Every day since September 27th, 2020 Azerbaijani forces have used advanced weaponry against the Armenian people of Artsakh. The Armed Forces of Azerbaijan have bombed hospitals, targeted civilians, destroyed homes, and damaged cultural centers. Azerbaijan is using Israel-made attack drones, internationally-banned cluster bombs, and missiles to attack Artsakh.
By Elya Ouzounian
Artsakh, also called Nagorno-Karabakh, is an independent republic of ethnic Armenians situated between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This mountainous region of the Southern Caucasus has been a center for Armenian life and resistance for thousands of years. Before the 18th century, the population of Artsakh’s highlands and lowlands was exclusively Armenian. Artsakh’s Armenian majority has never dropped below 75% of the overall population.
In the mid-1700s, Turkic tribes infiltrated the region from Northern Artsakh, starting a war with local Armenian families. A century later, in 1805, the historical territory of Artsakh fell under rule of the Russian Empire. A long period of peace between the Armenians and Turkic Azeris of this region followed. After the Russian Empire fell in 1917, this tranquility ended.
Following the dissolution of the Russian Empire in 1917, three independent states emerged in the Southern Caucasus: Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic and the First Republic of Armenia were established in 1918; since their creation, these states have had disputed borders. Within three years of their establishment, both countries would become Soviet Socialist Republics.
Between the years 1918 and 1920, taking advantage of the turmoil of World War I and the collapse of the Russian Empire, Turkish forces joined by Azeri military units destroyed Armenian villages in the regions of Artsakh, Nakhichevan, Baku, and Ganja. On March 23, 1920 Turkish and Azeri troops plundered the Artsakh city of Shushi, massacring the entire Armenian population of 20,000 people and burning to ashes the Armenian half of the city. These killings in Eastern Armenia were an attempt to expand the 1915 Armenian Genocide to the Caucasus region.
The 1915 Armenian Genocide took place in the Ottoman Empire where the Young Turk government systematically deported and massacred Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks living in Anatolia. One and a half million Armenians were massacred and hundreds of thousands were marched into Syria’s Deir al Zor desert; this displacement resulted in the 11-million-person Armenian diaspora. The settler-colonial state of Turkey and its proxies have been trying to cleanse West Asia of its indigenous people and create a pan-Turkic nation for centuries.
In 1988, Armenian groups both in Artsakh and in The Republic of Armenia began a campaign for a union of the two regions. This campaign began with demonstrations and led to violence and bloodshed between Armenians and Azeris. Pogroms targeting Armenians in the towns of Baku, Sumgait, and Ganja forced Armenians to abandon their communities in the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic.
In 2001, Anthony Bourdain visited Armenia and Artsakh for an episode of his show, Parts Unknown. Following this visit, Bourdain was banned from entering Azerbaijan; anyone who has traveled to Armenia and Artsakh or has Armenian ancestory is banned from entering Azerbaijan.
For the Armenian people, this war is existential. As a lifelong Artsakh resident says in the above clip, “If we lose, we know we will be destroyed.”
Anthony Bourdain shares a meal with three Armenian men from Artsakh while they discuss the situation.
The most recent aggression by Azerbaijan in 2020 has sparked the most destructive and deadly fighting in the region since the 1990s. Armenian soldiers between 18 and 22 years old are fighting and dying on the frontline. Veterans of Artsakh’s first liberation war and Armenians from the diaspora have returned to defend the region.
The states of Azerbaijan and Turkey are connected by strong ethnic, economic, cultural, diplomatic, and historic ties. Their relationship has been referred to as, “two states, one nation.” Azerbaijan is a major economic investor in Turkey and Turkey is the main channel for Azerbaijan’s petroleum exports. Both states harbor a hatred of Armenians and have systemically embedded Armenophobia into their institutions.
In a tweet from October 12th, 2020, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev says, “We will build cities across the liberated lands and turn those areas into paradise. Those lands will reinvigorate, life and children’s laughter will return there. Citizens of Azerbaijan will live on those lands in dignity.”
The Armenian population of Artsakh is nearly 150,000 people, Armenians have inhabited the region since before the country of Azerbaijan existed.
In a speech on July 22, 2020 regarding the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict, Turkish President Recip Tayyin Erdogan threatened to continue the genocide of Armenians and pledged support to Azerbaijan.
“We will continue to fulfill this mission, which our grandfathers have carried out for centuries, in the Caucasus again…. Turkey will not hesitate to side with Azerbaijan, a country that has a long friendship and brotherly relations against any attack on its rights and territory.”
Ethnic minorities in Azerbaijan have begun boycotting forced conscription in this war. Talysh people in Azerbaijan are refusing army conscription, blocking roads, and facing off against Azeri military. A live broadcast from the Azerbaijani TV “Hural” confirmed that in the Talysh city of Lenkoran, the population protests Aliyev’s order to enlist in the army.
President of the Independent Republic of Artsakh, Arayik Harutyunyan, is a veteran of the first liberation war and has been on the frontline alongside Armenian soldiers. Harutyunyan comments on the current situation in a press briefing on October 11:
The people of Artsakh started the struggle for self-determination, to live freely, in 1988; what is taking place today against the people of Artsakh is outside the scope of humanitarian principles. It can be considered ethnic cleansing, a genocide, that is being committed not only by Azerbaijan but with the support of Turkey and international terrorists. It is clear to the world, that terrorists now have a foothold in the region.
Nikol Pashinyan was elected as Prime Minister during Armenia’s Velvet Revolution in 2018 and has been serving since. Pashinyan said on October 3rd in an address to his nation:
Turkey and Azerbaijan are pursuing not only military-political goals. Their goal is Armenia; their goal is continuation of the genocide of Armenians.
Many young Armenians cannot visit the lands of their parents and grandparents in Azerbaijan and Turkey because of border policies barring them and fear of violence. The 60,000 Armenians who remain in Turkey live in fear of aggression. The Armenian people have been surviving, fleeing, and dying from genocidal violence for centuries. Their land has been stolen by the Turkish and Azerbaijani states and abused under Soviet Russian leaders. Azerbaijan’s latest attempt to steal Armenian land and cleanse it of its people and its ancient history does not come as a surprise. The Armenian people are fighting against large, heavily armed neighboring countries to live peacefully in their homeland.
Elya Ouzounian is a resident of Los Angeles and studies Critical Theory in Social Justice.
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