The Azeris have set up a military blockade on the main artery to Nagorno-Karabakh, home to 120,000 Armenian Christians in an odd territory that left them surrounded by Azerbaijan after land was divvied up by former Russian dictator Joseph Stalin.
Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but its people are ethnic Armenians. Regardless what the maps say, it remains a contested region.
Appearing on Washington Watch Friday, Sam Brownback – the former U.S. Ambassador at-large for International Religious Freedom – said it's an age-old story.
"This is a kind of replay that we've seen throughout the Middle East of ancient Christian populations being strangled and run out by a radical Muslim country and individuals," Brownback said. "The road going in is being shut off by Azerbaijan, and you've got these 120,000 Christians being strangled and starved to death."
That road is essentially the link to the outside world for this part of Armenia. Medicine and food have become issues, Brownback told show host Jody Hice. Both Azerbaijan and Armenia have claimed border shootings by the other since the checkpoint was set up, according to Aljazeera.
Brownback (pictured) says the U.S. has considerable leverage to use against Azerbaijan if it would simply stop supplying weapons and encourage Israel and Turkey to do the same.
"There's a substantial Armenian community in the United States because so many of them have gotten driven out by prior genocides. There was one there 100 years ago during the fall of the Ottoman Empire … if we will just push and say, 'Mr. President, no more weaponry to Azerbaijan,'" Brownback said.
The goal for the Azeris, he continued, is to squeeze Nagorno-Karabakh until the Armenian Christians simply walk out. The coming winter and the shortage of gas and oil will complicate things.
For now, U.S. President Joe Biden has no interest in applying pressure.
'Partnership' between U.S., Azerbaijan appears strong
The state-run Azerbaijan news agency in May ran a short piece on the "partnership" between the two countries with President Ilham Aliyev and Biden shaking hands and smiling.
"The partnership between Azerbaijan and the United States has helped advance prosperity across the region. Together we are combating terrorism, addressing narcotics trafficking and countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," wrote Biden in a letter to Aliyev on the occasion of Azerbaijan Independence Day.
Brownback says current conditions will lead only to the Armenian Christians giving up their homes.
"Food is in short order then you start [losing] natural gas, heating oil. This is going to become unlivable – and that's exactly what the Azeris want," he described. "They want the Armenians to walk out and leave like what has happened in so much of the Middle East before. Then they'll end up immigrating to the United States or Europe because they're asylum seekers.
"There's no reason for this, but at the end of the day you've forced out yet another historic population," Brownback concluded.