Denial of the Genocidal Past Perpetuates Future Threats

On September 13, starting at 00:05, the Armenian people once again woke up to the bombs of Azerbaijan.    

Less than two years after Azerbaijan’s violent war against the Armenians of Artsakh, also known as Nagorno-Karabakh, the military of Azerbaijan is now undertaking an illegal war of aggression against the Republic of Armenia. 

According to the government of Armenia, at least 135 Armenian soldiers were killed in nighttime attacks by Azerbaijan. Turkey will continue to stand by Azerbaijan and will always do so, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on the same day. 

Azerbaijan’s aggression against Armenians has caused massive destruction to civilian buildings and communities as well as horrific torture and murder of Armenians. Anush Apetyan, a 36-year-old Armenian soldier, for instance, was captured alive in the town of Jermuk in Armenia, and then raped, tortured, and dismembered by Azerbaijani soldiers. They put her severed fingers in her mouth and gouged out her eyes. The Azeri soldiers filmed those barbaric acts and uploaded the video on social media. Apetyan had three kids, ages 16, 15 and 4.

Armenians in Artsakh were also subject to a genocidal assault by Azerbaijan and Turkey during the 2020 war against Artsakh that lasted for 44 days, from September 27 to November 10. The entire world watched while the aggressors committed many crimes and indiscriminately shelled the native lands of the Armenians. Around 90,000 Armenians were forcibly displaced.  

Turkish and Azerbaijani soldiers then participated in a military “victory parade” in Azerbaijan’s capital city of Baku on December 10, 2020 The parade, organized to celebrate the countries’ joint “military victory” over Artsakh, was attended by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev. 

During the “victory parade,” Erdogan delivered a speech in which he praised Enver Pasha, one of the planners of Ottoman Turkey’s 1913-1923 Christian genocide, which targeted Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks. The Ottoman military march was also played during the event. 

Erdogan referred to the 1918 Islamic Army of the Caucasus created by Enver Pasha and led by the Ottoman commander, Nuri Pasha. The Islamic Army of the Caucasus was responsible for the massacres eliminating the non-Muslim population of Baku, mainly Armenians. Erdogan said

Today is the day when the souls of Nuri Pasha, Enver Pasha and the brave soldiers of the Islamic Army of the Caucasus are blessed.

Just as Turkey falsely claims that the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea and Cyprus are Turkish territory, Azerbaijan falsely claims that Artsakh and even Armenia, including its capital Yerevan are Azeri territory. 

During his speech Aliyev said that the Armenian capital of Yerevan, Armenia’s Lake Sevan and the Syunik (Zangezur) region in southern Armenia are “historic lands of Azerbaijan.” 

This was not the first time Aliyev referred not only to Artsakh but also to the Republic of Armenia as “Azerbaijani lands.” In 2018, for instance, Aliyev referred to the same Armenian regions as “historic lands of Azerbaijan.” “The Azerbaijanis’ return to those territories,” he added, “is our political and strategic goal, and we need to work step-by-step to achieve it.” 

To this end, Azerbaijan is targeting Artsakh and Armenia with the full support of Turkey. “We support Azerbaijan until victory,” Erdogan said on October 6, 2020. “I tell my Azerbaijani brothers: May your ghazwa be blessed.” 

“Ghazwa” in Islam means a battle or raid against non-Muslims for the expansion of Muslim territory and/or conversion of non-Muslims to Islam. Erdoğan openly claimed that attacks against the Armenian territory constitute jihad. Moreover, it was not only Turkey and Azerbaijan attacking Armenians. Turkey also deployed Syrian jihadists to Azerbaijan to fight against Artsakh, according to a UN report

Similarly, Turkey recently celebrated the 1922 Smyrna genocide against Greeks and Armenians, which, according to Turkish historiography, was just a “victory against Greek invaders”.  On September 4, Erdogan addressed Greece in a public speech

“Greeks, look at history. If you go any further, the price will be heavy. We have only one phrase for Greece: Do not forget Izmir [the city of Smyrna]. Your occupying the islands [in the Aegean] will not stop us; we will do what is necessary when the time comes. You know what we say: ‘Unexpectedly one night we shall come to [conquer] you’.” 

On August 30, which is celebrated as “the Victory Day” in Turkey, Erdogan said:  

We see our enemies’ [the Greeks] destroying our cities during their withdrawal [from Anatolia in 1922] as proof of their vile character. Just like they are today.

What Erdogan was referring to was Turkey’s genocidal attack against Greeks and Armenians of the city, also known as Smyrna, in 1922. 

The Turkish aggression against Greeks and Armenians has a long history. Greece and Armenia are trying to preserve whatever is left of historical importance from Turkish aggressions – including their native lands, their cultural identity and patrimony. This history of Turkish violence against indigenous Christians – inspired by Islamic jihad and Turkist expansionism – started in the eleventh century with the invasion by Turkic armies from central Asia of eastern Anatolia (or Armenian highlands), which was then within the borders of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine empire.  

Throughout history Turkish governments have had a policy of aggression and persecution against native Christians. The culmination of that persecution was the 1913-23 Greek, Armenian and Assyrian genocides by Ottoman Turkey, which the International Association of Genocide Scholars also recognizes as genocide.  

Subsequent Turkish governments have honored the memory of genocide perpetrators as well as the organizers of the 1955 Istanbul pogrom that targeted Greeks, Armenians, and Jews of the city. Many schools, universities, airports, avenues, streets, neighborhoods, and other venues across Turkey are named after genocide perpetrators and other state officials that committed crimes against their own minority citizens.

As the international community’s response to Turkey’s genocide denial has been slow and ineffective, genocide denied means genocide continued.  On August 17, the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention issued a “Red Flag Alert” warning of a possible genocide by the governments of Azerbaijan and Turkey against the Armenian population. 

Turkey’s proud denial of these genocides and its continued aggressions against Greece, Armenia and Assyrians in Iraq and Syria are inter-connected. The same ideology that motivated the 1913-23 Christian genocide is today motivating Turkey’s and Azerbaijan’s aggressions against Armenians, Greeks and other Christians.

In 2016, Turkey’s Human Rights Association (IHD) announced

Genocide denial perpetuates genocide. Denial becomes institutionalised, and in fact socialised and internalised by generations of perpetrators. Denial continually reproduces hatred against the identity of the victims.

The international community must move immediately to hold Azerbaijan and Turkey to account. The safety of Greece, Armenia, Cyprus, Iraq, Syria and indeed of Turkish people from their own Turkish government depends on ending the impunity of the illegal actions of the governments of Turkey and Azerbaijan.