The Strange and Lonesome Death of Artsakh

The Strange and Lonesome Death of Artsakh

. 7 min read

 [Editor's Note: This article was originally published on January 14, 2024, at Exile in Happy Valley].

It didn't end with a death march. It didn't end with mass graves. It didn't end with firing squads or gas chambers. The Second Armenian Genocide didn't end a thing like the first one did but that didn't make its ending any less devastating or any less genocidal. The destruction of Artsakh ended with a whimpering statesman signing a piece of paper and just like that, an entire nation was erased. While Israel has been busy mercilessly grinding the Gaza Strip into a fine powder with the whole world watching, another far quieter but equally merciless Nakba has taken place in Central Asia with the whole world looking the other way.

On September 28, 2023, Samuel Shahramanyan, the last president of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, better known to its ethnic Armenian citizens as Artsakh, signed a ceasefire with Azerbaijan in which the latter nation agreed to end its brutal siege of the prior provided that the NKR kindly agreed to cease to exist. On the first day of 2024 this genocidal "peace" deal formally went into effect but not before the last 100,000 citizens of Artsakh abandoned their ancestral homeland to run for their lives.

In many ways, this was the most shockingly successful genocide of the Twenty-First Century with thousands of years of culture and history obliterated with the click of a pen, but the final chapter of this final solution actually began several years earlier like so many others, with an American-sponsored bloodbath. After years of careful planning and hording high-tech weaponry, Recep Erdogan's revanchist NATO sultanate of Turkey decided to reenact the Armenian Genocide by micromanaging a brutal proxy assault on the contested territory of Artsakh in 2020 using the neighboring Ottoman puppet state of Azerbaijan like a hammer.

Armed to the teeth with both Turkish and Israeli drones along with tens of millions of dollars in American cluster munitions, Azerbaijan's notoriously ruthless strongman, Ilham Aliyev, laid siege to the supposedly treaty-protected Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, bombarding crowded civilian city centers and shelling the refugees who dared to flee from them. Over 6,000 people were slain in just over one month and another 90,000 were forcibly displaced under the threat of genocide. What population that remained was herded into the last corner of their territory as it was cut in half and totally surrounded by heavily armed Turkic gestapo.

A single road was left open connecting Artsakh to the Armenian mainland. In late 2022 that road was closed, and a crippling ten-month long blockade followed, barring the already impoverished and shellshocked people of the NKR from all food and medicine. In September of last year, Azerbaijan struck again, easily routing the cornered nation's last remaining military positions within 24 hours and forcing its besieged government to concede to its own erasure. It was a strange and lonesome ending to a long and storied resistance movement. An ending that felt almost unfathomably anticlimactic to anyone actually familiar with Armenian history.

Ethnic Armenian settlements have existed in the region known as Nagorno-Karabakh for over 3,000 years, often at the mercy of the constantly competing Ottoman and Russian empires. Artsakh was just one piece of the ancient Christian region of Armenia which had once stretched across Eastern Turkey and deep into the Caucuses of modern-day Russia and Western Iran. Much of this territory along with 1.5 million Armenians was erased by the Ottomans during the gruesome final days of their vampire empire in one of the darkest chapters of the First World War.

That same damnable war also led to the rise of the Soviet Union which would ultimately include what little remained of Armenia as well as the neighboring Turkish outpost of Azerbaijan. In a typically cruel attempt to divide and conquer, the Bolsheviks arbitrarily incorporated the Armenian region of Artsakh into the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan in spite of the vehement protests of the Armenian partisans who had helped them dethrone the Czar. Repeated requests for sovereignty nearly broke out into open warfare before the Kremlin finally caved and established the Nagorno-Karabakh Oblast within Soviet Azerbaijan in 1923.

But the movement to return Artsakh to Armenian rule never ceased and when peaceful attempts by the oblast to break away from Azerbaijan failed during the waning days of the Soviet experiment, a brutal ethnic conflict erupted into the First Nagorno-Karabakh War which raged on for 6 long years between 1988 and 1994. The ensuing carnage resulted in tens of thousands of fatalities, hundreds of thousands of refugees, and unspeakable atrocities committed by both sides. An uncomfortable peace was finally brokered by France, Russia and the United States in a coalition known as the Minsk Group but the people of Artsakh didn't need meddlesome outsiders to tell them who they were. 

After all, if Azerbaijan had the right to independence from the Russian Federation, then why shouldn't Artsakh have the right to their own independence from Azerbaijan? And so, the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic boldly declared its independence with a popular referendum in 1991 without the recognition of a single UN member state, including Armenia, and I believe that it is this silent betrayal, the betrayal of nation states against nation states, that ultimately dammed Artsakh to its tragic fate over thirty years later.

The most disturbing thing about the strange and lonesome final days of Artsakh is that quite literally every single nation state touching that region, friend or foe, found some way to fuck those people over and few states fucked Artsakh harder than the Armenian fatherland. The final ceasefire that proved to be the final nail in Artsakh's coffin was actually built on the internationally brokered ceasefire that officially ended the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in 2020 while handing over half of Artsakh to Azerbaijan and affording them the territorial advantage to take the rest of the Republic four years later. This oddly tragic ceasefire was brokered by the original three nations of the Minsk Group along with Azerbaijan and Armenia but conspicuously excluded any representatives from the Republic of Artsakh and also seemed to exclude the consent of the citizens that Armenia supposedly represents, who were nothing short of infuriated to learn of their nation's act of diplomatic betrayal.

In fact, while this ceasefire may have temporarily silenced the rifles on the frontlines, it also led to months of riots back home in Yerevan, nearly a year of open upheaval that saw crowds of irate citizens seizing parliament buildings and beating their supposed representatives half to death in the streets. Scores of high-ranking Armenian officials resigned in disgust, including the nation's own Minister of Defense, and an alleged coup launched by members of the Armenian Military was barely thwarted in 2021. That's because representative democracy only truly represents the will of the highest bidder and in Armenia that bidder has become the United States who have sickeningly played both sides of the trenches in this conflict for the same reasons that they turned Ukraine into a geopolitical boobytrap, to sow discord amongst the ranks of its rivals.

After arming their mortal enemies in Azerbaijan for years with multi-million-dollar military hardware, the United States has taken to simultaneously dangling NATO membership over Armenia's heads like scraps to a beggar that they put out in the cold themselves. In fact, Armenia spent the two weeks prior to Azerbaijan's final assault on Artsakh engaged in joint military exercises with the United States intended to prepare them for "evaluation" on NATO eligibility, in spite or perhaps because of the fact that Armenia is already a member of Russia's own NATO-style military alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organization aka the CSTO. This game of ballistic Caucasian footsie has been going on for years and it's likely what inspired Russia to ignore its own security obligations to Armenia when Azerbaijan launched airstrikes within their borders during the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in 2020. You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to conclude that this is precisely what Washington is after, especially when you remember that they sold Baku the bombs that struck the fatherland. 

But sadly, Armenia has become just corrupt and desperate enough to fall for this shell game just like Kiev did. That shiny NATO dream of a Coca-cola in every fridge and an Apache Helicopter on every pad.  Thousands of years of pride and resistance down the shitter, all so a few thugs in Yerevan can have a whisper of a chance at joining the same military alliance that arms their old chums in Turkey. Not that Sultan Erdogan gives a flying fuck about any empire but his own. His expressed goal in this whole sorry sorted affair is actually just to pave over Artsakh in order to turn it into an off-ramp for China's Belt and Road Initiative known as the Middle Corridor. But Israel can live with that just so long as Turkey doesn't open that corridor through Iran, so they've gladly filled in for their Yankee overlords as Azerbaijan's biggest arms supplier in order to convince them to tear a page from their own playbook and choose genocide over diplomacy. 

If your head hurts that's because this schizophrenic skullduggery is absolutely batshit crazy but it's also precisely what states do and it's what states have always done. They rise, they fall, they fuck each other over, and they devour entire nations like Artsakh in the process just to spit them back out again. Contrary to western lore, a nation is not a government built on the fickle materialism of blood and soil. A nation in its truest form is a tribal community bound by a shared history, culture, and vision for the future. The state on the other hand is nothing but a cartel designed to capture a nation behind its borders and destroy any real sense of community that once bound it with a monopoly on the use of force and the shifting territorial ambitions of the elites that such a caste system inevitably creates.

Artsakh was a great nation destroyed by a state and that state wasn't Turkey or Azerbaijan or even the United States of America, it was Armenia, with its corrupt elites and its globalist neoliberal ambitions. This tragedy is a warning in the shape of a self-inflicted genocide. Artsakh thrived for centuries before the poisoned invention of the Westphalian Nation State redefined its existence as mere geographical collateral. So, did Palestine. Every nation should think twice before they consider any state to be a solution because in an age of collapsing empires any state can easily become a nation's final solution.