You probably haven’t heard about Armenia and Azerbaijan in the news. The two countries have been at war for decades, but the conflict is starting to heat up again. You might be wondering what on Earth this conflict is about, and why it even matters. All I can say is: it’s a complex issue, and it absolutely matters.
Armenia and Azerbaijan are both South-West Asian countries located in the Caucasus, a region that also includes Turkey, Iran, and Georgia. The people of Armenia are one of the oldest ethnic groups in the region, indigenous to the Armenian Highlands. They are almost always Christian. Azeris, who live in Azerbaijan, are from a Turkic ethnic group, who came over in the medieval times and established their homes in Anatolia and the Caucasus mountains. They tend to be Muslim.
The conflict is mainly over a contested territory known as Nagorno Karabakh to Azeris, and Artsakh to Armenians. Artsakh was historically a part of Armenia, but when the Soviet Union took over, they handed the land over to Azerbaijan to promote diplomatic relations with Turkey. The Soviet Union tried its best to increase the Azeri population of the region, and it was almost a quarter Azeri at its peak. After decades of war, however, the population is now about 99% Armenian. Azeris in Artsakh and Armenia have been systematically displaced, and Armenians in Azerbaijan have been forced to leave as refugees as well.
The conflict began to heat up again earlier this month, when Azerbaijani forces invaded the border of Armenia. This is a turning point for both countries. Not only was a ceasefire in place, but the invasion took place in the border villages of Tavush. This is in Armenia proper, not in contested territory.
However, the real battle has been taking place within the diaspora, not on the front lines. In cities such as Baku, Moscow, and Los Angeles, Armenians and Azeris have been fighting on the streets. There have been assaults and vandalism. Protestors from both sides are burning flags and stepping on them. Azerbaijani protestors have even been crushing imports of Armenian apricots.
A lot of the violence has been taking place over the internet as well. I follow a lot of Armenian meme pages, and I can see the fights going on in the comments sections. There are death threats and sexual assault threats, spamming of flag emojis, and nationalist chants. I’ve been most affected by Azeri trolls saying they hope to finish the Armenian Genocide. Listen, we all have our disagreements, but threatening to commit genocide and referencing our historic trauma is not okay.
As an Armenian-American, I’ll admit the issue is personal for me. Armenians have lost most of our historic homeland, and our land is very important to us. The population of Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh is mostly Armenian and has declared itself independent of Azerbaijan, and I do believe in self-determination. I’m obviously disgusted by the fact that even uncontested land in Armenia is under attack. We are still reeling from the wounds of the genocide and the loss of our land, and it’s natural to have a complex emotional reaction.
However, I still feel for Azeri people. It’s horrible that so many of them have been displaced, assaulted, and killed, and I feel for them. It is the fault of Turkey and the Soviet Union, not the Azeris, for giving our land away so carelessly. We both became pawns of greater colonial powers. None of these colonial powers are on our side. Both of us have been taught from a young age to hate each other, sometimes to the point of violence. The ignorance and hatred starts at a young age, and it can be hard to unlearn. We Armenians often attack them for their dictatorial government, but that’s not their fault. After all, aren’t they the main victims of this dictatorship? It’s so easy to forget that our “enemies” are human beings too.
At least for me, I just want the bloodshed to end. I don’t want there to be more Baku Pogroms or another Khojaly Massacre. I’m not going to play the “both sides” argument, but we cannot ignore the fact that both of our groups have suffered immensely at the hands of this conflict.
I am not going to excuse the Azerbaijani government’s refusal to acknowledge the UN ceasefire. I cannot excuse the way that Azeris have carelessly called for a completion to the Armenian Genocide. However, I don’t think that our goal should be to win the war. It should be to have peace, for once. I know it’s naive, but someday I’d love for Armenians and Azeris to coexist someday, maybe in neighboring countries, and maybe even in the same one. We were born into this conflict, but we don’t have to let it continue. I don’t want the people of Azerbaijan to be my enemy, but it’s going to take work from all sides to create peace. If you want to do your part, sign these petitions to get Aid to Armenia and Artsakh as Azerbaijan breaches their borders and stop Armenia from invading Azerbaijan’s land and killing Azerbaijani people.