In light of the increased manifestations of hatred in Azerbaijan against the Armenians, Azerbaijan’s increasing military strength and the rise in internal tensions there, it is feared that if war breaks out again between Azerbaijan and the Armenians in the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, there will be massacres against the Armenian population in that contested region.
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And yet, despite the handwriting on the wall, last month Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon flew to Azerbaijan to meet with the heads of its military and state, including the president.
As far as the Armenians are concerned, the conflict with the Azeris is a fight for survival, a fight for their right to live in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Next year will mark 100 years since the genocide against the Armenian people. An Azeri assault, if one takes place, could be a sorrowful reminder of the events of those days.
But perhaps it is not too late to prevent escalation. Israel has a moral obligation in this matter, beyond its international obligations. It would be very serious if it turned out that Azerbaijan’s security forces committed war crimes and crimes against humanity using Israeli weapons.
During my visit to Armenia last May, to receive a prize from the Armenian president, I was told about the tension in Nagorno-Karabakh, which is mostly populated by Armenians (as a result of the imperialist policies of the Soviet Union).
This tension is the result of the six-year war in the region between the Armenian inhabitants and Azerbaijan, during which some 30,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands were forced to leave their homes.
The Armenians, who were fighting for their homes, were able to overcome the Azeri army, which was much stronger than they were, and were able to maintain control of the region. In 1994, a fragile, Russian-brokered cease-fire was arranged.
However, 20 years later, international efforts to urge the Armenians and Azeris to an agreed-on solution have been unsuccessful. On my visit to Armenia, I heard the Armenian complaints about escalation in the region and about war crimes committed by Azerbaijan.
I was also told about breaches of the cease-fire agreement by Azerbaijan just recently, and about Israel’s involvement in the conflict. It seems that the Azeris are trying to goad the Armenians into responding to breaches of the agreement, so the Azeris will have an ostensible reason to take over the enclave.
In early August, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev visited the front and told the soldiers, “We have weapons we have purchased from foreign sources, which meet the highest standards in the world.”
Russia and many other countries, among them the United States and France, have condemned the escalation, and said that the only solution to the conflict is diplomatic.
With the outbreak of the war, in 1992, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe asked its member states to ban export of weapons to those involved in the conflict in Ngorno-Karabakh. Britain and Germany prohibit the export of weapons to Azerbaijan and, as far as we know, the United States does not permit the export of weapons to that country over concerns that it could be used against Armenia.
According to reports in the foreign press, in recent years Israel is one of the leading exporters of weapons to Azerbaijan – if not the primary one.
Together with Russia, Israel is openly ignoring the weapons embargo. In February 2012, foreign media outlets and Haaretz reported that Israel signed an agreement to supply $1.6 billion-worth of weapons to Azerbaijan. At least two Israeli drones have fallen in Ngorno-Karabakh, the latest one this past August.
This is not the first time Israel has supplied weapons to a country that is committing genocide. Israel sold weapons to the Serbs during the Balkan war in the early 1990s, during which time the United Nations had imposed an embargo.
The sale of weapons to a government committing genocide is like the sale of weapons to Nazi Germany during World War II.
Israel must refrain from such acts also because we are a people of Holocaust survivors. A tragic crime and humanitarian disaster could take place in the centennial year of the Armenian genocide, which continues to go unrecognized by most countries.
In mid-August, attorney Eitay Mack and I submitted an urgent request to Dubi Lavi, the head of the department in the Defense Ministry that monitors weapons exports, to stop Israel’s weapons sales to Azerbaijan. We demanded that he use his authority to revoke or delay permits that the Defense Ministry has given for such sales, at least until the end of the current escalation.
We received an answer that hardly heralds change: “We have closely examined the statements in your letter. Security export is carefully examined considerations of human rights and conflict zones worldwide are seriously weighed.”
The writer and Eitay Mack are working to make public the sales of Israeli weapons to countries who commit war crimes and crimes against humanity.