By Theodore Shoebat
The war between Armenian and Azerbaijani has been stopped, not with peace but through a ceasefire brokered by Russia. Armenians have been being forced to leave their homes in the much fought over territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. In the 1990s, when the Azerbaijanis were defeated by the Armenians in the first conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, it was the Azerbaijani who had to leave their homes. Now, today we are seeing the opposite take place; now it is Armenians who are leaving their homes. The rage between Armenian and Azeri is thick in the political and metaphysical atmosphere, emanating from religious tensions that go beyond mere materialism. “Whatever starts wars, the thing that sustains war is something in the soul; that is something akin to religion.” (Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, ch. 7, p. 140) Even with a brokered ceasefire, what cannot be truly brokered is peace, that is something that goes beyond government measure. For enmity still lingers in the air, and if people are forced to leave their homes, we cannot expect the rage to dissipate, but to perpetuate. Thousands of Armenians have already left their homes in Nagorno-Karabakh and did a mass exodus into Armenia. According to the Guardian:
“Tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians have left Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding regions as they prepare for territories to change hands. Many families have loaded lorries with their possessions and some have set their houses on fire upon leaving.”
One Armenian local told me that around 150,000 Armenians have left Nagorno-Karabkh.
What we are seeing is the revival of the Ottoman Empire. They say that it is Azerbaijan who is the victor, but how sure of this can we be, when the relationship between Turkey and Azerbaijan is commonly described by Azeris themselves as “one nation with two states”, and the Azeri military proudly wears the Turkish flag on its uniforms? It is quite conspicuous that a victory for Azerbaijan is a victory for Turkey, for the two see each other as one nation. This is Turkey invading territory that was held and inhabited by Christian Armenians. When we see Christians leaving by the tens of thousands from Nagorno-Karabakh, they are being driven out by Turkey which is fulfilling its dream of a revived Ottoman Empire.
It was the Turks and their Islamic auxiliaries who butchered over a million Armenians during the First World War, and it is the Turks today who — through their Azeri proxy — are driving Armenians out of their homes. What we are currently witnessing is the return to pre-World War conditions, with the will to empire being pursued with full enthusiasm. Turkey is spreading her tentacles in Syria, in Iraq, in Libya, in the Eastern Mediterranean, and now in the Caucasus. Russia made satellite states out of two regions in Georgia — South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which are in the South Caucasus — in its war in 2008, annexed Crimea which lies right across the Black Sea looking towards Turkey, and has deployed nearly 2,000 troops in Nagorno-Karabakh where Turkey has been heavily present and they are Turkish troops concentrated in the Nakhichevan autonomous republic, an Azerbaijani exclave bordering Turkey and Armenia, which is to the fear of the Armenians (understandably so).
We are witnessing the gradual revival of both Turkish and Russian power. Armenia is now being forced to withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh as part of a Russian brokered peace deal, allowing Azerbaijan (and thus Turkey) to reassert itself in that region. This would not be the first time that the Russians have satisfied Turkish demands for the Caucasus. We must remember that it was Stalin who, in order to please the Turks, declared that Nagorno-Karabakh would be given to Azeri control. It was also the Bolsheviks who gave over a huge swath of Armenian territory that was once under Russian control to the Ottomans.
In 1917, the Bolsheviks, the Germans, the Austrians, Hungarians, Bulgarians, and the Ottomans, had a meeting in Brest, in which one of the most significant agreements in modern history would be made: The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. In this meeting, the Germans demanded for a huge chunk of the former Russian empire of the now murdered Czar, a demand that the Bolsheviks would acquiesce to without any serious resistance. In the same meeting, Turkey demanded large parts of Armenia, which had been under Russian rule, such as Van Vilayet alongside the Kars Vilayet, Ardahan, and Batum regions, which were all given to the Ottomans in March of 1918 when the treaty was officiated. So, Putin’s Russia enabling the Azeris (proxies of Turkey) to retake control over Nagorno-Karabakh is not surprising nor an anomaly. Yet it is a pattern of history in which we also see the Russians and Turks having numerous wars for centuries. While the Armenians were forced out of several districts in Nagorno-Karabakh due to a Russian brokered deal, it is also true that nearly 2,000 Russian troops are being deployed into those areas. The soldiers are being set there to keep the Azeris — and thus the Turks — from further advancing or causing violence. Battle positions are being set, the conditions for a major war are being made.
As we read in the the New York Times, Russia will be stationing close to two thousand troops “in the line between Azerbaijani- and Armenian-controlled regions for at least five years, under the deal brokered by President Vladimir V. Putin last week.” Through the deal the Russians were able to reassert their influence over the south Caucasus that Russians once had during the reigns of Czardom and the Soviet Union. The Armenians, understandably so, are welcoming the Russians with open arms, for the simple reason that they want a defense against both Azerbaijani attacks and Turkish advancement.
The Armenians, before leaving the land that they so love, wanted to bid farewell to their most cherished Dadivank monastery, which lies in the Kalbajar District and was built in between the 9th and 13th centuries. Christianity in this area can be traced back to St. Dadi, who was a disciple of St. Jude the Apostle, one of the Disciples of Christ Himself. Underneath the monastery are the graves of ancient princes who once ruled this land, but in the midst of royalty lies the tomb of St. Dadi himself, and it was discovered in the year 2007 under the main altar of the monastery. In the midst of green and luscious hills does this sacred place stand, but now it remains amongst a place of bloodshed, of moribund abandonment and of an emptiness by the people’s leaving of this land.
Igor Badalyan, a 53 year old Armenian man who fled his hometown of Baku decades ago, gave a farewell to the ancient monastery. “The people fight each other like dogs baited against each other,” he said. “It is sad that it happened this way. We didn’t want it to be this way.” Anger runs through the blood of the people; forced to leave their homes in Nagorno-Karabakh, they burn down their homes, never wanting to even entertain the thought of Azeris residing in their abodes. One Armenian man, Ashot Khanesyan, was urged by his neighbors to burn down his home, but he refused. He said: “How can I burn this?… My conscience won’t let me.” He took his chickens, left his potatoes, and began to depart the home which he had built from the ground up.
You can see one home set ablaze in the Kelbajar District here:
The Russians have entered the Kelbajar District as peacekeepers, with their armored vehicles and tanks. They have stationed observation posts around the Dadivank Monastery; for the Armenians rightly fear that the Azeris could desecrate it. When the Armenians vanquished the Azeris in their last conflict in the 1990s, they returned to Kelbajar; a priest named Hovhannes Hovhannisyan, discovered the monastery in 1993 after Armenian soldiers took control of the district. But the Dadivank was not being used as a monastery when the Azeris controlled the region, but as a cattle yard. The disregard for the sacred is not surprising, and thus it is not a shock that the Armenians fear that the Azeris could defile the monastery again. The very priest who found the monastery in a degraded condition is not leaving his post, but has decided to remain in the monastery, under the protection of Russian troops. The Azeris — being Muslims — have hatred for the sign of the Cross, and there are already arrangements to have the Khachkars (Armenian stone crosses) removed by the Armenians and brought to a safe place. Fr. Hovhannes, in an interview with Russian media, expressed his heartache and his determination to remain in the church:
“I am waiting for God’s miracle. Only God can solve this problem. We, the humans can’t make right decisions. This historical Church has served and blessed our nation for centuries, today we want to give it away on a tray to the countries, nations who doesn’t understand the value of it. Why should we give it to them? I will stay here. I will stay in my Church.”
When asked about reports on Armenians removing the Khachkars (crosses) to protect them, Fr. Hovhannes said:
“It is temporary. The embroidered Khachkars may be dislocated because we don’t know what will happen tomorrow. We always hope for good but our neighbors hate Armenian handwriting. They have dark handwriting and if, God forbid, you remember what they did with the Khachkars in Nakhichevan, the same destiny or even worse awaits these Khachkars. I can dislocate the Khachkars but not the spirit of Dadivank.”
Here the priest is referring to the destruction of these ancient crosses in the Nakhichevan region of Azerbaijan. In December of 2005, Bishop Nshan Topuzian, the prelate of northern Iran’s Armenian church, filmed from across the river in Iran Azerbaijani soldiers crushing these ancient stone crosses in Djulfa. The soldiers then loaded the crushed debris of what was once crosses and it into the Araxes river.
In the same interview, Fr. Hovhannes lamented:
“This was built by Armenian Christians. Those religious artifacts have been there for 800 years. Tomorrow I will take them away from me.”
As the Armenians left the Kelbajar District, tears were shed as they said goodbye to the ancient church. One woman, weeping, lamented:
“We have come to say goodbye to our Church. On the road to Dadivank I remembered migration of 1915. I can’t find any words, it is extremely difficult for us. God is good, we have hope for good.”
By the “migration of 1915” she is referring to the death march that the Ottomans forced the Armenians to endure through the Syrian desert (the Deir al-Zor) where they were starved to death, thirsted to death, and butchered. Over a million Armenians were slaughtered in the Syrian desert, and today the Turks have helped the Azeris vanquish the Armenians, and now they are being forced out of their homes.
The feeling in Baku is one of elation and ecstasy, as the Azeris celebrate their victory over the Armenians. They also see this as retribution for when the Armenians drove them out after the last war in the 1990s. Around 700,000 Azeris were forced out of Nagorno-Karabakh by the Armenians in that conflict, and so the blood feud still roars with the cries of the angered and embittered. The Armenians are now being forced out of their homes, and so the legacy of rage is being passed down in the river of perpetual ferocity. The Armenians of Kelbajar did not want to depart without making the conditions of living as difficult as possible for the Azeris. They knocked down power lines and tore down restaurants and gas stations. Some armed themselves with chainsaws, cut down trees and stuffed the logs into vans and onto truck beds so that they could not be used by Azeris. One man came from Armenia and began collecting the logs. “Let them die from the cold,” he said. “These were always Armenian lands!” one police officer yelled, when asked who was living in Kelbajar before.
“Let them die from the cold,” said one man, who had arrived from Armenia, collecting the logs. One Armenian soldier did a cell phone video threatening the Azeris with vengeance: “For every broken window, for every broken house, we will enter your homes,” the soldier said. “You won’t be able to sleep calmly.” Kelbajar district is just one example of whats going to happen to the rest of the districts that Armenia now must return to Azerbaijan. Armenians must withdraw from the Aghdam district and the Lachin district by December 1st.
The question is, will peace be maintained with such anger in the air? Is this truly an effort to peace, or an opportunity for former empires — Turkey and Russia — to regain territory that they ones controlled in the South Caucasus? Both Russia and Turkey at one point in time controlled territory in the Caucasus, and they want to regain their control. Russia had a war with Georgia — another South Caucasus nation that was once under the Russian empire — and backed two regions of that country — South Ossetia and Abkhazia — as independent republics (although this is internationally rejected), making them really into Russian satellites.
Turkey has now invaded Nagorno-Karabakh through its proxy, Azerbaijan. Make no mistake, when they say that Azerbaijan has retaken territory in Nagorno-Karabakh, truly it is Turkey that has taken this territory. Why do you think the Azeris describe their relationship with Turkey as “one nation with two states”? It is because they see themselves as being one with Turkey. It is not hyperbole to say it is truly Turkey that is conquering Armenian controlled territory. Turkey is advancing through lands that have been inhabited by Christian Armenians. Now Russia has made its military presence within Nagorno-Karabakh. Diplomacy between Russia and Turkey will continue, but for how long? Given the fact that the two former empires have had numerous wars against each other (and lets not forget that the Ottomans and Russians fought over Armenian territory during World War One, especially with the vicious battle over Van; and they also fought over the Azerbaijani city of Baku, with the Russians — at that point under Bolshevik power — losing the city), it would not be surprising that the former empires will clash over the Caucasus. The two powers are not in the Caucasus to help each other out; it is obvious that what we are witnessing are two powerful countries consolidating their strength and positioning themselves for control in the Caucasus. Both Russia and Turkey were rivals for centuries, and they are rivaling right now. The inevitable result will be a clash between the two.