AND IN OTHER NEWS: Turkey Responds to Armenian Genocide Commemorations

Armenians around the world marked another anniversary of the 1915 genocide, made even more emotional by the very real current threat of ethnic cleansing under way in Nagorno-Karabakh. Here’s the latest overview of how it was marked in social media.

New US ambassador to Armenia Kristina Kvien became the first in office to tweet a remembrance using the term “genocide”, a reflection of the Biden administration’s official policy of recognition. This is the culmination of Ambassador John Evans’s brave stance who used the term genocide in a personal capacity when he was still serving, which resulted in him losing his job but set a moral precedent.

Turkish officials threw a fit over the anniversary, with Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu’s denouncement of it being perhaps even more virulent than usual. Meanwhile, the annual genocide commemoration in Istanbul was canceled for a second time in a row on grounds that it was not “appropriate”. The government is feeling particularly vulnerable due to the upcoming general election and particularly on minority issues after leading opponent Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu announced his Alevi heritage.

A similar tweet to this one from Turkey’s Defense Ministry went as far as to commemorate all those “killed by Armenian terrorists in 1915”. Azerbaijanis have similarly framed the genocide as something related to Armenians being evil, and have particularly fixated on Operation Nemesis, which assassinated the architects of the genocide. Since to them the genocide is a lie, by that rationale the masterminds of it were innocent and thus innocent martyrs of “Armenian terrorists”. This belief is then used to reinforce beliefs about what is happening in Karabakh today. Though the genocide was 108 years ago, it is as relevant today as ever.

Some Turks tweeted denunciations of the government’s denial.

Turkey’s Communist İşçi party marked the anniversary with a message using the term Mets Yeghern. While the Obama administration was criticized for co-opting the term as a way to not use genocide, in the context of Turkey this is essentially a recognition. Communist parties in Turkey have long been persecuted and often have opinions falling outside the mainstream.

Also using the term Mets Yeghern this year? The Armenian government. This tweet used the term without any mention of genocide, which churned up a great deal of backlash. Some speculated this could be an overture to Turkey in the midst of talks to open the long-closed border. The account did add a second tweet five hours later which used ‘genocide’.

Lord Alton continues to be a strident voice for genocide recognition in the House of Lords, although the UK has yet to officially recognize it. While in the 1990s, British officials privately told Armenians they’d follow the United States’s lead on the issue, it seems their interests with Turkey and Azerbaijan which have since grown deeper changed the calculation. A very short-sighted decision which grows ever more untenable. In Yerevan, on April 24, the UK ambassador was not in country so a deputy was sent, and merely made a vague reference to people whose “loved ones suffered”).

President Biden released an annual statement using the term genocide, and Vice-President Harris tweeted about it. Her tweet was seen over 370,000 times at the time of this writing.

Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi not only tweeted a remembrance, citing her trip to Armenia seven months ago, but also spoke at the Armenian Caucas’s annual Capitol Hill event marking the anniversary.

USAID Administrator Samantha Power has a long history relating to the genocide, in particular regret that she was unable to bring President Obama to use the term. She reiterated USAID’s support for Armenia, at a time when USAID and the US government are being called on to provide support to the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh who need it most. However, the murky issue of “sovereignty” is the American excuse to not intervene.

One bit of tweet diplomacy which deserves deeper study is this one from Estonia. While the other two Baltic states of Latvia and Lithuania have both officially recognized the genocide, with Latvia doing it just two years ago, Estonia has not. Yet here is the Estonian ambassador to Armenia tweeting out the word genocide. It’s about time the word and its meaning were uttered directly without major political contortions.

Former Estonian Foreign Minister and Member of the European Parliament Marina Kaljurand also made a statement on the genocide, combining it with the threat Armenians face today. On the eve of the anniversary, Azerbaijan officially set-up a long-threatened checkpoint on the Lachin Corridor, a flagrant violation of the ceasefire agreement and ruling of the International Court of Justice, thus forcing Armenians into a double blockade.

Canada’s recognition of the genocide predates the United States’s by many years. Prime Minister Trudeau’s tweet has been seen approaching 300,000 times.

The establishment of a checkpoint on Hakari bridge located on the border of Armenia and Azerbaijan was the culmination of the past four month farce of the road being blocked further up near Shushi by government-supported protesters. The fact it fell on the eve of April 24 was seen as a symbolic message to Armenians. Researcher Thomas van Linge declared that the move officially turned Nagorno-Karabakh into “the Gaza Strip of the Caucasus”. It should be noted that for the past months, Azerbaijan has tried to deflect criticism by claiming it was the activists who affected traffic, and the government could not be blamed for it. However by establishing this checkpoint, they are dispensing with even that fig leaf of an excuse (probably because nobody bought it) and putting itself completely on record as flagrantly ignoring the International Court of Justice. While this makes it impossible to see how it will win any of its cases legally at this point, Azerbaijan is likely banking on the fact its oil and gas influence will more than make up for that, as countries fall into line to make deals.

This thread by a Kurdish podcast host highlights how emboldened many Azerbaijani commentators have become about flagrantly threatening Armenians, especially in Karabakh. In it, he draws parallels to the Turkey-Kurdistan issue, and that while dehumanization is a common aspect of such conflicts, that what he sees coming from Azerbaijanis “really unsettles me…” One of his insights is something familiar to Armenians active on social media or who have attempted to interact with Azerbaijan’s international officials: “there is the side effect from the dictatorship that only the worst possible people seem to be sent abroad to study on regime sponsorships, and these people learn English seemingly only to sprout vitriolic statements about murder and domination of a defenseless enclave.” He also points out the hypocrisy of EU delegations who meet Aliyev and praise him, while he routinely threatens to conquer “Western Azerbaijan” (Armenia) and destroy the small helpless population of Karabakh.

The global radio show The World, which reaches 2.5 millions listeners a week, did a story on blockade and just how imperiled the Armenians there are.

France’s Foreign Minister was in Azerbaijan and Armenia this past week to encourage the parties towards a solution, and saw first hand the EU monitoring team’s work on the border. The team could play a significant role in easing tensions if Armenia’s proposal for a mutual pulling back of troops, however Azerbaijan has reiterated its complete opposition to the EU’s presence and refuses to cooperate.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is hosting the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan in DC for extensive talks. The US is often seen as the “last negotiator standing”, with Azerbaijan in opposition to France and to a degree the EU as well, and Russia fumbling its role as peacekeeper in Karabakh. The EU process doesn’t seem to have brought the hoped-for results, and now it is the United States’s turn. Yet with all the big players unwilling to play hardball against Azerbaijan’s adventurism and numerous negative actions, little progress can really be expected until it is given a reason to comply.

This past weekend, Baku hosted a Formula 1 race, as part of its notorious dictatorship “sports-washing” campaign, in which hosting elite international events is used to create positive buzz about a place and obscure the ongoing oppression there. It was also announced that Baku will continue to host a race through at least 2026, which isn’t a surprise since the Azerbaijani government is a sponsor of Formula 1, but considering Bahrain is on the calendar already through at least 2036, the approach to Baku is more cautious. For what it’s worth, many Bakuvians despise the contest coming to their town as it creates extreme inconveniences, with the city’s streets being completely shut down.

Monday May 1 brought a bit of a surprise at the UN, when the results of an earlier vote were announced. A resolution about “Cooperation between the United States and the Council of Europe” which contained a sentence referring to “the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine” was agreed to by Armenia. Armenia has generally voted to Abstain from votes calling out Russia, and while this vote was not specifically about Russia, the reference to Russian aggression was not an oversight. Azerbaijan’s long bench of western “analysts” were always there to decry Armenia whenever it chose to abstain, even though even an abstention was making a statement from such an imperiled country in Russia’s backyard. Naturally, now that Armenia has voted aye, those same “haters” remained completely silent, since it contradicts their narrative. In addition, it should be mentioned that Azerbaijan continued its long-standing tradition of “hiding in the bathroom”, as the long-running Twitter joke imagines their representative must be doing instead of showing up to vote at all.

Regional watchers like Michael Hikari Cecire of the Helsinki Group have noticed. Apparently there were two votes, one on whether to include the offending paragraph, from which Armenia abstained, before the full resolution was approved. Just after the result was released, Russia abruptly announced gas delivery to Armenia was being cut off for four days to make planned maintenance to the line. That indeed may be the case, but the timing caused a great deal of speculation as to whether it was actually punishment for the vote, or even perhaps for the negotiations trip to the United States.

With all the negativity and fear about Armenia’s uncertain future, it’s worth ending on a positive note, a reminder that despite the problems Armenia has a lot going for it. Jensen Huang, co-founder of one of the world’s leading tech companies NVIDIA, paid a visit to Armenia after having hosted Prime Minister Pashinyan at their California headquarters before COVID. NVIDIA opened a research center in Armenia last year, bringing with it jobs and a boon to the nation’s growing tech center. Seeing a company like NVIDIA succeed in Armenia will give confidence to other major tech firms to discover it as well.