I’ve been to Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) twice now. I’ve walked the streets of Stepanakert, the capital, and been invited into the homes of the people living there. I’ve played football with their kids and I’ve felt the warmth of their hospitality. These very people are now fighting for their survival.
One memory that always stands out are the bullet holes and unexploded artillery shells lodged in the perimeter walls of the region’s Armenian churches — a reminder of the history of this region. It’s a complex history which I can’t say I’m qualified to tell, but I’ve shared some resources below that summarize the current situation. I’m of course biased on this topic but have tried to share balanced content that acknowledges the human toll on both sides.
To be explicit: I wish for Armenians and Azeris to live peacefully, and to find a non-violent way of accomplishing this goal, starting with de-escalation of the current fighting.
Unfortunately, the situation doesn’t look good. We have two regional powers (Turkey and Azerbaijan), both with troubled economies brought about by the energy crisis and COVID-19 pandemic, who are using war as a means of galvanizing their populations and empowering their autocratic rulers. Whereas the international community has called for a ceasefire between Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the autonomous region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Turkey continues to use warlike rhetoric to spur Azerbaijan to action, provoking war by removing any reservations Azerbaijan might have had towards violent confrontation in the region.
Turkey, a country of 80+ million people, is hiring mercenaries from Syria and other conflict zones and sending them to Azerbaijan, a country of 10 million, to fight against Armenia, a country of less than 3 million people. Articles published a few days ago highlighted this disturbing fact, but also suggested Turkey had denied these claims. It has since been independently verified by governments and journalists from international publications.
The irony? Turkey is a permanent member of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, whose Mandate is (and I summarize): (1) to provide a framework for conflict resolution, (2) to find agreement on the cessation of armed conflict, and (3) to promote the peace process.
I wanted to share some of my views on the current situation, especially with my non-Armenian friends who have experienced Armenian culture in some way — our food, our hospitality, our music, our language, our love of sport (both mental and physical) and so much more. For Armenians, this is a matter of survival. We need everyone to speak up on our behalf.
Both Turkey and Azerbaijan have histories of systematic attempts to erase Armenian culture. It started over 100 years ago with the killing of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks (a well-documented Genocide internationally recognized by Canada, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Russia among others), and it continues today with the defacing of Armenian cultural sites, Armenian schools, and once again Armenian historical land.
Growing up, my sister and I went to Armenian language classes. I played chess, and my sister recited poems by Yeghishe Charents and other famous Armenian poets. We learned about our language and art, about our traditional recipes and their origins, all influenced over time by the Armenian diaspora living around the world. We learned how to take care of our guests and how to make everyone feel welcome in our homes.
Back then, it was important to my parents. As an adult, I understand why — it’s about the preservation of our culture against the odds.
There have been missteps on both sides of the conflict, including actions resulting in civilian casualties, but war is not the answer. The current system of organization in the region is obviously not working for all parties, but the solution isn’t for two regional powers to manifest their own internal struggles and rally around the erasure of Armenians and Armenian culture in a forgotten part of the world.
My Armenian friends will know this passage well, but I share it here again as it seems more pertinent than ever:
“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia. See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.”
The photo above was taken in Nagorno-Karabakh. Most people see a sculpture with two heads. We see our people and identity deeply rooted in these lands.
The conflict has been covered across the Financial Times, the BBC, Aljazeera, CNN, the Guardian, and other sources. I encourage you to read these articles and form your own opinion.
Balanced snapshot on the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan (BBC): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1KWeBypwvw