AND IN OTHER NEWS: A Region in Turmoil

Wow. In a matter of days the world has utterly changed. Things are moving fast and furious, and while the world’s eyes are on Ukraine, there are also numerous intersections with and repercussions for Armenia. In many ways, the 2020 Artsakh War foreshadowed this conflict, everything from the breaking of a status quo to the role of Turkish-made drones.

On the eve of the invasion, there was the signing of an alliance between Russia and Azerbaijan. While some naturally looked at this with alarm, others noted that rather than being a teaming-up of two forces, it was a subjugation of Azerbaijan to Russia’s will. It makes sense that with Russian peacekeepers holding a shaky truce together in Karabakh they would want to make sure Aliyev cannot use the distraction of the Ukraine war to his advantage.

At the same time, Yerevan was hosting a sitting of the EuroNest Parliamentary Assembly, for which two Azerbaijani MPs were in attendance. They used the opportunity to send out tweets with an air of celebratory conquest, with many others replying with claims that Yerevan is actually Azerbaijani land. One of the MP’s tweets was of them at the Blue Mosque on Mashtots Avenue. This tweet got the attention of Iran, which responded with a not-so-subtle rebuke (with tweets in multiple languages) pointing out Persian traces at the mosque.

This is a reminder of the complex history and mixing of cultures in the Caucasus. As Cavid Aga pointed out: the mosque was built during the Iranian Qajar dynasty which had rulers of Turkic descent and was likely constructed by the Armenian workmen of the Khanate of Erivan to serve as a place for worship primarily for Azeris of the time. Whereas today we see things through the lens of nationalism and politics, a real look at the history shows it’s not so black and white.

As Russia recognized Donetsk and Luhansk, two eastern Ukrainian regions, as independent nations as a prelude to war, some Armenians cried foul at the double-standard, or tried to link it to Nagorno-Karabakh in hopes of it being similarly recognized. Others interjected that these are very different situations and not one to be associated with. The Karabakh conflict continues to come up from people on various sides when discussing Ukraine.

As the war began, there were mixed reactions over whose side to take, seeing as the Ukrainian state has had a generally hostile foreign policy towards Armenia while being supportive of Turkey and Azerbaijan. Tweets like these however recall what matters most, that there are over 50 million Ukrainians, including perhaps half a million Ukrainian-Armenians, caught in the middle, and regardless of what issues one might have with the government, innocent civilians do not deserve such suffering. Armenia has already stated it will accept Ukrainian refugees, and it could be seeing an influx of refugees, not just Armenians, coming from Ukraine and Russia as well, as it appears headed for economic disaster.

There are a number of journalists, like the two above, who were in Karabakh covering the war and are now in Ukraine doing the same there. It makes for some interesting compare and contrast.

One of the more infuriating parts of the war on social media has been the tone-deaf “takes” coming from journalists and alleged experts. Whether it has been the breathless reporters expressing horror at the first war of the 21st century between “civilized nations”, one where Europeans look at the refugees and feel differently because they see “people like them”, to tons of excitement over the fighting from their comfortable perches totally oblivious of the lives being torn apart down below. One prime example has been a practically pornographic celebration of the Turkish Bayraktar 2 drone’s killing power and depictions of it as if it were a child’s toy. After their horrific use in the 2020 war, strides were made to prevent their production. However, now people can’t seem to get enough of them, deriving perverse joy watching young men being blown up from the sky. The war has re-exposed all kinds of familiar trauma for Armenians.

Despite Azerbaijan’s treaty of alliance with Russia, Azerbaijan and its paid spokes-“experters” have also been working hard to promote Azerbaijan and Turkey as staunchly supporting of Ukraine (a dubious claim), while trying to tar Armenia as supporting Russia. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are trapped by their geography and their governments have been mostly quiet as a matter of survival. Yet even the fact that Armenia voted at the Council of Europe not to expel Russia from the body is being seized upon as a reason to sanction it too, which is quite rich coming from Azerbaijan which showed its strong support for Ukraine by hiding during the proceedings thus avoiding a vote.

One of the worst flavors of clueless commentary is of the “western white guy” variety, who have taken the opportunity to try to imperiously spread as much misery as possible for no apparent reason. Arbitrarily finding reasons to punish nations like Armenia because Russia might get imports through the non-existent border they (don’t) share, even though as Nate Schenkkan pointed out Russian imports aren’t currently even subject to sanctions, reveals people in influential positions sounding off authoritatively on subjects they know nothing about. The cherry on top of this disaster sundae is that Drew doubled down in replies to his detractors by making the “first-world problem” threat that Armenians could lose their right to use ApplePay (which only just had a limited roll-out in Armenia a month ago) unless it cuts all ties with Russia immediately, despite the fact such a move would be existentially dangerous to its existence. Just stop it, guys.

Remember that potential influx of refugees fleeing war and uncertainty across Ukraine and Russia? Well it appears they are already arriving. Armenia does not even require a foreign passport for Russian citizens to enter, and with its relatively open atmosphere and lack of conflict with Russia (as opposed to northern neighbor Georgia), it appears to be fast becoming a prime destination for at least temporary resettlement – from both Russia and Ukraine.

Away from the warfront, American politics were focused on a primary election in Texas between a long-time Congressman conservative Democrat (and co-chair of the House Azerbaijani Caucus) Henry Cuellar vs. a young progressive candidate Jessica Cisneros. This was already going to be a tough challenge for Cuellar, and it became much worse when in January the FBI raided his home as part of an investigation into Azerbaijan.

As Ryan Grim of The Intercept noticed, the suspicious social media activity supporting Cuellar bears a strong resemblance to the infamous bot network which has long been plastering social media with pro-Azerbaijani propaganda, most notably during the 2020 war. They also appear to be at work posting content promoting Azerbaijan as helping Ukraine while making up reasons why Armenia should be treated the same as Russia.

With all flashbacks to World War II going on, and our discussion here of the Ukraine war and the place of Armenians within it, it is appropriate to mark the anniversary of Missak Manouchian, a leader of the French resistance against the Nazis, commemorated here with a painting where he was imprisoned before his execution.

Finally, following the war can be an emotionally exhausting experience even when watching from afar, and it helps to take some breaks when possible. On that note, take a look at these amazing excavations at the site of the ancient Armenian capital Dvin. Absolutely incredible structures being brought to light, after being hidden for centuries.