Staunton, March 31 – Today, as it has since 1998, Baku marked the Day of the Genocide of the Azerbaijanis, an event designed to call attention to what the Azerbaijani authorities argue is what has long been a continuous aspect of the history of their nation but one that the Soviet authorities kept them from discussing.
Most nations that commemorate a genocide do so about a single event be it the Holocaust for the Jews, 1915 for the Armenians or the Holodomor for Ukrainians, but Azerbaijanis as this day shows point to what they say has been a series of attacks extending over the last two centuries (yenicag.ru/31-marta-den-genocida-azerbaydzhancev-2/).
As a result of the treaties of Gulistan and Turkmenchay in 1813 and 1828, the Yenicag agency says in a far from atypical commentary, Azerbaijanis were divided; and genocide was visited upon them by the occupiers who were interested in killing off or driving out Azerbaijanis from lands the occupiers or their allies wanted for themselves.
This was followed by what the Azerbaijanis describe as murderous attacks by Armenians against Azerbaijanis in 1905-1907 and again in 1918-1920 as the Armenians sought to establish what Azerbaijanis call “Greater Armenia.” They killed or drove out Azerbaijanis from places where Azerbaijanis had lived from time immemorial and acquired Zengezur for Armenia.
Later, “with the goal of the further expansion of the policy of the deportation of Azerbaijanis living on these territories used new means were used,” including a Moscow degree of December 23, 1947, which expelled Azerbaijanis from portions of the two republics in order to make room for Armenians returning from abroad.
When the Karabakh conflict began in 1988, the actions of Armenian forces forced hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis to flee from their homes; but it also resulted in horrific massacres as in the case of Hojali in February 1992, an event Azerbaijanis describe as the Hojali genocide because the town and its residents were wiped from the earth.
Obviously, Armenians and many others would offer a very different description of what happened; and sorting out the truth is anything but easy. But what is important about this Day of the Azerbaijani Genocide is how deeply held the notion of being a victim of a two-centuries’ long genocide now is among Azerbaijanis.
Indeed, their view of themselves as victims of a genocide is rapidly becoming almost as tightly held as the Armenian sense that they are the victims of such a form of mass destruction. No one who hopes for peace in the South Caucasus can afford to dismiss this new reality, but Overcoming it will be possible only by an open discussion of what has happened and why.
That won’t be easy: those who attempt to do so can expect to be attacked by one or another side or by both. But addressing these crimes and the views the two nations have about being victims of genocide is essential if peace is finally going to come to a region that has seen far too little of it in the past.