YouTube comments are great. A week or so back I issued a pretty clear condemnation of Azerbaijan’s actions over the past ten days. They have launched a military attack on the Azeri regions that Armenia has occupied for the past three decades. I still believe that Azerbaijan is the driving force behind the new hostilities and that they should knock it off. But the outraged comments from Azeri nationalists helped me see that my analysis was neglecting some really important aspects of the conflict.
With every video I learn a ton more about every topic I cover. Not just about the actual events that have occurred, but about which events and actions are most important to the people involved. As irritating as an occasionally abusive comment section can be, I’ve learned a ton. Today’s video seems geared to piss everybody off, both Turks for acknowledging the Armenian Genocide, and Armenians for pointing out the parallels that their 1990s behavior presents with the Ottomans in 1915. It should be another fun and educational comment section!
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there. The nightmare in Nagorno-Karabakh continues. Azerbaijan and Armenia, two heavily armed countries are engaged in escalating conflict. I stand by my description of the conflict a week back and my general assessment of it. This year Azerbaijan is the aggressor, and they need to knock it off. But as I read more of the history of the conflict, the clearer it becomes that most Western analysis is missing a really crucial detail. Turkey is not Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is not Turkey.
Turkey is a growing regional power of 80 million or so people that has a truly pitiful obsession with Armenia, a country of barely 3 million. It’s a lot like the US’s disgusting Cuba obsession, but it’s even worse because of the way that Turkish President Erdogan’s rhetoric sometimes seems strikingly similar to his genocidal predecessors of a century ago. Turkey’s encouragement of recent clashes is pretty gross, and the world is right to call it out. But at the same time, the world seems eager to heartily endorse one of Erdogan’s biggest propaganda claims, to the extent that people forget that Armenia isn’t fighting Turkey. No matter how often Erdogan implies it, Azerbaijan is not Turkey. And Armenia is fighting Azerbaijan.
Armenian nationalists across the world have United with President Erdogan to hide this fact, because the Armenian fight with Azerbaijan is nowhere near as straightforward. Turkey owes a historical debt to Armenia similar to the debt my country owes to Native Americans. Azeris do not owe that debt. Azeris have Turkic roots, but their history split from Modern Turkey’s at least 500 years ago. Azerbaijan was never a part of the Ottoman Empire that perpetrated the the 1915 Armenian genocide. It was controlled off and on, by the Safavid empire that fought the Ottomans for centuries. From 1828 to the 1990s, Azerbaijan was the subject of Russian imperial exploitation, much like the Armenians, though as Muslims rather than Christians Azeris had fewer advantages in the Russian empire. Blaming Azerbaijan for the Armenian Genocide isn’t quite as silly as blaming Dwight Eisenhower and the Pennsulvania Germans for the Nazi holocaust, but it’s pretty close.
To be clear, over the past century, Azeris have absolutely carried out horrific massacres and ethnic cleansings against Armenians, but the Armenians have done the same and almost certainly worse to Azeris. The Soviets loved to play these two ethnic groups off of each other, and the Russians are still at it today. But when you stop believing the Erdogan-Armenian rhetoric, and look at the history of these two countries in isolation, as you should, it’s clear that Azerbaijan has been treated incredibly unjustly. I stand by my last mini-lecture on this topic, Azerbaijan is the aggressor this month, and the fighting must stop. But that video fell into the same trap as everybody else covering the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the United States right now, by leaving out like 75% of the victims of this conflict.
This is Nagorno-Karabakh. It is home to roughly 150,000 Armenians. In Soviet times it had an autonomous political organization within the Azerbaijani Republic. Azeris hate this, but the world agrees that some sort of Nagorno-Karabakh autonomy makes sense. But that’s not the only Azerbaijani territory that Armenia occupies. With the very name we use to refer to this conflict we have minimized the suffering of the people who used to live here. In doing so we minimize the largest post-cold war ethnic cleansing you have never heard of. The lowest estimate I have seen, compiled by an Armenian researcher, holds that 364,000 Azeris were forced out of these regions as Armenia won the war in the 1990s. The New York times puts the figure at 600,000 people. So That’s 2 to 4 times as many people as live in Nagorno-Karabakh today. These territories have been converted to a barren wasteland, as its ancestral owners languish as refugees elsewhere in Azerbaijan. The only way the Armenians can possibly justify this is by making everyone think the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is directly tied to the 1915 genocide. Right now Erdogan is helping the Armenians do that.
Armenia’s ethnic cleansing of these Azeri territories is not an atrocity that happened before your grandparents were born. This was happening when I was in high school. Just as the world acknowledges that Nagorno-Karabakh has a right to preserve its Armenian character, the world acknowledges that Azerbaijan deserves to get the surrounding territory back. This assumption is the basis of every peace plan, and the basis of the 1994 ceasefire.
For decades Armenia recognized this. Over the past decade they have stopped. Some kind of corridor between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh was always going to be in the peace deal. But now the Armenians are settling more of the ruined towns and fields outside of Nagorno-Karabakh, in a clear indication that they are building toward annexation of all these Azeri territories. Honestly, looking at the situation this way, it’s possible to see Azerbaijan’s new offensive as legally justified.
That does not mean it’s smart. In fact I think Erdogan and Azeri leader Ilham Aliyev are leading Azerbaijan down a path that makes Armenian annexation more likely. Like 3000 people are going to see this video. Erdogan and the Armenian nationalists are encouraging millions to put this conflict into the story of the Armenian Genocide, where it does not belong. Azerbaijan is not Turkey. The more intense the current war gets, the harder that will be to see.