The war in Artsakh

Azerbaijan — with the backing of Turkey, a NATO member that genocided Armenians — is getting its Armenian war on again. And no one cares.

Never a boring day here in central Los Angeles. Historic heatwaves, record homelessness, the pandemic, massive fires, clouds of pollution, and air so foul it makes your lungs hurt. This past week brought another piece of action into the neighborhood: the faraway war in the Artsakh Republic — aka Nagorno-Karabakh.

Last week, Azerbaijan — with Turkey’s backing — launched a surprise attack on the Artsakh Republic, a contested mountainous region that ethnic Soviet Armenians won control of following a bloody war between Armenia and Azerbaijan — a war that broke out as the Soviet Union was starting to collapse. The war has never fully ended and there have been periodic flare ups and firefights for decades. But this time, the fighting’s for real.

For days, Azerbaijan has been hitting residential targets with artillery, cluster munitions, and Israeli and Turkish drones. Meanwhile, Turkey — a NATO member — has sent at least a thousands jihadi fighters to take part in a ground invasion. These groups had been battle-hardened in the war in Syria, and many of them have received American training, weapons, and money. To make matters worse, Turkey — which carried the Armenian genocide a century ago — has been making genocide threats again. Big genocidal bully Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been vowing to cleanse Nagorno-Karabakh of Armenians, no matter the cost.

It’s a volatile, fucked up situation. And I don’t blame Armenians for taking these threats seriously. Genocide happened before, and quite recently. You don’t have to remind Armenians that they’re in a rough neighborhood, sandwiched between two countries that would be happy to wipe them off map, while a third — Georgia — would be just fine watching it happen.

View out the window.

We live right in the middle of California’s giant Armenian community — sandwiched between Hollywood’s Little Armenia to the south and Glendale to the north. The house next to ours is filled with Soviet Armenian immigrants. Our own landlord — the one who’s trying to illegally evict us — is Armenian, too. Even our favorite go-to local store is Armenian. We’re surrounded by Armenians.

The past few days, our hood’s been filled with cars flying Armenian and Artsakh flags. People are out showing support for their homeland. Last night, a big convoy zoomed by our place at about 11 pm — mercs, beemers, suvs — honking, revving engines, giant flags unfurled. They were probably coming home from a protest that shutdown a nearby freeway

I spent time reporting on this conflict from Nagorno-Karabakh back in 2006 — and I was in many of the spots that are being bombarded right now by Azerbaijan with Turkey’s help.

It’s nasty and intractable conflict that goes back, well, most recently, about a century. It was a problem that the Bolsheviks put on ice once they took power in the region. The Soviet Union’s management of the nationalities problem among its vast multi-ethnic population might not have been ideal, but at least it kept a lid on tribal, religious, and nationalistic infighting. Peace lasted about 70 years. 

The weakening of the Soviet Union made the resumption of such hostilities pretty much inevitable — and Armenia and Azerbaijan went for each other's throats. From 1988 to 1994, tens of thousands were killed and more than a million were cleansed from both Armenia and Azerbaijan — through a mixture of pogroms, rapes, lynchings, expulsions, traditional military battles, and territorial grabs. In the end, Armenia won a chunk of mountainous territory that Armenians consider central to their national identity. And it has held it against Azerbaijan, despite being poorer, lacking energy reserves, and being surrounded on three sides by its enemies — including Turkey, Armenia’s genocidal arch-villain.

During the Cold War America’s cynical imperial planners must have been salvinating about a future in which the Soviet Union would break up and its nationalist republics would fight amongst themselves without end — keeping the region weak, destabilized, and easily exploitable. Well...that’s what’s happening here. 

So how is America gonna respond to Turkey — a NATO member — sending in planes filled with jihadis to wage a war against a country whose people it had recently genocided? Chances are... it’s not gonna do much! 

The Armenian community here in America is big, has money, and generally has a lot of political pull — which I guess is why our shitty neoliberal mayor came out in support of Armenia against Azerbaijan. But the community doesn’t have a very good bargaining position as far as the interests of the American Empire are concerned.

Fact is, the interests of the Armenian diaspora are in direct conflict with America’s major allies and partners: Turkey and Azerbaijan — and by extension Israel, the EU, and a bunch of degenerate oil companies and lobbyist groupies. 

Turkey is the big one here. It’s a member of NATO, holds about 50 American nukes, and is — among other things — a key ally in America’s war in Syria. And Azerbaijan? Well, it’s an oil producer with an oil pipeline that’s got BP, ConocoPhillips, Total, Chevron, and others as big time investors — a pipeline which is designed to deliver gas and oil to Europe and bypass Russian pipelines in the process. So Azerbaijan is part of the great weaponized fossil fuel game against Russia. It’s also got a lot of Americans on its payroll.

Then there’s another weird level to the whole thing: Israel and Azerbaijan are apparently big friends — with Israel selling Azerbaijan killer drones and Azerbaijan spying on Iran on Israel’s behalf. As Joshua Landis wrote, “Azerbaijan is helping Israel spy on Iran, which makes Israel's help in killing Armenians worth the price.” 

As for Armenia? Well, its two biggest allies are two of America’s biggest enemies: Iran and Russia. Russia has a military base in Armenia and the two countries have a mutual military assistance treaty on the books. So in theory, Russia could be dragged into this war — something that Putin and his people clearly do not want.

So the deck is stacked against Armenia and America’s Armenian diaspora. That’s why you won’t be seeing anyone from our political establishment rushing out to weaponize Armenian immigrants on behalf of the Empire. They’re not like Soviet Jews or Ukrainians or Uighurs. No one wants to turn Armenians into a weapon. As far as our best and brightest are concerned, Armenians are more than just not useful, they’re a nuisance and a liability.

—Yasha Levine

Looking over an empty Azeri neighborhood in the town of Shushi — in what is now the Artsakh Republic. I took the photo in 2006.

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