November 9, 2020
We interrupt this month’s regular corporate overlord programming to bring you an urgent message from Boston’s Armenian community.
If you’re from this area, the odds are very high that you’ve run into an Armenian at some point. Maybe it’s your best friend from grade school, your dentist, your car salesman, your real estate broker, your mechanic. Or the author of that snarky opinion column in the Boston Compass that you hate to love.
Massachusetts is home to one of the largest, oldest, loudest and proudest Armo communities in the country. Bostonians have long appreciated our grocery stores and restaurants (and tolerated us bragging about everything from our cuisine to our ancient history). We have newspapers and summer camps. We own convenience stores and car dealerships. We are a part of the fabric of this city. And on the backs of our great-grandparents this city was built, alongside countless other ethnic minorities fleeing persecution.
Maybe you’ve heard us harp about the genocide that brought us here—a well-documented ethnic cleansing that saw Ottoman Turkey violently massacre 1.5 million of its Armenian citizens. It’s the reason why today, of the 11 million Armenians living across the globe, only about 2 million live in the tiny slice of land left on the map called Armenia.
You may have seen one of our marches, to the Turkish consulate in Boston, that we make year after year. We can’t stop talking about the genocide, because Turkey keeps saying it didn’t happen. And while most rational people will admit in private that it did, governments across the globe—including and especially the US government—bow their heads to the successors of our murderers, because they are still very powerful.
You see, the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews was horrific, but today, in every German’s heart is a heavy shame. The idea that German bombs might one day fall on Israel, a Jewish nation, is inconceivable. The world’s recognition and outrage have ensured it will never happen. But for the Armenians, history was and continues to be written by the victor. And if you have never had to learn that what you did was wrong, what do you do? You do it again. This time, with the full support of the naïve and unassuming American taxpayer, who always somehow finds a way to funnel money into evils happening in the world.
On September 27, every Armenian that you know—in Boston or elsewhere—woke up to complete and total dread.
The situation unfolding today is complicated. It involves 1700 square miles of land that has been inhabited by an indigenous Armenian population since the 6th century BCE. The world calls it Nagorno Karabakh, but we call it by its ancient Armenian name: Artsakh.
The short story is this: After the Genocide, against all odds, a tiny nation emerged—a small sliver of what Armenia's historic lands were, but a nation nonetheless. By the 1920s, the Bolsheviks were eager to get this young nation on board as a Soviet Republic. And since this was a period of history in which the borders we know today—which seem so solid and so unshakeable—were just being forged, the Bolsheviks told this fledgling nation state that if they would join this revolutionary new proletarian experiment they were calling the Soviet Union, Artsakh would be within the borders of the new Armenian Republic.
But at the negotiation table, Josef Stalin gave Artsakh to the newly formed Republic of Azerbaijan (a nation that shares the Turkish language and ethnicity) as a way to appease Turkey, with whom it had long fought for control over the Caucasus region. From then on, Artsakh became a strangely 'autonomous territory' in the USSR under 'control' of Azerbaijan. Though the next 70 years saw relative peace in the region, this original sin has been the cause of untold death and destruction since the USSR's collapse.
As the Soviet Union fell apart, the people of Artsakh (76% of whom were ethnic Armenians) held a vote to secede from Azerbaijan and join Armenia. Angry pogroms against ethnic Armenians ensued in Sumgait and Baku. A bloody war was waged, which saw 30,000 soldiers die from both sides and hundreds of thousands of people—both Azeri and Armenian—displaced, resulting in a tragic segregation of the two nations. Fighting ended in a ceasefire in 1994, with Armenia in control of Artsakh (and the lands surrounding it, as a 'buffer zone'), for the last 26 years—until now.
For the last three decades, Azerbaijan has been seeking revenge, building up its military might (which it funds with its enormous oil reserves and—that's right—your taxpayer dollars!) and feeding its population a messaging of extreme hate against Armenians, to the extent that violence against them has in the past been sanctioned by the state. In 2004, at a peacekeeping program in Budapest, an Azeri officer violently axed an Armenian lieutenant to death while he slept. The murderer was promoted as a national hero and still serves in the Azeri army.
It is over a month now that Azerbaijan has been unleashing hell upon the people of Artsakh. But the most worrying development in all of this is the country's open alliance with Turkey, a nation which already committed a genocide against Armenians 100 years ago, and yet still promises to help Azerbaijan solve the "Karabakh problem" to fulfill its pan-Turkic, neo-Ottoman ambitions. Azerbaijan and Turkey (which refer to each other as "two states, one nation" and have a historic fondness thanks to a shared language and ethnicity) have 50 times the GDP and 30 times the population of Armenia and Karabakh. They are also united in their common human rights abuses and dictatorial intolerance of dissent.
While in 2018, Armenia experienced a historic and peaceful democratic revolution, ousting corruption and removing the oligarchs from power who had ruled over the country since the USSR's collapse, corruption in Azerbaijan (like in Turkey) has only consolidated. In 2017, President Ilham Aliyev (whose family has ruled the country for 27 years, and has used its oil reserves to build his family an empire of wealth) made his wife the vice president. His government has spent the last decades gutting non profit humanitarian initiatives, throwing journalists in jail (to the extent that Azeri journalists reporting on this conflict have been forced into exile, or must pen stories anonymously to avoid government persecution), and obscuring any semblance of truth from the public sphere. Furthermore, in preparation of the fighting, Azerbaijan severely limited its citizens' access to social media and restricted foreign journalists from entering the country to report on the conflict. And after a month of intense fighting, they still have not announced the number of killed soldiers. In short, Azerbaijan is what the United States might look like were we to abandon all checks and balances, and bestow absolute power to someone like Donald Trump.
I'm trying to drive home a point:
And it is the consequence of giving a genocidal nation permission to deny its wrongdoings, and indulging its bloodthirsty expansionist ambitions under the guise of 'diplomatic relations' (as the US so often does with Turkey). The consequences are devastating. As of writing, 90,000 Armenian civilians that inhabit Artsakh (60% of the region's population) have had to flee their homes. Yet you likely haven't heard much about it. Because Armenia is a small and geopolitically unimportant country, with—you guessed it—no oil.
So I’m getting to my final point. Is any of this your problem? In the tornado of emotions and rage that is my heart these days, yes, it is. But my sister told me something recently. That she has begun to “ration her fucks” because she just “doesn’t have enough to give.” This is wise advice. We are living through a pandemic. A giant troll has spent the last four years in the White House. By the time this issue reaches print, we will hopefully know whether he will stay or go, but regardless of what happens, this country is unraveling at the seams. Americans have a lot to be concerned about.
What is your problem, however, is being told that your government cannot fund social services, or covid relief programs, or the arts. Being told that budget cuts to everything you love are imminent. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of your taxpayer dollars are funneled each year into the military pursuits of dictatorial, imperialistic foreign nations, like Turkey and Azerbaijan. That this is wasteful, wrong, and not in the interest of the American people is not a ‘pro-Armenian’ stance. It is common sense. And you can take a stand against it—both in your personal networks, and over the phone to your local officials. Let them have a piece of your mind!
But on a more human note. If you know an Armenian, now is the time to reach out and ask how they are doing, and—on the off chance that you have a spare fuck to give these days—what you can do to help.
—Karine Vann @karivann
Photo source: Armenian Weekly.