- Grievances between Armenia and Azerbaijan date back to the genocide, when Azerbaijan – assisted by the Ottoman Empire and later the Republic of Turkey – massacred 30,000 Armenians in Baku.
- After the occupation of the South Caucasus by the Bolsheviks in the early 1920s, Stalin – then Commissar for Nationalities – separated the region of Artsakh (known as Nagorno-Karabakh) from Armenia to appease Turkey by placing it under the control of the Azerbaijani SSR.
- For 70 years under Soviet Azeri occupation, the cultural, political, religious rights of the indigenous Armenian community of the region were systematically violated.
- In the late 1980s, Armenians gathered in the hundreds of thousands to demand Artsakh’s unification with Armenia. Azerbaijan, in response, initiated a wave of pogroms that resulted in the forced displacement of over 400,000 Armenians living throughout Azerbaijan.
- In response, the Armenians of Artsakh declared their independence following a referendum.
- Azerbaijan responded by waging a full-scale war during which the government engaged in human rights violations including wholesale massacres, the targeting of civilians and blocking the provision of humanitarian assistance to besieged populations.
- Armenian forces were successful in fending off the onslaught, and a ceasefire was signed in 1994.
- In the years since the war, Azerbaijan has routinely violated the ceasefire and sought the capture of Artsakh by force, repeatedly obstructing the OSCE peace efforts – refusing to withdraw snipers and heavy artillery, and denying access to ceasefire monitors.
- The largest single ceasefire violation occurred in 2016, when Azerbaijan attempted the full-scale invasion of Artsakh, resulting in over a hundred casualties on both sides.
- On the morning of September 27th, Azerbaijan began a series of coordinated aerial and missile attacks on Artsakh, including the shelling of civilian populations resulting in the deaths of two, including a child.
- The assault comes just months after Azerbaijan initiated an aggressive confrontation against the Republic of Armenia in the Tavush region, again targeting civilian populations and infrastructure.
- Evidence of Turkey and Azerbaijan’s mobilization had been reported for weeks prior to this latest act of belligerency, with Azerbaijan mobilizing reservists, commandeering civilian vehicles for military use, and Turkey’s contracting and transporting of Syrian mercenaries to Azerbaijan. The carefully coordinated nature of the assault contradicts Azerbaijan’s claims that it was retaliating to alleged Armenian aggression.
- Turkey has played an increasingly active and unprecedented role in supporting Azerbaijan’s aggression, with Turkey’s President Erdogan committing Turkey’s full support to Azerbaijan, and calling for the overthrow of the Armenian government.
- The government of Armenia also reported that a Turkish F-16 fighter jet shot down an Armenian Su-25 – a major escalation and the first time Turkey has initiated a strike against Armenia.
- 86 Armenian soldiers, most of whom are 19-21 in age, have been killed, in addition to at least 5 civilians as a result of Azerbaijan’s targeting of civilian populations.
- This is the largest single ceasefire violation since the ceasefire was brokered in 1994.
Global Wave of Azerbaijani Aggression
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.
Anti-Armenian Sentiment and Armenophobia in Azerbaijan
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.
Destruction of Armenian Cultural Monuments
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.
Murder of Ramil Safarov
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).
International Human Rights Monitoring
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
Anti-Armenian Sentiment in the Education System
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.
Pro-War Protests in Azerbaijan
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.”
Turkey’s Support for Azerbaijan
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.
- “The pain of the Azerbaijani Turk is our pain. We want you to know that any kind of difficulties that you feel there [in Azerbaijan] are felt here [in Turkey] very deeply. The blood of our Azerbaijani brothers will not remain unavenged,” – Turkish Defense Ministry
- “Turkey will continue, with all its capacity, to stand by Azerbaijan in its struggle to protect its territorial integrity,” – Turkish Foreign Ministry
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.