Artsakh’s Right to Self-Determination Held Hostage by Azeri Expansionism

Joaquin Gacitua, 4, is reflected on a window while he accompanies his parents who are part of the Armenian community in Chile, as they participate in a rally in front of Azerbaijan's embassy calling attention to Armenia's plight during its military conflict with Azerbaijan, in Santiago, Chile, Monday, Oct. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

While COVID-19 and the 2020 Presidential race sucks all the oxygen of the daily news cycle in America, there is an ongoing crisis going on halfway around the world that affects every one of the million-strong Armenian-American community. I am fortunate to have knowledge of what’s going on now, and the long history in this region and I’m hoping to bring much needed awareness to a very important humanitarian crisis.

Artsakh (widely known as Nagorno-Karabakh) has been a cultural capital of Armenian civilization for thousands of years. This sovereign region composed of ethnic Armenians in the South Caucasus has fallen victim to the aggressions of Azerbaijan in the 1920s, the late 1980s and early 1990s, -and again today.

This ethnic Armenian region known as the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast was placed under the administrative control of the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic in the early 1920s in an attempt to placate the Republic of Turkey under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. As nationalist fervor and sentiment was largely quelled by the Soviet Union, the institution and implementation of Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika policies paved the way for the resurgence of nationalist stirrings. These feelings manifested in self-determination and popular sovereignty-based rhetoric emerging and circulating within the Armenian intelligentsia.

The call for self-determination led Armenians in the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast to struggle for autonomy in a peaceful manner in 1988. The Armenian petitions which called for independence and the subsequent unification with Armenia fell on deaf ears in Moscow. Azerbaijan’s response was the initiation of anti-Armenian pogroms and ethnic cleansing efforts led by the Azeri administration in Sumgait, Baku, Kirovabad and Maragha.

Simultaneously, during the dying days of the Soviet Union, the Artsakh Liberation Movement began, as Armenians realized that they were no longer welcomed, nor were they guaranteed the right to live freely within the yoke of Azerbaijan. The movement championed the ideals of self-determination, democracy, freedom, and popular sovereignty for the Armenian people in Artsakh manifesting in the establishment of a sovereign state following the ceasefire in 1994.

Threat of Pan-Turkism

Despite this ceasefire, Azerbaijan still had in its sights the goal to capture Artsakh and isolate Armenia proper. In order to understand both the Armenian Genocide and the Artsakh Liberation Movement, it is imperative to understand the concept of Pan-Turkism. Pan-Turkism is a movement that emerged in the latter stages of the 20th century where Turkish literati aimed for the cultural unification of all Turkic peoples, spanning from Adrianople to the west to central Asia, the origin of Turkic people to the east.

The only sliver of land preventing this Pan-Turkic dream from materializing is Armenia and land populated by Armenians. If it weren’t for Artsakh, Azerbaijan and Turkey would be one step closer to realizing their expansionist goals and the ultimate eradication of the Armenian nation.

Economic Troubles

Aside from Pan-Turkic ambitions by the Aliyev regime in Azerbaijan, the Azeri government tends to wage war on Armenia whenever it finds itself in economic and fiscal turmoil. Azerbaijan is a country that ranks 168th out of 180 on the Press Freedom Index, is considered a petro-dictatorship that frequently seeks and reignites conflict with Armenia in an attempt to galvanize public support to distract its citizens from the growing social, economic, and political problems internally.

Azerbaijan also has a dire human rights record, lacks transparency, and is rampant with corruption and increasing nepotism within its government. Coupled with falling oil prices and a troubled banking sector, Azerbaijan looks to re-energize by preying on Artsakh, knowing well it has the unconditional support of the Republic of Turkey.

Turkey’s Role

Turkey and Azerbaijan increasingly run a “one nation, two state” policy. Their ethnic heritage plays a role in this, and “big brother” Turkey has been looking to allow itself on the table to broker a deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Currently, the OSCE Minsk group oversees the Artsakh settlement process and is co-chaired by France, Russia, and the United States.

Turkey wants to force itself onto the negotiating table in an attempt to further their goals and territorial ambitions. This is despite Turkey’s egregious human rights record, including refusing to recognize the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek Genocides that its predecessor state committed at the onset of World War II.

The Armenian Genocide and the war being waged in Artsakh cannot be seen as isolated events. The threat of Pan-Turkism is real and both Turkey and Azerbaijan, refusing to recognize the Armenian Genocide, are seeking to continue the work of their forefathers in their attempts to annihilate the native Armenians who live in their historical homeland. They want Artsakh, without its Armenians, as their genocidal policies remain the same, even over a hundred years after their initial attempts at eradicating the Armenian race.

Armenia’s Military Successes in July

Beginning on July 12, 2020 Azerbaijan attempted to invade Armenia proper in its northeastern province of Tavush. The Armenian Armed Forces not only successfully repelled Azerbaijan, they took strategic positions, as well.

These hostilities which ended on July 30th led to the detention of Rahim Gaziyev, a former Azerbaijani Defense Minister, and the dismissal of Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov. Azerbaijan, regardless of what Ilham Aliyev’s regime wanted to circulate in the press, was defeated and the various differences arising between Aliyev and his former and current ministers was a testament to this. This debacle enflamed the government, causing them to plan this current offensive in an attempt to regain and restore the lost glory in July.

Artsakh War Never Ended

While the Artsakh Liberation Movement was successful in liberating Armenian territories from Azerbaijan, the 1994 ceasefire that was put in place never really ended the war. It stalled it. It will only end with the international recognition of Artsakh as a free and independent state.

For Armenia and Armenians, Artsakh is about history, heritage, and the undeniable right to live freely, whereas for Azerbaijan it’s merely territory. The region of Artsakh is inhabited solely by Armenians. It is a liberation movement. For Azerbaijan and the Aliyev regime, it is just about continuing to further a Pan-Turkist ideology, to continue the legacy of the Ottoman Empire which aimed to destroy the Armenian nation.

Azerbaijan and Turkey must be held accountable for inciting violence against Armenians and abandoning the tents of international human rights laws. They must come to terms with historic and current injustices attributed to their regimes and realize that the desire for self-determination with strong legitimacy grounded in a historical reality is a force to be reckoned with.

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