AND IN OTHER NEWS: The Aftermath of Ethnic Cleansing

"Best friends from Stepanakert, Artsakh. Now refugees sharing a tent outside of the Masis Municipality." PHOTO: Scout Tufankjian

Last month saw the tragic fallout of Azerbaijan’s September ethnic cleansing campaign against the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh. Here’s a social media roundup of how the difficult month played out as we look ahead to better news.

The horrible aftermath played out in the international press, such as CNN Matthew Chance’s report from the ground speaking with refugees and visiting a medical center caring for those terribly wounded by the gasoline blast.

Once the population had fled Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan finally allowed permission for a visit by UN representatives in Azerbaijan It was not an official UN monitoring mission, but a group of representatives from Azerbaijan-friendly countries. Azerbaijan proceeded to use it in propaganda, highlighting that it stated it found no evidence of violence against civilians. What they don’t mention is that was because the visitors could hardly find any civilians; they had all fled.

Besides using the UN representatives to whitewash the ethnic cleansing of Nagorno-Karabakh, other tricks were deployed such as presenting alleged Armenians as lining up eagerly requesting Azerbaijani citizenship in order to “reintegrate”, as the process of ethnic cleansing gets called in Azerbaijan. It just so happens that one of the few examples put forward of this actually happening turned out not to be Armenian at all. It seems he was an Azerbaijani who had lived in Russia the past few decades and was brought in to pose as an Armenian requesting citizenship.

This analysis by legal scholar Tom Dannenbaum posits why Armenia’s ratification of the Rome Statute, which will lead to it joining the International Criminal Court, has relevance to jurisdiction over Azerbaijan’s ethnic cleansing of Nagorno-Karabakh even though Azerbaijan is not a party to the court.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has also been working diligently on the ground providing the displaced people with medicine, food, and hygiene products, as well as SIM cards in order to help connect and reunite families.

Chef Jose Andres’s World Central Kitchen has been welcomed on the ground distributing meals, joining forces with Armenians such as Mayrig chef Aline Kamakian and the AGBU.

International attention quickly pivoted on October 7 when Hamas launched an attack into Israel which killed hundreds. International bandwidth is now focused on Israel and preventing the conflict from spreading throughout the region. Just like with the Russia-Ukraine conflict, there are numerous intersections of the Israel-Palestine conflict and the Armenian-Azerbaijan one. For example, Azerbaijani propagandists got out in front demonstrating their nation’s stalwart support for Israel, even though the response from the government has actually been much more muted. This photo of Baku’s flame towers displaying the Israeli flag in support went viral, however as the “community note” pointed out, it actually dates from 2015 when flags from countries participating in the first ever “European Games” hosted by Azerbaijan were projected on the tower. It has nothing to do with the current conflict.

Community notes came in handy again, as this video also went viral garnering millions of views of what it claimed were Israeli generals captured by Hamas. If you think you recognize those “Israeli generals”, that’s because it’s actually Karabakh’s former presidents being paraded into custody by Azerbaijani forces.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the senior bishop of the Anglican Church, visited Armenia and Azerbaijan to send the message that the people of Armenia and its refugees “are not forgotten”.

While Republican presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy called out Piers Morgan for his and many other journalists’ lack of time dedicated to ethnic cleansing in the Nagorno-Karabakh, he conceded that as President he wouldn’t do anything about it either. As Nobel Prize recipient Ardem Patapoutian pointed out, it appears the candidate is just using the Karabakh issue to argue for his wider aims elsewhere.

Speaking of the corrupt practices Azerbaijan uses to lobby and get its message across abroad, here’s just the latest example.

In mid-October, President Aliyev paid his first visit to the captured Nagorno-Karabakh, and riddled social media with his raising the Azerbaijani flag at various towns around the region along with eerie videos of him inspecting the totally abandoned city of Stepanakert. He also put on childish displays like trampling the Artsakh flag which as usual belies his rhetoric that Armenians are safe and welcome to remain there.

Aliyev also used the backdrop of the emptied city to apparently threaten Armenia with the same treatment if it tries to “seek revenge”.

One of many important photos taken by renowned photographer Scout Tufankjian who documented the aftermath of Aliyev’s ethnic cleansing.

An example of first-hand testimony from refugees which counteracts the Azerbaijani government’s narrative that the exodus was a matter of choice. These are the voices that matter.

The other major ongoing story is what some describe as Armenia’s pivot west, distancing itself as much as possible from an enraged Russia. A sign of this pivot was the strong support and standing ovation Prime Minister Pashinyan received at the European Parliament upon his invitation to speak there. Certainly the vast majority of Armenians have lost any trust they once had in Russia as an ally, but the question remains whether such a hurried and demonstrative separation is wise, as there is undoubtedly further retaliation to come.

Another component of this pivot is the agreement with France to provide Armenia with weapons. In an interview with CivilNet, the French ambassador to Armenia described it as a “breaking of a taboo”; NATO countries had formerly refused to do so because of Armenia’s membership in Russia’s CSTO alliance, however things have perhaps changed now. Yet some point out how France provides weapons to CSTO member Kazakhstan and even a few years ago to Russia itself, so the significance of Armenia’s “pivot” as reason is questionable. However, whatever the reason, this is still the first time such a major NATO country has offered to sell Armenia weapons and so that is still a significant development and opens the way for more countries to follow.

The Armenian government has also rolled out its “Crossroads of Peace” project, which envisions Armenia as a regional transit hub. This is no doubt a response to the Azerbaijani government’s demand for the “Zangezur Corridor” to be opened, as it claims Armenia refuses to cooperate in facilitating a connection between Nakhichevan and the mainland. This plan shows that is not the case, and that Armenia stands by regional connectivity which takes into account the territorial integrity of each state.

TheUS State Department stated it was watching the potential for an invasion of Armenia in the coming weeks; then it walked that statement back. Azerbaijan has not just been making noise about Syunik, but also the idea is being floated that it may also militarily conquer the enclaves in Armenia’s Tavush region as well as one near Nakhichevan.

While accounts from the exodus trickled out about travelers not surviving the journey, it was still shocking to hear the official death toll numbers 64 who died in transit. This is on top of the hundreds who died in the gas explosion which was also a function of Azerbaijan’s forced displacement of the population, and the hundreds more who were killed in the attacks. The New York Times’s podcast “The Daily” dedicated an episode to a history of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and how it “ended quickly and quite brutally”. In light of what’s going on in the Middle East, comparisons are also drawn to Israel/Palestine.

One bit of escapist news, when the battles of today are too much to handle, go back in time with this new expansion for the beloved 1990s game Age of Empires 2, “the Mountain Royals”. Many Armenians who grew up with the game described their joy that long-held nostalgic dreams of having an Armenian civilization to play as have finally come true, and your author was one of them who back then used to hack the game in order to rename an existing playable civilization as Armenia. Just stay away from the comments section, which is inundated with furious Azerbaijanis who feel excluded that the nation of Azerbaijan (which did not exist as such in the Middle Ages when this game takes place) was not included in this expansion.

This thread contains interesting details surrounding the “making of” for the game’s Armenian civilization. Characters in the game speak in 40 short phrases of Classical Armenian (Grabar), and choices had to be made in what language forms to use as it takes place over many centuries. The translator tried to reflect the ordinary speech of everyday people, rather than what might have been used by the elite. Every base couldn’t be covered though, because the language becomes anachronistic for the game’s campaign focused on Prince Toros, Lord of Cilicia, who would have spoken a middle form of the Western language variant instead. A great reminder of the richness of Armenian culture throughout the centuries, and nice to see it gaining more representation such as this.

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