Tension and violence once again run wild on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border.
Since July 12, Azerbaijan has launched a series of cross-border attacks against Armenia’s northern Tavush region, resulting in the deaths of at least four Armenian and 12 Azerbaijani soldiers, reported the news website Asbarez. Targets have included the Tavush textile factory that produces face masks to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing its closure to ensure the safety of its workers. On July 16, Azerbaijan threatened to launch missile attacks on Armenia’s Metsamor nuclear plant. Some members of the US Congress have condemned Azeri aggression against Armenia. “I stand with Armenia as they protect their territorial integrity,” senator Ed Markey (D-MA) said. “Azerbaijan and Turkey must respect the Armenian-Azeri border, respect the aspirations of the Armenian people of Nagorno-Karabakh, and should deescalate this conflict immediately.”
Meanwhile, thousands of Azeri protesters reportedly gathered at the main square of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, demanding an all-out war against Armenia and shouting slogans such as “Death to Armenians” and “Order us to go to war.”
However, Azerbaijan’s attempted violations of the Armenian border provoked the violence. One major unresolved issue between the two nations is Nagorno-Karabakh, historically known as Artsakh.
Artsakh is a small, diplomatically unrecognized Armenian republic in the southeastern part of Caucasus Minor. Following the constitutional referendum in the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic on February 2017, the country was renamed the “Artsakh Republic.”
Artsakh has for millennia been an integral part of historical Armenia. Even when Artsakh fell under the rule of foreign conquerors at different periods in history, the population and culture of the land remained predominantly Armenian. According to a report by the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA):
Artsakh was arbitrarily carved out of Armenia in 1921 by Joseph Stalin and placed under Soviet Azerbaijani administration, but with autonomous status, as part of the Soviet divide-and-conquer strategy in the Caucasus. Nagorno Karabakh, to this day, has never been part of an independent Azerbaijani state. In fact, declassified Central Intelligence Agency reports confirm that Nagorno Karabakh is historically Armenian and maintained even more autonomy than the rest of Armenia through the centuries.
During seven decades of Soviet Azerbaijani rule, Armenians in the region were subjected to discriminatory policies and an ethnic cleansing campaign including anti-Armenian pogroms in Sumgait and Baku.
The 1988 “Karabakh File” by the Zoryan Institute refers to Artsakh as “one of the few remaining districts of historic Armenia still inhabited by a majority Armenian population.” It says:
The current problems plaguing the region are traced to the transfer of Mountainous Karabagh to Azerbaijan at a time of cooperation between Soviet Russia and the Nationalist Turkish leadership. For Azerbaijan, the fact that the majority of the Mountainous Karabagh population is Armenian is incidental and secondary to other facts: Karabagh is theirs now and it has been part of the development of Azerbaijani national consciousness, largely a post-sovietization phenomenon. Azerbaijani nationalists consider Karabagh part of their homeland whence have come many of the country’s intellectuals and political leaders. Finally, any change in the status of the territory would be considered at the present time an unacceptable blow to Azerbaijani national pride.
In the face of severe persecution, however, Nagorno-Karabakh finally declared independence in 1991, to which Azerbaijan, supported by Turkey, responded with military aggression that continued until the 1994 ceasefire.
The war had a devastating effect on Nagorno-Karabakh. According to the official website of the Office of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) in the US, the country’s roughly 150 villages and towns, health care system, road system, water supply system, plus many social or economic facilities, educational institutions, private homes, and residential buildings were completely or partially destroyed.
Since then, Azeri deadly violence against Armenians has not come to an end. During the April 2016 war, for instance, Azeris committed various atrocities against Armenians. The Ezidi Press reported one horrific example:
The 20-year-old Ezidi [Yazidi] soldier Karam Sloyan of the Armenian army who was reported among the dead, was apparently beheaded. Pictures of Azerbaijani soldiers holding Sloyan´s decapitated head surfaced on VKontakte, a popular social network among Eastern Europeans.
Soon afterwards an ISIS-style video emerged on the internet, showing Azerbaijanis holding the severed head of Sloyan like a trophy fish.
The main reason for this aggression appears to be Azeri and Turkish ethnic and religious hatred against Armenians, or Armenophobia. The 2004 murder of an Armenian soldier by an Azeri soldier during a NATO-sponsored training seminar in Hungary and Azerbaijan’s welcoming the murderer as a hero demonstrate the scope of the hatred. On February 19, 2004, Ramil Safarov, an officer of the Azerbaijani army, broke into the dormitory room of Armenian army Lieutenant Gurgen Margaryan at night and axed him to death while he was asleep during a three-month English language class that was part of the Partnership for Peace NATO-sponsored program in Budapest. The attack almost severed Margaryan’s head. Safarov was then arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment in Hungary. Anthropologist Sarah Kendzior explains what happened next:
On August 31, 2012, Ramil Safarov was extradited to Azerbaijan, where he was greeted as a hero. As an adoring crowd cheered, Safarov walked the streets of the capital draped in an Azerbaijani flag, carrying a bouquet of roses. He was pardoned by President Ilham Aliyev, promoted to the rank of major and given a new apartment and money by the Azerbaijani Defence Ministry.
In his 2011 speech at the United Nations General Assembly, then President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan said:
Baku has turned Armenophobia into state propaganda, at a level that is far beyond dangerous. It is not only our assessment; the alarm has also been sounded by international structures specializing in combating racism and intolerance. Even more dangerously, Armenophobic ideas are spread among the young Azerbaijani generation, imperiling the future of peaceful coexistence.
Armenophobia is once again being displayed on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border right now. It costs lives and aims to devastate Armenia. To stop the bloodshed, Azerbaijan must be held accountable for its reckless violence against Armenians.