Chidem Inch: The Earthquake and the Blockade

A devastating scene of a building collapse in Aintab, 2023 (Photo: European Union/Flickr/Lisa Hastert)

On February 6, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Turkey and Syria causing massive destruction and, as of this writing, over 30,000 deaths. There have been posts on social media from Turks and Syrians saying they are safe or, sadly, that a dear friend or family member has died because of the earthquake.

In looking at the map of where the earthquake hit, we see the cities of Marash, Malatya, Ayntab, Aleppo, and even extending to Adana and Dikranagerd, historically part of Cilician Armenia. There are reports of Armenians, who still live in the region, having perished in the quake. Udi Levon Trsyn reported, “Not a single building in Maraş Nurdağı is solid.” Another musician acquaintance reported that Stepan Epremyan, a beautiful singer and performer from Diyarbakir, lost both friends and family in this disaster.

It is very sad.

Quite appropriately, the world is shocked and reaching out to help however they can. Search and rescue crews as well as supplies are pouring in from all over the world. Armenia has sent aid to Syria and Turkey. The Armenian Relief Society (ARS) has a special fund to support the surviving victims of this devastating earthquake. Everyone is doing what they can.

It is heartening to see such press coverage and an outpouring of assistance from people who are touched by the destruction and loss of life. It is the right, humane and decent reaction to such an event.

And yet…

We, as Armenians, are again brutally faced with the plight of our brothers and sisters in Artsakh. One might think that an outpouring of humanitarian assistance might actually be a positive example to Erdogan and Aliyev to cease the blockade of Artsakh and allow food, fuel and medicine to be supplied to the people they are trying to starve and force to comply with evacuating their ancestral homes. But, no, this is not the case.

The rest of the world is equally complacent in this regard. Countries will do all they can, as they should, to help the victims of this natural disaster but can conveniently ignore the Armenians of Artsakh. The world press reports on the relief efforts in Turkey and Syria, the death toll and remarkable stories of survival. They will do so with great vigor until the story is no longer a story. From my vantage point, there has been essentially zero coverage of the unfolding tragedy in Artsakh.

It was good for Armenians to gather in Washington, DC last week in support of Artsakh. There were protests and meetings with congressional and administration leaders to advocate for meaningful legislation to cut military aid to Azerbaijan and other positive actions for Artsakh. I have no inside knowledge, but I am not holding out much hope for any substantive action soon. As a result of our activism, an anti-blockade resolution has been introduced in the House. We all certainly hope it passes and has enough teeth in it to end this starvation siege.

On October 29, 2019, Congress passed House Resolution 219 acknowledging the Armenian Genocide. Since then, the US has been mute on the subject while Turkey took it as an affront and decided to make the Armenians pay. A year later in 2020, Turkey, through their surrogate Azerbaijan started a war that took more than half of Artsakh from us. They now want the rest of Artsakh and may well get it given Armenia’s lack of military capability to do anything and that no other country is willing to come to the aid of the Armenians. The real fear is that Turks will not stop until… I can’t even type it.

Varak Ghazarian is a young person I have gotten to know through reporting on the AYF Olympics these many years. He did a walking tour of Artsakh well before the 2020 war. It was fascinating to read his reports of meeting and staying with villagers in the region. Since the blockage, he has posted a story every day. I quote from his Day 59 post:

“No one is going to come and save us. Just as history has proven time and time again, we are worthless to the world. It is time to build our worth amongst ourselves. Our current homeland should be our main goal. Our current state is threatened. Therefore, all of its people must bear the responsibility of guaranteeing its safety and well being.”

The world is helping Turkey and Syria as well we should. They should demand the same for Artsakh. It seems only right and fair. The same countries aiding in the earthquake relief should demand the end of the starvation siege of Artsakh. It seems only right and fair. But, while we should always advocate for such help, we should not and cannot count on it.

Mark Gavoor
Mark Gavoor is Associate Professor of Operations Management in the School of Business and Nonprofit Management at North Park University in Chicago. He is an avid blogger and oud player.

1 Comment

  1. Excellent article. Finally, the proper names of locations are given. Actually I am not too surprised, since the writer is an oud player, a divine instrument.

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