October 7, 2023 - 2:00pm

An apathetic Western world has failed to protect the human rights of innocent civilians yet again. At least, that’s what liberal humanitarians believe. Two weeks ago, Azerbaijan launched an offensive against the disputed territory of Karabakh, driving out its unrecognised Armenian government — and most of the Armenian population along with it. A chorus of voices, including former Hague prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo, has slammed the “international community” for its inaction. Freedom House called for “international advocacy” to protect Armenia and its vibrant “civil society” from “authoritarian regimes”.

It’s a common mistake to chalk up tragedies in the world to Western inaction or negligence. Many well-meaning advocates believe that the West is basically a benevolent force that only needs to be roused to action. But in Karabakh, as in other places, the West itself is part of the problem. Western governments have either actively supported Azerbaijan in its wars against Armenia, or turned a blind eye while bolstering Azerbaijani capabilities.

The relationship between Azerbaijan and NATO member Turkey is often described as “one nation, two states”. The Western-trained and -armed Turkish military often holds drills with the Azerbaijani army. Turkish drones, praised for their ability to hold Russia at bay in Ukraine, rained hellfire on Armenian forces during the 2020 war in Karabakh.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan’s largest arms dealer is Israel, the American sweetheart in the Middle East, which provided about 60% of Azerbaijani arms imports from 2017 to 2020. Israel’s supporters in Washington have also lobbied for Azerbaijan, portraying the former Soviet republic as an oasis of Jewish prosperity in the Muslim world. In return, Azerbaijan sells Israel natural gas. More importantly, Azerbaijan has granted Israel access to staging grounds on the Iranian border, key for both intelligence operations and any future war against Iran.

The United States and Europe have tried to play peacemaker in Karabakh, and now express their concern for the fate of Karabakh’s Armenians. Because public sympathy lies with Armenia — a beleaguered democracy, a Christian-majority state, and a nation of genocide-survivors — politicians in Washington and Brussels have to make a show of caring for Armenians’ human rights. Buoyed by Western funding, thousands of “civil society” NGOs have popped up in Karabakh and Armenia proper. After Karabakh fell, the United States and the European Union immediately offered $16.5 million in aid to Armenian refugees.

Yet these Western powers have historically been far more eager to court Azerbaijan, and to offer that state the tools of hard power. For the last 20 years, the United States has provided Azerbaijan with hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid as a reward for allowing US supply lines in Afghanistan to pass through Azerbaijani territory. A few months ago, the European Union announced a plan to substitute Azerbaijani natural gas for Russian imports, and sweetened the deal with a €2 billion investment offer.

Padded by Western support, Azerbaijan’s economy and military budget has now massively outgrown that of Armenia over the past three decades. The historian Greg Grandin’s description of US policy in Central America seems appropriate for the Western approach towards Karabakh as well: “promote reform and fund militarism, and watch the militarists murder the reformers.”

If anyone in the “international community” was poised to help Armenians, and failed to do so, it was Russia and Iran. Russia has a treaty alliance with Armenia and peacekeepers in Karabakh. Iran had also laid down red lines around Armenia’s sovereignty. During the conflict over Karabakh, however, Moscow and Tehran decided that their obligations towards Armenia did not extend into the disputed territory, and that confronting Azerbaijan over an “internal issue” was not worth the risk.

The most effective international pressure to save Karabakh’s Armenians would have come from Moscow and Tehran, two capitals where liberal humanitarians neither can nor want to exert influence. The West, on the other hand, has already been involved in the war — on the side of Azerbaijan.