In the latest disputes over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, clashes began on Sept. 27, 2020 between Armenia, Azerbaijan and surrounding territories.
“If it’s not a genocide, it’s at least deliberate ethnic cleansing,” computer engineering freshmen and Armenian Student Association (ASA) club member Sophie Martyrossian said.
According to Martyrossian, signs of a “cultural genocide” against Armenians are happening within the region that is nationally recognized as Nagorno-Karabakh but known as the Republic of Artsakh by the Armenian community.
Her family is from various parts of the region but was forced to leave due to anti-Armenian sentiment.
“So that piece of land I can never see. And then the side from my grandmother’s side, I can never see. So it’s just like, the two parts of me that are historically important I can never see again in my life,” Martyrossian said.
She said what is happening is a “huge humanitarian crisis”
“They want to expel every single Armenian out of Artsakh, whether it be dead or alive,” Martyrossian said.
According to Martyrossian, it is a historically complex issue. In the ‘90s, Armenians in the area voted for independence. On August 23, 1990, 99.5% of voters voted in favor of independence with a 95% voter turnout, and the country officially became an independent state on Sep. 23, 1991, although not internationally recognized as such.
“[The genocide] could have been prevented by recognizing Artsakh as an independent republic, as they should have done 30 years ago,” Martyrossian said.
Political science professor Craig Arceneaux said that while there may be displacement and possible war crimes happening, the threshold for genocide under Geneva Conventions and International Criminal Court is very high and it would be difficult to portray a genocide happening in the area.
These criteria, provided by the International Criminal Court, includes, “the specific intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group by killing its members or by other means” and “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; or forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
“There are elements of international law that could come into play, and probably should, but probably not genocide,” he said. “I wouldn’t use that word there.”
According to Arceneaux the area currently under dispute has been historically inhabited by large populations of both Azerbaijanis and Armenians.
The region was previously controlled by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s, and according to Arceneaux, there Stalin encouraged more Armenians to move into that area. Both “groups” had always lived there, but the influx of Armenians contributed to the tensions which were held at bay by the authoritarian state.
“Once the Soviet Union fell, boom, then it took off right there,” Arceneaux said. “You can think of it as right at the time of the fall of the Soviet Union — it was like a pressure cooker.”
From the 1990s through the present day, Azerbaijan discovered and began making use of oil in the Caspian Sea and were able to invest in their military and higher technology as well as gain strong political allies such as the United States and Turkey, giving them the upper hand and causing a shift in power, according to Arceneaux.
Biomedical engineering junior and Armenian Student Association president Rita Grigorian said that the first genocide, that occurred in 1915, has yet to be recognized by Turkey as anything but “complications of war.”
“1.5 million died,” she said. “If they had recognized the first genocide, and if they had maybe paid reparations like Germany had to do for the Holocaust, then would this have happened again?”
She said she believes it would have turned out much differently today.
Grigorian said that by letting the “war crimes” go unpunished, the rest of the world is rewarding them for it.
“Azerbaijan is a huge oil supplier to countries all over the world and people have their own personal gains,” she said. “Things like that are stopping people from helping us — it’s just money and greed”
Arceneaux said that the relationship between the United States and the two countries has been interesting, as there has always been strong support for Armenia within Congress. However, since the discovery of oil and the push for the War on Terror, the president historically started giving more support to Azerbaijan.
“It’s not that simple, but it is kind of an interesting case study about how the President thinks more about national security interests, Congress looks at their electoral interests,” Arceneaux said.
As of a result of a deal made between President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan and Mr. Pashinyan on Nov 9., Armenia had to withdraw from three areas of Nagorno-Karabakh, along with seven surrounding territories, no later than Dec. 1, 2020
According to Grigorian, there is still no clear plan for what will happen to Armenians living in Azerbaijan right now.
Grigorian and the rest of the club members raised $1,580 to send to Armenia Fund and $206 to @kooyrigs on Instagram, a platform dedicated to “promoting education and providing resources to Armenian women around the world.”
“We’re a small country, and we’re not that many people, but everyone knows someone that’s affected by this,” Grigorian said.
Martyrossian said that this was as much a media war, as it was an actual war, with the use of bots and selective coverage around the world.
“Nobody really wants to get involved in conflicts in the Middle East,” Martyrossian said. “And a lot of people don’t really want to get educated because it’s just super historically complex.”
In an email to Mustang News, Arceneaux wrote that it would be possible for Azerbaijan to be using public relations agencies to push an agenda, but it would be possible for Armenia to be doing the same and it is much more likely that US media outlets have grown increasingly uninterested in foreign events that do not directly involve US interests for budgetary and marketing reasons.
Mustang News was not able to verify these claims, but Arceneaux said that it should receive a lot of attention, as it is a conflict that could possibly trigger a much greater conflict.
“All countries, whenever there’s a conflict, they should recognize that it has the potential to escalate,” he said. Within the United Nations (UN), countries sign on to the idea that all matters of conflict amongst countries are matters of concern to all countries, according to Arceneaux.
On how to help Armenian families, Grigorian said to share information and make sure to speak up about these things.
“When you experience it happening to your own people, you realize that you have to speak up for someone else because one day it will be you and there will be no one to speak up for you,” Grigorian said.