Armenian exodus and the pains of history

Nagorno-Karabakh basics, an account from Azerbaijan, and a Turkish taboo

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The Big Story:

More than 100,000 ethnic Armenians have fled their once defiantly autonomous region of Nagorno-Karabakh, after Azerbaijan reclaimed the territory. There are continuing reverberations of the mass exodus in Europe’s immediate neighbourhood.

The Backstory:

  • Nagorno-Karabakh, a landlocked region in the South Caucasus mountains, was claimed by both Armenia and Azerbaijan following the breakup of the Soviet Union.
  • The territory is within Azerbaijan and the international community has long recognised it as such, but it has been controlled by its ethnic Armenian population since 1994.
  • The predominantly Christian Armenians regard Nagorno-Karabakh as an ancestral homeland, a cradle of their culture. Muslim Azeris also have cultural ties to the territory, particularly the city of Shusha, the home of Azerbaijani poetry.
  • Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought three wars in as many decades. At the end of the first war in 1994, more than a million people had been displaced, including Azerbaijanis from Nagorno-Karabakh. That war had what’s called the Khojali massacre, the killing of Azeris by Armenians in the town of Khojali. Armenians dispute the characterisation, though a former advisor to the then Armenian president has admitted “something unacceptable did happen”.
  • Armenian history provides a grim backdrop to the current Nagorno-Karabakh exodus. In September, Kim Kardashian, perhaps the world’s best-known Armenian-American, wrote an opinion piece calling on US President Joe Biden “to Stop Another Armenian Genocide”. The reference was, in the words of the UK’s Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, to “policies of expulsion and extermination” carried out by the Ottoman empire from 1915, resulting “in the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenian men, women and children”. The atrocities against Armenians prompted Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin to coin the term “genocide” in 1933. Turkey says it “does not deny the suffering of Armenians, including the loss of many innocent lives (but) objects to the one-sided presentation of this tragedy as a genocide by one group against another.”
Kim Kardashian at the Armenian genocide memorial in Armenia’s capital Yerevan in October 2019. Photo by Novosti Armenia, CC BY 3.0

This Week, Those Books:

  • A Turkish bestseller on a taboo subject.
  • An on-the-ground report from Azerbaijan.
  • A forensic analysis of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Read on at