

“I don't know how the United States can justify spending any kind of support, security or otherwise to the regime in Baku … to send them assistance makes a mockery of [US aid],” he said.

Also known as Artsakh, Nagorno-Karabakh is an internationally recognised part of Azerbaijan, despite having a majority ethnic Armenian population.

Azerbaijan has blockaded the region since December and installed a military checkpoint at the critical Lachin Corridor.

The UN Security Council discussed the blockade in August, after a former International Criminal Court prosecutor said the blockade may amount to a “genocide” against Armenians. Lawyers representing Azerbaijan called the claims unsubstantiated and inaccurate.

The International Association of Genocide Scholars also recently warned of the risk of genocide against the Armenian population in the region.

Mr Menendez called on the US ambassador to the UN to introduce a Security Council resolution that would force an end to the blockade.

The powerful committee chairman held up a photo that allegedly showed the body of an emaciated Armenian in the disputed territory, demonstrating the blockade's impact on civilian health.

He cited videos “of Azerbaijani forces killing unarmed Armenian soldiers in cold blood, reports of Azerbaijani soldiers sexually assaulting and mutilating and Armenian female soldiers,” which he claimed “bears the hallmarks of genocide.”

“We have seen and heard this kind of propaganda throughout history. It is the work of a regime intent on destroying and erasing this ancient Armenian community's history in Nagorno-Karabakh,” Mr Menendez said.

“Without immediate action this group of Armenians will be destroyed within a few weeks.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently spoke to Mr Aliyev by phone, where he “reiterated our call to reopen the Lachin Corridor to humanitarian, commercial and passenger traffic, while recognising the importance of additional routes from Azerbaijan”, the State Department said.

Reuters reported that a Russian lorry carrying food aid for Armenians in the Karabakh city of Khankendi set off via the Aghdam road on Tuesday, amid uncertainty over the sustainability of a potential deal on aid deliveries.

Updated: September 13, 2023, 3:38 AM