On September 27th, Azerbaijan, encouraged and aided by Turkey, launched a massive assault on Nagorno Karabakh, an ethnically Armenian enclave known to Armenians as Artsakh. For over three weeks, Azerbaijan has targeted not only military forces but residential neighborhoods and vital infrastructure like hospitals and schools. Evidence shows they deployed lethal cluster munitions on civilian populations, some of which fail to detonate and are left behind to inflict suffering on civilians for decades. Two ceasefires were agreed to between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but immediately violated.
As novelists, poets, memoirists, and journalists, many of us have written about the Armenian genocide of 1915; many of us are descendants of survivors. We are alarmed by the genocidal nature of the attacks during a pandemic when the world is preoccupied and the United States is embroiled in a contentious presidential election. This echoes what happened in 1915, when 1.5 million Armenians were targeted with elimination under the cover of World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic.
As writers, we are keenly aware of the language used by Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The word “occupy” does not apply to Armenians living in Artsakh, where they are indigenous, inhabiting the land since at least the 6th century BC. Claiming there will only be peace when Armenians leave Nagorno-Karabakh frames the attacks as ethnic cleansing; this along with Erdogan’s statement in July that Turkey would fulfill the mission of its grandfathers in the Caucasus is a harrowing threat.
We call on the international media to report the conflict accurately, and learn not only the history of the region, but the current geopolitics. At the very least, the media should be aware of the unequal balance of power: Azerbaijan has more than three times the area, population, and military budget of Armenia and Artsakh combined. With support from Turkey, Azerbaijan has even greater resources. Furthermore, Azerbaijan receives $100 million in US military and security aid, while Armenia receives less than $5 million. Portraying a false equivalence, rather than an accurate picture of the threat of annihilation, only contributes to the growing humanitarian crisis.
The silencing of independent reporting and criticism of the regime in Azerbaijan contributes to the inaccurate depiction of the conflict. A 2020 Reporters Without Borders report on Azerbaijan stated, “Independent journalists and bloggers are jailed on absurd grounds if they do not first yield to harassment, blackmail or bribes.” In 2019, Azerbaijan ranked tenth in the Committee to Protect Journalists’ census of countries with the highest number of jailed journalists. Their censorship has reached beyond their borders, with officials going so far as to have Azeri journalists arrested in Ukraine and Georgia, and suing journalists in France.
Azerbaijan’s complete lack of media pluralism does not allow for credible reporting from the war zone, and this problem is compounded by the fact that the Azeri government refuses entry to almost all foreign journalists, with the exception of a few limited tours supervised by local officials. Armenia, on the other hand, is not only allowing access to foreign journalists, but actively encouraging them to bear witness.
As Armenian writers and poets, we have broken silences about the historical violence we have experienced and witnessed. We use fiction to imagine brighter worlds and possibilities. In the diaspora, our words have bridged us to countless cultures and people. Our knowledge of literature compels us to value the humanity of those indelibly affected by the violence in Artsakh, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. We urge the international community of writers and scholars to voice protest to avoid an escalating war and humanitarian catastrophe. We fundamentally believe that we must engage in truthful dialogue not only to put an end to war, but to make peace.
IALA supports and celebrates writers by fostering the development and distribution of Armenian literature in the English language.