What Fuels Today’s Reemergence of Violence Between Armenia and Azerbaijan?

The Historical Components that Altogether, Sparks the Conflict over the Region of Nagorno-Karabakh

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Annika Baker, Staff Writer

          What is your first thought when interpreting the word “genocide?” Which historical event comes to mind? A majority of the time, an individual will initially remember the concentration camps and mass murders of Jews, targeted and perpetrated by Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. Not far Southeast, the Armenian Genocide resulted in approximately “800,000 [to] one million” deaths of this ethnic group during the first World War, signifying the “first non-colonial genocide of the 20th century.” According to an Armenian social and political history professor at the University of Michigan, Ronald G. Sunni, “90% of Armenians of the Ottoman Empire [were] gone… either massacred, deported, or fled.” As a sophomore in high school, or possibly beyond this particular point in life, the Ottoman Empire may ring a bell from studying (AP) world history classes. A crucial element within this empire is the significant amount of power it held throughout centuries of rulings, thus establishing the label of being one of the most powerful land-based empires in history. The deterioration of this authoritative sovereign sparked frequent attempts at independence within numerous ethnic groups surrounding this region. The speculation that Armenians would assist the Russian military and invasion into Turkey ultimately resulted in the significant event that took place in 1915. Illustrated by the History Unplugged Podcast regarding the inquiry, “Can You Explain the 1915 Armenian Genocide,” historian of the Ottoman Empire, Scott Michael Rank, summarizes that this assumption allowed soldiers under the authority of the Ottoman Empire to disarm uniformed Armenians residing within Ottoman territory, leading to the mass deportation and death march of these ethnic individuals into the Syrian deserts. Accompanying this unbearable trudge was the lack of essential provisions, such as food, water, and adequate clothing. Consequently, various deaths were recorded from malnourishment, dehydration, and fatigue, due to the brutal and tedious journey induced with the punitive climate, as well as the callous soldiers. Despite the numerous records, Turkey continuously denies the Armenian Genocide in order to protect their image to the rest of the world, based on this country’s nationalism, as well as possible future financial repercussions. Furthermore, these deniers conclude that the “relocation of Armenians was a legitimate response to a real or perceived Armenian uprising,” and the significant number of deaths were recorded as a result of inefficient weather conditions, or Armenians posing a threat to the Turkish government and it’s stability. A final excuse is the comparison between this genocide and the Holocaust, in which Turkish individuals claim this event should not be categorized under this name, ultimately because Armenians were not exterminated as Hitler had done with Jewish individuals. 

         Independent regions, now Armenia and Azerbaijan, were recognized after the fall of the Russian Empire in 1917. Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous area of land located within the Caucasus, became an instantaneous focus of both countries before each region was included as republics within the Soviet Union, directly implemented by Russian Soviets. Although Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, concluded this area as an autonomous region recognized as Azerbaijan’s territory, this conflicting piece of land’s population consisted majorly of ethnic Armenians. As the Soviet Union and its supremacy over republics deteriorated, Nagorno-Karabakh officially declared its independence on September 2, 1991, distinguishing the name of Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. After affirming individuality and the deprivation of the direct influence of Moscow, Russia, the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh, became a war zone amongst the two countries. Although the violence resulted in numerous casualties on both ends, Armenia gained control of this area of land, as well as “20 percent of the surrounding Azerbaijani territory,” by 1993. Persistent tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan have arisen since the “war that killed 30,000 people or more, [which] ended in a 1994 ceasefire” systematized through the “Minsk process, overseen by OSCE.”

         Recurrent ceasefire violations have progressively escalated throughout the decades of enmity between Armenia and Azerbaijan, particularly the militarized violence resuming briefly in 2016, and erupting late September of this year. Martial law has been declared, whilst Azerbaijan gained Turkey as a military supplier. Both countries accuse one another of initiating this war, killing and wounding dozens through the incorporation of artillery and firearms. Furthermore, according to health administries, the estimated casualties recorded under both countries consist partly of “2,317 Armenian soldiers [and] 2,783 [Azerbaijani soldiers].” Following weeks of intense fighting over the disputed land of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh), an agreement amongst President Vladimir Putin of Russia, President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan, and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan of Armenia, was introduced to finalize this violence, in which “Russia has deployed about 2,000 peacekeepers.”

         Understanding the atrocities in which Armenians experienced by select individuals under the authority of the Ottoman Empire one hundred and five years ago, generates a solitary, concise word for this particular occasion: genocide. Some may inquire, “Why hasn’t the U.S. government spoken directly on this topic?” What must be taken into consideration is the vital levels of danger our country could ultimately put itself in, through publicizing that Turkey was indeed an “undeniable perpetrator in a genocide,” through the mass slaughter of vulnerable Armenian civilizations in 1915. In the midst of the Cold War, incorporated with the detrimental effects of World War II, the United States “operated strategic reconnaissance missions from Incirlik, Turkey air base [implemented in 1956] to the areas close to the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea, and Central Asia.” Allying with the Turkish military, as well as gaining a large martial base in this region, has generated numerous beneficiaries for the U.S., including the storage of US nuclear weapons, bridgeway for soldiers to halt prior to and/or after deployments, and “a principal focal point for Washington’s Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.” Speaking undesirably of an ally could result in a possible alteration of our diplomatic relations with Turkey. In the end, the United States shows desires of finalizing conflicts, in which speaking upon the connection between Turkey and the Armenian Genocide has been avoided. 

        Throughout 2020’s quarantine, I have personally encountered countless posts on social media regarding spreading awareness for particular groups of individuals. Although it is of grave importance to share your personal opinions, statistics, experiences, and elements of a subject, as well as it’s individualistic aspects that you believe should be focused upon by your peers, ultimately disregarding another circumstance occurring, even if it is situated outside of America, should never be a concluding answer. The Armenian-Azerbaijan conflict deserves an equivalent amount of recognition and responsiveness as any other situation in order to finalize the continuous emergence of violence between these countries.