Artsakh vs. Azerbaijan/Turkey

2-Minute Summary

On September 27, 2020, Azerbaijan and Turkey launched a full-scale attack on Artsakh, an autonomous and Armenian-led territory that is today geographically inside Azerbaijan but that has for 2,000 years been part of Armenia and populated by ethnic Armenians.

Committing Atrocious War Crimes

Azerbaijan and Turkey are consistently and unrepentantly committing war crimes in their attacks . As recently verified by the US, Russian, and French governments and major news organizations, Azerbaijan and Turkey are funding and importing terrorist mercenaries from Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan to fight on their behalf [Wall Street Journal]. They’re disproportionately deploying ethnic minorities to the front lines in order to reduce their own minority populations [MediaMax]. They’re incessantly using illegal munitions such as cluster bombs to devastate Artsakh’s residential neighborhoods and kill civilians, which are internationally recognized as war crimes [Human Rights Watch]. They’re bombing churches, kindergartens, and hospitals, which are violations of international humanitarian law [Amnesty International]. They’ve staged fake attacks on their own civilian communities in an attempt to generate international sympathy and escalate the war [Greek City Times].

Controlling the Narrative to Get Away With It

Turkey and Azerbaijan are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on PR campaigns and political influence to spread misinformation, deny these atrocious acts, and provide air cover for their continued aggression. They’ve even attempted to deny that they were the aggressors in the first place or that Turkey was involved. They’ve mobilized an online army of social media personnel and bots to spread misinformation and attack their critics or those sympathetic to Artsakh’s suffering [BuzzFeed]. They’ve put political pressure on international governments and hired high-profile lobbyists to shape political discourse [American Conservative]. They’ve bombarded media organizations to shape articles with “a more balanced view” of their attacks and barbarity. They’ve even used drones to try to kill international journalists, one of which is in critical condition [JAM]. Turkey and Azerbaijan rank 154th and 168th (nearly dead last along with North Korea) out of 180 countries in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, while Armenia was awarded The Economist’s Country of the Year Award for progress and freedom.

Turkey and Azerbaijan have worked tirelessly to cover their transgressions in much the same way they’ve denied the Armenian Genocide for over a century, despite its ubiquitous recognition today [list]. Yet, each of these facts has been subsequently proven and confirmed by major world powers and journalists, because while Azerbaijan has restricted international journalists and even local internet access, Armenia has given international journalists unrestricted access to see the atrocities first-hand.

1 David vs. 2 Goliaths

Armenia, inclusive of Artsakh, is a land-locked territory of 3 million Armenians in a democratic republic, with a $13B GDP, and minimal natural resources. It’s best known as the first country to accept Christianity as its national religion in 301 AD, as well as a long list of inventions and contributions to global society. Armenia is surrounded by two perpetual enemy states: Azerbaijan, an oil-rich country with a population of over 10 million Azerbaijani Turks and a $50B GDP, and Turkey, a regional power with a population of over 80 million Turks and a $800B GDP.

How are Artsakh and Armenia Related?

Armenia is a country in the Caucasus, located between Eastern Europe and Western Asia, that has existed since the 6th century BC. Artsakh (also referred to today as Nagorno Karabakh) was one of Armenia’s states, and like the rest of Armenia, has always been inhabited nearly exclusively by ethnic Armenians for over 2,000 years. Throughout the centuries, because of Armenia’s location between competing empires (e.g. Romans, Persians, Arabs, Byzantines, Mongols, Turks), it has been the victim of constant attacks, conquests, killings, and deportations. Yet even during periods where other empires conquered Armenia, Artsakh has remained nearly entirely ethnically Armenian, mostly autonomous, and ruled by Armenians.

The Genocide of 1.5 Million Armenians by Turkey

Armenia’s darkest moment was the Armenian Genocide, perpetrated from 1915-1917 by Ottoman Turks. It ultimately resulted in the death of 1.5 million Armenians and the displacement of millions more from their ancestral homelands, many of which were forced to other countries. Though nearly every major government, organization, and academic scholar recognizes the Armenian Genocide, Turkey continues to deny it for over 100 years and invest millions of dollars in propaganda campaigns and threats against those that recognize it.

Armenia’s Rebirth

When the Ottoman Empire was defeated in World War I in 1918, the territories of eastern Armenia became the independent Republic of Armenia, with Artsakh as one of the provinces of that republic. Though President Woodrow Wilson insisted that all former Armenian lands become a part of that republic, Turks were given the territories of western Armenia by other powers.

The Birth of Azerbaijan

1918 also signaled the birth of other nations in the Caucasus, including the newly established Azerbaijan. In contrast to Armenia’s 2,000-year history, Azerbaijan is a territory of mostly Turkic people who had never previously existed as an empire, republic, or nation before 1918.

USSR Carving Out Artsakh

Armenia and Azerbaijan operated independently as neighboring states until 1920, when the Soviet Union claimed both territories as constituent republics within the USSR. As part of their divide-and-conquer strategy, and as a favor to Turkey to rebuild Russo-Turkish relations, The USSR’s Joseph Stalin carved out Artsakh from Armenia, put Artsakh under Soviet Azerbaijani administration as an Armenian-led and autonomous territory, and renamed Artsakh to Nagorno Karabakh.

Massacres of Artsakh’s Armenians by Soviet Azerbaijan

During the establishment of the USSR’s system of statehood in 1920, 90% of Artsakh’s population was ethnically Armenian. Over the following decades, the Soviet Azerbaijani government carried out multiple and deliberate policies of discrimination, marginalization, and population transfer of Armenians from Artsakh in an effort to dilute the Armenian majority and its millennia old history in the region. In 1988, with the collapse of the USSR becoming inevitable, Soviet Azerbaijan executed a series of pogroms reminiscent of the Genocide, massacring and displacing Armenians to further change their demographics.

Collapse of the Soviet Union and Azerbaijan’s Attack on Artsakh

As the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Armenia and Azerbaijan became independent countries once again. Artsakh, still 80% ethnically Armenian, held a referendum and voted overwhelmingly to rejoin Armenia. Azerbaijan rejected Artsakh’s population’s free will and right to self-determination and attacked Artsakh to prevent that from happening. Full scale war erupted in 1992 and lasted 2 full years. Thousands of Armenians died protecting their ancestral homeland until a ceasefire agreement in 1994.

Azerbaijan’s Attacks Since the 1994 Ceasefire

Since the initial ceasefire, Artsakh’s Armenians continue to democratically govern on their own, including free and fair elections, operating their own central bank, and maintaining their own defense force. Azerbaijan has meaningfully attacked Artsakh 5 times, in 2008, 2014, 2016, July 2020, and again in September 2020. Azerbaijan continues to show no inclination to respect the human rights of Armenians living in Artsakh.

Turkey’s and Azerbaijan’s Grander Ambitions for the Current Attack

Azerbaijan and Turkey each have distinct reasons for initiating attacks on Armenia. For Azerbaijan, recent popular discontent against the ruling Aliyev family and growing economic issues within the country such as a decline in oil prices and a devalued currency, have spurred a battle between ruling clans that threaten Aliyev’s reign. Aliyev’s hope is that this attack, supported by the artificial narrative he’s trying to shape internally and externally, reignites nationalism and allows him to deliver a “victory” to appease his population and solidify his seat in power.

For Turkey, this recent attack is yet another example of their expanding colonialism within the region after invading Greece, Libya, and Syria. Because Turkey hasn’t been restrained by the international community, Turkey’s President Erdogan continues his search for regional power to overcome the growing political and economic discontent at home, including currency devaluation. Beyond power plays, Erdogan and Turkey continue to preach Pan-Turkism and the further expansion of Turkic states, stretching from Libya to China.

Preventing Another Human Rights Crisis

For Artsakh and Armenians, this isn’t just about defending the aggressors’ attacks on a territory that’s been their homeland for centuries. This feels like yet another existential crisis, a continuation of the fears of annihilation instilled deeply during the 1915 Armenian genocide and continued massacres throughout the following decades, given Erdogan’s words of hoping to “finish what our grandfather’s started” and the war crimes already perpetrated in the current war.

The world has often asked itself how it was possible for so many people to stand by and let the Holocaust happen. Hitler even told his commanders, “who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”, to reassure them they’d be able to do it and get away with it. Another genocide will happen if the international community doesn’t immediately act to restrain Turkey and Azerbaijan and demand peace.