Recently, President Joe Biden proclaimed: “We remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring. We honor the victims of the Meds Yeghern so that the horrors of what happened are never lost to history. And we remember so that we remain ever-vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms.”
What happened to the Armenians during World War I was tragic, and a special joint historic commission of Armenian and Turkish historians should be established to examine the extent of the tragedy. But what happened to the Armenians during World War I has nothing to do with any state that exists today. The Ottoman Empire no longer exists, and neither modern Turkey nor the fledgling Republic of Azerbaijan are responsible for those atrocities.
Blaming Turkey or Azerbaijan would be tantamount to blaming Italy for what the Roman Empire did to the people of Judea, or blaming Germany and Austria for the persecution of Ashkenazi Jews during the Renaissance.
However, while President Biden has been outspoken regarding the great Armenian tragedy of more than 100 years ago, he has been silent about the Guba genocide, where Armenians together with the Bolsheviks massacred some 50,000 Azerbaijanis in 1918, and the Khojaly genocide of 613 Azerbaijanis in the hands of Armenians on the eve of Azerbaijan’s Independence in 1992.
Today, we remember the atrocities faced by the Armenian people in the Metz Yeghern — the Armenian Genocide. If elected, I pledge to support a resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide and will make universal human rights a top priority. https://t.co/Afl5lMLPR3
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) April 24, 2020
Biden has also kept mum about atrocities carried out by today’s Armenia, such as the use of cluster bombs; the wanton targeting of Azerbaijani civilian population centers during the Second Karabakh War; and Armenia’s refusal to hand over the maps detailing where its army planted landmines in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
It is paramount the Biden speak out on these issues as well.
Recently, the Republic Underground and Timberwolf-Phoenix LLC hosted a webinar that highlighted the suffering of the Azerbaijani people from landmines in Nagorno-Karabakh. Amirli Farahim, a survivor of a landmine explosion, shared: “When we were taking out our wounded soldier from the battlefield, I was wounded by a landmine. Consequently, one-third of my leg was amputated, I got multiple shrapnel wounds in my right leg, second-degree burns in my right arm, and an injury in part of my left arm. My pain was indescribable.”
Ilkanaq Goja, a trauma specialist, explained: “Treating the landmine victim is not a simple matter. Someone has lost a leg. It takes months to manufacture one leg for one patient.” She noted that, aside from the physical injuries, landmines cause long-term psychological damage: “My relative was the victim of a landmine during the First Karabakh War. For 20 years, he has been dealing with complex PTSD. I am seeing that it has impacted not only the veterans’ lives but also the lives of their wives and children and other family members. Also, the neighbors and relatives who witness their loved ones’ loss of a limb get PTSD. They experience loss over the victim’s disfigurement.”
Namik Aghayev, Vice President of the North American Azerbaijani Youth Association, stressed: “The landmine situation is particularly unfortunate. What is scary is not what we know but we don’t know. Since the end of the war, 85 civilians have been killed by landmines—but even one person is too much. The minefields also slow down the process of building infrastructure, impeding the thousands of people waiting to go to their homes. After thirty years of occupation, the people still cannot go home because of the landmines.”
Timberwolf Phoenix President Benjamin Minick said the landmines that Armenia selected to use should not have been utilized, to begin with, comparing them to the cluster bombs that Armenia used during the Second Karabakh War: “We are limited in what we can use under the Geneva Convention. It is not just one gradient of a weapon. They got mines from wherever they could and then dispersed them. These mines were designed to take out vehicles. They help to secure the forces’ perimeter. But they work against people. According to international law, their placement is limited, but Armenia does not proscribe to that. Mines that are designed to harm vehicles were mixed with anti-personnel mines and then they mixed them together to achieve maximum damage.”
According to Minick, stepping on these anti-vehicle mines may detonate them: “Until you have maps, you run the risk of setting one off, and then setting off multiple ones in sequence.” He also claims that “these landmines are poisonous. They contain contaminants. The landscape would not be viable for humans to live if too many go off. This is just horrible. They were designed to kill. There was no consideration given to human rights. It was not even a security measure. They were placed in a position to inflict maximum damage. It is not like being shot with a gun. If you survive a mine, the toll it takes on your body is something no one should ever have to endure. They are designed to impact the body and to tear it apart. You cannot step on it and run away. It will get triggered. You cannot patch up landmine injuries. You will need amputations and multiple surgeries.”
Prominent human rights lawyer Irina Tsukerman recently tweeted: “Armenia should be held accountable for the intentional targeting of residential areas. The Armenian government occupies Azerbaijani land, launches attacks on cities and civilians, then claims that Armenians would face genocide unless Yerevan is allowed to continue killing.”
Esmira Jafarova, Board Member of the Center of Analysis and International Relations, stated: “Without the maps, the cleaning process will take longer than with the maps and the causalities will be much higher, and the area will become one of the most polluted in the world.” Jafarova stressed that by not handing over the maps, Armenia is sentencing civilians to death. She insists and that Armenia handing over the maps should not be up for negotiations.
The time has come for President Biden to stop focusing on what happened over 100 years ago and start paying attention to what is happening today on Armenia’s border. Failure to do so would lead not only to a massive loss of civilian life in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, but it could even lead to the collapse of the fragile peace that was recently established there, which would be detrimental to America’s interests in Azerbaijan—an oil-rich nation that borders the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Therefore, I urge President Biden to force Armenia to hand over their landmine maps to Azerbaijan at the earliest possible date and to take a more balanced approach to advancing peace in the Caucasus, rather than pander to the Armenian lobby in the US.
Rachel Avraham is a political analyst at the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights, and is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media.”