Armenia is being brutalised by its neighbours. If it is defeated, it would be bad news for the West

“The EU is turning to trustworthy energy suppliers. Azerbaijan is one of them,” Ursula von der Leyen explained in July. Since Tuesday, the EU’s “trusted partner” – a phenomenally corrupt hereditary dictatorship in the Caucasus – has butchered over two hundred people in relentless attacks on its democratic neighbor Armenia. The slaughter in the Caucasus can seem chilling given that Ilham Aliyev, the ruler of Azerbaijan, has held talks with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan since Armenia’s defeat in the Nagorno-Karabakh war in 2020. The two men shook hands in Brussels just over two weeks ago.

But so little is surprising about Azerbaijan’s attack, which extends beyond disputed Karabakh territory and targets Armenia. Emboldened by Europe’s growing dependence on Baku – and by the weakened state of Russia, which has a security treaty with Armenia and traditionally brokers peace in the region – Azerbaijan sees this as the perfect moment to force Armenia into total submission. The West is as distracted today as it was in autumn 2020, when Azerbaijan and Turkey — bound by a “two-nations-one-state” policy — launched a joint military operation against Armenia at the height of the pandemic, using Syrian mercenaries via Ankara came payslips were deployed alongside regular soldiers.

Traveling through the region after that war, it was impossible to fail to notice that Azerbaijan’s animus against Armenia, the world’s oldest Christian state, was based on more than just territorial disagreements over Karabakh. It was animated by something far more sinister: a chauvinistic belief in the superiority of the Turkic peoples over the Armenians. It was a continuation of the story. In April 1915, Ottoman Turkey launched a systematic campaign to exterminate its Armenian population. At that time, a community of two million Armenians lived under Turkish rule. Four years later, fewer than 200,000 remained. The rest were either massacred, marched to death camps, or starved to death. Countless women and children were forced to renounce their faith and submit to the religion of their overlords. The Armenian diaspora, one of the largest in the world, is a result of the dispersal triggered by the genocide. The word “genocide” was actually neologized by Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin to describe the Armenian tragedy. Every Armenian heart is a den of indelible sorrow and loss. (Britain, to its enduring shame, refuses to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide.)

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More than a century after that protracted atrocity, the same murderous fury is reviving against the Armenians, a people marked by harrowing memories of death, dispossession and displacement. For example, on the eve of the Armenian Genocide Memorial Day in April, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu mocked Armenians mourning their tragic past by making a “grey wolf” sign with his fingers – the gesture of unrepentant Turkish ultranationalists. The Armenian Genocide is clearly a source of joy and satisfaction for Turkey and its client in the Caucasus.

Among the hundreds of murder films circulating in the Caucasus, the horror of one I saw on the phone of a refugee from Karabakh still haunts me. It shows Azerbaijani soldiers beheading an elderly Armenian civilian with a knife and then placing his head on the carcass of a pig. The cruelty of it all – the beheading, the pig – is steeped in religious symbolism.

Human Rights Watch has verified numerous videos showing Armenians being tortured by Azerbaijani authorities. New horrors are added to old ones. A video now circulating in the region, filmed by an Azerbaijani soldier mocking the dead, shows the mutilated corpse of an Armenian female soldier: her body was stripped naked, her eyes gouged out and replaced with stones, and her head is decapitated in half.

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Lest anyone should doubt its intent, Azerbaijan has made considerable efforts to destroy Armenia’s ancient religious heritage in the territories it conquered. In any other context, we could call this murderous imperialism by its name. But in this context we resort to polite euphemisms. Imperialism is clearly imperialism only when Europeans do it; if the Turks do it, it’s a cultural exchange program.

Armenia is also paralyzed by the lack of strong leadership. Petty domestic machinations prompted Armen Sarkissian, Armenia’s fourth president and its most respected statesman on the international stage, to resign earlier this year. Since then, the lack of political talent has become blatantly evident. At a time when Armenia urgently needs to inspire international solidarity, Sarkissian’s successor as president, Vahagn Khachaturyan, who was handpicked by the government to rubber stamp legislation, managed to make a joke of his country by scolding his staff tricked into taking an unauthorized photograph of him in front of the Queen Elizabeth coffin. His clownish behavior in London overshadowed the trip of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Armenia at the weekend.

Pelosi’s visit, prompted by upcoming US elections, where the Armenian diaspora forms a key voting bloc, is difficult to reconcile with Europe’s bad deal with Azerbaijan. Aliyev’s embrace not only encourages Azerbaijan to pursue its expansionist ambitions. It also negates the much-touted “values” of the West. Any sin that can be attributed to Vladimir Putin’s Russia can also be attributed to Aliyev’s Azerbaijan. The fortunes that Azerbaijan’s ruling dynasty has amassed make many Russian oligarchs appear like demure amateurs: their real estate empire in Great Britain alone is estimated by the NGO OCCRP at almost 700 million dollars. Aliyev’s Azerbaijan is also more politically repressive than Putin’s Russia: it occupies 10 places on Freedom House’s index of civil and political liberties Behind Russia. And the regime’s militant nationalism, laced with ethnic hatred of Armenians, makes its Russian counterpart tame by comparison. Aliyev used to run a museum in Baku, the Azerbaijani capital, where the main exhibits were the helmets of Armenian soldiers killed by Azerbaijani forces.

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Azerbaijan, armed and patrolled by NATO member Turkey, has now butchered its way into Armenian sovereignty. One of the most unlikely democracies in Russia’s neighborhood is not only being brutalized. It is forced to accept its own extinction. The pathetic irony of all this is that Europe will not benefit much from its trading partnership with Azerbaijan. Baku, itself dependent on natural gas imports from Iran and Turkmenistan, is struggling to meet domestic energy needs. Also, the Azerbaijani gas field, which is said to be the future source of Baku’s supplies to Europe, is partly owned by Russia’s Lukoil. By paying Azerbaijan, Europe indirectly puts wealth in Russia’s hands. Europe has fueled the illusion of energy independence from Russia. The Armenians are paying the price for their self-deception.

Kapil Komireddi is the author of Malevolent Republic: A Short History of the New India

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