When the world had its back turned, an old evil burst on an ancient people. The mountain valleys of Karabakh were seized by those who tried to annihilate the Armenian people from them, within living memory.
It is more than a hundred years since the Armenian Genocide: while Europe was distracted by the Great War, the Ottoman Turks set out systematically to murder their Armenian population. The photographs we have of fields strewn with bones, of rotting bodies, of weeping mothers and widows, would be too distressing to include here – you have the internet, so go and look if you have the stomach for it. Two countries alone in the world actively deny the history: Turkey and Azerbaijan – and now Azerbaijan has descended with deadly force on the Armenians of the mountains. And the world looked away.
The tale of Nagorno-Karabakh has been with me since I first heard Baroness Cox speak. When many years later I ran into her she invited me to travel there, I was sorely tempted to (though my wife was less keen). I have kept a watch for the few grudging mentions the media has afforded. They are really not interested.
The unplanned dissolution of the old Soviet state which showed up the messy state of the Transcaucasus, and boundaries set at a whim by Stalin suddenly became international frontiers, and hundreds of thousands of Armenians on the wrong side of it were faced with rule by a new, nationalist tyranny which showed its face soon enough. The euphemism ‘Ethnic cleansing’ was first used by the Azeris who poured in to renew the Armenian Genocide. The land has indeed been ‘internationally recognised’ as part of Azerbaijan, but has not been in fact ever part of that state as it broke away in war at the moment Armenia and Azerbaijan broke from the Soviet Union, so what reality is there in recognition?
One would think that a state based on ethnicity would not want within its borders another population and would separate it, just as Singapore was expelled from Malaysia, but nationalism does not work like that.
Why though, with all the horror in the world, should the fate of that one community cut so deeply? It is because the Armenians have barely survived their neighbours’ murderous hate. They are an ancient nation, unique in language and culture, once mighty across north-eastern Anatolia and forming a strong community in Turkey and Persia. Their kingdom was ancient when Alexander rolled over these hills and they were a power to greet the Romans in later ages. Theirs was the first state to adopt Christianity as their official religion, and for all this, their distinctiveness and success, wedged between Turkish-speaking, Muslim nations, made them a target for jealous when industrial warfare made their elimination a practical proposition.
The genocide began with local attacks. Before the war, the Armenians were eliminated from their second homeland in Cilicia, which had been an Armenian kingdom during the Crusades. Those who are left after the genocide are a precious people. In the Great War, millions were systematically slaughtered and exiled.
Now the world turns its eyes away as Azeri Turks turn on Armenians.
It is said that the Austrian Housepainter, as he prepared his own genocide, mockingly said ‘Who now remembers the Armenians?’ We should all remember the Armenians. I will.
- Never again
- The Noble Savage, Caliban, and Hobbes
- Caliban the wild man
- Quarrel of a dying empire poisoning modernity
- Of the natural Condition of Mankind as concerning their Felicity and Misery
- Baroness Cox 2nd Edition: Eyewitness to a broken world by Lela Gilbert
- The Armenians: Art Culture and Religion
- The Destruction of the Armenians of Cilicia
- Starving Armenians: America and the Armenian Genocide, 1915-1930 and After
- By Thomas Hobbes: