Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Black Garden: Putting The Record Straight

While I have been in Azerbaijan, I had the pleasure of reading Thomas Golts' excellent book called "Azerbaijan Diary". Golts was an American freelance journalist in Azerbaijan in the early nineties who went on several dangerous assignments to report on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. His reflections, observations and views on the Karabakh issue were invaluable to any outsider ignorant of the history, and are explained in his book, as well as the contemporary political situation in Azerbaijan at the time.

 For those not in the know, Karabakh is a region of Azerbaijan that has been occupied by ethnic Armenians in a self-declared breakaway "state" since the mid-nineties. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Armenians laid claim to the region of Karabakh, some kilometres inside Azerbaijan's borders. The basis for their "claim" was that a large number of Armenians lived there, as well as the long cultural history that the Armenians claimed to that region.
 Naturally, such an explanation was never that simple. In Golts' book, he makes a number of points to refute the Armenian "claims" to Karabakh, as well as other more practical concerns. The Karabakh conflict ended after three years with the Karabakh (so-called) "enclave", as well as its surrounding districts, being effectively robbed from Azerbaijan's control. In Karabakh itself, there were around 150, 000 ethnic Armenians; the result of the war was to make around 1 million ethnic Azeris and Kurds (who lived in Karabakh and the surrounding occupied districts) refugees. The irony to the Armenian's "victory" was twofold. The Causasus is an ethnic and cultural melting-pot; Armenians lived in Azerbaijan, and vice versa. Thousands of Azeris lived in the Armenian capital of Yerevan, and up to 300, 000 ethnic Armenians lived the the Azeri capital, Baku. The Karabakh conflict made necessary the removal of the Armenian population from Baku and to Yerevan. The opposite route was taken of the Azeris in Yerevan. By supporting a war for the sake of 150,000 people, Armenia sacrificed the freedom of 300,000 Armenians (twice that number), and making up to 1 million people (many of whom did not even directly live in Karabakh, but in the occupied "buffer zone") homeless.
They succeeded in turning a multi-cultural region (Karabakh) of a multi-ethnic country (Azerbaijan) into a forcibly homogenised territory of an extremely culturally homegenous country (Armenia). In other words, they created an artificial ethnic state, and destroyed the multi-cultural harmony that had existed before in Karabakh. This point of political stupidity on the Armenian's part does not even mention the war crimes carried during the conflict itself. The most notorious was the Khodjali massacre, where up to 1000 Azeris were killed by Armenian partisans. In many cases, the Armenians forced entire towns to be evacuated of their populations. The city of Agdam, inside Armenian occupied land but close to the cease-fire line, was before the conflict a city of over 100,000 people. These were all forced to leave. At the time, and ever since, the Armenians have been putting across an alternative story to the international media: that story of a poor, oppressed people, who had been the victims of historical injustices, and were fighting for their freedoms and the territorial "birthrights". Their lobby is also very vocal and influential in America.

 If this story sounds familiar, don't be surprised: the Israelis have used the same story ever since the Holocaust to justify their occupation of Palestinan lands, in particular, the West Bank. The West Bank is occupied, in many cases, by extreme Orthodox Jews, who view the West Bank as "their birthright". Karabakh is viewed in the same, irrational, way by the Armenians. Serbians can also be put into this catagory regarding their historical (and pathological) attachment to Kosovo. But that's another story.

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