November has seen President Aliyev of Azerbaijan riding high on a wave of victory after his complete ethnic cleansing of Nagorno-Karabakh. Whereas in past years, there was an attempt to maintain plausible deniability that it, Azerbaijan, had been the one to instigate the attacks, as the non-use of force was stipulated by UN resolutions, the mask has come completely off now as Aliyev outright brags about having used force.
This bragging came during a victory speech Aliyev made to the empty streets of Stepanakert, held on the third anniversary of the end of the 44 Day War. It was a moment for Aliyev to glorify himself a great liberator, as he gave an acidic speech going over for the thousandth time his complaints about Armenia’s leadership and posturing threats that the 100,000 Azerbaijani army stands ready. The above thread, in Italian, documents preparations for the parade and the pan-Turkic symbols on display.
Actions have consequences, and days later the US official’s statement above in response to the attacks and displacement, Azerbaijani officials expressed fury, precipitating a sharp and precipitous nosedive in relations between the two countries.
His statements were quickly followed up by action in the US Senate which passed the Armenian Protection Act of 2023, spearheaded by Senator Gary Peters who had also made a visit to the area of the Lachin blockade in the last days before the mass expulsion. The bill’s passage came as a rather abrupt surprise to DC-watchers, and its unanimous passage perhaps even more so given the current chaotic and extremely partisan state of the United States Congress. It seems Azerbaijan’s actions did something unusual – uniting Republicans and Democrats in a common cause. The bill would still need to be passed by the even more unruly and divided House of Representatives, but it certainly sends a message.
A tweet about the passage from Senator Marco Rubio, the bill’s original Republican co-sponsor alongside Democrat Peters.
Less than a week later, USAID Administrator Samantha Power, who had visited the border with the Lachin Corridor during the displacement to assess needs, announced in a video an additional $4 million to assist the refugees and reiterated the United States’ support in their plight. If US-Azerbaijan relations were already headed quickly south, this video’s release sent things into an outright freefall. Azerbaijani officials turned their attacks not just on the US but personally on Power, for everything from her publication twenty years ago “A Problem for Hell” for recognizing and bringing attention to the Armenian Genocide of 1915 to her service more recently on the selection committee of the Aurora Prize, which was founded by Ruben Vardanyan who is now being held hostage, a political prisoner, in an Azerbaijani prison.
In a long rant released on Twitter by Hikmet Hajiyev, Assistant to President Aliyev, he cried “mask off!”, claiming Power’s offer of aid to Armenians suffering through a humanitarian tragedy had revealed her true face accusing her of everything from corruption, racism, Islamophobia, and a criminal terminology of his own invention, “moneytalkism” – something Azerbaijani officials know well. Most notably, Hajiyev signed off his screed with: “There is no place for USAID operation in Azerbaijan any longer”, an apparent indication that its operations in Azerbaijan will be shut down, however exactly when or if that will occur remains to be seen. Assistant Secretary of State O’Brien has announced a trip to Baku for consultations.
While there isn’t much on an international scale that Azerbaijan can do to fight the US, it decided to retaliate another way: by turning on its own citizens. A planned gala for Azerbaijani students who had studied at American universities had to be canceled after a barrage of accusations in government-sponsored media claiming the attendees were actually spies who had been recruited during their studies in the US. From there, the government turned to arresting representatives of civil society and journalists, many of whom studied in the US or took part in US-funded programs.
It has been very difficult to keep up with the arrests as there have been new ones almost daily, sending a chill through the already fragile community. What little is left of independent media in Azerbaijan is being broken down while simultaneously putting pressure on the United States over its refusal to accept ethnic cleansing. Some had thought a victorious Aliyev would lead to him allowing a degree of openness and liberalization in society. Instead, he is doubling down, instituting what the Feminist Peace Collective calls a “post-war iron grip” on society, one which matches the “iron fist” symbolism he uses to describe how he dealt with the Armenians of Karabakh.
While the Karabakh issue has been “solved” according to Aliyev, it has been important for him to keep society distracted over conflict. This Azerbaijani political activist describes how the notorious “Zangezur Corridor” discourse has evolved into that of “Western Azerbaijan” (aka Armenia), into which Zangezur (Syunik) is included. It continuously attempts to get its newly formed “Western Azerbaijani Community” a seat at the international table, which serves as a conduit through which it can push claims against Armenia without having to say so at the official level. While the rhetoric insists the call is for Azerbaijanis to return to Armenia peacefully, it is worth noting that the “Community’s” founding manifesto stipulates such a return would be overseen by an international force made up of countries selected by Azerbaijan (presumably Turkey) over which Armenia would have no control.
This period was also an active one for developments in the realm of international justice. After voting to adopt the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in early October, Armenia formally deposited the instrument of ratification of November 14, starting a two month countdown until its official accession to the ICC, in opposition to Russia’s wishes.
Within days, the International Court of Justice indicated provisional measures against Azerbaijan as part of CERD cases before the court regarding Armenia and Azerbaijan. A summary of the findings is above by Yeghishe Kirakosyan, Armenia’s Representative on International Legal Issues. While the consensus is that the rulings were a major blow to Azerbaijan’s case, its Twitter propagandists went out of their way to declare it a huge success for themselves through convoluted logic and making mountains out of molehills.
Since the attack on Israel by Hamas on October 7, much of the world’s attention has been focused on Israel, with other issues like Nagorno-Karabakh taking a back seat. However amid the larger conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, the besieged Armenian community of Jerusalem has been facing its own battle.
In addition, a door on Yerevan’s only synagogue was almost set on fire. Oddly, this was preceded by an ominous warning from Baku’s rabbi that Armenia is dangerous for Jews and that they all need to “leave before it’s too late”. Adding to the suspicious nature of the attack, the Azerbaijani media knew about it before the Armenian media did, as a video of it had been uploaded to an otherwise blank social media account which somehow was immediately discovered by Azerbaijani propagandists. Articles were circulated of the fire with dramatic claims that the synagogue was burned to the ground (in fact there was only minor damage to the door), and rash comparisons made by Jewish social media accounts to Nazi Germany. The stories of alleged anti-semitism were especially potent at that moment with Jews having come under attack in Israel and instances of anti-semitism on the rise. However, few of those describing Armenia in such ways bothered to ask the opinion of actual Jews living in Armenia, like in the tweet above, who not only state they feel very safe in Armenia, but suspected an outside force linked to Azerbaijan itself responsible for the provocation. Armenian officials later announced the attack was carried out by a Russian citizen (ethnicity not mentioned) who flew to Armenia for just a few hours, apparently for the sole purpose of carrying out the attack and escaping. No further details have been released, but all signs point to a false flag operation intended to tarnish Armenia’s reputation. Azerbaijan seems to be moving from just creating fictitious propaganda with which to attack Armenia to staging it in real life.
Meanwhile, in Israel, In the highly sensitive area of East Jerusalem, which the international community considers to be Palestinian territory held under Israeli occupation, Israeli settlers, backed by Xana Capital, are making renewed attempts to seize a significant portion of land in the Armenian Quarter, historically owned by the Armenian Patriarchate. A grassroots organization of Jerusalem Armenians called Save ArQ has risen up to protect the land from the settlers’ incursions.
In many ways, the fates of the Armenians and Palestinians are tied together. In fact, Armenians are considered Palestinians for legal purposes and thus are said by one study to have difficulty obtaining travel and marriage documents
There are only a handful of countries in the world with which Armenia has no diplomatic relations, one of those being Saudi Arabia. The fallout from the loss of Nagorno-Karabakh has likely made this Islamic nation more comfortable with establishing ties with Armenia, an initiative which Armenia has pursued over the past years. Prime Minister Pashinyan also stated his desire to have diplomatic relations with Pakistan, which has close ties with Azerbaijan and is one of the few nations on Earth that does not recognize Armenia’s existence (something even Turkey and Azerbaijan do).
However as the latest report from Caucasus Heritage Watch shows, the recent seizure of Nagorno-Karabakh has put hundreds of churches, monasteries, cemeteries, and other sites of significance in harm’s way. There is already an “Albanization” plan underway for some of these sites such as at St. Harutyun in Hadrut. In past examples, that process included the destruction and erasure of Armenian inscriptions and gravestones, something much harder to verify from space, and re-labeling the site as Albanian.
In other disheartening news, Hrant Dink’s killer has been freed from prison early on the grounds of “good behavior”. This comes as no surprise, since upon his arrest Samast was celebrated by the arresting police officers who flocked to have their picture taken with him. As the Turkish language tweet above states: “this situation once again revealed that the legal system provides cover for all “deep [state] crimes”.
Renowned essayist and risk analyst Nassim Nicholas Taleb came to Yerevan to pay a visit to Antares Media, which published the Armenian language version of his “Incerto” series. He also learned that it was edited by none other than President Vahagn Khachaturyan. Taleb also dropped by CivilNet for an interview with Eric Hacopian, which you can view here.
The New York Public Library is keeping the memory of Vartan Gregorian alive with this tribute.
This interview in “Variety” with director Michael Goorjian and Serj Tankian about the development of the film “Amerikatsi”, Armenia’s submission to the Oscars. Goorjian reflects on how the meaning of such a film to the Armenian people, especially at a difficult time like this, go well beyond the realm of entertainment:
“I look at it like it’s almost national security to be able to help people see us more as who we really are. Things people know about Armenian culture are very, very limited. And just by having a film that’s accessible – that’s not just for Armenians, but also for non-Armenians – it helps Armenians to be seen. For Armenia to get a[n Oscar] nomination, it would literally change the country.”