In recent days, International Christian Concern published a report titled “The Anatomy of Genocide: Karabakh’s Forty-Four Day War.” This report argued: “The strategic planning by Turkey and Azerbaijan show an intent of mass extermination, thereby genocide, of Karabakh’s Armenian residents because of their combined faith and ethnic identity.”
For me, this article had an uncanny resemblance to a report published a couple of years ago by the Center for Constitutional Rights titled “The Genocide of the Palestinian People: An International Law and Human Rights Perspective.” That article claimed: “Prominent scholars of the international law crime of genocide and human rights authorities take the position that Israel’s policies toward the Palestinian people could constitute a form of genocide.”
In both cases, otherwise respectable human rights organizations decided to distort the facts on the ground to demonize Israel and Azerbaijan, respectively. They ignored the atrocities experienced by the Azerbaijani and Israeli people to portray devastating wars where both sides suffered as the one-sided genocide of a people. Indeed, to argue that the Second Karabakh War constituted genocide is remarkably like claiming that Israel’s War of Independence and subsequent struggle for self-defense constitutes “genocide.” Indeed, both reports should be rebutted in full. In both cases, such defaming language does nothing but make a mockery out of such organizations and insults the intelligence of everyone who cares about the victims of real genocides.
The Truth about the Second Karabakh War
Former American Vice President Hubert Humphrey once stated, “Propaganda to be effective must be believed. To be believed, it must be credible. To be credible, it must be true.” For this reason, International Christian Concern started off their report by stressing Armenia’s ties to the land, proclaiming, “Both religions have a history here. Any attempt to erase the religious history in Karabakh sends the message that it is not safe to have that religious identity. It erases the capacity of choice.”
However, in the continuation of the report, International Christian Concern claimed that Azerbaijanis are descendants of invaders that arrived in the 11th century and reduced Azerbaijan’s claim to the Nagorno-Karabakh regime as being nothing more than Soviet policy that was recognized by the international community. By doing that, they erase the Azerbaijani Muslim and Albanian “religious history in Karabakh.”
It is true that the Armenians arrived in the region in the first century AD and had a state in the area in the second century AD. However, the Azerbaijanis have an even older claim to the land. As historian Asim Jannatoglu Jannatov wrote, “Karabakh was initially depicted under the name of Arsakh, which led to the land being called Artsakh by Armenians today. The etymology of Arsakh is related to the name of ancient Turkic tribe Sakh, containing two words such as “ar” and “sakh” that means mountainous territory. Sakh people as an important ethnic component were one of the 26 Albanian tribes (26 tribes coexisted in Caucasian Albania).”
“The scholars and historians have their different attitude about the origin of this tribe,” he noted. “Some of them relate the Sakh tribes to the Iranian language group, while the others assume that they are originally Turks. Generally, settlement of these tribes in different Azerbaijani areas was in the 7th century BCE. A great number of material evidence was found in different Azerbaijani territories where the Sakh tribes lived and all these scientifically confirm that Arsakh initially resided by the Sakhs from the ancient times. In the first century AD, Arsakh was a western province of the Azerbaijani state – Caucasian Albania inhabited by a few Turkic tribes such as the Albans, Qarqars, Utils, Huns, Khazars and Barsils.”
“The next Middle Ages’ sources retained this region under the name of Arran Karabakh,” he added. “As we see, this province gradually transformed from its initial name, Arsakh into Karabakh (Arsakh-Artsakh-Akhvan-Arran Karabakh-Karabakh). Of course, Karabakh is a Turkic word, most commonly translated as ‘black garden.’ All these arguments give us a basis to say that Arsakh-Artsakh has been a western province of the Ancient Azerbaijani state – Caucasian Albania, and Azerbaijani Turks are the indigenous population of this region.”
While the Seljuk Turks did arrive in the region in the 11th century and intermingle with the rest of the population, this does not change the fact that there were Azerbaijani Turkic groups that ruled the area much earlier, including the Azerbaijani feudal states Saciler (879-941), Salarilar (941-981) and Shaddadilar (981-1174). Prior to the Azerbaijani feudal state system, the area was ruled by the Romans, Albanians, and Arabs, respectively. Armenian self-rule in the region was extremely brief prior to the modern era.
While International Christian Concern acknowledges that Azerbaijan’s legal claim to the land has been established by four UN Security Council resolutions, they nevertheless try to diminish this fact by claiming that Azerbaijan neglected their “caretaker responsibilities” by persecuting Armenians in the Soviet era. This claim right here is laughable. In the Soviet period, the Azerbaijani people did not enjoy self-determination and independence. How can they technically persecute anyone as a matter of official state policy?
How could they assume caretaker responsibilities, when they went from living under the Soviet occupation to being ethnically cleansed from the area in the wake of the Khojaly genocide? How were one million Azerbaijanis who were ethnically cleansed from their homes supposed to take up caretaker responsibilities? Furthermore, Azerbaijani scholar Abik Bagadori told Republic Underground that the Armenians had it better under Soviet rule than the Azerbaijanis did: “The Armenians had better asphalt, way better healthcare. They (the Soviets) had given them better facilities, schools, hospitals than they had provided for Azerbaijanis.”
After giving a heavily biased history lesson, International Christian Concern discussed the history of pan-Turkism and accused Azerbaijan of being a proponent of Pan-Turkism. Based on this claim alone, they falsely portrayed Azerbaijan as a radical Islamist state. It was as if the statements issued by the Azerbaijani government stressing that they are a multicultural, secular society that respects freedom of worship did not matter. The fact that there are presently 30,000 Armenians living in Azerbaijan, who are granted equal rights under the law, was irrelevant in their eyes. They claimed that Azerbaijan is Pan-Turkic and Pan-Turkism, the notion that all Turkic peoples should unite under one umbrella, is linked to radical Islam and this factor alone gives them genocidal intentions.
However, this argument is highly flawed, as it does not recognize that Azerbaijan is a sovereign nation state separate from Turkey and that pan-Turkism is not identical to pan-Islamism. As Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Feinus wrote for the US Army: “Ultimately, the two movements proved to be incompatible, as pan-Islamism is far more conservative than pan-Turkism.” He added that Azerbaijanis are very secular, even though they are nationalist: “While Islamic symbolism has been part of the nationalist movement in Azerbaijan, the movement is focused most heavily on Azerbaijan as an ethnic territorial state, not as part of the universal Muslim community.”
In fact, multiculturalism and pluralism is official state policy in Azerbaijan, despite the existence of such symbolism. Azerbaijan is populated by the representatives of over 20 national minorities such as the Talysh, Kurd, Lezghi, Tat, Russian, Ukrainian, Georgian, Inghiloy, Tatar, Avar, Ahyska Turk, Jewish, German, Greek and others. Almost 450,000 Christians live in Azerbaijan as well. All of them are granted equal rights and freedom of worship. Jews, Christians, and Muslims jointly officiate at Azerbaijan’s official ceremonies. Even the Bahais, who are persecuted greatly in Iran, got freedom of worship in Azerbaijan.
According to the Azerbaijan National Library, there are five Armenian-Gregorian communities registered in Azerbaijan. The Saint Gregory Illuminator Church, an Armenian Church, has been preserved in Baku for 149 years since its construction in 1871. The church hosts an Armenian Library Fund, which is included in the Presidential Library Fund of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan funds the construction and upkeep of churches and synagogues too, not just mosques, which thus renders hallow any claims that Azerbaijan would deliberately harm Christians or their holy sites.
In contrast, not a single Azerbaijani citizen lives in Armenian-controlled territories today, whether in Karabakh or Armenia proper. They were all ethnically cleansed from the area. Meanwhile, in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, the Armenians transformed 128 historic Albanian temples into Armenian churches. A Russian Orthodox church in the Khojavend district was also subject to Armenian vandalism. This does not even include the numerous Azerbaijani mosques that the Armenians transformed into stables for pigs and cows. Considering this, how can International Christian Concern condemn Azerbaijan? They talked about Armenian Christian holy sites that Azerbaijan accidently damaged during the war, but not about Armenia’s deliberate destruction of Muslim and other non-Armenian holy sites.
In the continuation of the article, International Christian Concern condemned its treatment of Armenian POWs based on video evidence that appeared online yet neglected to mention that analysts from the BBC found that many of these videos were taken from other conflicts and were portrayed falsely as happening in the Karabakh conflict. Furthermore, they had nothing to say about Armenia’s beheading of an Azerbaijani border guard and the Armenians killing an Azerbaijani soldier who merely sought to draw water from a well, after the conclusion of the war.
They also failed to note that Armenia hired ASALA remnants and PKK to fight alongside it, in addition to recruiting individuals from Syria, Lebanon and other areas of the Armenian Diaspora to fight against Azerbaijan. They also blamed Azerbaijan for incidents that took place in Turkey, without taking under consideration that an alliance does not equal an identical identity. In sum, they were not able to provide a shred of evidence that Azerbaijan sought anything other than the return of their internally displaced civilians to their homes yet had the audacity to accuse Azerbaijan of having genocidal intentions. If that is not a hoax, then I do not know what is.
The Truth about Israel’s Struggle for Self-Determination
The notion that Israel’s War of Independence and the subsequent Israeli-Palestinian conflict constituted a genocide against the Palestinian people, as the Center for Constitutional Rights claims, is ridiculous. In 1947, Israel accepted the UN Partition Plan, which called for the establishment of a Jewish and Arab state in Palestine. Israel accepted it even though the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine granted them exclusive legal autonomy over all lands west of the Jordan River. The Arab side including the local Palestinian Arabs responded by declaring war on the newly established State of Israel.
During this war, it is true that 750,000 Palestinian Arabs were compelled to flee their homes and were unable to return. However, it is also true that the Jewish community of East Jerusalem including the Old City were ethnically cleansed from their homes and were unable to return until after the Six Day War, and in their absence, the Jordanian authorities destroyed countless synagogues and utilized ancient tombstones from the Mount of Olives to build latrines. The Jewish community in Kfar Etzion faced a similar fate. While the Palestinians did suffer atrocities in Deir Yassin and other places, the Jewish people also experienced grave atrocities, such as the Hadassah Convoy massacre, where a group of doctors and nurses were murdered en masse for the crime of being Jewish. Subsequently, in the years that followed, 850,000 Jews were compelled to flee the Arab countries for the crime of being Jewish and were also unable to return. Thus, the violence was two-way.
Both sides suffered during and in the wake of the 1948 war. So, how can it be genocide? The intent of the Jewish community at the time was to secure their independence by any means necessary. It was not to massacre the entire Arab population in the Holy Land. The fact that 20% of Israel’s population today is Arab highlights that the Jewish nation permitted many Arabs that did not pose a security threat or choose to flee to stay within their homes, as free and equal citizens in the Jewish state. The fact that more and more Arab countries are now signing peace deals with Israel in the wake of the Abraham Accords highlights that Israel is not the culprit in this conflict. After all, if Israelis were committed a genocide against the Arabs of the Holy Land, then why would their Arab brethren be jumping to sign peace deals with the Jewish state? It appears that many Arab countries now also understand that the accusations that have been made against Israel are a sham.
The subsequent arguments put forward by the Center for Constitutional Rights are even more ridiculous. They argue that Israel’s control over the West Bank and Gaza constitutes an “incremental genocide,” yet did not use similar language to describe Armenia’s control over the Nagorno-Karabakh region or other nations that militarily occupied an area illegally under international law and then brought in settlers.
Furthermore, they neglect to note that unlike Armenia’s control over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria and their right to settle there was recognized by a League of Nations Mandate that was subsequently written into Chapter 80 of the UN Charter. Legally speaking, this mandate was never terminated, as the Palestinian Arab side rejected the UN Partition Plan and the international community never accepted Jordan’s occupation of the area. Thus, the Jewish people have the right to live in and settle the land, until a peace agreement is signed between both nations and the future of these areas is determined in accordance with international law.
Furthermore, despite the existence of Jewish communities in the area, the Palestinian Arab population in Judea and Samaria keeps on growing, so how can it be genocide? Furthermore, how can Israel’s attacks on Gaza be genocidal, when Hamas and Islamic Jihad wantonly fire rockets, incendiary balloons and kites, and mortars at Israeli population centers, and merely is aiming back at legitimate military targets? Israel responding to such indiscriminate violence falls within its right to self-defense as a sovereign nation, even if civilians are accidently killed in the process. Thus, the whole article was nothing more than a charade.
Respecting Victims of Real Genocides
Edna Friedberg, a historian at the US Holocaust Museum, once wrote: “This oversimplified approach to complex history is dangerous. When conducted with integrity and rigor, the study of history raises more questions than answers. And as the most extensively documented crime the world has ever seen, the Holocaust offers an unmatched case study in how societies fall apart, in the immutability of human nature, in the dangers of unchecked state power. It is more than European or Jewish history. It is human history.” Considering this, she was extremely critical of people who called anything other than the Jewish Holocaust “a holocaust” merely to promote a specific agenda. The same argument can also be applied to individuals that call non-genocides a genocide to advance a political agenda.
“It is all too easy to forget that there are many people still alive today for whom the Holocaust is not history but their life story and that of their families,” she added. “These are not abstract tragedies on call to win an argument or an election. They carry painful memories of the brutal murder of a cherished baby boy, the rape of a beloved sister, the parents arrested and never seen again. As the Holocaust recedes in time, some Americans and Europeans are becoming increasingly casual and disrespectful to mass murder. More dangerous, today the internet disseminates insensitive or hateful remarks with unprecedented ease and influence. Online discussions tend to encourage extreme opinions; they allow people to live in echo chambers of their own ideologies and peers.”
Considering this, we all have a moral duty not only to Holocaust survivors but also the victims of the Rwandan genocide, the Yezidi Genocide, the Anfal Genocide, the Khojaly Genocide, and other crimes against humanity to not minimize or trivialize their suffering by calling acts of war where both sides suffered to be one-sided genocide. To do so only causes pain and suffering to the victims of real genocides. For that reason, these reports published by the Center for Constitutional Rights and International Christian Concern ought to be unequivocally condemned.