Azerbaijan, Armenia and a Long Lasting Conflict!

12.06.2021

The Armenian Question and Complicated Relations in the Caucasus.

This article is about the complicated relationships inbetween the peoples that inhabit the Southern Caucasus. Consequently this text is about Turks, Azerbaijanis and Georgians, as well as Russians, Assyrians, Kurds and Circassians etc. It is basically about modern history, conflicts and disputes, and about the Azeri-Armenian (Nagorno-Karabakh) conflict in particular.

First I have to mention that I really like Azerbaijan and Armenia. Two really nice countries with lovely people with similar culture, food and music. I have friends in both countries and I work in both as well! For me, the conflict is a great tragedy! 

What I have learned about ethnic conflicts is that one has to focus on the future and try to reconciliate, forgive and go forward in a constructive way. Focus on what the participants have in common, not the differences. Northern Ireland is a good example. South Africa represents another conflict that has been solved in a positive way. In Caucasus all people have a substantial Persian heritage in common, wich is reflected in food, language, architecture and music. After all, South Caucasus was Persia, almost for a millenia. There is also a common Russian heritage that goes back 200 years.


Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan (1489-1588) was half Armenian and half Greek. He was born Christian as Joseph but converted to Islam when he was recruited to the elite Janissary corps as a young man. Sinan is the most famous architect in the Muslim world ever. Picture from https://erzurumportali.com/shf/3795/Mimar-Sinan-Erzurum-Eserleri


Sayat Nova (1712-1795) and his tomb in Tbilisi, Georgia. Sayat Nova, aka "The King of Songs" was a poet and singer-songwriter that wrote in both Armenian, Azerbaijani (Turkish), Georgian and Persian, i.e. the four big languages of South Caucasus. He also spoke Arabic.


Second, we have to remember that Azeri people are Turkic, so the Armenian-Azeri conflict can not be fully disconnected from the Ottoman-Turkic mass murder of Armenians, the so called Armenian Genocide. The Armenian genocide took place mostly during 1915 - 1917 in Eastern Turkey / Western Armenia in what is also named Anatolia. The Armenian genocide was invoked by nationalistic Turkic ideas, that was part of a broader nationalistic era, present not only in Turkey. Nationalistic sentiments was prevalent almost everywhere during late 19th century and early 20th century. Part of the picture is also the fact that the Ottoman empire was under threat and it was in decline. Ottoman-Turkey was actually named "The Sick Man" of Europe. 


Orhan Pamuk, a famous Turkish writer and Nobel prize winner, was put on trial after saying in 2005 that "Thirty thousand Kurds have been killed here, and a million Armenians. And almost nobody dares to mention that. So I do." 


Armenians, Greeks, Syrians, Christians, Muslims, Kurds and Turks lived together in peace for centuries, what happened during the era of nationalism was something new. The importance of ethnicity and nationalism became almost like a disease. (We all know what happened in Germany during the 1930s). In the case of Azerbaijan and Turkey, nationalism came in the form of Pan-Turkism, an ideological movement that had the agenda of uniting all Turkic people from China and Siberia to Azerbaijan and Anatolia. It's an equivalent to Pan-Slavism and Pan-Germanism. The most famous Pan-Turkic organisation today is the Grey Wolves, a neo-fascist terrorist group, as it is defined by many scholars.

The Armenian-Azeri conflict is also part of a less severe older conflict, the conflict inbetween Christians and Muslims. The Turkic, Kurdish, Dagestanian and Circassian peoples are almost all Muslims. Armenians, Georgians, Greeks, Russians and Assyrians are Christians. Consequently we have to consider the Circassian genocide as part of this problem too. The Circassian genocide was events that expelled a large number of Muslim Circassians from Northern Caucasus during the Russian conquest of the area in the 19th century. Most of the surviving Circassians ended up in Turkey and some of them became soldiers and participated in the murder of Christians later. (Circassians are not Turkic though).

Furthermore, we have to admit and realize that the Armenians have a similar history in the Caucasus as the Jews have in Europe. The Armenians have in history always been a substantial part of the intellectual and economic elite of South Caucasus, and therefore they have suffered a lot because of jealousy from other people in the area. The Armenians were often merchants, involved in trade, and they often dominated culture and universities. Precisely as the Jews in Europe. Armenians have endured much injustice in the Area, and in Georgia too, especially during the 1930s, and they actually still face some problems today. When you ask a Georgian or Azeri person if they know that the Armenians actually built and founded large parts of both Baku and Tbilisi, they will never admit that fact.

(Armenians in Baku 1886 = 28.3%)    (Armenians in Tbilisi 1897 = 36.6%)

The modern day conflict has an immensely complicated background and the geopolitical circumstanses of today further complicates the conflict. First we have a regional rivalry between Russia and Turkey. We also have Iran in the south and Iran is backing Armenia. Russia has a large army base at Gyumri in Armenia and an airbase in the country too. Israel has good relations with Azerbaijan wich is connected to Israels problems with Iran. Iran itself has a very large Azeri minority and is afraid of separatist sentiments in that part of the country. The Caspian region also holds large quantities of petroleum gas and pipelines stretches from the Caspian sea to the Black sea and the Mediterranian. The petroleum gives the conflict a geopolitical dimension that involves USA and the West.

In this timeline/text I often use two names for many places, because linguistics is a sensitive issue. Tiflis is for example the Armenian, Turkish and German name for Tbilisi, the Georgian capital. Artsakh is the Armenian name for Nagorno-Karabakh. The Greek/Armenian Christian town of Smyrna was renamed Izmir when it became Turkish. Constantinople is of course Istanbul today. The Armenian name for Armenia is Hayastan, Georgia is Sakartvelo, Baku is Bashi etc, etc.


Timeline

1738, December 4th

The birth of the father of Armenian romantic nationalism, historian Mikayel Chamchian (d. 1823).

1804

Tatar theologian Ghabdennasir Qursawi invents the idea of Pan-Turkism as a way to modernize Islam.

1839 - 1879

Tanzimat period of the Ottoman empire. A period of political reform and change that resulted in constitutional monarchy in 1879.

1864 - 1870

Circassian Genocide. More than 1 million Muslim Circassians are expelled from Northern Caucasus by the Russian Tsarist troops. Many died from drowning and starvation. This is one of the seeds that became the tree of hatred between Muslims and Christians in the Caucasus. See also "Murid War" in the 19th century and "Chechen Wars" in 20th century.

Article about the Circassian genocide can be found here: https://www.theperspective.se/a-forgotten-genocide-and-why-it-matters-today/


1877 - 1878

Russo-Turkish war that resulted in the defeat of the Ottoman Turks.

1880s

Development of Armenian nationalism, Haj dat (Հայ Դատ) and an emerging Pan-Turkic nationalistic movement in Baku governorate and Ottoman-Turkey.

1887

(In Switzerland) Foundation of the Armenian Social Democrat Hunchakian Party (Hunchak)

1890

(In Tiflis / Tbilisi) Foundation of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. the Dashnaksutiun (Dashnak).

1892

Clashes and unrest between Ottomans and Armenians at Merzifon, Turkey.

1893

Armenian protests and unrest in Tokat, Black Sea region of Turkey.

1894 - 1896

Hamidian massacres. About 100.000 - 300.000 Armenians are murdered by the Ottomans, but other Christians was also targeted. In Dyarbakir 25.000 Assyrians were killed. A lot of the killings happened in the Erzerum area.

1905 - 1907

The Armenian - Tatar massacres, (Tatar is the Russian name for Turkic peoples and sometimes Muslim people in general). Violence occurred in cities of Azerbaijan and Armenia, but some in Tbilisi and in the countryside to.

1905, February

Inter-ethnic riots and killings between Armenians and Azeris in Baku.

1908

The nationalist, Pan-Turkic Committee of Union and Progress takes power in Ottoman Turkey.

1905, May

Riots, looting and killings in Shusha, Nagorno-Karabach / Artsakh as well as in the province of Nakhchivan (autonomous area bordering Turkey).

1905, November

Unrest and killings in Ganja (named Elizavetopol at the time).

1909, April

Adana massacre. About 20.000 Armenians are killed and about 1300 Assyrians are massacred in Adana province in Turkey/Cilicia.

1911

The nationalistic Pan-Turkic party Musavat is founded in Baku.

1914 - 1915 (Dec - Jan)

Battle of Sarikamish. The Ottoman army is crushed by the Russian army in a battle that is part of World War I. Armenian soldiers were among the most motivated on the Russian side. This is often interpreted as a prelude to the Armenian Genocide. More than 50.000 Turkish soldiers were killed and about 40.000 became prisoners of war. Many of the Turks that died was killed by cold and the severe winter, not by guns. The area of the battle is located at a height of 1500-2000 meters.

1915 - 1917

Armenian Genocide. A long range of atrocities, massmurders, expulsions and torture of Armenian civilians occured during these years. More than 1 million Christians are killed by the Three Pashas and the Young Turk movement.

The "Three Pashas" that led the extermination of the Christian population in Anatolia. They were all nationalists and Pan-Turkists.


1918, March 30th - April 2nd

The March Days. Approximately 12.000 Azeris are killed in Baku by the Armenian organisation Dashnaktsutiun (Dashnaks), backed by Bolshevik elements.

Murdered Azeris in Baku in 1918.


1918, autumn-winter

Armenians kills approx. 10.000 - 15.000 Azeris in Zangezur. (Zangezursky Uyezd was a geographical division during Tsarist rule, comprising part of Ganja district, Azerbaijan, as well as part of todays Armenia and Nagorno-Karabach)

1918 - 1920

A vawe of Anti-Armenian massacres in Azerbaijani controlled territories, often led by the nationalistic Azeri political party Musavat.

1918, September

Approximately 15.000 - 20.000 Armenians are killed in Baku in retaliation for the "March Days", (numbers varies depending on source). This event is remembered as the "September Days".

1919, 5-7 June

A massacre of Armenians was carried out in Khaibalikend, Nagorno-Karabakh. Around 700 killed.

1920, March

A pogrom against Armenians in Shusha /Shushi. Uncertain number of fatalities, ranging from 500 - 30.000, (depending on who you ask).

1920, 28 April

The beginning of the end of hostilities due to Soviet Bolshevik rule and establishment of Soviet Azerbaijan.

1920, summer

Nagorno-Karabakh (N-K) is occupied by Bolshevik forces.

1921, february

Mir Jafar Baghirov becomes Bolshevik security police chief in Azerbaijan and exterminates the elite in the city of Ganja. From 1933 - 1953 Baghirov was the highest communist leader in Azerbaijan. Before the Bolshevik revolution he worked as a security police too, just like Lavrentiy Beria. Beria and Beghirov was actually friends already back then.

1922, 12 March

Creation of Transcaucasian SFSR and more stable Soviet Bolshevik rule.

1922, September

The great Smyrna (Izmir) fire is raging 13-22 September 1922. Around 400.000 refugees leaves Turkey and the city of Smyrna. Aproximately 50.000 are killed. The Turks attacked Armenians and Greeks. It is not clear how the fire started.

1922, December

Formal founding of the Soviet Union.

1937-1938

Destruction of a large part of the Armenian cemetary Khojivank in Tbilisi, following orders of Lavrentiy Beria.

1939

Azerbaijani Bolshevik boss Mir Jafar Baghirov has executed around 70.000 Azeris and Daghestanians during the Stalinist purges in the 1930s. During the worst years, 1937-38, the executed are accused of "nationalism" and "panturkism".

1954

Mir Jafar Baghirov is arrested by the new Soviet Chrustjev regime and finally executed in 1956 for beeing a leader during the Stalinist purges.

1988, February

Nagorno-Karabakh becomes the first dissident region of the Soviet Union and therefore the start of the downfall of Soviet. This is also the year when the modern day conflict begins.

1992, February

Malibeyli and Gushchular Massacre, 15 - 50 Azeris killed, (villages in Shusha area).

1992, 17th February

Capture of Garadaghly by Armenian irregular units. 60-90 civilian Azeris were killed.

1992, 26th February

Khojaly massacre, 160 - 600 Azeris killed by Armenian irregular militia. According to Azerbaijani authorities 613 civilians, including 106 women and 63 children were killed. It is the largest massacre in the N-K conflict so far. Human Rights Watch gives the number "more than 200 civilians".


1992, 10th April

Maraga massacre. Azerbaijani troops enters the village of Maraga in Nagorno-Karabakh and murders 50-100 Armenian civilians. The village was destroyed.

1992, May

Armenians captures Shusha and large parts of the town is destroyed. The status of Shusha / Shushi is probably the hardest nut to crack in the ongoing peace negotiations over Nagorno-Karabakh / Artsakh.

1994

Stalemate in Nagorno-Karabach and direct fighting ends.

1994-2004

Most of the remaining part of the Armenian cemetary Khojivank in Tbilisi is destroyed.

2005

An Armenian inscription on a church in the village of Nij, northern Azerbaijan is deleted in an attempt to "erase" evidence of Armenian presence in Azerbaijan in general. This is named historycide or culturecide.

2002-2005

Massive cultural vandalism in Julfa when Azeri troops bulldozes a large Armenian cemetery and all it's ancient tombstones (kachkars). Most of the kachkars was erected during the 15th and 16th centuries. It was the largest collection of decorated stones of this type in the world.


2016, April

A four day eruption of hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh and 200 persons are killed. Russia managed to negotiate a new stalemate.

2020, Sep-Oct

A new outbreak of the conflict. Azeri drone attacks on Stepanakert. Turkey is now openly backing Azerbaijan and is an active part of the conflict. France is somehow on the side of Armenia and Russia, but argues for negotiations and a new stalemate. Accusations of participation of "Moderate Islamists" from Syria on the Azeri/Turkish side. Russia sells weapons to both sides. The present conflict lasts to December. For number of casulties see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nagorno-Karabakh_conflict#2020_clashes