Before my COVID evacuation, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in Armenia. My site was Martuni near Lake Sevan, 30 minutes from a town just bombed by Azeri drones. I worked part-time at a women’s nonprofit and the local high school. As Azeri children learn from history books dehumanizing Armenians, I never once witnessed the same in Armenian schools. I very quickly realized that Armenians merely strive for prosperous, peaceful lives. Parents would sacrifice themselves to spare their sons from war.
I was raised in a Muslim household by Azeri and Turkish parents who emigrated from Iran. I first got to know Armenians at UCLA, where my best friends made me a member of the Armenian Students Association. In Armenia, I noticed the undeniable similarities in our cultures and grew an affinity for the people. American Turks and Azeris called me a “traitor,” a “liar” and a “secret Armenian” as I advocated for genocide recognition and reparations. Their ethnic backgrounds compel them to hate Armenians. My cultural awareness and religious understanding, on the other hand, drive me to advocate for this community.
The world’s first Christian nation, Armenia is an ancient country in the South Caucasus landlocked between two extremely hostile nations. Over a century ago, Ottoman rulers used Armenophobia as a distraction during domestic strife. The slowly dying Ottoman Turkey, in conjunction with Azerbaijan, initiated ethnic cleansing campaigns and the first major genocide of the 20th century. The empire murdered 300,000 Assyrians, 750,000 Greeks, and 1.5 million Armenians.
The international community never held the perpetrators accountable. After WWI, Turkey ratified the Treaty of Lausanne, which didn’t include punishment for war crimes. Azerbaijan rewards its servicemembers for their brutality and inhumanity. These two nations act with impunity offering access to air bases and cheap oil in exchange. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when they attack the region’s only thriving, growing democracy.
The Genocide never quite ended for the Armenians, as their belligerent neighbors continue to threaten their existence. Turks and Azeris see themselves as one people — “one nation, two states.” Baku’s mayor explained that their “goal is the complete elimination of Armenians.” An Azeri state spokesman hoped that “there will be no state of Armenia.” Azerbaijan has destroyed tens of thousands of UNESCO-protected Armenian cross-stones. Turkey deployed Syrian mercenaries to Baku and pledged to upgrade Azerbaijan’s military equipment and defense systems.
Artsakh, a former Armenian kingdom, has consistently defended itself against Azeri occupation. This small land was given to Azerbaijan by Stalin despite its Armenian-majority population. When the USSR dissolved, Artsakh Armenians called for and secured independence and founded the Republic of Artsakh, fueled by a movement for self-determination. As the victor, Armenia has no motive to attack Azerbaijan.
For centuries, Armenians have been the targets of mass extermination. We can’t turn a blind eye any longer. It’s time to hold the perpetrators accountable. Congress must sanction Turkey, condemn the Azeri attacks, cease all military aid to Baku and guarantee a permanent, peaceful resolution to Artsakh. America should formally recognize the Republic of Artsakh. We are running out of time to protect one of the oldest civilizations on Earth.