“Who controls the past controls the future;” party slogan states in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, “Who controls the present controls the past.”
While hopes are high that – despite a hostile history – Armenia and Turkey will establish diplomatic relations and that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan may finally be solved, the problem of how to deal with the official Turkish/Azerbaijani factory of history is not being addressed.
Djulfa, Nakhichevan: the worst documented case of history fabrication; Azerbaijani soldiers destroying the largest Armenian medieval cemetery in the world (December 2005) – the site is now a military rifle range
It’s not merely Turkey’s and Azerbaijan’s denial of the Armenian Genocide that makes the reconciliation quite difficult, to say the least, but also the official Turkish thesis, with its roots in the Young Turkish movement (that carried out the Armenian Genocide) and formalized by Ataturk, that Turks/Azeris are indigenous to their current homelands and that Armenians, in the best case, are unwelcome immigrants.
While the Turkish fabrication of history can be dismissed as an issue of “internal consumption” – meaning a convenient myth to boost Turkish/Azeri pride in their respective countries (with the dangerous slogan “Happy is the man who can say I am Turk”) – the implications of flip-flopping history are right there in the middle of the current developments in the region. Here is a most recent case.
Turkey’s ceremonial president Abdullah Gul is currently visiting Nakhichevan (or Nakhchivan as Azerbaijan prefers), the region of Azerbaijan which it got from the communist regime in Moscow as another gift at the expense of giving out Armenian lands. Moreover, a treaty that Soviet Armenia was forced to sign from Moscow made Turkey the “guarantor” of Nakhichevan in the 1920s.
Gul is visiting Nakhichevan with other heads of “Turkic-speaking countries” (most of them in Central Asia) to talk about common issues. Sounds like a normal political event, and nothing to protest about, especially since Armenia has no official claims toward Nakhichevan. But read the rest.
As there are no Armenians left in Nakhichevan (thanks to a Soviet Azerbaijani policy of nonviolent ethnic cleansing which attracted little attention at the time) and not a trace of the rich Armenian heritage (the most precious of which, the Djulfa cemetery, was reduced to dust by Azeri soldiers in December 2005 – see the videotape), Armenia has no claims to Nakhichevan and perhaps rightly so. Yet, apparently, the history factory in Nakhichevan is still cooking.
While Armenia restraints itself from claiming its indigenous lands, and particularly Nakhichevan, taken away from it without its consent, Turkey and Azerbaijan must discontinue their unhealthy fabrications of history. Instead…
Putting the “native” side aside for a moment, the distortion of not just basic history but of linguistics is sickening. Save for the disputed proposal that Nakhichevan comes from the Persian phrase Naqsh-e-Jahan (image of the world), every other explanation of the name of the region has to do with Armenians (see Wikipedia for the several versions), let alone that the word itself has two Armenian parts to it: Nakh (before or first) and ichevan (landing, sanctuary) – referring to Noah’s coming out of the Ark from (another holy Armenian symbol) Mount Ararat – next to Nakhichevan now on Turkish territory.
Ironically, and as almost always in history fabrication, the Azeri/Turkish distortion of “Nakhichevan” is inconsistent. According to an official Azerbaijani news website, there are discussions in Nakhichevan that admit that the word has to do something with Noah (of course after saying that it had to do with a mythical Turkish tribe that lived there thousands of years ago): “The Turkic tribes of nakhch were once considered as having given the name to it. Other sources connect Nakhichevan with the prophet Noah himself, as his name sounds as nukh in Turkic.” Moreover, as an official Nakhichevani publication reads, “There is no other territory on the earth so rich with place-names connected with Noah as Nakhichevan. According to popular belief, Noah is buried in southern part of Nakhichevan, and his sister is buried in the northwest of the city.” Hold on. Did you notice that the language uses (at least its official English translation) the Armenian taboo name of the region: Nakhichevan (as opposed to Turkified Nakchivan)? Maybe there is hope, but not really. Azerbaijan still denies that it didn’t destroy the Djulfa cemetery because, well, it didn’t exist in the first place.
A skeptic would ask what the fuss is about. The answer is that Nakhichevan’s distortion is not the first. The sacred Armenian places of Ani, Van, and Akhtamar in Turkey all have official Turkish explanations to their meanings, while those places existed for hundreds – if not thousands – of more years before Turks colonized the homeland of the Armenians.
More importantly, the changing of toponyms is not done to meet the social demands of Turks/Azeris and in order to make it easier for the locals to pronounce geographic names. Distortion is done to rewrite history in order to control the future. But it’s not the right thing to do. And both Turkey and Azerbaijan embarrass themselves when it comes to legal discussions.
Immediately prior to voting for the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in September 2007, for example, the Turkish delegation at the United Nations made it clear that its “yes” vote was cast with the understanding that there were no indigenous peoples on Turkey’s territory. If there were indigenous peoples on the territory, the Turkish representative stated, then the declaration didn’t challenge states’ territorial integrity. Azerbaijan, on the other hand, abstained from voting.
The reservation on the UN document came from both countries who claim that there are the indigenous heirs of the lands they occupy and that their main enemy, Armenians (and also Kurds) are not only indigenous but are recent immigrants.
One version of Azerbaijan’s ridiculous inidigenousness claim is written on the website of one Azerbaijani Embassy: “The ancient states of Azerbaijan, which maintained political, economic and cultural ties with Sumer and Akkad and formed part of the wider civilization of Mesopotamia, were governed by dynasties of Turkic descent. The Turkophone peoples that have inhabited the area of Azerbaijan since ancient times were fire-worshippers and adherents of one of the world’s oldest religions – Zoroastrianism.”
Armenians (and to a large extent the Kurds, Assyrians and Pontiac Greeks) have their share of fault in the debate. Constantly repeating their indigenousness in what is now Turkey and Azerbaijan, Armenians have helped create the defensive Turkish/Azeri attitude that they, and not Armenians or others, are the indigenous peoples of the land. But when it comes to fabricating history of their own, there is little blame for Armenia.
As Armenia struggles to defend the victory it won over the Karabakh conflict, most Armenians use the Turko-Persian name for Nagorno-Karabakh (Karabakh meaning black garden, Kara – black in Turkish and bagh – garden in Farsi). While some Armenian nationalists prefer using the indigenous name of the region, Artsakh, many others indirectly admit that diverse history of Nagorno-Karabakh by keeping its Turkified name.
While Turkey ad Azerbaijan must come to terms with history, Armenia must accept that Turks and Azeris are there to stay. All the nations in the region have equal rights to existence, but not so at the unhealthy price of fabricating history.
Five months after the war with Russia over South Ossetia, Georgian authorities have reportedly arrested two members of its Armenian minority on suspicion of espionage and forming an armed gang. Underrepresented in the local government of a region where they make up the majority, some Armenian demands for autonomy of Georgia’s Samtskhe-Javakheti region (map) are once again being heard.
On January 22, 2009 the special forces of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia detained Grigor Minasyan, the director of the Akhaltskha Armenian Youth Center of Samtskhe-Javakheti Region of Georgia and Sargis Hakobjanyan, the chairman of “Charles Aznavour” charitable organization. They were charged with “preparation of crime”, according to Article 18 of the Criminal Code of Georgia, and “formation or leading of a paramilitary unit” (Part 1 of Article 223) and “espionage” (Part 1 of Article 314).
The announcement also reads:
The «Yerkir» Union considers these arrests as a deliberate provocation by the Georgian authorities, aimed at deterioration of the situation in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region and worsening the Armenian-Georgian relations…Only a democratic Georgia, respecting its ethnic diversity, can avoid further disruption and guarantee the sustainable development of the country.
While XUSSR NEWSreminds of earlier arrests of ethnic Armenians in Georgia, there is little information in the conventional media about the new development and limited discussion in the blogosphere.
[Think-tank] Mitq [...] continues to play the nationalist card by warning of a second Armenian Genocide [in Georgia]. The same news site carries a report quoting a former Armenian Ambassador who not only lays claim to the region, but potentially risks encouraging a new armed conflict.
And as Armenian nationalists openly boast that “after Karabakh, Javakhk is next,” more diplomatic initiatives and sensitive handling by both Yerevan and Tbilisi seems more necessary than ever.
The blog, nonetheless, acknowledges problems in the region and especially with Council of Europe demands to repatriate Meskhetian Turks deported from the region by Stalin in 1944. Other bloggers in Armenia staged a mock funeral in 2008 outside the Georgian Embassy in protest at an ongoing dispute over church property in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.
As an indication of some concerns that Armenians have about the level of cultural rights in Georgia, smbatgogyan [AM] has detailed an Armenian textbook published in Georgia with countless typos and grammatical errors.
Գնացել էի գյուղ, որը գտնվում է Վրաստանում` Ջավախքում: Այնտեղ արդեն մի-քանի տարի է, ինչ դպրոցներում փորձում են վերացնել հայերենը: Սակայն նրանց մոտ ոչինչ չստացվեց` ծնողները հրաժարվեցին իրենց երեխաներին քիմիա, աշխարհագրություն և համաշխարհային պատմություն սովորեցնել վրացերենով: …Վրաստանի կրթության նախարարությունը սկսել է հայերեն լեզվով դասագրքեր տպել Վրաստանի հայկական դպրոցների համար և պարտադրում է ուսանել այդ գրքերով: Ահա այդ գրքերից մեկը…:
…I went to a village in Georgia’s Javakhk [region]. [The Georgian authorities] have been trying to eliminate the Armenian language at schools there. But they were unsuccessful: parents refused to let their children learn chemistry, geography and world history in Georgian…. Georgia’s ministry of education has started to print textbooks in Armenian and requires to use them at school [as opposed to textbooks published in Armenia]. Here is one of those books…
The blog posts the cover of a mathematics textbook for second-grade students with the large title containing two typos in the word “mathematics.”
Interestingly, an earlier post dealt with translating textbooks into minority languages in Georgia. Writing for TOL Chalkboard, Swiss-Armenian journalist and regional analyst Vicken Cheterian detailed the project.
When we [...] carried out bilingual education studies in Georgia [...] we wondered how the images of minorities were reflected in the pages of Georgian history textbooks[...].
Their report [...] found something startling: Armenians and Azeris in Georgia were by and large absent from Georgian history books. When they were noted, it was in a negative sense.
A workshop held in November  [...] concluded that the Georgian Education Ministry is moving forward in its efforts to change the way history is taught. At the event [...] Georgian educators presented their ongoing project to develop new textbooks with the aim of giving more space to minorities in the official version of history presented to youngsters from majority and minority linguistic communities.
These new texts should begin appearing soon in Armenian and Azeri schools, and be in use in all history classes in Samtskhe-Javakheti and Kvemo-Kartli by 2011.
[...]Georgian history teachers and authors are moving from a position of negation of ethnic minorities to one of recognition. But important obstacles remain in the path toward an integrated narrative of history in which minorities move from being the “other” coexisting with “us” into being part of society.
…[I]n a turbulent political climate following the catastrophic August war [with Russia], Georgian education authorities and many educators continue to press for change.
Will the process of “change” include enough Armenians and Azeris so that relations, let alone words, are not lost in translation?
Three years after a cemetery dating back to the 9th Century was deliberately destroyed in the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan, bloggers recall an ancient culture annihilated and condemn the world for closing its eyes to what many consider to be an official attempt to rewrite history.
Today is the commemoration of the 3rd anniversary of Djulfa’s destruction. …This [is] not only a crime against Armenian culture, but against our collective cultural heritage as humankind. Don’t let it go unnoticed.
Between 10-16 December 2005 over a hundred uniformed men were videotaped destroying the Djulfa cemetery using sledgehammers, cranes, and trucks. The video was taken from across the border in Iran.
Азербайджанские власти на протяжении всего советского периода старались уничтожить этот некрополь, поскольку для них он был всего лишь свидетельством о том, что именно армяне были хозяевами этой территории на протяжении веков, вопреки тому, что говорилось в азербайджанских советских мифах о собственной “древности”… Это кладбище, вполне достойное названия чуда, было даже не внесено в реестр архитектурных памятников Азербайджана… После распада СССР, во время карабахского конфликта, продолжалось разорение кладбища, и, наконец, оно было окончательно уничтожено….
The Azeri authorities throughout all Soviet period tried to destroy this necropolis as for them it was only a testament that Armenians were owners of this territory throughout centuries in spite of Azerbaijan’s Soviet myths about own “antiquity”… This cemetery, quite worthy to be called a wonder, was not even placed on the register of architectural monuments of Azerbaijan… After USSR’s collapse, during the Karabakh conflict, the cemetery’s demolition continued, and, at last, definitively destroyed….
آنان از سنگ قبر ارامنه هم نگذشته اند و با تخریب دوازده هزار قبر با سنگ قبر هایی منحصر به فرد که متعلق به چند قرن پیش بوده و جزئی از میراث فرهنگی ارامنه به حساب می آمد، هیچ اثری از ارمنی نشین بودن آنجا، بجا نگذاشته اند.
[After acquiring Nakhichevan, Azeris] did not even tolerate Armenian gravestones. They destroyed twelve thousand Armenian graves. These unique gravestones with several centuries’ history were part of Armenian cultural heritage. However, through destruction of these gravestones, [Azeris] destroyed all signs indicating the existence of Armenians in that land. [translated by Loosineh M.]
iArarat, remembers Djulfa by discussing Robert Bevan’s The Destruction of Memory: Architecture at War, a book that was “part of a class I teach at a Texas university on nationalism and ethno-political conflicts.”
While reading Bevan’s book I was inevitably reminded of the destruction of the medieval Armenian cemetery in Jugha, presently in Azerbaijan. Azeri soldiers at the command of their superiors without as much as blinking an eye would embark at destroying and erasing the last vestige of the Armenian civilization in that territory as if the Armenians had never as much as existed there, as if Armenians had never as much as created anything, something to celebrate their faith and commemorate their dead…
Adding insult to injury, earlier this month Baku, Azerbaijan hosted a little-noticed two-day conference of Council of Europe culture ministers to discuss “Intercultural dialogue as the basis for peace and sustainable development in Europe and its neighboring regions.” In his opening remarks to the attendees Azeri president Ilham Aliyev, astonishingly claimed:
“Azerbaijan has rich history and the cultural monuments here are duly preserved, and a lot is being done in this direction…”
[T]he Armenian Ministry of Culture failed to deliver a message by boycotting the conference. They either should have properly boycotted the conference by making an appropriate statement explaining the reasons for non-participation, or they should have participated there to raise the all important issues of destruction of Armenian cultural heritage in Azerbaijan, as well as protecting and restoring the multinational cultural heritage in all three South Caucasus countries [Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan].
old-dilettante [RU], says that Djulfa’s destruction was the last stage of Azerbaijan’s attempt to eradicate Nakhichevan’s Armenian heritage. Commenting on a post about churches in Georgia, she writes:
Теперь там не найдется ни одной армянской церкви, несмотря на фотографии и книги, изданные всего ничего – лет 20 тому назад. Все церкви уничтожены. Все могилы. Все хачкары.
И кто через 20 лет скажет, что там вообще жили армяне? … А ведь мой дед был “местным жителем”.
…Now, not a single Armenian church will be found [in Nakhichevan] despite of photographs, some as recent as 20-years-old. All churches are annihilated. All cemeteries. All khatchkars.
And who will say in 20 years that Armenians ever lived there? … It wasn’t that long ago that my own grandfather was a “local” there.
In Baku Armenian cemeteries with less historical but more immediate sentimental value to many (including my family whose three generations made their home in Baku for nearly a century) were paved over for roads or new construction. That does not justify the disrespect they were afforded but makes some remote sense.
In the case of Jugha khachkars stood in the middle of nowhere and were simply crushed, dismembered, thrown into the river. They were targeted and wiped out as the last remaining Armenian outpost.
Sarcastically, the journalist-blogger considers how other Armenian monuments on Azerbaijani territory could be protected.
Now I am thinking, perhaps Armenians should disassemble the remaining Azeri mosques and gravestones on their territory and exchange them for the khachkars and other Armenian heritage items of value?
Certainly some of the Azeri items have cultural value for Armenia and I would rather not see them go. But what other options are there?
Reacting to a comment on his above-mentioned post, Ivan Kondratiev [RU] also says that if Azerbaijanis wanted to cleanse their territory of Armenian heritage, they could have at least given the monuments to Armenia even if such a transfer would amount to acknowledging Djulfa’s Armenian history.
[T]here is reason to be optimistic that [Barack Obama's] foreign policy team will… have a very different response to the ongoing stonewalling by the Azeris than [current US Secretary of State] Rice’s utter disinterest [about Djulfa's destruction], which is rooted in the Bush administration’s pro-Azerbaijani, pro-Turkey foreign policy.
In addition to secretary of state nominee Hillary Clinton [...] prospective U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice has a particular interest in genocide and is an advocate of military action to stop mass killings, rather than ineffective “dialogue” as slaughters continue apace. And Harvard professor Samantha Power, author of “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide” (2002), has been quietly advising Obama behind the scenes [...].
Given that past is prologue, with these women’s combined emphasis on championing human rights and genocide prevention, it will not be easy for the Obama administration to ignore or overlook the genocide that preceeded – and encouraged – all others in the 20th and 21st centuries, or the ongoing “cultural genocides” in Azerbaijan and Turkey against the archeological remains of a once-thriving, centuries-old Armenian population that is no more.
More photographs of the cemetery, before and after its destruction, are available at www.djulfa.com.
While I have been silent on the recent developments of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process, it doesn’t mean I have not been following the news. My silence reflects a complicated mixture of cautious optimism, confusion, excitement, fear, cynicism, and a busy schedule (which includes observing the US presidential elections). We live in historic and unpredictable times. These unknown globalized waves can translate into almost anything in Nagorno-Karabakh – from long-term solutions to further conflict.
Internationally, Obama’s election, Georgia’s unsuccessful bid for South Ossetia, Turkey’s continuous struggle to join the European Union, and international – particularly US and Russian – interest in the South Caucasus have contributed to the recent developments in the Armenian-Azerbaijani peace process, which was vocalized in a set of principles that Azerbaijan and Armenia signed in Moscow in early November 2008. One can only hope that Armenian and Azeri leaders will make tough choices and negotiate for a solution. Locally, both countries have a great chance to make the piece.
For those of you who don’t know, Nagorno-Karabakh is an indigenous Armenian region (called Artsakh by locals) within the country of Azerbaijan. This small territory declared its independence from Soviet Azerbaijan in 1991, less than seventy years after USSR chief Joseph Stalin gave Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan. The conflict escalated into a war between Armenia/Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan, killing thousands of people and leaving many more homeless.
Today, Nagorno-Karabakh is an internationally unrecognized republic with a common border with mother Armenia. Nationalist sentiment is at peak high in Azerbaijan where most people see Armenians as invaders and aggressors. The sentiment was reflected in December 2005, when a contingent of Azerbaijan’s army reduced the largest medieval Armenian cemetery – Djulfa – to dust. (Official Azerbaijan until this day denies the destruction, even though it was videotaped.) While most Armenians are nowadays much less antagonistic against Azerbaijan, during the war, in 1992, armed Armenian groups massacred a few hundred Azeri civilians when fighting in Khojalu, although both official Armenia and some Azeri sources question some of the facts of the tragedy: particularly suggesting that Azeri forces deliberately banned Khojalu’s residents to leave through a humanitarian corridor the Armenian army had left for civilians. Furthermore, Armenians claim that the conflict itself started in Azerbaijan when mobs attacked hundreds of Armenian citizens, killing several dozen, in their homes in Sumgayit in 1988 while the Police stood by. Azeris claim that there were riots against their kin in southern Armenia at the same time.
Armenian and Azeri Attitudes:
In short, both Armenia and Azerbaijan see themselves as the victim and the enemy as the aggressor in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. And while abuses by both sides have been almost always symmetrical in the conflict, official Azerbaijan – until recently – has been using both verbal threats and disproportional acts of destruction. Threats have included official statements by Azerbaijan’s president to win Nagorno-Karabakh back by any price, including by war, and predictions by a senior Azeri military chief that Armenia will not exist in several years. Disproportional acts of destruction by Azerbaijan have included total elimination of all ancient indigenous Armenian monuments on its territory, especially in the exclave of Nakhichevan (another region granted to Azerbaijan by Stalin). This is not only inconsistent with Azerbaijan’s self-promotion as “the world’s most tolerant country,” but is also an act of cultural genocide (what I call “genocidal vandalism” in my honors thesis) which in no way contributes to the peace process.
Armenia’s diplomacy in the conflict has been more moderate, which may be a reflection of the following: Armenia’s victory in the early 1990s war, oil-rich Azerbaijan’s military boom, and limited open international support for Armenia in the conflict. Moderate diplomacy, nonetheless, hasn’t resulted in worldwide condemnation against Azerbaijan for blockading Armenia (although until George W. Bush, the United States didn’t give military aid to Azerbaijan). And in general, the world has been very careful not to take sides in the conflict (neither in the case of the Khojalu massacre by Armenians nor in the recent case of Djulfa’s destruction by Azeris): an approach which is difficult to determine as productive or not.
Ideal Solutions and Militant Positions:
One reason why it has been difficult to defend one position or another has been the polarized Armenian and Azerbaijani demands, a “normal” situation in every conflict.
Azerbaijan wants to return its borders to pre-1991, entirely reversing what the bloody war did before the 1994 cease fire. It says that Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh will be Azerbaijan’s citizens, but that they will never have the right or the option to succeed from Azerbaijan. In short, the legal concept of “territorial integrity” has been the supreme law and the sacred doctrine in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has about a million refugees who live in horrible conditions. Azerbaijan hopes that all these people will return to their homes, now under Armenian control. Armenians say and an Amnesty International report agreed last year, that Azerbaijan is deliberately ignoring its refugees and making their lives even miserable in order to gain international support.
Armenia says that Nagorno-Karabakh’s return to Azeri control would mean giving 150,000 Armenian lives into captivity. If Azerbaijan reduces unarmed ancient Armenian graves to dust, what will it do with live Armenians? Many, if not most, Armenians insist on also keeping the seven regions around Nagorno-Karabakh that Armenian forces gained control of during the war. While not many Armenians lived on these lands during the war, there are hundreds of ancient monuments that Armenians see as proof for their historic claim to the land. Some Azeris criticize Armenians for capitalizing on history and, thus, denying Azeri inhabitants the right to return to their homes. Some Armenians respond that Azerbaijan is trying to capitalize on rewriting history, and denying indigenous Armenians their right to self-determination.
On surface, Azerbaijan doesn’t agree to any solution that will let Nagorno-Karabakh be separate from it. In the same way, many Armenians consider the possibility of giving much of the seven surrounding territories back to Azerbaijan a loss. Neither party considers all the damage that has happened – and will continue to happen – to people in both countries because of the unresolved conflict. Nationalism has overridden cost-benefit analysis (with a human rights perspective) or mutual respect for the rights of the other.
Undemocratic regimes in both Armenia and Azerbaijan have perhaps contributed to the conflict. Wars unite populations, and perhaps the conflict has worked well for both Azeri and Armenian political elites. A few months ago, a former Azerbaijani serviceman (now studying in the United States) told me that Azerbaijan’s economic elite is using nationalism to hold power in the country. While Azerbaijan’s economy is booming due to oil exports, ordinary people are not experiencing change in their lives. Hatred against Armenia, some Azeris say, is the perfect tool for Azerbaijan’s rich class to distract the majority’s attention. And in Armenia, between 1992 and 1994, people would die from hunger and economic desperation. While the government was blaming everything on the war, several government-protected families were illegally becoming superrich. According to widespread claims, independent Armenia’s regime (both Levon-Ter Petrosyan’s and Kocharyan’s) elites stole billions of dollars from the people of Armenia through neoliberal privatizations of several industries and by other means.
Time for Change?
But even undemocratic regimes can solve problems, especially when their hegemony and reputation is at stake. In the last few months, there have been interesting developments in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. First, Azerbaijan’s ally and Armenia’s historic enemy Turkey demonstrated diplomatic will to cooperate with Armenia. Turkey’s president Abdullah Gul accepted his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan’s invitation to watch a soccer match between both countries in September 2008. The historic event, deemed as “football diplomacy,” was followed by recent meetings brokered by Moscow between Armenia and Azerbaijan where, for the first time, leaders of both countries seemed to be pleased. More surprisingly, Turkey has been reducing its pro-Azerbaijan rhetoric while trying to become a mediator between its two South Caucasus neighbors.
Many Armenians, who are usually skeptical in international relations given their experience of genocide, are discouraged with the recent development. Skeptics see Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan, who came to power following a bloodshed during the March 2008 post-election protests, as trading his own presidency for a solution unbeneficial for Armenia. Turkey’s involvement in the process is less encouraging for the residents of Armenia, a country that Turkey has been blockading since the Karabakh conflict.
While Turkey may not be a friend of Armenia, it sure has its interest in helping the Nagorno-Karabakh process. Turkey is under enormous pressure to open the border with Armenia (which Turkey thinks will help persuade US president-elect Barack Obama to back off from his pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide). It will be very hard to open the border, though, without solving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Thus, by helping to broker a deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Turkey’s current regime would silence the United States (and also its own ultranationalist deep state), have better prospects for joining the European Union, and make a claim to sort things out in the region (Turkey has surely expressed interest in brokering a deal between the United States and Iran, and unsuccessfully tried the same with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict).
Azerbaijan may be more interested in solving the problem now than in the past. Authoritarian leader Ilham Aliyev, the son of Azerbaijan’s former, now deceased, president Heydar Aliyev, just won a second (and final term) with the opposition boycotting the election (and giving him a perfect argument for a democratic victory). Not having to worry about reelection, Aliyev may be more interested in toning down his militant rhetoric. More importantly, the recent Georgian-Russian escalation over South Ossetia has likely demonstrated to Azerbaijan that war is not as good of a choice as Azerbaijan thought it might be. After all, Georgia not only didn’t win South Ossetia back, its attempt to get international sympathy faded away, if not being replaced with anger and distrust toward Tbilisi. Furthermore, the United States may want to partner with Azerbaijan even further more, especially in the case of an escalation with Iran, if it solves its problem with Armenia.
Armenia may be more inclined to change not only due to alleged pressure against president Sargsyan, but also due to the fact that an open border with Turkey will be a great asset for Armenia (Turkey thinks it may not be able to afford the border without a Karabakh solution). Furthermore, in two years, there won’t be many 18-year-olds in Armenia to qualify as soldiers. That’s because 1992-1994 are Armenia’s “dark and cold days,” when few families had children. So if there is to be war in the next four years, Armenia will have few bodies to fight.
A fight between Armenia and Azerbaijan, nonetheless, is not desired (at least at this time) by any of the superpowers, especially by the United States. Back in July, when I met with the acting US Ambassador to Armenia, I heard extremely nice remarks about president Serzh Sargysan’s offer of watching football match with his Turkish counterpart. The United States is seeking stability, especially with the mess that the Iraq war has created. Russia is also interested in stability between Armenia (a strong ally) and Azerbaijan (an ally), especially since Moscow’s interest in the Baku oil. Thus, internationally speaking, prospects for a peaceful Karabakh deal are possible, if not real.
Both sides need to accept that no solution is going to be perfect for either side. I don’t want to suggest what the solution should or will be, but it is clear what the solution cannot be. Azerbaijan cannot recover all the territories that it had before 1991; Armenia cannot retain all the territories that it gained after 1991. This is not a simple cliché, but a psychology that Azerbaijani and Armenian governments must start embedding in their populations. Any solution, though, would be a hard-sell both in Armenia and Azerbaijan. The governments in both countries might want to employ the same tactic they have used for a long time – information wars. Instead of dehumanizing the enemy this time, Armenian and Azeri TV channels (both are government-controlled to a large degree) should broadcast stories that rehumanize their neighbors. This strategy hardly needs to be called ‘affirmative propaganda,’ because there are so many true stories of mutual help and respect that can help in bringing change. One thing that is clear is that a peaceful solution at this time would be great for Armenia, Azerbaijan, their neighbors and the world.
At a difficult time when thousands of people are evacuating Georgia for Armenia, one person is doing the exact opposite. Yerevan-based British photojournalist and fellow blogger Onnik Krikorian is in Georgia covering the conflict with Russia.
But, I also have to say, I was not impressed and wondered what the U.S. Secretary of State thought of sharing center stage with a man who likened the Russian invasion of Georgia with a girl being raped because she wore a short skirt. Such statements during the press conference did not appear sufficiently presidential, in my opinion, and were seemingly not reported by the mainstream media.
Timid and emotional, Georgia’s Mikhail Saakashvili is no longer the confident democratic president the South Caucasus leader was a few weeks ago. Underestimating the right of might, his wish to win back breakaway South Ossetia has become a nightmare in his ex-Soviet country. In an ironic way, Saakashvili might have strengthened Russia instead.
“When the president ordered to attack Tskhinvali [the capital of South Ossetia], we knew then we were doomed,” told a Georgian woman to Newsweek. “How come he didn’t realize that?” Saakashvili might have recognized the hardships that Ossetian and Georgian families were going to face in the face of the military action, but he either didn’t realize Russia’s role in Eurasia or hoped for American military build up in his country.
Understandably, Saakashvili is popular in Georgia right now. During wars, people tend to support their leader, especially when the enemy is someone considered long-rooted colonizer. But the war, despite the de jure cease fire, is not going to help Georgia in the short run. Perhaps Saakashvili thought it might help Georgia in the long run. Here are some convictions that might have had a role in the Georgian president’s decision.
Assumption 1. Saakashvili takes his democratically-elected (while forgetting his not-so-democratic crackdown on the opposition) status a privilege. To some extent it is true, but right is not always might in the realpolitik – especially when you are the president of an entire country.
Assumption 2. Saakashvili thinks his western education and pro-western attitude is an extraordinary asset. Having a degree from Columbia doesn’t change the world imperial order.
Having the above convictions, these are two scenarios that might have crossed Saakashvili’s mind.
Scenario 1. U.S. Military build up in Georgia would follow a Russian action after provoking the latter to attack Ossetia. This would be a perfect opportunity to invite NATO and U.S. soldiers to Georgia (forgetting that the U.S. has already has a front with Russia with the NATO bases in eastern Turkey).
The bases could be used in a possible strike against Iran (especially if Saakashvili’s old friend John McCain becomes the president, and especially if Azerbaijan continues being an authoritarian country, and, thus, proving to be an unsuitable U.S. ally).
Scenario 2. Given the history of Ajaria (another breakaway region that Saakashvili was able to reunite with Georgia without a single bullet), Georgia’s respect in the West (Bush visited Tbilisi a few years back) for its democratic image, and Georgia’s possible prospects to become more energy-independent from Russia due to the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, Saakashvili might have thought Russia would either ignore the attack on South Ossetia or would try to negotiate with Georgia.
Neither the above nor any other scenario would have been beneficial for Georgia. The attack on South Ossetia was a perfect opportunity for Russia to showcase its power and new role in the region and in the world. Few political analysts would have expected inaction from Russia. So Saakashvili must have expected counterattack as well, but he either overestimated his abilities or underestimated Russia’s capable aspirations. Or he had a long-term vision of Iranian invasion. In either case, neither thought makes him a good leader for his people.
Russia’s rhetoric was even more ironic. Claiming that it was defending its citizens, Russia came to “protect” a people who are generally treated as second-class citizens, to say the least, in Moscow. Like the rest of the people from the South Caucasus, Ossetians are part of the Russia’s “blacks,” people without blond hair who are often killed on the streets for simply not looking ethnic Russians. While it is not hard to understand racism among bitter and uneducated youth, Russian government’s inaction to prevent or even fully prosecute hate crimes in Moscow and other cities is inexcusable.
Double-standards and hypocrisy is no news in politics. But even if Scenario 1 works and the U.S. moves in, Georgia’s people and their neighbors are not going to win in the long run. Small states working for a superpower don’t win. They need to work with superpowers, all of them. That’s one lesson Saakashvili didn’t learn at Columbia.
Even though the notion of “indigenous peoples” sometimes may be vague, a definition of indigenous peoples that most scholars agree with was provided by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on minority and indigenous communities. Indigenous peoples, according to that articulation, are “…those which having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of societies now prevailing in those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop, and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal systems.”
I am currently editing an article that talks about Armenians and indigenous peoples. While Armenians, in general, have been considered “indigenous,” given that almost every nation in the Middle East and the Caucasus considers themselves native to their lands, the question of indigenous can be very controversial.
The ongoing war in South Ossetia and Georgia is a good example. While both Georgians and Ossetians have indigenous claims, both parts see each other as trying to steal a land that “belongs to them.” This idea of a land belonging to someone is, in principle, against core indigenous values (especially that of the ones in the western hemisphere). As one Native American chief has said, “the earth doesn’t belong to us, we belong to the earth.”
In the introduction, Fried set the tone of the discussion. Talking about the South Caucasus countries’ relationship with NATO (which means alienation from Russia), he said:
Georgia has made a choice to join NATO. The United States and the nations of NATO welcome this choice, and Georgia’s neighbors should respect it. Azerbaijan has chosen to develop its relations with NATO at a slower pace, and we respect its choice. Armenia’s situation is different, due to its history and currently complicated relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey, and we respect its choice as well.
Speaking about Azerbaijan, Fried said that “Azerbaijan has had the world’s fastest growing economy for three consecutive years.” Talking about Nagorno-Karabakh, he said “While we support Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, Nagorno-Karabakh’s final status must be determined through negotiations and a spirit of compromise that respects international legal and political principles.” By “legal [principle] Fried means “territorial integrity,” by “political principles” he means “self-determination.” In other words, he hopes there is a golden mean to the conflict of the two. Fried finished the presentation on Azerbaijan by referencing the recent anti-Armenian rhetoric. “We hope that the Azerbaijani government will avoid the temptation of thinking that renewed fighting is a viable option. In our view, it is not. We have noted our concern with persistent bellicose rhetoric by some Azerbaijani officials.” Mr. Friend, again and again, failed to mention the 2005 destruction of the Djulfa cemetery by Azerbaijan. I will send him an e-mail shortly.
Talking about Armenia, Fried referenced the genocide by saying that Turkey needs to recognize it while Armenia needs to guarantee that it will not territorial claims against Turkey (ironically, official Armenia has always done the latter.
In Fried’s words:
Reconciliation between Armenia and Turkey, however, will require dealing with sensitive, painful issues. Turkey needs to come to terms with a dark chapter in its history: the mass killings and forced exile of up to 1.5 million Armenians at the end of the Ottoman Empire. That will not be easy, just as it has not been easy for the United States to come to terms with dark periods of our own past. For its part, Armenia must be ready to acknowledge the existing border and disavow any claim on the territory of modern Turkey, and respond constructively to any efforts Turkey may make.
The report went into great detail describing Armenia’s post election unrest. It said in part:
When peaceful mass protests followed the disputed vote, the United States and others pressed continuously for the government of Armenia to refrain from responding with force. However, on March 1, within hours of formal assurances by the Armenian government that they would avoid a confrontation, police entered the square. Ensuing clashes later in the day between demonstrators and security personnel led to at least 10 deaths and hundreds of injuries. Mr. Ter-Petrossian was taken to his residence by security forces, where he appeared to remain under de facto house arrest for weeks. A State of Emergency (SOE) was declared in Yerevan. Freedom of assembly and basic media freedoms were revoked. Opposition newspapers were forced to stop publishing and news websites were blocked, including Radio Liberty. The government then filled the information void with articles and broadcasts disseminating the government version of events and attacking the opposition. While it was alleged that some protesters were armed before the March 1 crackdown, there have been no convictions to date on such charges.
Ironically, Fried finished his remarks on Armenia by connecting the recent unrest (and the need to resolve it) to the absence of a US ambassador to Armenia (the Democratic-controlled U.S. senate has refused to appoint an Ambassador who refuses to refer to the Armenian Genocide as such).
Summarizing Georgia’s political situation, Fried said “Georgia’s young democracy has made progress, but Georgia needs to make more progress if it is to live up to the high standards that it has set for itself. The United States will help as it can to support democratic reform, urging the Georgian authorities to take seriously their ambition to reach European standards of democracy.”
The rest of the talk on Georgia was a detailed condemnation of Russia’s pressure on the ex-Soviet republic:
Moscow has in recent years put economic and political pressure on Georgia: closing their common border; suspending air and ground transport links; and imposing embargoes against exports of Georgian wine, mineral water, and agricultural goods. This year, despite recently lifting some of the economic and transport embargoes, Moscow has intensified political pressure by taking a number of concrete steps toward a de facto official relationship with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where Russian peacekeeping forces have been deployed since the early 1990s – up to 3,000 in Abkhazia, and 500 Russians plus 500 North Ossetians in South Ossetia. In March, Russia announced its unilateral withdrawal from Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) sanctions on Abkhazia, which would allow Russia potentially to provide direct military assistance (though the Russian government has offered assurances that it will continue to adhere to military sanctions). On April 16, then-President Putin issued instructions calling for closer ties between Russian ministries and their Abkhaz and South Ossetian counterparts. Russian investors are known to be buying property in Abkhazia in disregard of Georgian law. Some of these properties may have belonged to displaced persons, making their eventual return even more difficult. Russian banks maintain correspondent relationships with unlicensed and virtually unregulated Abkhaz banks, an open invitation to money launderers.
Interestingly, if you take Fried’s words for real there is no discrimination against minorities in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. While the U.S. State Department official repeatedly refers to “separatists,” there are no talk about discrimination against minorities and destruction of minority culture in either of the South Caucasus republics.
The report also lacks mentioning human trafficking, which is very prevalent in Armenia and Azerbaijan. Fighting and preventing human trafficking is a major step of building democracy.
The Economist has an interesting article on an effort to push for a four-way, Armenian-Azeri-Georgian-Turkish dialogue, in the South Caucasus.
ON AN icy February morning a clutch of Turks and Armenians huddled in a hotel in Kars, with Turkish intelligence officials looking on. On May 14th their secret, a giant round of cheese, was unveiled in Gyumri, over the sealed border in Armenia. Under the label of “Caucasian cheese”, the yellow slab symbolises reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia, and across the Caucasus.
The idea of a regional “peace” cheese (Georgia and Azerbaijan are involved too) met suspicion when mooted a year ago, says Alin Ozinian of the Turkish Armenian Business Development Council. “We didn’t know how the authorities would react,” said Zeki Aydin, a Turkish cheese producer, who made the ten-hour trip from Kars to Gyumri via Georgia. “We want our borders to be reopened, good neighbourly ties, so we took a chance,” said Ilhan Koculu, a fellow cheesemaker.
Vefa Ferejova, an Azeri campaigning to bury the hatchet with Armenia, was also there, saying “We are told to hate Armenians: I will not.” Armenia and Azerbaijan are at loggerheads over Nagorno-Karabakh, a patch of land that Armenia wrested from Azerbaijan in the early 1990s. This prompted Turkey to seal its border (but not air links) with Armenia in 1993. American-brokered peace talks have failed, and Azerbaijan now threatens to resort to force.
Yet there are hopeful signs that Turkey and Armenia may make up. Turkey’s president, Abdullah Gul, was among the first to congratulate Serzh Sarkisian, who became Armenia’s president in a tainted election in February. Unofficial talks to establish diplomatic ties could resume at any time. Indeed, there is a whiff of desperation in the air. Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party is under threat of closure by the constitutional court for allegedly wanting to bring in sharia law. AK‘s overtures to Armenia may be aimed at garnering some Western support.
Mr Sarkisian’s government is heading for trouble when gas prices double this winter. An end to Turkey’s blockade could temper popular unrest. But hawks in Turkey and Armenia can still count on Azerbaijan. Allegations that Armenia is sheltering Kurdish rebels have stirred anger in Turkey. Where did they come from? “The Azeri press,” snorts Mr Aydin. Even the best cheese cannot change everybody’s attitudes overnight.
A series of abuses — some of them bizarre — have been documented in media reports.
According to the reports, local authorities have ordered state employees to perform manual labor on weekends as a condition for keeping their jobs. People who fail to pay utility bills have been seized and tied to trees outside police precincts until a family member or friend can come and settle the debt. Residents are forbidden from hanging laundry from their balconies and from baking bread at home. In a region where average salaries are approximately $130 per month, farmers are charged a steep tax for owning more than one cow or one sheep — $25 per cow, $10 per sheep.
Azerbaijanis have started to refer to Nakhichevan as “Azerbaijan’s North Korea” with a reference to absence of recognition and protection of any rights in the region, reports Radio Free Europe.
The Azeri authorities of Nakhichevan have seemingly missed the not-so-old days of destroying Armenian monuments and having themselves left with none to demolish are now destroying Tea-houses (traditional cafes) in Nakhichevan, popular gathering places for Azerbaijanis:
“We hear a lot about arbitrariness on the part of the authorities, but this is nothing compared to what is happening in Naxchivan,” Samedbayli said. “Tea houses are being destroyed in the region’s villages, despite protests from the people. Other strange things are happening in Naxchivan. The authorities are destroying the ovens people use to bake bread in their homes because they say this harms the environment. They are forcing people to buy bread from shops owned by the state monopoly.”