On September 27, a century-old conflict reignited when Armenia’s Muslim-majority neighbor, Azerbaijan, launched an unprovoked military incursion into the ethnic, indigenous-Armenian populated enclave of Artsakh — better known by its Russian-Persian name of Nagorno-Karabakh. The coordinated attack, involving artillery and aerial strikes, targeted civilian settlements, placing the region’s capital Stepanakert in its crosshairs.
According to the latest report from the Defense Ministry of Artsakh, Armenia’s death toll continues to climb, exceeding 604 people. Azerbaijan has not reported on its casualties.
Shortly after the attack began, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey announced his full support of Azerbaijan and their campaign to conquer ethnic Armenian territory, calling for Armenia to withdraw from the disputed region.
Erdogan’s support for Azerbaijan’s attack goes beyond vocal enthusiasm. Since the fighting began, Turkey has armed and deployed Syrian mercenaries — including Islamic terrorists, actions which were confirmed by Syrian President, Bashar Al-Assad. The Turkish state has denied such involvement, despite further photographic evidence of Turkey supplying Azerbaijan’s air force with F-16 Viper fighter jets.
In an interview with one Turkish news channel, Azerbaijani President, Ilham Aliyev praised Turkish drone technology, stating, “Thanks to advanced Turkish drones owned by the Azerbaijan military, our casualties on the front shrunk… these drones show Turkey’s strength. It also empowers us.”
In order to better understand this eruption of violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and why it may present an existential threat for Armenia itself, it is important to understand the wider history of this conflict.
The origins of the Armenia-Azerbaijani conflict over Artsakh are rooted in Soviet history, tracing back to the dissolution of the Russian Monarchy in 1917. Shortly after the Bolshevik uprising that ousted the Tsar, Armenia and its neighbors in the Caucasus region – all of whom were previously part of the vast Russian Empire – attained collective independence as a single South Caucus state known as the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic (TDFR). Due to inevitable internal conflicts, however, such independence was short-lived; the TDFR soon divided into the Democratic Republic of Georgia, the Democratic Republic of Armenia, and the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic.
Between 1918 and 1920, three historically Armenian regions in this area (which had also become home to large Turk populations following nomadic Turkic conquests of the Armenian homeland) — Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh), Nakhichevan, and Zangezur — became battlegrounds in Armenia’s attempt to regain parts of its ancestral homeland from Azerbaijan’s expansionist grip.
In 1920, the Soviet Union shuffled the regional map yet again. Zangezur remained within Soviet Armenia, while Nakhichevan and Nagorno-Karabakh were placed under Soviet Azerbaijan as “autonomous oblasts.” Some say that this was part of Joseph Stalin’s divide and conquer strategy. However, other scholars claim that the annexation of Nagorno-Karabakh and Nakhichevan to Soviet Azerbaijan recognized the political realities of the day. Turkey had committed the Armenian Genocide and were determined to further weaken what was left of Armenia, and were lobbying the Soviets for generosity in favor of a nation which shared with Turkey a common ethnicity and language, Azerbaijan. Then again, others say that the Soviets favored Azerbaijan’s oil reserves over Armenians’ ancient presence and rich history in the South Caucasus.
Over the next few decades, skirmishes between the Soviet states of Armenia and Azerbaijan stalled, shuddering to a standstill under Soviet rule. However, as the Iron Curtain began to decay in the late 1980s and into the early 1990s, the once frozen dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh began to thaw.
Fearing the fate of Nakhichevan’s Armenian residents — who, under aggressive Azeri rule, had been ethnically cleansed from their indigenous Christian-Armenian homeland — Nagorno-Karabakh pursued confederacy with Soviet Armenia in 1988. However, under Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s rigid policies, the region descended into chaos as war broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
When the Soviet Union collapsed just three years later, Armenia and Azerbaijan emerged as newly independent states, with tensions rapidly escalating. Armenia-backed Nagorno-Karabakh (which the native Armenian inhabitants call Artsakh) faced an Azerbaijan aided by mercenaries and volunteers from its Muslim-majority compatriots, Afghanistan and Chechnya, and heavily supported by Turkey, which some believe had a plan of attacking Armenia in 1993.
After the death of tens of thousands of people, and the displacement of many more, Russia successfully mediated a cease-fire in May of 1994. Armenians miraculously won the war, with Artsakh becoming a de-facto republic while also gaining a large “buffer zone” territory which was not part of its Soviet boundaries.
A victim of its geography, Armenia remains nestled between, at best, apathetic neighbors to the North and South: Georgia, who even today refuse to support Armenia against the onslaught of Azeri aggression out of fear for its own sovereignty; and Iran: the Shia-Muslim theocracy which would be hard-pressed to rally behind a Christian nation against another Shia-Muslim state. To its East and West, Armenia lies sandwiched between enemies: Turkey — the nation directly responsible for carrying out a genocide against the Armenian people in 1915 — and Azerbaijan — a nation of indigenous Turks with the same genocidal ambitions.
Except for an unsuccessful attempt by Azerbaijan to enter the region in 2016, a nominal truce between Armenia and the Azeris had remained stable for decades — until now.
Despite fervent pleas from world powers in support of de-escalation or a cease-fire, Azerbaijan, with Turkey’s support and ardor, has been relentlessly pursuing their military campaign against Artsakh, and by extension, Armenia.
Turkey and Azerbaijan are waging their campaign against Artsakh and Armenia on two fronts. On one front, they attack Armenia militarily, seeking to destroy its people and raze its cities. On the second front, they seek to undermine and delegitimize the plight of the Armenian people through the dissemination of propaganda. While censoring social media within their own borders, Azerbaijan blurs reality, attempting to paint itself as a feeble victim against some supposed Armenian aggression. Funneling money and influence into the Western world, Azerbaijan and Turkey have succeeded in silencing celebrities such as Sir Elton John and Cardi B, both of whom had initially voiced their support for the Armenian people on social media, but later succumbed to surmounting pressure from Azerbaijan and withdrew their statements.
While reams of Turkish propaganda flood social media with misinformation, certain truths cannot be refuted. The indigenously Armenian enclave of Artsakh, with a population of just 150,000 and the Christian, democratic state of Armenia, with a population dwarfed by its diaspora, is outmanned and outgunned by the oil-rich and militarily advanced forces of Turkey and Azerbaijan, with a net population of over 100 million. It is an existential crisis for Armenia: one people descended from the survivors and victims of the 1915 Armenian Genocide is facing annihilation at the hands of a people descended from the very perpetrators of the 1915 Armenian Genocide.
Delivering a speech on the eve of the Second World War and the Holocaust, Adolf Hitler ruminated on the forgotten genocide of the Armenian people, invoking their neglected ruin under the fog of war before embarking on his own campaign of mass-slaughter. It is precisely because history callously forgot the Armenians that today, as the prospect of yet another genocide threatens Armenia, Turkey and their Azerbaijani proxy similarly ponder, “Who, after all, today speaks of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
Harry Khachatrian is a Canadian computer engineer and a contributor at The Daily Wire. Find him on Twitter.