A weeping woman speaks about her son and grandson, who only days ago were killed in the war. Her other grandson who is still missing. They fled from their home with only a change of clothes, leaving behind a prosperous life, a big house with full cellars, everything they had created for years. The loss sinks deep, not only of loved ones and material possessions, but of basic human rights.
Nushik Gharayan from Hadrut can no longer fathom living next to an Azerbaijani, “My children are no longer alive, how can I? Maybe in a hundred years this will be forgotten… We have cut too deep, we have hurt one another too deeply.
The videos published by the Azerbaijani side are unspeakably excruciating. Imagine people having to watch soldiers in what used to be their homes, playing dhol on their pots while cursing Armenians; having to watch the cruel, inhumane treatment towards the prisoners of war. “The damned Internet… they post it for you to see and break your heart,” says Gharayan.
We live at a time when speaking of rights elicits a smirk as a response. People turn around and ask – where are those rights? Where was the world and humanity looking when they attacked with mercenaries, when a nine-year-old child was killed, when peaceful residents became hostages, when the old man was tortured?
Yes, sometimes the interests of the powers that are supposed to uphold the rule of law and the interests of our small country do not coincide. Yes, their humanity is often selective. Sometimes, those interests take precedence over the rights of humans. When their interests coincide, they can hold rank next to the force that has set out to destroy lives and be slow to document the fact that the basic rights of thousands of children are violated in your country.
Still, this does not mean that we cannot show them that they have deviated from the very values they preach. It also does not mean that we should not stand for our rights and fight to restore our violated rights on our own. We can defend ourselves. When we have a state, we can defend ourselves in a more organized and consistent manner (presuming one still exists).
When two states are at war, their institutions also collide. This is a “test” for them. One could argue that the human rights institutes of Armenia were proficient during this war. They documented the war crimes, issued interim reports (1, 2), and presented them to their international colleagues. This documentation is essential evidence to be used to achieve justice in the future.
Within the scope of their mandate, human rights lawyers not only officially registered but also identified those who are in Azerbaijani captivity. They filed cases at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) demanding the preservation of people’s right to life, health and other basic rights. Their efforts guaranteed the survival of these people. And a few days ago, 45 Armenian POWs returned home from Azerbaijani captivity.
As mandated by the situation and the times we live in, today, we view human rights from the perspective of war; we try to seek and find solutions in international humanitarian law.
However, if we are honest, since the war and even today, we have not been consistent in demanding our rights be respected in our daily life. For example, we stay silent as the doctor discusses our personal information in front of other patients, as uncomfortable as that makes us. We feel uneasy to question when our children’s school is collecting money for some proclaimed “good cause,” restricting our right to free will. We keep silent, we adapt and we forget about violations.
Yes, now that we are facing a national catastrophe, these examples sound petty, but to have a lawful state we should also have the will to protect our rights even when they seem unimportant. Human rights are the guarantor of a dignified life, necessary to create and become stronger. In our own country.