Originally published in Contrasts
Starting in July, Azerbaijan — backed by the Turkish, Israeli, and U.S. settler-states — has been attacking and terrorizing the Republic of Artsakh (also known as Nagorno-Karabakh), a 95% Armenian-majority sovereign entity and an ancient Armenian stronghold where indigenous Armenians have lived since antiquity. The implications and potential reverberations of this are global, far-reaching, and alarming, considering that Turkey and Azerbaijan, united under Pan-Turkic supremacist, fascist ideologies, still deny the Armenian Genocide to this day — the reason why the Armenia diaspora is larger than the country’s population and why we are scattered around the world today.
In 1923, out of the ashes of the fallen Ottoman Empire, the new Turkish republic was founded on top of my people’s bones, their looted homes, and the ghosts of the kin they unwillingly left behind. My grandparents and great-grandparents came from what is now Turkey. To Armenians, it is unequivocally Western Armenia. Following their forced removal, many Armenians went to Syria and Lebanon, including my family. In Beirut, my ancestors were taken in as refugees, where they thrived in the Armenian enclave of Bourj Hammoud until they were uprooted once more as a result of the Lebanese Civil War in the 1970s. In honor of the millions of Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks who were killed during the Genocide, I have been protesting for recognition and reparations for as long as I can remember, since I was a child. Sometimes, in this world of “facts,” “evidence,” and “statistics,” it feels like we never have time and space to really talk about what stands behind those fancy words: human lives — our friends, family, and loved ones — who are still bearing the brunt of state-sanctioned violence.
The Armenian Genocide never ended
Turkey is built upon historical revisionism. The President of the U.N. General Assembly is a Turkish man who openly denies the Genocide. According to Gregory H. Stanton, the tenth and final stage of genocide is denial. This month, Genocide Watch officially declared Azerbaijan’s attacks on Artsakh to be at Stage 9: Extermination and Stage 10: Denial. Turkey’s denialism campaign started with its much-revered first Turkish president, Kemal Ataturk, who took over during the genocide, founded the republic, and made sweeping “reforms” in accordance with Western standards. This included changing the alphabet from Ottoman to Latin, ensuring that genocide-era documents would be illegible to Turkish youth generations to come.
A majority of our ancestors’ homes, including the countries that provided us refuge thereafter, are places where we may only ever get to visit on Google maps, or in our dreams. Today, Turkey and Israel are providing high-grade military weapons to Azerbaijan (the same imperial technologies used against both Palestinians and our Lakota friends at Standing Rock), who is also recruiting Syrian mercenaries to fight on their side. This is particularly unsettling because Syria has been an important ally and key refuge to Armenians. Of course, Trump has strong alliances with and has provided aid to President Erdogan of Turkey and President Aliyev of Azerbaijan, whose countries have a combined population of about 90 million.
Contrast that with the 150,000 residents in Artsakh and the population of 3 million in Armenia.
Children are dying
Many Westerners have probably never heard of Artsakh. I have been to Artsakh. It is a calm, peaceful, rural place. It is a relatively poor, recovering post-Soviet-occupied new republic. But don’t be mistaken. The citizens of Artsakh are resilient and strong. I cannot believe the senseless death and destruction they are enduring in the middle of a pandemic. We are not speaking in hyperboles. They are outnumbered and out-armed. Civilians are being targeted by cluster bombs in Stepanakert, the capital of Artsakh, which is now completely in ruin. On October 8, Azerbaijan’s military bombed our sacred church, Ghazanchetsots — built decades before the Armenian Genocide — in Shushi. The church had already been destroyed in 1920, exactly 100 years ago, and then again in 1992, twice rebuilt. Azerbaijan’s military has also since bombed multiple hospitals and a school. The children have been bombarded with (TW) bombs and shelling, while Turkey and Azerbaijan have censored their media and have paid bots to flood social media with propaganda, death threats, and other hate.
In my lifetime, Turkish citizens––including Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, Armenian soldier Sevag Balıkçı, and Turkish Celtics player Enes Kanter––have been threatened, jailed, banished, and murdered for speaking out against Turkish ultra-nationalists. I receive hateful messages every time I try to speak up about my own family’s history. Armenians have experienced a number of hate crimes this year, most recently the burning of a community center and the vandalism of an Armenian elementary school in San Francisco. Just this week, an angry mob of neo-fascist Turkish nationalists gathered in Lyon, France and vocally threatened Armenians. The scene was reminiscent of the pro-war protests that erupted in Baku, Azerbaijan this July, where protestors boldly echoed the phrase “Death to Armenians.” Those who have protested against the war have been jailed. Baku’s July events conjured up recent memories of the massacres of Armenians in Sumgait, Kirovabad, Maraga, and Baku in the 1990s. Even when Turkey and Azerbaijan OPENLY state their intentions to complete the genocide , we are met with silence. So we keep protesting in the name of our grandmothers. Following the Black radical tradition, Armenians in LA shut down the 101 freeway and demonstrated in front of CNN for coverage. As we watch history be overwritten in front of our eyes — as Western news outlets rename this invasion a “clash” and “conflict” — we speak up incessantly. Because that is how we were raised.
I am asking for amplification, visibility, and support. Between the incessant spectacle of Black and Indigenous death worldwide, the Beirut explosion that deeply affected Bourj Hammoud, the Armenian quarter of Lebanon, where my own father was born and raised, and now the attack on Armenians in Artsakh, this year has been saturated with pain and grief for many of us. We wake up praying not to see a tweet or receive a Whatsapp message about the death of a friend or family member. Many of us cannot sleep, eat, or work. We feel alone, like the world isn’t really listening. This condition of crisis that we’ve been forced to live in as Armenians is nothing new, but it does accumulate and take its toll. We are not sure when this will end. Every single minute that goes by is already too late.
I am asking you to see me, my people, and our pain in real time. A genocide is only ever named a genocide in retrospect, and sometimes never at all. How many more deaths do we have to add to the list for you to listen?
You can speak up now. Join the movement to #RecognizeArtsakh today
Please amplify our voices.
- I have provided a number of useful links — articles, tweets, instagram posts, photo projects, films, videos, oral histories — that need proper attention and amplification. Please amplify our voices on social media. Please share this with your friends, family, and colleagues.
- Here is a consolidated list of all of the Armenian issues right now. My dear friend Carene has made a list of actionable items, including prefilled emails, petitions, and educational resources here: http://linktr.ee/carenerose/. We would really appreciate it if you could fill them out.
Please donate to the following organizations currently providing on the ground humanitarian aid.
- All Armenia Fund is the largest nonprofit in the country with over 1,300 projects carried out in Education, Healthcare, Infrastructure, Rural Development and Housing with hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries.
- Kooyrigs is an intersectional feminist digital space and women’s advocacy org, developed by my friend Karine Eurdekian, whose seeds of activism were first planted during 2017 while we sat in on a femicide case together at the Women’s Resource Center in Armenia. They regularly post updates from on the ground.
Thank you, shad shnorhagalem, kuttabottomish taubotne for listening. I pray for peace for us all. Aquene.
In struggle and solidarity,
In memory of Vahe Mkrtchyan, just one of too many young people drafted and taken from us prematurely.