To present the genocide of the Armenians means first explaining the extinction of a multi-millennial civilization contemporary to the Romans and Parthians which almost disappeared from the Anatolian region at the dawn of the 20th century. While Western diplomats welcome the ongoing process of normalization between Armenia and Turkey, Armenians around the world commemorated on April 24 an unpunished genocide and their unburied dead.
In their masterful book, The Thirty-Year Genocide: Turkey’s Destruction of Its Christian Minorities, 1894-1924, Israeli historians Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi estimate that the extermination of Ottoman Christians took place over thirty years. These were three historical sequences that were part of a single effort to wipe out the Christian presence in Anatolia. This process began with the proto-genocidal massacre of Ottoman Armenians from 1894 to 1896, followed by the genocide of 1915, and the deportation and annihilation of the remaining Christians (Greeks, Assyro-Chaldeans, Syriacs) during and after the Greek-Turkish war of 1919-1922, not to mention, in the Caucasus, the ethnic cleansing of the Armenians between 1918 and 1920 carried out by the Turkish-Azerian Islamic army.
Could the extermination of the Empire’s Christians have been avoided? Despite the adoption in 1876 of a liberal constitution crowning the era of reforms (Tanzimat) aimed at modernizing the Empire, the idea of a supra-confessional Ottoman citizenship remained a pious wish. The degrading notion of dhimmi, which instituted inequality between Christians and Muslims, remained a reality for millions of Greek, Armenian, Assyrian-Chaldean and Arab Christians. If in the countryside of eastern Anatolia, the Armenian peasantry, reduced to a state of serfdom, was at the mercy of the exactions of its Kurdish “protectors,” the fate of the Armenians of the Empire was relatively more enviable in the large cosmopolitan urban centers (Constantinople, Smyrna) and in Cilicia. The action of the Western missions favored the rise of an educated youth who had acquired the ideals of the Enlightenment.
The middle of the 19th century saw a national cultural revival (Zartonk), with a reform of the Armenian language and the emergence of an exceptional literature. The cultural and socio-economic gap between Armenians and Turks was all the more perceptible. Jealousy, frustration and even the anguish of disappearance haunted the Turks that arose with the defeats in Tripolitania and in the Balkans which, around 1912, accelerated the collapse of the Empire. The “sick man of Europe,” the Empire decomposed, while a new elite from the Balkans secretly organized itself and took power through a coup de force in 1908. The arrival of the Young Turks of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) was welcomed by a large number of Armenians, as the 1876 Constitution, which guaranteed equality between all the inhabitants of the Empire, was restored. Influenced by the positivist ideas of Auguste Comte, the Young Turks relied on the militants of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation with whom they had maintained close relations since their exile in Europe.
But the euphoria was short-lived. The Armenians of Adana, an opulent city in Cilicia, were massacred in 1909. The death toll was 30,000. The investigation was suppressed; the responsibility of the authorities was no longer in doubt. The ideal of a decentralized, multi-ethnic and multi-confessional Ottomanism was over. As the Young Turks retreated into the Balkans and North Africa, they came to consider Anatolia as the sanctuary of Turkishness. However, the Christian element was practically in the majority there. The Armenian elite was sufficiently seasoned to envisage autonomy, or rather an independent Armenia in the heart of the Empire. Social Darwinism explains the genocidal intention: if the “internal enemies” are not eliminated, the Turkish nation cannot exist within the borders of the Ottoman state.
The massacres of 1894-1896 had initiated a shift in the demographic balance of power reinforced by the influx of Muslim refugees (muhadjir) from the Balkans and the Caucasus, eager to fight the Christians. The Young Turks intended to ensure the transition from a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional state to an exclusively Muslim state where the Sunni Turkish element remained the basis of the emerging national identity.
The Last Act
The last act before the final solution was played out in 1913, with the firming of the power of the Young Turks who eliminated all opposition. On October 31, 1914, the Ottoman Empire joined Germany and Austria-Hungary in the war; and from then on, the thesis of the betrayal of Armenians fighting for Russia was used as a pretext to implement the Final Solution. Although they were atheists, the Young Turks used Islam and the Kurds to massacre the “infidel” Armenians. The Special Organization, the armed wing of the Deep State, recruited criminals released from prison.
In January 1915, Armenian conscripts of the Ottoman army were killed; and on April 24 the round-up of 3000 Armenian intellectuals, writers, politicians, doctors, lawyers, etc. in Constantinople destroyed the elite of this Christian minority. The Armenians of the eastern vilayets (counties) were exterminated on the spot, with the exception of the population of Van, who managed to resist and then to withdraw with the Russian army.
The “General Order for the deportation of all Armenians, without exception,” issued on June 21, 1915 by the Minister of the Interior Talaat, was addressed to all the governors of the vilayets. It no longer referred to threatened border areas, but to all regions of the Empire where Armenian subjects lived, up to the border with Bulgaria. Between May and September 1915, 306 convoys of deportees carried 1,040,000 Armenians from all over Anatolia. Parked in concentration camps, they died of thirst, hunger and disease. The survivors fled to the deserts of Syria.
In September 1915, a law on “abandoned property” of “temporarily” displaced persons legitimized the plundering of Armenian property.
In 1916, the second phase of the genocide began with the extermination of the Armenians who had not been deported from Anatolia, while Chechen irregulars were responsible for the heinous killing of the survivors (women, orphans, etc.) interned in the camps in Syria. A century later, Daech’s soldiers would repeat this barbarity at the exact scene of the crime earlier.
Turkey for the Turks
After having supported, in the years preceding the genocide, the demand for reforms in the eastern vilayets, in order to guarantee the Christian populations a minimum of security for their goods and persons, the Western powers were content to protest. On May 24, 1915, France, England and Russia, in a joint declaration, solemnly warned the Ottoman government of its full responsibility in “Turkey’s crime against humanity and civilization.” They promised the intervention of the secular arm of Justice. Strong words that remained a dead letter.
In 1923, 1.5 million deaths later, the international community cynically buried the Armenian question, sacrificed on the altar of realpolitik and the concern to spare Kemalist Turkey.
Thus, the slogan “Turkey for the Turks” became a reality. This was followed by an ethnocide, targeting the churches and monasteries of Anatolia. But the persecution did not stop there. Armenians, Greeks and Jews of Turkey who remained in the country after 1923 were subjected to a new spoliation by the iniquitous wealth tax of 1942.
In 1955, the pogroms in Istanbul, followed by the crises in Cyprus in 1963-1964 and 1974, put an end to the Greek presence in the city.
Successive military coups sustained an ultranationalism with Pan-Turkist overtones that led, for example, to the assassination in 2007 in Istanbul of the Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. It is clear that, far from being a single memorial issue, the genocide remains a current one.
The other links in this chain are Cyprus, the Assyro-Chaldeans, the Kurds, the disregard for human rights. They are at the heart of the Turkish malaise. A country haunted by the ghosts of the past, sickened by its ultranationalism. A people that has still not found the path to inner peace and the beginning of a liberating request for forgiveness.
Tigrane Yégavian is a graduate of the Institut d’études politiques de Paris and the Institut des langues et civilisations orientales (INALCO), holds a Master’s degree in comparative politics with a specialization in the Muslim world, and is a doctoral candidate in contemporary history. An Arabist, he has spent a long time in Syria, Lebanon and Turkey. His career has led him to specialize in Eastern Christians and their diasporas. He is also a specialist in Portuguese and contemporary Portugal, on which he has written numerous articles. He is a member of the editorial board of the geopolitical journal Conflits. He is a contributor to the Revue des Deux Mondes, Etudes, Carto, Moyen-Orient, Politique Internationale, Le Monde Diplomatique, Sciences Humaines, France-Arménie and regularly appears on Télé Sud, RFI and TV5 Monde. This article appears courtesy of La Nef.
Featured: “The Massacre of Adana,” Le Petit Journal, May 2, 1909.
This history should never be forgotten. Its roots go back to myths, in it we find Noah, the universal flood, the beginnings of civilization and human culture, Urartu. Many pages of the Bible refer to all of this. Indeed, the southern mountains of the Western Caucasus were the ancestral home of the Armenian people, and very specifically the valleys and mountains where the so-called Artsakh or Upper Karabakh is located today. It is no coincidence that the Shusha Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of Ghazanchetsots, was erected by Simon Ter Hakobyan on the remains of an ancient Armenian chapel. Artsakh is not just any region, it is the place where the founding father of the Armenian people, Hayk, decided that his people should settle forever. The mountains of Artsakh are the symbol of the faith of a people who believe in their destiny.
But let us descend from myths and legends to the harsh reality that the Armenian people are experiencing as they see how their precious cradle is being manipulated in a clear attempt to annihilate historical reality. How could it happen that an essential part of Armenia ended up in the hands of Azerbaijan? What were the motivations and circumstances that, after the Bolshevik revolution, led an ancestral Armenian territory to become an integral part of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, and to remain part of that country today? Why did a territory that was Christian to the core, an area where Christianity was established from time immemorial—more than three centuries before the appearance of Islam—come to be dominated by Shiite Muslims? What strange events allowed such a thing to happen? Let us analyze the process.
From the beginning of the Bolshevik revolution, the relationship of the Supreme Soviet with the Islamic peoples of what had been Tsarist Greater Russia was uneasy, difficult to manage, since the Bolshevik propaganda, Marxist and atheist, seemed to produce any results; not even the creation of the new republics seemed to satisfy the national claims of the various Muslim peoples and their particularities. Communism and Islam have never gotten along, Marxism and Koran are antithetical. Atheism is a declared enemy of Islam, because it denies its own existence. But it was not only the profound differences between the Bolshevik government and the different Muslim peoples of the new USSR. For example, some of the Tatar minorities were Shiites, others were not; while the Chechens were radical Sunnis, the Muslims of the upper Volga were not, and therefore their claims were very different.
But let us analyze the process: in 1918 a committee for the Muslim nationalities existing in Soviet Russia was created, a committee that naturally depended on the Narkomnats, and by a series of circumstances Stalin accepted that the majority of that committee would be in the hands of the Tatars, which would mark his future. Obsessed with securing his power, and as was asserting his will, Stalin tried to manipulate the sub-commissioners, not wanting the internal problem of both sides allying against him.
On the other hand, in those very days, the Armenians had just survived the genocide carried out by the Ottoman Turks, so they were very weakened from all points of view, including politically, since even within Lenin’s own circle, it was believed that Armenians would be incapable of carrying on the existence of their own Armenian homeland. It should be pointed out that the recently re-founded Armenian state was economically ruined, defenseless, without an army to defend it, unable to feed its own people, abandoned by the advanced nations, and for all these reasons it was an easy prey for Turkey which sought to put an end to “the Armenian problem” once and for all. It should also be made clear that Kemal Atatürk did not modify Ottoman policy one iota, and although he assured Europe that he wanted a modern and secular Turkey, he also wanted it to be free of Christians and above all of Armenians.
The Democratic Republic of Armenia, independent from the Ottoman Empire since 1918, was by force of circumstances transformed on November 29, 1920 into the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, and from that very moment it did not have the slightest autonomous capacity to carry out a process of regulation of its borders based on its historical reality, but became -as all the other Soviet socialist republics- a bargaining chip for the selfish interests of the Soviet protagonists of the revolution, Stalin, Lenin, Trotsky and the other general secretaries, who, as mentioned above, were carrying out their particular strategy for power, while the socialist utopia remained in the background. Lenin asserted that without power, socialist reality could not be built, which was obvious. Stalin, who at that time was a parvenu without a curriculum vitae, was ready to take the plunge. It is more than demonstrated that he used the Commissariat for the Nationalities as a mere lever to achieve his political ends, and that there was not the least coherence in his decision making, although it was the circumstances that finally made him General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, unbelievably against the resounding will of Lenin, of course also of Trotsky and of the majority of the remaining leaders who at a given moment were coerced and had no alternative but to submit to Stalin, and for that reason almost all of them ended up paying for their indecision or their cowardice with their lives.
Let us see what Trotsky has to say about this, it in his biography of Stalin:
“On November 27, 1919, the 11th Congress of Muslim Communist Organizations of All-Russia and the Peoples of the East was held in Moscow. The Congress was opened by Stalin on behalf of the Central Committee of the Party. Four honorary members were elected: Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev and Stalin. The chairman of the Congress, Sultan-Galiev, proposed that the Congress salute Stalin as “one of those fighters who burn with a flame of hatred against international imperialism.” But it is very characteristic for the gradation of the leaders at that time, that even at this Congress the Sultan-Galiev Report on political revolution in general ended with the salutation: “Long live the Russian Communist Party! Long live its leaders, comrades Lenin and Trotsky!” Even this Congress of the Peoples of the East, held under the immediate leadership of Stalin, did not think it necessary to include Stalin among the leaders of the Party. Stalin was People’s Commissariat of Nationalities from the time of the Revolution until the dissolution of the Commissariat in 1923, when the Soviet Union and the Council of Nationalities of the Central Executive Committee of the U.S.S.S.R. were created. It can be considered firmly established that, at least until May 1919, Stalin did not have much to do with the affairs of the Commissariat. At first, Stalin did not write the editorials of The Life of the Nationalities [Zhizn Natsionalnostei, a weekly newspaper and then a magazine, published from 1918 to 1924]. Then, when the paper began to be published in magazine format, Stalin’s editorials began to appear one issue after another. But Stalin’s literary productivity was not great, and it decreased from year to year. In 1920-1921 we find only two or three articles by him. In 1922, not a single one. By then Stalin had gone over entirely to machine politics.”
In other words, Stalin used the post as Commissar of Nationalities to guarantee his future within the politburo, knowing that until Lenin disappeared nothing was assured. Trotsky dissects in detail Stalin’s personality in that exciting and dramatic stage.
On August 10, 1920, the Treaty of Sèvres was signed in Sèvres, France, in the presence of the Turkish representatives. It was the logical consequence of the Treaty of Versailles, in which the Ottoman Empire, still ruled by Sultan Mehmed VI, accepted the de facto situation, and lost Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Arabia, Iraq, while Asia Minor was cut up according to the demanding criteria of the victors. Armenia, in that treaty, put together as Wilsonian Armenia, became a viable state again with the eastern part of Turkey, recomposing in part—and only in part—the historical Armenia. Naturally Atatürk assured his generals that the treaty would not be carried out, and that they would have to fight to the death to change things. He was a pragmatic man and referred exclusively to Asia Minor, to Turkey itself, knowing that its own existence as a country was at stake.
Immediately the Turkish army attacked the territories under French, Italian and Greek influence, as well as those assigned to Armenia. France did not wish to lose more men or invest more resources in a distant war. Italy could not continue either, and Greece even less. The Turks focused on expelling the Armenians from their cities, until the situation became impossible for the Armenian government, with no funds, no credit, hardly any soldiers, no weapons, although it is true that the British gave some military aid.
Atatürk, who was a good strategist, had made a pact with the SSR of Azerbaijan, which he considered Turkish, and for that reason in June 1920 the Democratic Republic of Armenia was forced to declare a costly truce with the Azeris, since the Turkish army was besieging them and driving them to exhaustion, becoming at that time the SSR of Armenia. It was the overwhelming situation which forced the Armenian government to sign peace with the Azeris, having to cede Zangezur and Nagorno-Karabakh to them, besides recognizing their dominion in Nakhchivan.
But Atatürk’s Turks kept up the war pressure on a practically exhausted Armenia, unarmed, without ammunition, without resources, without a real army that could defend its borders. It simply had no one to turn to. There were no resources, much less financial; no provisions, not for the weak Armenian army, not even for the starving and impoverished civilians. Armenian children continued to die of starvation, without hospitals, without medicine. That is why the Turks took advantage of the situation, the extreme state of the Armenian state, and entered Alexandroupolis, forcing peace.
Let us analyze the circumstances. A few days later, in fact four days later, on December 2, 1920, the Treaty of Alexandropol was signed between the recently created Armenian SSR and Turkey and what is today Gyumri, the beautiful city that during Tsarist Russia had been christened as Alexandropol. Supposedly this treaty was an agreement to end the Turkish-Armenian war, and it dismantled the Treaty of Sèvres, since Turkey demanded Armenia’s renunciation of all the territory that before the Great War had belonged to the Ottoman Empire, besides forcing it to recognize the independence of Nakhchivan.
A few months later, in mid-March 1921, within the framework of the Treaty of Moscow, Lenin decided to reach an agreement with the Great National Assembly of Turkey, whose undisputed leader was now Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the victor of Gallipoli, the only Turkish leader who could face the victors of the Great War on equal terms. It must be emphasized that neither the USSR nor the Republic of Turkey yet existed. The “Turkey” of that time was that of the National Pact, according to the resolution adopted by the Ottoman parliament on January 28, 1920. It should be noted that the northeastern borders of Turkey and those of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan were defined without the participation of Armenian and Georgian representatives, while the interests of Azerbaijan were well represented by Turkey, which considered the Azeris as Turkish allies in Atatürk’s Pan-Turkist policy. Therefore, in the Treaty of Moscow it was unilaterally decided that the Kars Oblast would be assigned to Turkey, and at the request of the Turkish leader the autonomous region of Nakhichevan was also created under the protection of Azerbaijan. In compensation, at the demand of Russia, supposedly at the will and discretion of Lenin, Turkey ceded Batumi and the adjacent area to Georgia, and in such a way that the Armenians lost an essential part of their territory, and above all they were deprived of the vital possibility of having an exit to the Black Sea, that is to say, a limited and dependent Armenia was left for strategic purposes, while the Turks guaranteed their relationship based on stability with the future USSR.
“Every group, fraction or tendency within the Party was suppressed, tendencies that arose as a consequence of the post-war crisis. Everyone had to accept the official orthodoxy under penalty of being expelled. The aim was to achieve loyalty and uniformity. Authority was concentrated in the central organs of the Party. The idea was Lenin’s and was supported by the entire Bolshevik leadership.
“In order to achieve strict discipline within the Party and in all Soviet activity and to attain the highest degree of unity possible with the suppression of all factionalism, the Congress grants the Central Committee full powers in the case or cases of any breach produced in discipline by resurgence or toleration of factionalism, to apply all measures of Party sanction, including expulsion.”
Galiev and Stalin openly confronted each other during the congress. The false, impossible friendship between the two leaders was over, and both were well aware of it. Stalin branded as reactionary the proposal that the Islamic autonomous territories should be incorporated into the Soviet Union as independent republics—in fact the claim of the Muslims not to be linked to the USSR, since Galiev was in fact very suspicious about what the future would hold for the Soviet republics, and feared that Islam would be diluted in the Marxist atheism of the Bolsheviks. Time proved him right.
Recent history has not been consistent with historical reality. Barely three months later, on July 5, 1921, Stalin’s boundless ambition prevailed. It should be remembered that it was Stalin who, without any grounds or historical basis, unilaterally, capriciously, dictatorially, decided to create the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) and transfer it to the newly created Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic without any justification for his decision. Why did he carry out such an incoherent act? He was well aware of what could happen with that capricious and absurd decision.
It should be emphasized that at that time Stalin held the post of People’s Commissariat for Nationalities, (Narodny Komissariat po delam natsionálnostei, or Narkomnats). Researcher Stephen Blank maintains that this commissariat was created by the Bolsheviks to control the participation of those non-Russian ethnic groups, supposedly to give voice to the minorities, which were politically grouped in sub-commissariats for each of them: Jewish, Georgian, Armenian, Azeri or Tatar, Latvian, Polish, Buryat, Lithuanian, Estonian, and many others. In reality, what mattered to Stalin was how he could use his strategic position to climb politically and establish himself in power. For Levon Chorbajian, “the creation of Nagorno-Karabakh” was a challenge to history. Stalin, who knew very well the bitterness between Turks and Azeris on the one hand, and Armenians on the other, bet on the former “for political convenience,” that is to say within the context of Soviet-Turkish cooperation, trying to keep the influence of the Bolsheviks in the Caucasus.
Both Stalin and Kemal Atatürk were urged to resolve the burning issue of the South Caucasus, an open ulcer that bothered and harmed both sides, and which generated continuous frictions. For Stalin it was not an unknown or very distant issue; on the contrary, it was something close to him, something he had known well since his youth. No one had to explain to him about the Caucasus and its peculiarities, nor about what had just happened with the Armenians for whom he had never felt sympathy. In Georgia the Armenians had a reputation for being pragmatic people, ambitious, businessmen and good merchants; they were not empathetic with their hosts the Georgians. In Azerbaijan the same thing happened to them. In Baku they ran the main oil companies, import and export warehouses, financial institutions. They did not bother about being nice.
On the other hand, Atatürk had too many open fronts, including the very future of Turkey as a country; and Stalin was also playing for his political prestige—in short to be or not to be. It was evident to the unstable Bolshevik government that Lenin’s distrust of Stalin had already begun. Even so, Lenin allowed Stalin and Atatürk to reach an agreement and take the decision to modify and adjust the Treaty of Moscow in a new agreement to be concluded in one of the towns with the largest Armenian population eliminated during the genocide: the Treaty of Kars, to be signed on October 13, 1921, an agreement that would tie up and finalize all pending issues, especially the borders of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Not even three months had passed since the unexpected cession of Upper Karabakh to Azerbaijan, which the Armenian government hoped to reverse and return to the previous situation.
In the new Treaty of Kars, the Georgians were content with the port of Batumi, not because of political sense, nor because of the Bolsheviks’ responsibility towards Georgia, but because Stalin had his own commitments. To the Azeris, Stalin—it had been a personal decision because the commissar of nationalities did not agree on anything—had granted Upper Karabakh, and also Nakhichevan, so the Azeris had nothing to object to, and besides, it was the Turks who were pressing to sign such an agreement.
On the other hand, everyone was well aware that at that very moment razzias and pogroms were being carried out in Baku and all the eastern part of Azerbaijan to eliminate the Armenians and their strong interests in the oil market with Europe. It was not something concealed—that the Turks wanted to annihilate not only the Armenian population in Turkey itself, but also in those nearby countries where Turkish influence was decisive, as was the case of Azerbaijan. The relationship between Istanbul and Baku was already akin to colonialism. But at that time the British, who had troops stationed in the Caucasus, looked the other way, among other things because the Bolsheviks, led by Stalin, allowed all this. There were too many economic and political interests involved.
The situation needs to be told in detail. From the very moment Stalin awarded Upper Karabakh to the Azeris—to their surprise since they were not expecting the present size—the latter decided to carry out an ethnic and cultural cleansing of the oblast. The Armenians protested the decision as incoherent, unjust and sectarian. It was futile. At that time the strong relationship of common interests between the Tatar leader Mirza Sultan-Galiev and Joseph Stalin prevented the incomprehensible decision from being carried out. Both of them needed each other politically; their relationship was based on a false friendship. In reality they were two strong personalities who aspired to achieve their goals at any cost.
However, the pogroms against the Armenian population of Upper Karabakh, the destruction of churches, monasteries, khachkars, of any Armenian vestige existing in the ancestral settlement, were on-going. In spite of this, the stubborn reality of the facts could not be dismissed, since near ninety percent of the population settled in the valleys and mountains of the Upper Karabakh was of Armenian origin, all of them with deep roots that came from many centuries and millennia, in which the Armenians had modeled the hard landscape of what for them was their precious Artsakh. A harsh and difficult land; unkind, yet for them it signified the roots of their ancestral homeland, the place from which Hayk’s descendants came.
On the other hand, the Azerbaijani authorities found it unfeasible to move the Azerbaijani population there and force them to settle, although in certain places of Artsakh there were occasional Azeri settlements representing about 15 percent of the population. Among other reasons, the Azeris moved there considered it a punishment, because a deep knowledge based on hundreds of generations was necessary to survive and prosper in those harsh mountains of the southern Western Caucasus.
But the Armenians resisted pogroms and threats, political coercion, attempts at physical elimination, the destruction of their cultural references. If a hermitage or a monastery was demolished, the inhabitants raised it again, showing a strong will to remain. When the Azerbaijanis decided to destroy even the stones of the resulting ruins, the Armenians returned to the old quarries to carve the necessary stones. The elders remembered even the smallest ornamental and symbolic details of their monasteries and churches, and the skilled stonemasons patiently rebuilt what had been demolished and turned to dust, in an attempt to destroy and change the true history.
It should be remembered that the policy agreed to between Galiev and Stalin was one of selective application of anti-religious propaganda. For Galiev, in those days apparently a very close and loyal friend and protégé of Stalin, who cunningly used him in his service, the religion professed by the Armenians was only a demonstration against the interests of the Bolshevik party, while the Islam of the Tartars—their Islam—was nothing other than the expression of the will of Almighty God.
In the background, Galiev’s political ambition in those days was the creation of a great Tatar-Baskir republic in which Christian Armenia had no place. His secret, unspoken will was to finish what the Ottoman Turks had attempted: the definitive elimination, the disappearance, the expulsion of every last Armenian from the Armenia that had been allotted to them—in the end barely twenty percent of Wilsonian Armenia, of which neither Galiev, nor the administration of the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan, nor Stalin himself wanted to know anything about.
We say here that the Wilsonian Armenia contained in the Treaty of Sèvres remains intact—intact, complete, no matter how much people try to throw dirt on it, no matter how much they try to erase it from memory, no matter how many intermediate treaties have been signed—for the simple reason that that process was closed falsely. The political representatives of the Armenian people did not sign the Treaty of Lausanne in which an attempt was made to hastily modify the previous Treaty of Sèvres, without the necessary valid agreements, which did include precisely everything agreed upon and signed, including by the authorized representatives of the State of Turkey.
As for the Armenian participation in the Treaty of Moscow, it was null and void; and in the Treaty of Kars, the Armenian representatives were coerced and forced to sign it. However, two years later, in 1923, Galiev was tried and convicted for nationalist deviationism, and although Stalin carried out a series of purges against the Bashkir and Tatar followers of Galiev, he did not want to change his decision to award Upper Karabakh to the Azeris. In 1940 Galiev’s drama ended when he was shot in Moscow on Stalin’s orders, like the vast majority of those who opposed him for whatever reason. However, an essential matter, such as the allocation of an essential part of the historical Armenian territory, such as the Upper Karabakh to Azerbaijan, was not annulled, in spite of energetic Armenian protests.
Many years later—an eternity for the great majority of the peoples subjugated under the USSR—in 1991, the USSR was dissolved and, like all the other republics that made it up, the Soviet Muslim republics of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were transformed into independent republics, as had been Galiev’s intention seventy years earlier. Within the current Russian Federation itself, we still find the Muslim republics of Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachai-Cherkessia, which had no other choice, or which for their own reasons preferred to remain linked to Russia. In spite of everything, Galiev was not wrong. However, against common sense and logic, producing terrible damage to two peoples who should bury their quarrels forever, Stalin’s spurious decision is still remains, defying historical justice, like a festering ulcer that will only heal definitively with determination and intelligence.
G.H. Guarch is one of the leading writers of historical novels in Spanish. He received the 1997 Blasco Ibáñez Narrative Award for his novel, Las puertas del paraíso [The Gates of Paradise], and in 2007, he received the prestigious AGBU Garbis Papazian Award, for his trilogy of novels about the Armenian genocide: El árbol armenio [The Armenian Tree], The Armenian Testament, and La montaña blanca [The White Mountain]. He has recently been awarded the Movses Khorenatsi Medal, the highest cultural distinction in Armenia. [This article appears through the kind courtesy of El Manifesto].
After the war of 2020, Azerbaijan again militarily attacked Armenia last September amidst widespread international indifference, confirming disturbing ambitions.
“No one can give us an ultimatum and allow Armenians to place their hopes elsewhere. I will say it again—nothing and no one can stop us.” With this statement on September 22, the dictator controlling Azerbaijan in a clannish way, Ilham Aliyev, is exerting his ambitions. In 2020, after a 44-day war, Azerbaijan, supported by Turkey, invaded a large part of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia had to accept a precarious cease-fire under the aegis of Russia. This was constantly violated by Azeri troops, and their incursions into Armenian territory. Aliyev was clear in his intentions. Shortly after the ceasefire he explained, “I said we would drive [the Armenians] out of our lands like dogs, and we did.” Under these conditions, the agreement that the civilian populations could return to their lands obviously remained a non-starter for the Armenian populations.
In order to understand the present-day anguish of the Armenians, a detour through history is necessary. When Tsarist Russia annexed the South Caucasus, it quickly adopted a policy that was unfavorable to the Armenians. This policy was taken over by the USSR, as the Bolshevik regime ceded Nakhchivan and Nagorno-Karabakh (or Artsakh with a clear Armenian majority) to the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan and not to that of Armenia.
In the context of the collapse of the USSR, following pogroms of the Armenian population in Sumgait and Baku, and an Azerbaijani desire to “disarm” Artsakh through a racist and discriminatory policy, Artsakh proclaimed its self-determination. In a five-year war, the heroism of Armenian fighters led to the liberation of Artsakh and the establishment of a continuous territory between Artsakh and Armenia in 1994. However, during the fifteen years that followed, Azerbaijan’s position was strengthened by the oil from the Caspian Sea and a dynamic demography.
In this context, the Azeri offensive of September 2022—which killed more than 300 people—shows that Azeri ambitions do not stop at Artsakh. As Tigrane Yegavian lucidly puts it, the aim of Azerbaijan and Turkey is now to nibble away at Armenian territory in order to reduce Armenia to a rump state before making it disappear. Such an offensive has a genocidal purpose, the aim being to eliminate all Armenian presence in the Caucasus.
The fate of the Armenian heritage in Nakhichevan is a good indicator of the threat. The 89 medieval churches have been demolished, 5,480 khachkars (rectangular steles with the Armenian cross which, in Armenian tradition, are used to guide the dead when they rise on Judgment Day) and 22,700 graves have been destroyed by Azerbaijan. Reports from Armenian Heritage in occupied Artsakh are equally disturbing. Finally, the abuses committed by Azeri soldiers on the Armenian civilian population and on prisoners of war clearly show an Azeri desire to exterminate this population. During the last offensive, Anush Apetyan, a 36-year-old Armenian soldier and mother of three children, captured by Azeri soldiers, was raped, dismembered and executed. Her executioners, sure of their impunity, broadcast their crime themselves, which is part of a policy of structural Armenophobia on the part of the regime in Baku.
Such a threat to Armenia is clearly encouraged by Erdogan’s Turkey, which supports Azerbaijan because of Pan-Turkism and an ethno-religious mixture of Turkish nationalism and Islamism. Turkey’s expansionist ambitions are supported by omnipresent propaganda in its films and historical series (despite a few courageous exceptions that go against the grain, such as the series The Club) and by a policy of influence over the Turkish diaspora in Europe. This policy is also approved by Erdogan’s Kemalist opponents (the only opposing party being the HDP, a predominantly Kurdish party that brings together the Turkish electorate that rejects the Turkish-Islamist synthesis and Kemalism).
To speak about what is happening in Armenia, and not to forget it, is more necessary than ever. And to dedicate ourselves so that our leaders become aware of the Turkish threat and act accordingly. So, we can only welcome the publication, under the direction of Éric Denécé and Tigrane Yégavian, of Haut-Karabakh: Le livre noir (The Black Book of Nagorno-Karabakh) and the beginning of mobilization in the French political class, hoping that it will not be just a flash in the pan.
Rainer Leonhardt (RL): How should we interpret the new Azeri offensive of September 2022?
Tigrane Yegavian (TY): Since the ceasefire of November 2020, Azerbaijan has been pursuing the war by other means because it is motivated by the desire to consolidate its military advantage at the political level. With the balance of power tipped in its favor and Armenia weaker than ever, the Azeri-Turkish tandem is also taking advantage of Russian setbacks in Ukraine to force Armenia to give in on the following points:
renunciation of a status for Nagorno-Karabakh, which means accepting its annexation by Azerbaijan and the certainty of ethnic cleansing
and the establishment of an extraterritorial corridor outside Armenia’s sovereignty in the south of its territory. An ultra-strategic corridor that would link Azerbaijan to Turkey and cut Armenia off from Iran; a new route of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border that would allow the Azeris to nibble away more Armenian territory, relying on the strategy of the fait accompli, given that they have been occupying a hundred square kilometers of Armenian territory since their successive offensives of May 2021 and especially September 2022.
In short, to devitalize Armenia, to make it a non-viable country, and in the long run to strangle it completely.
RL: What are the perspectives of Armenia? And is there any reason to hope via, for example, a rapprochement with the other countries targeted by Turkish expansionism like Greece?
TY: As far as I know, Armenia has no allies. It is on the “wrong side” unlike Ukraine, while its CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) partners, all of them despotic regimes, are clearly on the side of Azerbaijan. Russia acts more like a suzerain, sometimes protector, sometimes pimp, as long as its interests are at stake. While Cyprus and Greece have never failed to show solidarity with Armenia, which is threatened by Pan-Turkism, these two states do not have sufficient leverage within the EU and NATO. Outside the Russian orbit, the only country that can provide both political and military support in the region is not Iran, but India, which shares a common geostrategic vision with Armenia in relation to Pakistan’s alignment with Pan-Turkism and sees Armenia as a route for its competing project with China’s New Silk Roads.
RL: How should the actions of Russia and the USA be interpreted in relation to the Azeri offensives?
TY: The United States is taking advantage of the Russians’ position of weakness to advance its interests in the Caucasus. For the time being, they are putting pressure on Azerbaijan not to invade Armenian territory, without offering military assistance to Yerevan. The Trump administration was not interested in any of this. Today the deal is not the same because we are witnessing the return of the geopolitics of empires: Russians and Turks share areas of influence in their competitive cooperation, Armenia is only a bargaining chip, a pawn on a chessboard that extends from Libya to Central Asia through Syria.
RL: Does the rapprochement between the EU and Azerbaijan over gas leave Aliyev’s hands free?
TY: After demonizing the master of the Kremlin, a de-Christianized Europe without a compass has chosen to sell its soul to a bloodthirsty dictator who has made Armenophobia his raison d’être. Aliyev understands well that he can play this card, and above all that his past, present and future crimes will remain unpunished. If France has tried to help the Armenians, it has been blocked by Germany within the EU, and by the United Kingdom within NATO, which maintains extremely close relations with the regime in Baku. We are living through yet another chapter of the great game, and the Armenians are struggling to negotiate their survival in an environment that is increasingly hostile to them, while the Europeans have no intention of curbing the appetites of the Aliyev-Erdogan tag-team.
Featured: “Battle of Vardanank,” by Grigor Khanjyan; painted 1995-1998. [This interview appears through the kind courtesy of La Nef].
Hovhannes Guevorkian is the representative of the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) in France. Here he speaks with Augustin Herbet about the current situation of his country, in the face of Azerbaijani aggression. This interview appears through the kind courtesy of La Nef.
Hovhannes Guevorkian (HG): After the signing of the ceasefire on November 9, 2020, thanks to the deployment and reassuring presence of the Russian peacekeeping forces, nearly 80,000 Artsakhis, who had taken refuge in Armenia during the military aggression, returned to Artsakh to settle in the free zone—not occupied by Azerbaijan. Some 23,000 Artsakhis have not been able to return—these are the inhabitants of the territories under Azerbaijani control who were driven out and who will be murdered by the Baku regime, if they try to return to their homes.
Work on restoring civilian infrastructure deliberately targeted by the Azerbaijani army during the war—roads, hospitals, schools and homes—is almost complete. An ambitious housing construction program is also underway.
The new geography of Artsakh, the result of the war, poses a fundamental problem—the supply of water, since a portion of the springs that supply the country have been under the control of Azerbaijan since 2020. As well, the supply of energy and vital resources has been greatly weakened and depends entirely on the thin Lachin corridor that still links Artsakh to Armenia. Through regular incursions, Azerbaijan is trying to further weaken this link with Armenia by nibbling away at it in order to tighten this passage until it is completely strangled. Artsakh will then find itself completely enclosed in Azerbaijani territory. The consequences are easily imaginable.
AH: What reasons for hope are there for Artsakh?
HG: The first reason is political. Three major powers, Russia, which is now de facto protecting Artsakh, France and the United States of America, strongly engaged in mediation for the political settlement of the conflict within the framework of the co-chairmanship of the OSCE Minsk Group, have declared that the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh must be given a political solution. This statement contradicts Azerbaijan’s statement that the problem is already solved and cannot be negotiated.
The second reason is the undeniable reality of Artsakh’s existence, as evidenced by the viability of its functioning state, despite its current extreme fragility. The fact that the people of Artsakh have returned en masse and are determined to live there is in itself a sign of their faith in the future.
AH: What abuses are being committed by Azeri forces against Armenian cultural heritage in the Azeri-occupied part of Artsakh?
HG: According to the report of the Artsakh Human Rights Defender, 1456 Armenian cultural properties and monuments are now in the Azerbaijani occupied zone. Although Azerbaijan has been occupying these territories for a short time, we already know of a number of cases of vandalism and erasure of Armenian heritage in these occupied territories through the filmed and photographed testimonies of the soldiers or Azerbaijani officials themselves. For example, the medieval cemeteries and stone crosses in the village of Tsar in the Karvachar region, the Sourp Zoravor Astvatsatsin church near the town of Mekhakavan, and the church of Saint Yeghishe in the village of Mataghis. In fact, during his visit to the Armenian church in Tsakuri, President Aliyev expressed his intention to have its Armenian inscriptions removed. This policy of rewriting history portends the worst for the fate of Armenian Christian cultural heritage. The objective is obvious—to alienate these regions from the Armenians, to erase all traces of Armenian-ness so that the Armenians will never again have the desire to return. This practice is called ethnocide.
AH: To what extent could the elections in Turkey in 2023 change the situation for the better or worse? And what do you think of the Turkish-Azeri negotiations?
HG: It seems to me that the elections in Turkey will not have a significant impact on the problem. Turkish society is one that has strong nationalism, in which Armenia and Armenians are constant targets. The various Turkish governments have maintained this sentiment, with state denial of the 1915 Armenian genocide being the permanent paradigm for over a hundred years. In my opinion, Turkey’s attitude towards Armenia and Armenians in general will not change until a real work equivalent to that of denazification is carried out in that country, as was the case in Germany after the Second World War.
However, for the time being, the perpetrators of the Armenian genocide are still glorified in Turkey and cited as an example of Turkish patriotism. Streets, squares and monuments bear the names of the executioners of the Armenians in today’s Turkey. The example of the presence of the mausoleum of the bloodthirsty Talaat Pasha (the main organizer of the Armenian Genocide) on Freedom Hill in Istanbul is one of the manifestations of this. This perpetuation of racial hatred against Armenians has a deleterious effect on Azerbaijan’s ability to conclude peace with Armenia: Turkey and Azerbaijan consider themselves as “two states in one nation” and have been moving closer together since Azerbaijan’s independence in 1991. The former’s state negationism and the Armenophobia from which it stems have also become political lines of the latter. Successive governments of both sides have not deviated much from this consistent foreign policy line.
AH: Can the Minsk Group of the OSCE, even if it is not very active because of the conflict in Ukraine, and the UN, still intervene in favor of Artsakh?
HG: Absolutely! The Minsk Group is not dissolved, and it has an institutional obligation to act in favor of peace and a peaceful settlement of the conflict. For almost 30 years, even in a position of absolute strength, the Armenian side, true to its commitment, has trusted the negotiations under the aegis of the Minsk Group.
This Group would lose all credibility if it were to bow to the Azerbaijani will, which is trying to remove it completely from the peace process. But it is no longer a question of mediation. It seems to us futile to negotiate with an aggressor state like Azerbaijan and its criminal regime. The threat of the disappearance of Artsakh is so great that it needs effective international protection as a priority. The risk of mediation by the Minsk Group, without this more urgent precondition, is to legitimize the criminal authorities of Azerbaijan and their policy of fait accompli.
As for the UN, at its World Summit in 2005, all the heads of state and government affirmed the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity in the face of a state failing to protect a population. This is precisely the case in Nagorno-Karabakh, where the Armenian population lives under the threat of ethnic cleansing by Azerbaijan.
AH: How can France as a state and individual French citizens help Artsakh?
HG: France can recognize the Republic of Artsakh, in line with the French Senate resolution of November 2020, which clearly designates such recognition as an effective tool for the peace process.
At the same time, it is time for the French state to adopt sanctions against war criminals—including the highest Azerbaijani authorities and oligarchs of this country—whose impunity only encourages them. In this regard, we warmly welcome the statement of President Emmanuel Macron that “France will not give up on the Armenians.”
As for the help that French citizens can bring to Artsakh on an individual basis, you can do so by informing yourself, by alerting your elected officials, or by committing yourself on the humanitarian level alongside structures, such as the Armenian Fund of France, for example. The latter will launch its annual fundraising campaign—the Phonéthon 2022—in a month’s time, under the prestigious patronage of the writer-traveler Sylvain Tesson and the great reporter, deputy director of the Figaro Magazine Jean-Christophe Buisson.