The end to active combat in the 2020 Nagorno Karabakh war is far from the end of the war on a key victim: the rich and irreplaceable cultural heritage of Artsakh, as the republic is known to Armenians.
Only two years ago, Armenian art, history, and culture were celebrated by some of the world’s most acclaimed cultural institutions. Armenia! at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was a major international exhibition of Armenian medieval art. The wonders on display broke attendance records, earned critical praise, and demonstrated the major contributions of Armenians to world civilization. The Smithsonian Folklife Festival celebrated Armenian artistic and cultural traditions during its annual interactive exposition on the National Mall in Washington DC, drawing record numbers. That same year, the global consortium of French-speaking nations gathered in Armenia’s capital of Yerevan for the Summit of the Francophonie, hosting hundreds of world leaders, visitors and the international media.
Now, just two short years later, the world looks away as Armenian art, architecture, and history are being destroyed. On September 27, 2020, Azerbaijan launched a large-scale military attack on the Republic of Artsakh. Turkey, which continues to deny its genocidal project of the annihilation of the Armenian people perpetrated in 1915-1922 in their historical homeland, has lent its full political and military support to Azerbaijan in this latest act of aggression.
Regarding Recent "Genocide Watch" Pronouncements on the Situation in and around Nagorno-Karabakh
Dear IAGS Members,
I do not write what follows in my capacity as president of International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS), but as a member of IAGS and a scholar of genocide, including its denial and the complexities of long-term post-genocide perpetrator-victim asymmetrical domination relations. I am also half Armenian; at the same time, for years I have been clear that any human rights violations by Armenians against Azeris should be investigated and go through an appropriate legal process, with appropriate punishments for all who committed them. I am unaware of any parallel call for Azeri accountability by any scholar (or other person) of Azeri descent, but hope there has been or will be at least one.
The Istanbul bureau chief of The New York Times, Carlotta Gall, appears to have been in her latest destination long enough to learn and internalize some of the crassest tactics of Turkish denialism.
She could not refrain from turning her dispatch from Baku, “Roots of War: When Armenia Talked Tough, Azerbaijan Took Action” (The New York Times, October 27, 2010), into the usual mix of reporting and opinion that characterizes “journalism” these days. One wonders if she used to do the same when reporting from Chechnya and Afghanistan. In any case, this article will hardly earn her a prize for journalistic fairness. She omitted the point already raised by Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalın in last May, who extended greetings to Azerbaijan on its Republic Day, wishing “more beautiful, brighter and stronger days” in the future as “one nation, two states,” to hammer on its Armenian equivalent “Artsakh is Armenia” (mentioned by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in August) as unofficial spokesperson to Azerbaijan president’s foreign policy adviser Hikmet Hajiyev’s lame justification for Azerbaijan’s aggression: “The final nail in the coffin of the negotiation process was when he said that Nagorno-Karabakh was Armenian.”
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev has opened another battlefront thousands of miles away from Baku, in the pages of local and national newspapers and news sites in the US. Much like the Syrian mercenaries Baku recruited and deployed with the help of Turkish defense contractors to target Armenians, Azerbaijan’s US-based lobbyists are at the forefront of an “information warfare” that costs millions of dollars annually.
One important aspect of the work of these lobbyists is to place, disseminate and promote anti-Armenian narratives. Their tactics have evolved into a relentless smear campaign through US media outlets, painting Armenia as a close ally of Iran that undermines Western policies and Armenians as intolerant and anti-Semitic. At the same time, Azerbaijan is depicted as a beacon of tolerance, an ally of Israel and a champion of religious rights.
With hundreds dead on both sides, the war between Armenian and Azeri forces in Karabakh — in Armenian, Artsakh — a mountainous enclave in the Southern Caucasus, is now anything but ‘frozen’, as it has long been described. A tenuous ceasefire had held since 1994, when the population of this historically Armenian region secured its de facto independence, in close cooperation with the Republic of Armenia. Peace has mostly prevailed since then, except for a four-day war in 2016 and a major flare-up last July.
The immediate cause of the fighting that broke out on 27 September is Azerbaijan’s attempt to reclaim territory that was within its borders during the Soviet period. After the Caucasian Bureau of the Bolshevik Party initially recognised Karabakh’s right to autonomy and promising it to Armenia following the republic’s sovietisation in 1920, Joseph Stalin, then commissar of nationalities of the Soviet Union, intervened, and the Soviets gave Karabakh to Azerbaijan in 1921. Armenians argue that this decision flies in the face of its history of continuous autonomy under Armenian princes since at least the eighth century and, more importantly, its population being more than 90% Armenian. In 1923, the Soviet government proclaimed the enclave an autonomous region within the Socialist Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan.
Since September 27, Azerbaijan has launched a major offensive against the Armenian Republic of Artsakh, also known as Nagorno-Karabakh, located in the South Caucasus. Azerbaijan has since indiscriminately bombed civilians, with the direct support it receives from Turkey, who recruited jihadists from Syria and elsewhere.
The Israeli government, it seems, continues to sell weapons to Azerbaijan during the height of this war. In an open letter on October 5, a group of academics from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem called upon the Israeli government to immediately cease these arms sales. The letter reads, in part:
“From a reading of independent accounts and analysis we have concluded that this outbreak of violence in the last few days is due solely to aggression of the Republic of Azerbaijan, supported by Turkey and backed up by fighters from elsewhere in the region.”
I.B. Tauris (an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing) announced the launch of a new series titled Armenians in the Modern and Early Modern World. Prof. Bedross Der Matossian will serve as the series editor. Recent decades have seen the expansion of Armenian Studies from insular history to a broader, more interactive field within an inter-regional and global context. This series responds to this growth by promoting innovative and interdisciplinary approaches to Armenian history, politics, and culture in the period between 1500-2000. Focusing on the geographies of the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Contemporary Russia [Eastern Armenia], it directs specific attention to imperial and post-imperial frameworks: from the Ottoman Empire to Modern Turkey/Arab Middle East; the Safavid/Qajar Empires to Iran; and the Russian Empire to Soviet Union/Post-Soviet territories.
Reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of the field, the series welcomes proposals from scholars in Ottoman/Turkish Studies, Iranian Studies, Slavic Studies, Middle Eastern Studies, Mediterranean Studies, and disciplines of History, Political Science, Anthropology, Literature and Sociology, among others. Topics and themes include, but are not limited to, the following areas: Trade and economy; Cultural Production; Political History; Gender; Intra and Inter-religious relations; Diaspora; Genocide; Nationalism and Identity formation; and Democratization. The series will publish monographs and edited collections. All proposal and manuscripts are subject to rigorous peer review. Der Matossian commented: “It is an honor to serve as the editor of this exciting series. We have excellent books in the pipeline. With the support of a highly qualified Advisory Board, I am confident that we will be able to advance the field of Armenian Studies from an interdisciplinary perspective.”
The forthcoming books in the series include The Politics of Naming the Armenian Genocide: Language, History and ‘Medz Yeghern’ by Vartan Matiossian and Picturing the Ottoman Armenian World: Photography in Erzerum, Kharpert, Van and Beyond by David Low.
Emily Uyeda Kantrim
On August 1, the field of Armenian archaeology lost one of its most dedicated scholars, Dr. Gregory E. Areshian. He was a member of the UCLA community since 2001 serving as the inaugural Director of the UCLA Research Program in Armenian Archaeology and Ethnography, Assistant Director of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, Editor of Backdirt, a visiting scholar, and an Adjunct Associate Professor in the department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures.