From Hate Speech to Ethnic Cleansing: Why We Need to Get Our Facts Right about Armenia and Azerbaijan
What is happening?
Azerbaijan is once again violating the ceasefire with Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory populated for millennia by Armenians. On September 27, Azerbaijan launched an unprovoked attack against this small democracy. The conflict is not new. For three decades, Azerbaijan’s militaristic government has threatened Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh — “Artsakh” to Armenians — with annihilation. Turkey, Azerbaijan’s close ally, has played an active role in escalating the conflict with military participation and media offensives.
The aggression is not limited to this distant place. Through cyberwarfare — disinformation, hate speech, harassment, hacking, and outright lies — the governments of Turkey and Azerbaijan have encouraged hate crimes against Armenians around the world. Last month, an Armenian Church community center in San Francisco was partially gutted by arson, and across town, shots were fired into an Armenian school.
The Azerbaijani military attack is directed toward other schools, most notably the one at Amaras Monastery, where the Armenian alphabet was first taught 1600 years ago.
These crimes are particularly threatening to Armenians because they harken back to the genocide Turkey perpetrated a century ago against its indigenous Armenian population. Turkey killed more than 1 million Armenians then.
Why is it happening?
The corrupt and dictatorial Turkish and Azerbaijani leaders, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ilham Aliyev, are using hate speech to mobilize popular anti-Armenian sentiments and actions. There have been mass rallies in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, calling for “Death to Armenians.” These calls have also been heeded by Azerbaijanis and Turks outside their countries.
Due to falling oil prices, unrest in the country, and growing dissent against its corrupt oligarchy, the Azerbaijani government is distracting the population’s attention from the dire domestic situation with the well-worn strategy of redirecting discontent toward its favorite scapegoat: Armenians. The histories of Armenians and of others have shown us again and again that targeting an entire population can have genocidal consequences.
Why you should be worried
Azerbaijan prevents access to objective journalism, refusing entry to foreign journalists and blocking most social media in the country. Only Azerbaijani and Turkish outlets loyal to these governments are allowed to cover events on the battlefield. Armenia is not only allowing access to foreign journalists, but encouraging it.
Immediately after the attacks, Erdogan — who has destabilized the entire region, from northern Iraq and northern Syria to Libya and the Eastern Mediterranean — tweeted that Armenia is the biggest threat to peace in the region. But common sense is enough to cut through the propaganda. Neither Armenia nor Nagorno-Karabakh have anything to gain by attacking Azerbaijan. Indeed, they have everything to lose. Why would two small states of a combined 3 million attack the 92-million-strong Azerbaijan-Turkey alliance? Armenia, not Azerbaijan, is willing to have international monitors on the border. Armenia, not Azerbaijan, agrees that snipers on both sides should be removed.
Through absurd reversalism, Azerbaijan, the clear invader that has engaged in cultural and ethnic cleansing for three decades (including pogroms in Sumgayit, Kirovabad, and Baku), is portraying itself as the victim. The large, wealthy political and military power Turkey has long pursued a world-wide, multi-million-dollar diplomatic, corporate, and academic campaign denying the Armenian Genocide. Just as it unabashedly claims Armenians in the Ottoman Empire are to blame for their own extermination, Turkey has now turned its denialist machine on Nagorno-Karabakh to misrepresent Armenia as aggressors. After decades of publishing denialist viewpoints, the global media finally accepted the academic consensus that Turkey committed genocide against Armenians. Today, unfortunately, some in the press are returning to old ways, parroting the same falsifying reversal of perpetrator and victim. In efforts to seem unbiased, many in the international press have created a false equivalency between the two sides, without investigating independently what is actually happening and why. They studiously ignore obvious imbalances, such as the fact that Azerbaijan receives $100 million in US military and security aid, while Armenia receives less than $5 million.
In a world of rising hate crimes, who will be next? It might be Armenians today, but it will not end with them. Will the international community ever learn?