Ethnic Cauldron

Violence in the Caucasus

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

There is an international call for a ceasefire to end the bloodshed and human and cultural carnage taking place since September 27, 2020 in what has been described as the "de facto Armenian republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh)" within the Soviet-era boundaries of Azerbaijan.

Ever since the fierce border disputes at the time of the establishment of Soviet Armenia and Soviet Azerbaijan, ethnic discomfort smoldered in the region and broke into open conflict at the disintegration of the USSR. Since then, it has been a history of conflict, small ceasefires in the thousands made to be broken. Serious military confrontation began in 2016; again with broken ceasefires. Now the violence seems to have increased exponen-tially and the last Russian brokered ceasefire was breached on October 10. The Azeris bombed not only the city of Hadrut in Karabakh, but also a region in Armenia proper. There are civilian deaths and many wounded …and we do not know what to expect in the coming days.

This wholesale destruction is not only part of the expansive and violent territorial policy of President Recip Erdogan of Turkey to re-establish a version of Ottoman power in the region. We feel that these events can be put in the context of the worldwide conflict between old histories and new geographies that give us Palestine, give us the Rohingyas in Myanmar and the Arakan, the violence accompanying the new caliphate, the violence in the two Sudans, and Kashmir. Any petition, therefore, to the United Nations as well as the international community should be part of a broader call for a sustained push for nonviolence and social justice in our world today.

We would be closer to a compromise if Azerbaijan had a more open governance structure than Turkey with internal checks and balances. As it stands, we understand that Azerbaijan, supported by Turkey, is cleansing Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), a historically Armenian enclave placed within its Soviet-era boundaries, of its ethnic Armenian population. The frontline of the soldiers is reportedly composed not only of mercenaries and rebel fighters from Syria and Libya but also minorities living in Azerbaijan such as Lezgins, the Talysh, Avars, Tats, Udis, the Tsakhur, Ingiloys, Rutuls, and Kurds. We call on these minorities to support rather than oppose the minority struggle of the Armenians. Azerbaijan's 1997-2006 erasure in Nakhichevan of its Armenian population gives us a sense of the seriousness of the continuing violence and relentless destruction of civilian lives and property, precisely of longstanding minorities, that we have been witnessing over the last decades. The site of the bombing includes archaeological sites such as the ancient Armenian city of Tigranakert.

Before the ravages brought in by the first world war and the 20th century, Azeris and Armenians in the area lived in the kind of conflictual coexistence with which we are acquainted in the multiethnic parts of the world. The struggle now is not only for an agreement to a ceasefire but an insistence on the preservation of that ceasefire and protection for the Armenian minority in its efforts toward self-determination. In the long run the hope is that, with the participation of all international institutions of justice, the democratic will of the ethnic Armenians of the area will be acknowledged. ooo

(These words were composed with input from Viken Berberian, Writer; Nermeen Shaikh, co-host and producer of Democracy Now, and Surya Parekh, Binghamton University.)

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Vol. 53, No. 22-25, Nov 29 - Dec 26, 2020