Artsakh: Indigenous Armenians Face a Second Genocide in their Homeland
Design credit to Anush Semerjyan
Image description: “We Are Our Mountains” Monument found in Stepanakert, the capital city of Artsakh. The monument, which is made of volcanic tufa rock, depicts an old man and woman. The man wears a hat that reads, “We Will Win,” in Armenian. The flag of Artsakh is draped across the monument and a camouflage cross-stone stands in back of the monument.
September 27, 2020 marks the beginning of the most recent war between Artsakh and Azerbaijan. Although this news was not necessarily surprising, considering the Artsakh-Azerbaijan conflict has been ongoing for decades, Armenians all around the world were overtaken with dread as we anticipated the forthcoming violence, death, and possible colonization.
Armenians, who are indigenous to Artsakh, have inhabited the region for centuries; Armenian occupation and government has withstood in Artsakh since the 5th century B.C.E, regardless of countless attempts by neighboring dynasties and powers to gain control over the land. The territorial conflict between Artsakh, also referred to as Nagorno-Karabakh, and Azerbaijan originated after the fall of the Russian Empire in 1917, during the establishment of the republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. At the time, Artsakh declared its independence and elected its own government. In response, Azerbaijan, with the help of Turkey, employed military action and carried out massacres which targeted Artsakh’s 95% Armenian population, killing 40,000 Armenians in the city of Shushi alone.
After the establishment of Soviet rule in the Caucasus, Stalin first declared Artsakh as part of Azerbaijan SSR, but Artsakh was later removed and attached to Armenia SSR. Shortly thereafter, a three-day pogrom was launched in the city of Sumgait, leading to the death of about 100 Armenians. As ethnic tensions rose between Armenians and Azeris in the region, the Armenian Supreme Soviet and Artsakh’s National Council proclaimed Armenia and Artsakh’s unification. After this proclamation, Azeri protesters in Baku committed massacres against the remaining Armenians in the region. Only after most of Baku’s Armenian population was killed, Gorbachev intervened and condemned the attempts of ethnic cleansing that had taken place.
After both Armenia and Azerbaijan declared their independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the conflict surrounding Artsakh escalated. A war broke out from 1991 to 1994 and left behind 20,000 casualties and about 1,000,000 refugees. Through Russian negotiation, a ceasefire was established in 1994 and still continues to this day, despite countless violations from Azerbaijan’s forces.
The current war brewing along the border of Artsakh and Azerbaijan was not entirely unanticipated. After 11 Azeri soldiers died during an attempted border breach by Azerbaijan in July, thousands of Azeri protesters took to the streets of Baku and vigorously demanded a war with Armenia and Artsakh as they chanted “Death to the Armenian.”
Azerbaijan’s war efforts are also supported by its brother nation of Turkey. Turkish president Erdogan recently remarked, “We will continue to fulfill this mission which our grandfathers have carried out for centuries in the Caucasus region.” Erdogan’s genocidal rhetoric references the Armenian Genocide of 1915, during which 1.5 million Armenians were martyred and a majority of the Armenian mainland was conquered by the Ottoman Empire of Turkey. Evidently, Turkey and Azerbaijan’s dictators, Erdogan and Aliyev, are fixated on continuing the efforts of their ancestors. The pan-Turkic agenda put forward by Talaat Pasha, the main orchestrator of the Armenian Genocide, and other Turkish leaders during the past century or so, is the driving force behind Azerbaijan’s actions.
Although Aliyev has attempted to paint this conflict as purely geo-political, claiming that his mission is to rightfully repossess Artsakh as a city of Azerbaijan, he is not interested in governing Artsakh as it is now. Rather, he is interested in an Artsakh that is free of Armenians. Should Azerbaijan’s armed forces successfully conquer Artsakh, which would give them access to mainland Armenia, the governments and leaders of Azerbaijan and Turkey would put forward exceedingly ardent efforts to eradicate the Armenians of the Caucasus.
Over the course of their recent attempts to viciously attack the Armenians fighting for and inhabiting Artsakh, the Azeri government has committed countless war crimes and international human rights violations. In the past month, they bombed the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral of Shushi as well as the maternity hospital of Stepanakert. Dozens of schools in Artsakh have been destroyed by Azeri shelling, while their use of widely-banned cluster munitions have been damaging residential areas. Their armed forces have targeted and killed countless Armenian civilians in both Artsakh and mainland Armenia, specifically in the regions of Martuni, Askeran, Stepanakert, and Syunik. In addition, Azerbaijan’s white phosphorus munitions have burned about 150 hectares of Artsakh’s forests.
Azeri soldiers are also guilty of torturing and killing their Armenian prisoners of war, then releasing video recordings of them doing so. The killers of one Armenian fighter even went as far as to post pictures of his beheaded body on social media, then call his brother to taunt him. It was recently brought to light that the Syrian mercenaries illegally bought by Azerbaijan were told that they would be rewarded $100 for every Armenian they beheaded. Of course, none of this is being reported by Azerbaijan or any journalist visiting Azerbaijan — the Azeri government has restricted all journalist entry into the military zone. This limitation is very much in line with Turkey and Azerbaijan’s lack of media freedom.
Azerbaijan’s allies, Turkey, Israel, and Ukraine have aided Azerbaijan in its military efforts through funding, provision of military personnel, and the blockage of humanitarian aid to Artsakh. Meanwhile, countries who have attempted to intervene to peacefully facilitate agreements between Artsakh and Azerbaijan have failed continuously. Azerbaijan has violated ceasefires called by France, Russia, and the United States. Although Aliyev’s regime has faced criticism, it has yet to experience any significant consequence from the international community. Furthermore, Artsakh has been placed on Genocide Watch, but there has been no extension of any humanitarian aid to the people of Artsakh.
Although Artsakh’s Armenians are unquestionably facing the worst impacts of Azerbaijan’s actions, anti-Armenian violence is not limited to the caucasus. Armenians in Russia, France, and the United States particularly have faced hate crimes by Turks and Azeris in support of Erdogan and Aliyev’s agenda. In addition to harassment and inappropriate content on social media, violence has also been incited at protests held by Armenians. Counter-protesters at pro-Armenia rallies have been seen wielding axes and firearms in an attempt to intimidate and potentially harm Armenian protesters. In late October, 3 Armenian demonstrators were stabbed during a protest in Fresno. Around the same time, a crowd of Turkish nationalists who are members of Turkey’s ultra-nationalist Grey Wolves group took to the streets of France looking for Armenians. The Grey Wolves are a militant wing of Turkey’s Nationalist Movement Party, which is strongly allied to Erdogan. The Grey Wolves have since been banned in France.
Moreover, Armenians also face harassment on social media. Not only have Turks and Azeris attempted to portray Armenians as the aggressors, they themselves have acted as offenders as they flood direct message inboxes with threats of assault, rape, death, and extermination. They have been vocal in their support of Aliyev as well as their desire to rid the Caucasus of Armenians and any historic Armenian landmarks or traces of culture.
Although the Armenians of the diaspora have banded together to garner attention toward the violence in Artsakh, it seems that there is not a single world power willing to sanction Erdogan or Aliyev, and oust their fascist, genocidal governments. Before, as descendants of Armenian Genocide survivors, we could only imagine the pain and fear of losing our people and homeland. Now, as Aliyev and Erdogan attempt to continue Taalat Pasha’s legacy, we face our very own threat of extinction as the world continues to ignore the Armenian struggle once again.