The deep-rooted history behind the Artsakh-Karabakh conflict and the Armenian Genocide
While there is no internationally agreed-upon definition of the term ethnic cleansing, a United Nations commission has described it as “a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas.”
It would be difficult to argue that Azerbaijan is not now engaged in ethnic cleansing in the enclave Armenians call Artsakh and Azerbaijanis call Karabakh.
After a nine-month-long Medieval-style siege of this small part of the Caucasus, the Azerbaijani military launched an attack. Once a tentative truce was achieved, roughly 100,000 people, almost the entire region’s population, gathered what they could carry and left. The world is now dealing with yet another refugee crisis as Armenia, a country with a population of less than three million, is dealing with an influx of traumatized ethnic Armenians.
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The reasons for the tensions over Artsakh/Karabakh go back to the early 20th century, to the Ottoman and Russian empires, Josef Stalin, the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and regional and global tensions that have persisted since that time. Ultimately, however, we need to look at the Armenian Genocide and the two countries that virtually surround the current Republic of Armenia.
World-renowned genocide expert Gregory Stanton has stated that genocide denial is “among the surest indicators of further genocidal massacres.” The Ottoman Empire, the remains of which formed the foundation of modern-day Turkey, systematically killed 1.5 million Armenians under the cover of the First World War.
Today, educators typically present what happened to the Armenians as a case study to illustrate the meaning of the word genocide. In both Turkey and Azerbaijan, one would be criminally prosecuted for doing so. Taner Akçam, who is Turkish and is also considered the foremost authority on the Armenian Genocide, is living in exile and has even had his life threatened.
In the meantime, Azerbaijani and Turkish citizens are fed a revisionist history that demonizes Armenians and justifies crimes against humanity.
Before the current round of ethnic cleansing, the most recent armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan occurred over 44 days in 2020. Russia was the chief negotiator in a settlement between the two countries and agreed to keep peacekeepers in the region.
Azerbaijan, however, has taken advantage of Russia’s weakened status resulting from its invasion of Ukraine. Beginning in December 2022, it cut off the enclave of Artsakh/Karabakh from Armenia and the rest of the world. This siege stopped the flow of medical, fuel, and food supplies, thus weakening the population and resulting in the ethnic cleansing we now witness.
To their credit, Armenians living in the global diaspora have persistently lobbied the governments of the territories where they now find themselves to get them to recognize the vulnerability of the ethnic Armenians who remain in the Caucuses. As a result, countries like France and the United States have become more actively involved in the peace negotiation process and have worked to ensure that international aid is given to the newest refugees in the region.
For the time being, it will be necessary for UN peacekeepers to stabilize the region and prevent further aggression, as they have done successfully in Cyprus for the last 50 years.
For a long-term solution, we need to look at countries that are healing and moving forward peacefully after ethnic cleansing and genocide. For example, Germany, Canada, and New Zealand have been transparent about the crimes they have committed, and all are now healthy democracies where the rights of minorities are protected.
Nothing will be more effective in bringing about long-lasting peace in the Caucasus than unearthing and teaching the truth about the Armenian Genocide. Therefore, this needs to be a central focus point in all international interactions with Turkey and Azerbaijan. The safety of millions of people depends on it.
Gerry Chidiac specializes in languages, genocide studies and works with at-risk students. He is the recipient of an award from the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre for excellence in teaching about the Holocaust.
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