The Struggle for Artsakh: Civilization Against Tyranny

Editor’s Note: The following was a speech delivered by the author at a rally outside Worcester City Hall on Friday, October 16. 

Rally in Worcester, Mass., October 16, 2020 (Photo: Nooshig Varjabedian)

The American media frequently refers to Artsakh as an enclave, oblast or an obscure region of the world. Yet for Armenians, Artsakh is anything but obscure. Rather it has served as the beating heart of Armenian life and culture for millenia. If the goal was to discuss ancient history, it would be relevant to mention that the oldest standing structure in Artsakh is a mausoleum dedicated to St. Grigoris (grandson of St. Gregory) in the fifth century.

But the time for a history lesson is not now because Armenians are under attack now by sick political pathologies that stew in ethnic hatred and proud boasting references to genocide. This is a depraved politics which the entirety of the civilized world has rejected and yet it rears its ugly head in this twisted love affair between Turkey and Azerbaijan that threatens the lives of millions of indigenous Armenians living on their ancestral homeland. Their love affair is forged in hatred of the Armenian people and their collective denial of the rights of Armenians to exist on their ancestral homeland.

Make no mistake, the battle for Artsakh is not some ethnic grievance in which Armenians seek support because they make up some percentage of some constituency in this city or in that district of our adopted home countries. It is not some political appeal. It is not some economic transaction. Artsakh is the flashpoint of a battle between global civilization and sectarian tyranny.

The regimes of Turkey and Azerbaijan are two sides of the same coin. You don’t have to take my word for it as they frequently march to the repetitive, droning motto “one nation, two states”. They salivate in their daydreams about the annihilation of the inconveniently located Armenians living between them. 

I specifically say regimes of Turkey and Azerbaijan rather than nations, because Armenians do not deal in the same ethnic character assassinations of entire populations as do their enemies.

Last week, Armenian surgeons stayed up all night performing life-saving surgery on an Azeri prisoner of war. The same day Azerbaijan released a video showing the execution of two Armenian prisoners. Armenia’s enemies do not even have the shame to hide Geneva Convention violations. 

A propaganda machine that manufactures hatred of Armenians has become a unifying rally cry for two regimes that manipulate ethnic intolerance even as they choke away the freedoms from their own populations. These countries have bottom-of-the-barrel rankings in press freedoms, religious freedoms, human rights and on and on. Stoking intolerance of neighboring countries is the playbook by which they distract their own citizens from their descent into illiberal totalitarianism.

So deep and broad is the anti-Armenian sentiment in Turkey and Azerbaijan that it cannot help but bubble up like venom and bile even in public settings from the top public official. 

In 2012 the dictator of Azerbaijan, and also nominally, President, Ilham Aliyev, publicly said, “Armenia as a country is of no value. It is actually a colony, a territory artificially created on ancient Azerbaijani lands.” In 2015 he revised his sentiments saying, “Armenia is not even a colony, it is not even worthy of being a servant.” 

Historians, archaeologists, and scholars studying any Caucasian issues are actually warned not to use the libraries and archives in Azerbaijan, not only for the false revisionist scholarship they’ve created over the past 100 years but also for any translations from ancient Greek, Roman, and Persian sources, because even in these translations they’ve erased any mention of Armenian presence in the Caucasus.

In 2004 Azerbaijan’s defense minister said, “Within the next 25 years there will be no state of Armenia, these people have no right to live in this region.” In 2005, the mayor of Azerbaijan’s capital Baku said to a German delegation:Our goal is the complete elimination of Armenians. You already eliminated the Jews in the 30s and 40s, right? You should be able to understand us.”

In Azerbaijan, children in preschool and kindergarten are taught from a young age that Armenians are their archenemies who have stolen their land. Where does this incessant propaganda emanating from all state institutions lead to?

In 2005 during an international NATO-sponsored training event in Hungary, Azerbaijani soldier Ramil Safarov was unable to sleep, so troubled and distressed was he by the presence of Armenian soldiers at this peacekeeping event. Safarov purchased an axe from a local hardware store in Budapest, snuck into the dormitory of Armenian lieutenant Gurgen Margaryan and hacked off his head. The Azerbaijan National Democrat Party named Safarov their “man of the year.”

Civilization against tyranny is what the struggle for Artsakh is about.

In 2008, Turkey’s President Erdogan said of an Armenian Genocide apology campaign put forth by Turkish intellectuals, “We did not commit a crime therefore we do not need to apologize.” In 2011, Erdogan removed a monument called the Statue of Humanity that had placed in Kars in 2006 as a gesture towards peaceful reconciliation between Turks and Armenians. Erdogan claimed the reason for its removal was that the sculptors had not taken into account how the shadows of the statue cast by the sun would disrupt the surrounding scenery.

In Turkey, over one hundred years of genocide denial has mutated into a perverted smirking pride of perpetration. In recent years Erdogan has begun referring to Armenians as kilic artigi, which in Turkish means “sword residue.” This phrase has become so popular in Turkey that people hurl it casually at each other in mundane disagreements. And just this past summer Erdogan said, “We are going to finish what our forefathers started.”

The paradoxical idea that not only did a genocide not happen but also that the Armenians deserved it has ascended to the default Turkish position on the Armenians.

The Armenian nation has come together precisely because this brainwashing and state-manufactured hatred have come together to precipitate the current aggression into Artsakh. Armenians don’t have oil or resources to make political appeals and economic transactions. The battle for Artsakh is an appeal to ethics and morality. It is an appeal to civilization itself.

At the beginning of the 20th century millions of Armenians lived in Turkey, yet today there are only a few thousand and even they cannot live in peace. Last week, factions of the ultranationalist Grey Wolves paraded through the Armenian neighborhoods of Istanbul terrorizing the local population.

In 1988, three hundred and fifty thousand Armenians lived in Azerbaijan. In 1990, virtually zero. In 1988 the number of ancient Armenian khachkars in Azerbaijan numbered in the tens of thousands. Today there are zero. They were razed to the ground and turned into shooting ranges.

The only reason Armenians and Armenian culture exist in Artsakh is because Armenians have taken up arms to defend their homes and their culture from impending genocide. 

As you read this, Armenian churches where women and children hide in the basement are getting shelled by the Azerbaijani military. Civilian hospitals are being bombed. Illegal cluster munitions which distribute hundreds of tiny bomblets with red ribbons for children to find and detonate are being used. Syrian mercenaries are being imported to join Azerbaijani soldiers on the front lines. 

Civilization against tyranny is what the struggle for Artsakh represents.

We call on the global press to remind their readers that their own journalists are not even welcome in Azerbaijan because the state holds a monopoly on what people are allowed to see and read.

We call on all civilized peoples to help us defend freedom, help us defend justice, and help us to defend the global family of humanity that we want our children and our grandchildren to be a part of.

We call on the United States and all national governments interested in maintaining peace and ensuring justice to sanction Turkey and to sanction Azerbaijan now. Allow those sanctions to serve as barriers protecting civilization from tyranny but also as standing invitations for when these regimes, through words and actions, prove themselves ready and capable of joining the world community. 

Let us not weigh oil partnerships against indigenous Armenian lives or make tenuous alliances with violent states. The struggle for Artsakh demands that you choose civilization and human rights over the zero-sum medieval savagery of tyranny and ethnic bigotry. 

Hovik Arshaguni

Hovik Arshaguni

Hovik Arshaguni is an Armenian-American from Worcester, MA.
Hovik Arshaguni

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