Sunday, March 31, 2019

Today Baku Marks Day of the Genocide of Azerbaijanis

Paul Goble

            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 (

            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.

Russian who Called for Independent Astrakhan Republic Given 18-Month Suspended Sentence

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 31 – A man who posted on line a call to conduct a popular referendum on the formation of an independent Astrakhan Republic has been convicted of seeking to violate the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation and given a suspended sentence of 18 months behind bars and a further year during which he cannot be employed by government agencies.

            Aleksandr Lychagin, the prosecutor for Astrakhan oblast, said some may view this “’initiative’” as a bad joke, but “some may take it seriously.”  As a result of vigilance by the FSB, the man was arrested, charged, and convicted, in what Lychagin suggests is a warning to other thinking about anything similar (

            During 2018, he continues, seven cases of extremist posts were referred to the courts, which returned five convictions.  So far this year, however, he has not referred any to the courts, either because people have become convinced that they will be caught and punished or because of changes in popular attitudes.

            Two aspects of this particular case are worth nothing. First, it calls attention to the fact that even portions of the Russian Federation apparently completely integrated include at least some residents who view secession as the only possible way to defend their rights given Moscow’s increasing repression of the regions.

            And second, because Moscow is not willing to consider giving the regions more rights, activists in such places are apparently concluded that the only way out is a way out, namely, the pursuit of independence, the unintended product of Russian policies rather than of any conspiracy, regardless of what some in the center are certain to believe. 

Jehovah’s Witnesses at Particular Risk in Russia’s North Caucasus, Rights Activists Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 31 – Since Moscow began its persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses, there is no place in Russia where the followers of that faith are safe. But human rights activists say the Witnesses are at particular risk in Russia’s North Caucasus because there many of the Witness converts are former Muslims and their break with Islam is viewed in an especially negative way.

            Svetlana Gannushkina, head of the Civic Support Committee, says that Jehovah’s Witnesses in the North Caucasus have found it almost impossible to defend themselves against any actions against them, including family violence, since Moscow declared their faith extremist and therefore illegal (

            Their family members view their shift from Islam to the Witnesses as a betrayal and often treat such converts brutally; and the victims of such abuse find it impossible to turn to the courts or even to human rights groups because of the illegal status of their religious organization. As a result, the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the region are especially oppressed, she says.

            Often the only thing activists can do is to organize the departure of Witnesses from the region to some foreign country, but acquiring visas is not easy. Some countries refuse, and then the Witnesses who have sought to leave are tarred with yet another label that produces distrust and an unwillingness to defend them.

            The situation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Muslim regions like the North Caucasus, Gannushkina says, has always been difficult: Muslims don’t approve of anyone who breaks with their faith. But the situation has seriously deteriorated for this group since Moscow banned it as an organization.

            Neither she nor other rights activists who took part in the briefing, including Aleksandr Verkhovsky of SOVA, Lev Levinson of the Human Rights Institute and Anatoly Pchelintsev of the Religion and Law journal, had specific numbers concerning such abuse. But they were unanimous that it is a serious problem, one that has received far too little attention in Moscow.