Needs to Hear This,
photo: Sofia Bergmann
I am writing on behalf of a disenfranchised and embattled people - the ethnic Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artskah. I urge you to consider the plight of these people, the victims of unprovoked violence in a war waged by tyrants.
Artsakh, a small self-proclaimed state in the Southern Caucasus, has been disputed territory for a century. Claimed as a territory by both Azerbaijan and Armenia, it is the home of 150,000 souls, who have clung to its mountainous landscape for hundreds of years despite repeated attempts to rip them from their homeland, or bury them in their own soil.
The population of Artsakh is almost exclusively Armenian. This is reflected in their flag, their customs, and their culture. It is a small and scenic corner of the world with a proud history and welcoming, kind people.
The recent incursions by Azerbaijan, assisted by Turkish forces, are a worrying sign. In the past fortnight, skirmishes and shelling have racked the region, leaving hundreds dead, including dozens of civilians. A school, hospital and cathedral have been targeted, left with gaping holes and crumbling walls.
Turkey has long denied the Armenian Genocide of 1915, in which 1.5 million Armenians were massacred by Turkey’s precursor, the Ottoman Empire. In recent years, under a hawkish and aggressive ruler, they have flexed their muscles in the Caucasus, threatening to reignite the terror of a century ago, obliterate an entire population, and take the region by force. They are disguising this as assisting Azerbaijan, their ethnic ally. Armenian PM Mr. Nikol Pashinyan has said that the conflict poses “an existential threat” to Armenia due to Turkey’s role.
Armenians have been forced to watch as the aggressive war wages and their places of worship destroyed, while the world stands by. Their young male population dying on the frontlines protecting a homeland their fathers died fighting for 30 years ago. A recent plea to the US for help from Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan was ignored, even as Azerbaijani forces carpet-bombed the region with US-built F-16 fighters. There is the threat of wider war - Turkey has sworn their unconditional support to Azerbaijan, while Russia has a defense pact with Armenia and military interests in the country.
The ongoing battle in Artsakh, like many international disputes, is immensely complex - American journalist Bill Keller once said that the conflict “taught me that we need a statute of limitations on history.” Similarly to previous conflicts in the Balkans, it has been defined by tit-for-tat killings, murky paramilitary activity, and abhorrent acts by two militaries over the last few decades. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan have exhibited selective memories of their history, editing out their transgressions and emphasising their traumas. However, this is not about picking a side. This is about opposing violence, specifically the violence of a hegemonic foreign power, waging war against a small tribe of people.
In a year where a virus without regard for borders, creed or color has torn through our societies, it is terrible to imagine that the scourge of small-minded prejudice should rear its head once more. Humanity has sacrificed enough.
As American people, we aren’t strangers to oppression and violence; the wounds and weals it opens, the terrible scars it bestows. The memory of its pain is woven into every stitch that holds our communities together. This is why we must stand against senseless violence, and stand against the oppression of the defenceless. We must refuse the bounds of hatred and injustice - wherever the small and the needy must be succoured, there we must stand.
Sadly, the response from our government has been non-existent. In fact, the U.S. funds part of Azerbaijan’s military budget. It is time to change that. The Armenian community in the United States may be small and concentrated, but communities committed to peace are not.
I am asking you to lobby your representatives, and to implore them to denounce the violence of Azerbaijan and Turkey. Visit ANCA.org to demand that the U.S. sanction these nations for breaching international and humanitarian law in their hate-fueled fight. Ask that the U.S. recognize Artsakh as a self-governed people with the right to self-determination on the brink of destruction, worthy of our assistance.
I urge you to increase pressure on Donald Trump’s government to make a statement denouncing the actions of President Ihlam Aliyev, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Turkey-supported Azerbaijan forces currently waging war in Artsakh, against a people who have everything to lose and nothing to gain. President Aliyev has ruled out making concessions before talks aimed at halting the fighting, demanding the submission of the territory by the people who inhabit it. Such an undiplomatic approach needs to be denounced on the international stage.
It is possible to go through years of violence and pain, and see a better way of life. It is possible to choose what is right, even when it does not seem like a choice at all.
Who will speak up for the Armenians?
Let us come together to define a way of empowering those who need their voices heard now, more than ever.
Your Fellow American Citizen