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NDP pressures Liberals to act on Nagorno-Karabakh crisis, impose sanctions

The federal New Democrats are calling on Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly to take action against Azerbaijan in light of escalating violence involving ethnic Armenians in its Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Last week Azerbaijan launched a military offensive on the 120,000 residents of Nagorno-Karabakh in the latest chapter of a years-long conflict between Azerbaijan and neighbouring Armenia. Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but it is mostly populated by Armenians, and Armenia has fought for control of the region for decades.

As a result of the blitz, separatist authorities agreed to lay down their weapons and discuss Nagorno-Karabakh's "reintegration" into Azerbaijan after decades of separatist rule.

Since then, The Associated Press reports, around 28,000 people – about 23 per cent of the region's population – have fled across the border into Armenia.

The attack comes at the end of a 10-month blockade of the region that organizations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Committee of the Red Cross say severely restricted the delivery of food, medicine, baby formula and other essentials into the contested region.

Azerbaijan has pledged that they will respect the rights of ethnic Armenian residents in the region and restore the flow of supplies restricted during the blockade, but many locals are still fleeing due to the fear of reprisals. The Armenian government confirmed 6,500 Nagorno-Karabakh residents had fled to Armenia as of Monday evening.

According to a letter to Joly penned by NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson and NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice, the most recent attack has killed "hundreds" and wounded many more.

“Many observers are suggesting this attack is an attempt by Azerbaijan to ethnically cleanse the region, which would be a most serious violation of international law,” the letter states.

Though an official death toll has not been released, one witness who asked not to be named told The Associated Press the village was heavily shelled and that "almost no one is left." Another witness, 69-year-old Petya Grigoryan told Reuters the dead in his Karabakh village were being transported by the truckload. At least 20 people were also killed and nearly 300 others were injured in an explosion at a crowded gas station in Nagorno-Karabakh on Monday.

The Associated Press reports that thousands of Nagorno-Karabakh residents fled to Stepanakert airport on Sept. 20 to escape the attack.

"We ask Canada to immediately consider imposing targeted sanctions on Azerbaijani individuals and entities responsible for violations of international law and human rights abuses in the region," reads the Sept. 22 letter to Joly signed by McPherson and Boulerice.

"Further, we urge Canada to do everything possible to move diplomatic talks forward and ensure a robust and comprehensive dialogue between all parties."

The letter, which does not name specific individuals, also urges the Canadian government to increase its humanitarian aid budget for the region.

"Canada must send a strong message that conduct cannot be tolerated by the international Community," the letter reads. "We must always stand up for justice and human rights. We have a responsibility to act, and we urge you to do so today."

The Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan called the letter “extremely concerning” in a statement sent to on Tuesday, saying that McPherson and Boulerice are “making public accusations that do not correspond to official statements made by both Azerbaijan and Armenia and the realities on the ground.”

The embassy inquired as to why McPherson and Boulerice did not mention and condemn actions made by Armenian forces over the course of the decades-long conflict, such as the 1992 Khojaly massacre, in which 613 Azerbaijani civilians were killed.

“Not once have these MPs called for the withdrawal of the illegal Armenian military groups from Azerbaijan’s sovereign territory, which could have finally enabled a rules-based peace process to achieve lasting peace in the region,” the embassy wrote.

It characterized Azerbaijan’s military actions as “legitimate measures to eliminate illegal Armenian military forces stationed in its sovereign territories,” which posed a “continuous terrorist threat” preventing some 700,000 Azerbaijani civilians who were pushed out of the region by invading Armenian forces from returning, according to the embassy.

The embassy also called fears of ethnic cleansing an “absurd accusation.”

Armenia has said it is prepared to accommodate up to 40,000 Armenians fleeing the region. 

The last time tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia came to such a dramatic head was during an armed conflict in 2020 that lasted for six weeks. During that war, more than 6,700 people died in combat as Azerbaijan reclaimed large swaths of Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent territories that had been held for decades by Armenian forces.

During a pre-Cabinet media scrum on Tuesday morning, Joly did not directly address the NDP's call to action, but said the federal government will have a better understanding of what's happening in the region once its new ambassador to Armenia arrives in the city of Yerevan.

"We (have) been in contact with many members of the community and my hearts and thoughts are with the Armenian community… that are going through a very difficult moment right now," she said.

"We call on Azerbaijan to stop hostilities. We call on Azerbaijan to offer humanitarian access and to protect civilians."

In a tweet on Monday, Bob Rae, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations in New York, called the international reaction to the attack "a complete failure of global diplomacy in the face of ethnic cleansing."

The United Nations Security Council met on Sept. 21 to assess the crisis, but according to a statement issued the next day by the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention, failed to reach a consensus on possible solutions.

"No action was taken by the Security Council to address the ongoing, constantly changing crisis," the statement alleges.

For its part, the Canadian government in July sent two delegates to join the unarmed European Union mission in Armenia to help prevent another war with Azerbaijan, and in August, Global Affairs Canada said in a social media post that Azerbaijan should comply with the International Court of Justice's order to allow the "unimpeded movement of persons, vehicles and cargo" into the region.

This month, Canada also opened an embassy in Yerevan, naming Andrew Turner as Canada's new ambassador to Armenia.

– With files from Reuters, The Canadian Press and The Associated Press Top Stories



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