Cursed be the light of truth…
Almost the entire Armenian population of Karabakh has left Azerbaijan. And it does not matter much whether they were there 120,000, as Armenians claimed, 40-50,000, as Azerbaijanis said, or any other number in between. The key word here is “entire”. If a large group—and even 40-50,000 is a large enough group of people—undertakes some collective action, it is important to find out what their motivation was, what was the role of external and internal factors, the position of the elite, the mood of the masses, and the interaction between the ruling elite and the ruled masses.
Armenia, and France, which supports it unconditionally, and the “collective West”, which supports it with some restrictions, accused Azerbaijan of ethnic cleansing. Or rather, they did not have the courage to accuse Azerbaijan directly, unambiguously, because then they would have to provide evidence, which they do not have. President Macron, his Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna, members of the European Parliament used very ornate phrases, the meaning of which, although boiled down to ethnic cleansing, leaves room for maneuvering.
At the same time, neither the UN and Red Cross missions, nor the numerous journalists who closely, literally with a magnifying glass, followed the events and visited Karabakh, were able to identify any acts of violence against civilians or any other war crimes. To be fair, the Azerbaijani military carried out this operation so quickly and so gently with respect to civilians and civilian infrastructure that the Armenian side and their patrons do not have a single fact to back up their accusations. On the contrary, there are hundreds of hours of video footage and interviews with Armenians leaving Karabakh.
Of course, one could now accuse the Azerbaijani journalists who interviewed Armenians at the border of violating journalistic ethics, that it was wrong to ask the people who were leaving their homes about the reasons for their actions. But the situation itself was extraordinary, no journalism textbook will give an unambiguous answer to the question: “What was more important in this situation, compassion or an attempt to capture for the future this tragic picture of people leaving their homes?”
But now, watching these videos, one can see that Azerbaijani journalists made the right call. It is good that these videos exist. Because, as it turns out, it is not so important WHAT the Armenians leaving Azerbaijan said as HOW they said it. Both contemporaries and future researchers have gained invaluable material. Not some interpretations, paraphrases from someone else’s words, resolutions, statements, but a real picture of what was happening.
Yes, of course, one can assume, and this is what Armenian politicians and their patrons claim, that the Armenians who left Azerbaijan were afraid and therefore did not complain, saying that the Azerbaijani authorities and military did not use violence against them. Yes, this assumption is legitimate. But no fear could have made Armenians engage in a detailed conversation with journalists, often speaking Azerbaijani, talk about their former friendship with Azerbaijanis, and even smile and share whether they would stay in Armenia or go further, to third countries. It is worth noting that in the first week of their stay in Armenia, about three thousand Karabakh Armenians left Armenia itself.
No victim would behave like that with their executioner. The “Stockholm syndrome” had nothing to do with it either: they did not profess their love for Azerbaijan. However, the main emotion of Armenians leaving Karabakh was not anger against Azerbaijanis, not desire for revenge, but rather sadness and regret. Violence, if it had taken place, would have generated anger rather than regret. Of course, there are many Armenians who want revenge, and this is also natural, but this was not the predominant sentiment among the refugees.
I do not believe Armenian politicians and their patrons think so badly of Armenians that they would claim the opposite, that the hundreds and thousands of Armenians who crossed the border were so hypocritical and pathetic that they cowered and ingratiated themselves even when it was not necessary. There is also little to say about the alleged hunger and deprivation. Despite allegations of a months-long blockade, all the interviewees looked healthy, moved easily, and many willingly shared their thoughts.
The crooked mirrors of the “collective West”
If someone wants to see how people who really survived ethnic cleansing, cold, hunger and inhuman suffering look and speak, let them watch videos and photos of Azerbaijanis who left Karabakh thirty years ago, chased by artillery volleys and machine gun fire, frostbitten, gaunt, hiding for weeks in snowy mountains and forests, barely dragging their feet. I would emphasize that I am not saying that the Armenians leaving Karabakh now were happy or joyful; no, this is a tragedy, too, but we should put things into perspective. And let us leave it to the conscience of those who kept silent thirty years ago, when Azerbaijanis were really subjected to ethnic cleansing, and who now, without even having any facts in hand, accuse us of “ethnic cleansing of Armenians”. These are not just a few, but hundreds of members of the European Union, the European Parliament and the Council of Europe, whose salaries are paid by European taxpayers whom they should serve honestly and impartially.
It should be noted that the Azerbaijani army has made great progress even since the 44-day war, when Azerbaijani soldiers, driven by vengeance for thirty years of humiliation, occasionally acted on their emotions. The Azerbaijani army and security forces have learned not just to fight, but to fight with dignity, strictly adhering to military honor and protecting civilians from casualties.
The high number of casualties among the Azerbaijani military is most likely due to the desire to minimize casualties among the Armenian civilian population. For example, a house or territory with armed Armenians is being cleared. The Azerbaijani military could not just destroy the entire house or blast the entire territory with fire, because there could be civilians, women and children, so they had to act with extreme caution and precision. But at the same time, they inevitably became easy prey for Armenians hiding behind the walls of houses or trees.
As a result of one-day anti-terrorist measures on September 19-20, Azerbaijan crushed the military potential of the Armenians in Karabakh. On September 20, in response to the opposition’s accusations of betrayal of Karabakh Armenians, Pashinyan said, and this is very important, that Azerbaijan had not used violence against civilians, and that Armenia’s involvement would mean aggression against Azerbaijan with dire consequences for Armenia’s own statehood.
After two days of calm, the exodus of Armenians from Karabakh began. The explosion at a gas station that was blown up by the Armenians themselves, either deliberately or through negligence, killing more than a hundred people, accelerated this process.
Qui est interesse?
Did Azerbaijan have a stake in the exodus of Armenians? Let’s find out.
From the military and political point of view, the tens of thousands of unarmed, peaceful Armenians remaining in the 10-million-strong Azerbaijan posed no threat. From the economic point of view, as a result of the Armenian exodus, Azerbaijan lost tens of thousands of able-bodied, paying population, who would have increased the country’s economic power. On the contrary, now Azerbaijan and its security forces have to spend resources on guarding the abandoned houses and apartments, protecting them from natural decay and looters that exist in any country and society.
The Armenian lobby and European xenophobes, who used the exodus of Armenians from Karabakh for brazen and false propaganda, dealt an equally significant blow to Azerbaijan’s image. That is, Azerbaijan had no stake in the exodus of Armenians from Karabakh.
Russia had no interest in a complete exodus of Armenians from Karabakh either. It is conceivable that Moscow might have been interested in using refugees to overthrow Pashinyan, but even it did not want ALL Armenians to leave. Without Armenians, the presence of Russian peacekeepers in Karabakh makes no sense. So, why did almost all Armenians leave Karabakh? Who or what played the main role?
Were the fears of Armenians leaving Karabakh justified? Undoubtedly. Thirty years of war, indoctrination, mutual resentment and demonization played their part. Some Armenians who participated in the ethnic cleansing of Azerbaijanis, in the expulsion of about one million of them thirty years ago, in the looting of their property, in the use of tombstones, stones and roofs of their houses to build their roads and houses, had reason to fear retaliation and escape retribution.
The chauvinistic idea of the genetic incompatibility of Armenians and Azerbaijanis, cultivated by the second President of Armenia, Robert Kocharyan, also played a role. While in the 1990s it contributed to the forcible expulsion of Azerbaijanis from Karabakh, now it is driving out of Karabakh those Armenians who supported this idea and did not want to live side by side with Azerbaijanis in Karabakh after the restoration of Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over it.
Let us also not dismiss the “patriotic” Armenians, for whom it was simply unacceptable to live under the Azerbaijani flag. This position is understandable and has the right to exist, especially if you have a home in Armenia or abroad, but it does not give grounds to accuse Azerbaijanis of ethnic cleansing.
That is, as much as the President of Azerbaijan urged them to stay, as much as he promised amnesty and certain privileges, the above-mentioned part of Armenians would still have left Karabakh.
There are also speculations that by abandoning their property and fleeing, Armenians were motivated by the idea that “we might have it bad, be lost, become refugees, but Azerbaijanis will have it even worse, the whole world will consider them barbarians, we will only temporarily lose our property (which the ‘collective West’ will help us to quickly increase), while Azerbaijanis will lose their face forever”. Such a weird emotional sadomasochism.
But xenophobia, extreme patriotism or emotional sadomasochism can hardly be seen as the main reason for the exodus of the majority of Karabakh Armenians. Peasants herding cattle or cultivating fruits and vegetables are not interested in high politics; they are mainly concerned with the wellbeing of their families, and it was not so easy for them to part with their property and become refugees. They could have at least waited and looked around: there was no need for such haste, since there was no physical threat to their existence! The Armenians who remain safely in Karabakh are proof of this.
What future might have been in store for Armenia-Azerbaijan relations if a significant number of Armenians had remained in Karabakh?
Was there an alternative?
Yes, Armenia lost the war and lost Karabakh, but Armenians could have continued to live under the Azerbaijani flag as they do in Georgia, Russia and France.
All this talk about “autocracy” preventing Armenians from living in Azerbaijan as comfortably as in other countries does not stand up to criticism. Armenians feel quite comfortable in Russia, Syria, Jordan and other countries that are not shining examples of democracy. Undoubtedly, if the Azerbaijani leadership had committed itself to the peaceful reintegration of Armenians, the protection of their language and identity, local self-government, and if powerful forces in the West, including the United States and France, had closely monitored the situation, the cultural and civil rights of Armenians would have been respected.
It is worth noting that Azerbaijan arrested less than a dozen high-ranking leaders in the course of anti-terrorist measures. All the rest, including thousands of Armenian army fighters, safely crossed the border checkpoint, even though they fought and killed our soldiers and citizens on our own recognized territory. Is this not an amnesty?! It is hard to believe that a country that allowed tens of thousands of Armenian fighters to freely cross the border and persuaded Karabakh Armenians to stay would “oppress” them under the cameras of journalists and in the presence of the UN mission and the Red Cross.
The process of reintegration of Armenians into Azerbaijani society would have begun in Karabakh. Armenia would have realized, not for others but, above all, for itself, that the notorious “miatsum”, Karabakh’s annexation to Armenia, was dead. This would have been followed by mutual acknowledgment of the crimes committed, softening of relations and signing of a peace treaty. The Russian “peacekeepers” would have returned home. The issue of opening the road through Zangezur, and thus all other communications in the region, would have been resolved in one form or another. The Armenian-Turkish border would have been opened, and Armenia would have broken the deadlock it had driven itself into in the 1990s by occupying 18% of Azerbaijan’s territory and expelling a million Azerbaijanis. Armenian schools and local self-government would have continued to function, and Armenian farmers and peasants would have had access to Azerbaijani markets and trade networks.
Trust between the two countries would have grown, opening the way to reconciliation and good-neighborliness. The economy of the entire Caucasus would have been revitalized, and emigration from Armenia would likely have been significantly reduced, and perhaps even eliminated. Prime Minister Pashinyan could have continued his reforms.
This was a positive scenario that would have been beneficial not only for Armenia and Azerbaijan, but also for the entire Caucasus. Of course, it would have taken years of negotiations, difficult decisions, compromises, but it would have started moving in a positive direction. Sadly, none of this happened.
À la guerre comme à la guerre
The Armenians and the “collective West” that supports them have taken the course of continuing confrontation, accusing Azerbaijan of ethnic cleansing, tarnishing the image of the country and attempting to impose sanctions against Azerbaijan in the hope that through some international organizations they can again “de facto” tear Karabakh away from Azerbaijan.
Armenia filed a lawsuit against Azerbaijan in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, raised the issue in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the OSCE, etc. Pashinyan repeated the idea of “ethnic cleansing” countless times in his speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on October 17.
Is it a kind of emotional breakdown? After all, it is not easy to part with illusions and myths. Of course. It is easy to understand, though not to share, the frustration of many Armenians. A whole generation of Armenians grew up with the idea that not only Karabakh, but also the surrounding 7 districts belonged to Armenia. But the small number of the protesters in the rallies in Yerevan after September 19, the occupancy of cafes and restaurants throughout Armenia, and even the mood in the Armenian expert community testify to the absence of any strong pressure on Pashinyan within Armenia itself.
So, what pushes Armenia, represented by Pashinyan and the party he leads, to continue the information war against Azerbaijan after losing the physical war?
In order to understand why the chance for reconciliation was wasted and the continuation of the confrontational scenario prevailed, let us ask a seemingly strange question: what is Armenia and where is it?
What is Armenia and where it is
According to the Armenians themselves, there are currently 2 to 3 million Armenians living in the Republic of Armenia. At the same time, about 7-8 million Armenians live outside of Armenia: in the United States, France, Russia, Ukraine, the Middle East, Latin America, Australia, and so on. That is, there are many more Armenians outside the Republic of Armenia than inside it.
In light of this, it becomes clear that the main driving force of the Armenian elites and their patrons is not emotional impulse, not self-inflicted phobias or real fears for the safety of Armenians, but cold calculation.
Pashinyan, as the leader of Armenia, who grew up in the Republic of Armenia, was primarily concerned about the life and future of Armenians in Armenia, but he is opposed by the powerful, much more numerous, organized, rich 7-8 million Armenian diaspora and the “collective West” that supports it. For the diaspora and its patrons, the interests of tens of thousands of Karabakh Armenians are outweighed by their own interests and the interests of ALL Armenians as THEY understand these interests.
“Ethnic cleansing” as a mobilization resource
In order to keep the multi-million Armenian diaspora mobilized, the diaspora needs another “genocide” or, at the very least, “ethnic cleansing”. Without a unifying idea, the assimilation of Armenians in the countries of residence accelerates. Since there is no positive idea, the idea that united Armenians throughout the past century was hatred of Turks. This idea has now weakened, especially after the US recognized the Armenian “genocide”. Armenians had waited for this recognition for decades. The recognition happened. And since nothing changed, the idea became obsolete. There was nothing left to fight for.
Armenians urgently needed to find a new banner, a new unifying idea. With a high degree of probability, this mobilization idea of the world Armenians for the next decades is hatred of Azerbaijanis. At the same time, hatred towards Turks is also renewed, especially since Armenians refer to Turks and Azerbaijanis with one word. As they say, “Two states, one hatred!” It is a false, ill-disguised idea, but since it is being promoted not only by Armenians themselves, but also by the enemies of all things Turkic and Muslim, it has prospects for long-term existence.
Despite the fact that neither UN missions and other international organizations, nor journalists have found any signs of ethnic cleansing, the “collective West” provides Armenians with “mobilization resources” through various resolutions, “appeals”, adding firewood to the furnace of Armenian-Azerbaijani hatred.
Who writes the script?
In other words, Armenians continue to play the role written for them three hundred years ago, first by the “collective West” to fight Ottoman Turkey and Iran, then almost completely taken over by Russia, and now again returning under the direction of the “collective West”. The “collective West” wants to remove Russia’s justification for its presence in Karabakh, and rein in Azerbaijan at the same time.
What are the likely consequences of this course, deliberately and with cold calculation chosen by the Armenian elite and its “patrons”?
In this scenario, peace between Armenians and Azerbaijanis becomes impossible. Hundreds of agreements may be made, peace treaties may be signed, but if one side speaks about ethnic cleansing and genocide from very high tribunes, and sincerely believes in it, then no reconciliation is possible, despite the efforts of Charles Michel or peacemakers like him. For every Charles Michel there is an equally influential Kremlin tower or Macron, for every Pashinyan there is a Kocharyan, a Sargsyan, or a Vardanyan.
Peace treaty in jeopardy
The signing of a peace treaty is becoming problematic. It is very “uncomfortable” for President Aliyev to sign a peace treaty with someone who accuses him of war crimes; like in the famous Tarantino movie, you have to shake hands, and shaking hands is becoming impossible. Promoting the idea of “ethnic cleansing” by Armenia is tantamount to Pashinyan’s statement “Karabakh is Armenia, period” in 2019 and congratulating Karabakh Armenians on their “independence” on September 2, 2023, and is, in fact, a continuation of the war against Azerbaijan by other means. It is the same revanchism in a new package. Besides, how will Pashinyan be able to “sell” peace to his public and elite after this?! And he will also have to change the constitution and the act of independence of Armenia, which still contains territorial claims against Azerbaijan.
Naturally, communications will remain closed, and Armenia’s economy, after a temporary re-import/re-export boom, will begin to stagnate again. How is Pashinyan going to develop the country, its economy, and carry out reforms? Without funds, in an environment of continued isolation, and no doubt under Russia’s “gas” and “economic” blackmail, the reforms will stall. Inevitably, Pashinyan’s rating will drop and he will end up like his predecessor. Moreover, if after the 2018 “revolution” Armenia was filled with enthusiasm, faith in the future, and the desire to work for it, now the society will become more apathetic, hopeless, and eager to abandon this sinking ship as soon as possible.
Kipling was not only a good writer… as was Griboyedov
Both before and after coming to power, Pashinyan positioned himself as a pro-Western politician, bringing European values, ideas of justice, transparency and honesty to Armenian society; but he failed to stand his ground, and under the influence of the “collective West” and the diaspora began to promote the idea of “ethnic cleansing”.
Every collectivity has values as well as interests, sometimes vested interests. The West has achieved a fantastic level of growth over the past centuries due to the values and rules of the game: honesty, precision, rule of law and justice based on facts, which have been internalized and strictly observed. But another tendency of the “collective West” was colonialism, imperialism, rivalry with the “East” and enslavement of the “South”, oppression and robbery of the subjugated peoples. Pashinyan came to power under the slogans of Western values, but, repeating the lie about “ethnic cleansing” dozens of times from the tribune of the European Parliament, he gradually slipped and turned into a trivial tool of Western colonialism and imperialism.
Is Armenia democratic?
In his speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on October 17, along with the lie about “ethnic cleansing,” Pashinyan promoted the idea that Armenia is democratic. Well, voting alone does not democracy make. Hitler too came to power as a result of fair elections. But the chosen vector of development and ways of achieving political goals are no less important. Hemingway once said that fascism is a lie told by bullies.
The UN, the Red Cross, and journalists have cited numerous facts refuting the claims of ethnic cleansing. Nevertheless, the “collective West” says: “no, there was ethnic cleansing”. The West tramples on its values to serve its own vested interests, and Pashinyan becomes an accomplice to the crime. Although on September 20-21 he spoke about the absence of violence against Armenians, he then joined the chorus of his opponents and the diaspora, who forced him to change his rhetoric, jeopardizing the peace deal. This is how “democratic” Armenia is.
For better or for worse?
But Armenia, like Azerbaijan, has things that make it really unique. Despite the difference in language and religion, the two countries have a lot in common in culture. Armenia had and still has the potential to be a bridge between the “East” and the “West”, especially now that the former watchdog, Russia, has been weakened in the region. Unlike Georgia, which reaps dividends from its geographical position in the middle, Armenia prides itself on its role as a barrier between Türkiye and Azerbaijan. And as such, it now chooses to transform itself from an “outpost” of Russia into a “tool” of the “collective West”. But this attempt is doomed to failure. The “collective West” that applauded him in Strasbourg will not be able to save Pashinyan from failure, because the era of colonialism and hegemony of the West is over, and Pashinyan himself has exchanged the pillars of honesty and playing by the rules for political opportunism. And his political opponents are much better at playing these “games” than he is.
Here, the word “Pashinyan” should be understood as a “hypothetical Pashinyan”, a person who tried to establish peace with Azerbaijan and pivot to the West. But unwilling or unable to prevent Armenia’s ongoing information aggression against Azerbaijan, Pashinyan and the “collective West” that supports him are cutting the thickest branch on which he could sit, depriving him of the opportunity to make peace with Azerbaijan. And since this is his only chance to stay in power and guarantee Armenia’s existence as an independent and prosperous state in a difficult environment, both his personal future and the future of the state he leads are very dim. Pashinyan has traded the truth and interests of Armenia for the interests of the xenophobic “collective West” and the diaspora. A politician who came to power on the slogans of values, but who, because of his weakness, begins to favor political opportunism, will sooner or later lose both honor and power, turning into an even more pathetic copy of his predecessors. Armenia has already had more than one “tragedy”. Now it looks like the time of “comedies” is coming. Especially since Pashinyan will have no shortage of “allies” in this process.
Will Saakashvili’s warning help?
Saakashvili saw this danger even from prison. But he incorrectly analyzed its causes, hindered by his own experience. A lot has changed in the world and in the region in the 15 years since Russia’s aggression against Georgia. If in the case of Georgia the main role was played by Russia, in the case of Armenia the main opponent is not Azerbaijan, and not even Russia, which is unable to protect Armenia the way it used to and is simply wary of its turn to the “West”, but the “collective West” itself, as the latter for the sake of its own xenophobic interests is placing an enormous burden of anti-Turkism on Armenia’s weak shoulders and forcing it to continue its harmful confrontation with Azerbaijan. And the Armenian diaspora itself is helping to sink the ship called “Republic of Armenia”, caring not about the lives of ordinary Armenians in Karabakh and in the Republic of Armenia, but about the “mobilization” of Armenians all over the world.
And if a hypothetical “Roman Baghdasaryan” really wants Armenia to prosper and have good-neighborly relations with Azerbaijan, instead of repeating lies about ethnic cleansing after Pashinyan, he should advise the latter to come to his senses and make a sober judgment about the depth of the pit into which he is plunging himself and the Republic of Armenia.
Translated from Minval.az