In the last week, Armenians throughout the world have been subjected to a spate of violent hate crimes, which has included mob attacks against Armenians by Azerbaijanis in Russia, an arson attack on an Armenian embassy vehicle in Germany, the burning down of an Armenian business in Ukraine, and the assault of Armenians in Turkey. In the United States, particularly in San Francisco, Armenian communities have been subject to a spate of incidents including the racist vandalism and shooting at an Armenian School, and the arson attack on an Armenian Church Community Center all being investigated as hate crimes.
At protests organized by Armenian communities throughout the world in response to Azerbaijan’s aggression, Azerbaijani counter-protesters have sought to instigate violence. In Los Angeles, Azerbaijani counter-protesters – some of whom were armed with tools including handsaws, hammers, and metal pipes – instigated violence against Armenian protesters; physically assaulting peaceful Armenian protesters, and using hate symbols including that of the salute of the Grey Wolves – a Turkish hate-group that openly espouses the eradication of the Armenian people and incites violence against Armenians internationally, with their salute the equivalent of the Nazi salute for the Armenian community.
Azerbaijan’s President Aliyev in a tweet inferred his government’s support for Azerbaijani nationals committing violent hate crimes against Armenians across the world.
Beyond its acts of military aggression, Azerbaijan has utilized the propagation of virulent anti-Armenian sentiments throughout the country as a means of maintaining hostilities with Armenia even during peacetime.
Azerbaijan is the only state aside from Turkey that promotes Armenian Genocide denial, and has openly declared the “Armenians of the world” to be the enemies of the Azerbaijani people, threatening to Azerbaijan has engaged in the destruction of some 28,000 Armenian cultural monuments in the historic Armenian territories it occupies, government officials and media have encouraged and praised the killing of Armenians during peacetime, and ‘sympathy for Armenians’ and even false claims of Armenian heritage have been used by the government to discredit and silence its critics.
Decades of state-sponsored racism saw tens of thousands of Azerbaijanis march through the streets of Baku in the days after the Azerbaijan’s instigation of conflict in July demanding war and “death to Armenians.” Just days later, Azerbaijan threatened the destruction of Armenia’s nuclear power reactor.
Despite a 2000 UNESCO order demanding the protection of khachkars (intricately carved, ornate cross-stones, acknowledged as an intangible piece of Armenian culture) and other Armenian cultural monuments, evidence published in the art journal Hyperallergic this year indicated that these monuments were covertly and systematically demolished as part of an Azerbaijani campaign to erase traces of indigenous Armenian culture in Nakhichevan.
The scope of the destruction is stunning: 89 medieval churches, 5,840 khachkars and 22,000 tombstones.
Gurgen Margaryan was murdered in February 2004 by Ramil Safarov, while both men were attending a three-month Nato English-language training course in the Hungarian capital.
At Safarov’s subsequent trial, he said he was motivated by hatred for Armenia and Armenians, due to the war between the two countries. He was jailed for life by the Budapest court. However, in 2012 Hungary sent Safarov back to Azerbaijan to complete his sentence. On arrival, he was promptly pardoned, released and given a hero’s welcome.
“Armenians should better not sleep peacefully as long as the Karabakh conflict is unsettled, the possibility of incidents similar to the one in Budapest cannot be ruled out.” Agshin Mehdiyev, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Azerbaijan to the Council of Europe (2004).
“In our opinion it is a fair decision, which undoubtedly makes our enemies worry. However, we don’t care, for the aim of each Azerbaijani is to fight against his enemies, wherever he is.” Abulfaz Garayev, Azerbaijani Minister of Culture and Tourism (2012).
“For this reason it is necessary to create conditions for service of such officers as [R.S.], who are willing to sacrifice themselves, patriots of Azerbaijan.” Bahar Muradova, Azerbaijani Vice-speaker of Parliament (2012).
The Council of Europe’s Commission against Racial Intolerance in its reporting has found that anti-Armenian sentiments are so prevalent in government and media that an entire generation of Azerbaijanis have been raised hearing nothing but hate speech towards their neighbors.
The Advisory Committee of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (ACFC) for example noted “a persistent public narrative surrounding the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh identifying [in]variably Armenia or Armenians as ‘the enemy’ and openly promulgating hate messages”. According to other sources, there is a conflict-ridden domestic political discourse and Azerbaijan’s leadership, education system and media are very prolific in their denigration of Armenians. Political opponents are accused of having Armenian roots or of receiving funds from Armenian sources. An entire generation of Azerbaijanis has now grown up listening to constant rhetoric of Armenian aggression. According to a 2012 survey, 91% perceived Armenia as Azerbaijan’s greatest enemy. As a result, the Armenians living in the country need to hide their ethnic affiliation and there is no organisation of the Armenian minority in the country with which ECRI’s delegation could have met.https://rm.coe.int/fourth-report-on-azerbaijan/16808b5581
The inculcation of anti-Armenian sentiment in the Azerbaijani education system has been documented in detail at http://azerichild.education/en/index.html – an extensive database of textbooks and other educational resources in Azerbaijani schools that vilify Armenian communities.
During protests in Baku after the first day of fighting, tens of thousands of protesters poured into the streets of Baku demanding war and chanting “death to Armenians”. Decades of incitement of anti-Armenian sentiment has put the Azerbaijani government in a position where peace has become a costly option domestically.
Conflict, on the other hand, has become an effective tool for the consolidation of power – particularly in the face of unrest. The lack of political will in Azerbaijan to see the conflict in Artsakh resolved is only confirmed through the refusal to abide by the OSCE Minsk Group’s (the body formed to oversee the peace process) principles of de-escalation – going so far as to deny the extension of the OSCE’s mandate in the region. Just a week before the recent fighting, Azerbaijan’s President described the OSCE Minsk process as “pointless.”
With Azerbaijan’s key ally Turkey in a strengthened regional position – seemingly immune to international criticism and able to engage in cross-border confrontations with impunity – Azerbaijan has been emboldened.
Turkey’s government has issued several statements of support for Azerbaijan’s recent aggression, vowing to “avenge” Azerbaijani losses. While Turkey has always supported Azerbaijan, in many ways its regional proxy, its rhetoric surrounding the recent fighting is far more inflammatory than what has previously been seen. With an increasing Turkish military presence in the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan – including planned live-fire war games scheduled for the beginning of August – and deepening military cooperation between the two states, Turkey’s increased interest in the conflict represents a major barrier to peace.
Turkey has played an increasingly active role in this most recent attack on Artsakh instigated by Azerbaijan, including in its planning and coordination – having contracted Syrian mercenaries and transported them to Azerbaijan ahead of the assault. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has publicly made calls for the overthrow of Armenia’s government. Turkey has also been providing logistical support to Azerbaijan, including in the transfer of military personnel and assets to Azerbaijan in preparation for the assault. The two countries held joint live-fire war games throughout August in Nakhichevan, near the border with Armenia. Turkish F-16s have been reported to be operational and in use by Azerbaijan in its assault.