The same playbook used by the Assad regime in Syria is being deployed in Armenia to pitch this as an Islam versus Christianity battle - when it is anything but.
Nagorno-Karabakh is on fire yet again as Armenian and Azerbaijani forces clash. This might hardly be newsworthy given the tortured history and almost regular clashes but for the fact that this time Armenia seems to have orchestrated something new.
This time, Armenia has put together a coalition of the isolated and rogue. This time Armenia seems determined to turn what has been a land dispute between ethnic rivals into a holy war.
Nagorno-Karabakh was quiet and settled under the rule of the Soviet Union. As the Soviet Union began to fail a relaxation of governance began. Although Nagorno-Karabakh was legally part of Azerbaijan under the Soviet Union there was a significant program of deportation to push Azerbaijanis out of their homes and repopulate the area with ethnic Armenians.
Moscow then defined the area as autonomous. By the time the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Armenia was ready to go to war with Azerbaijan to take Nagorno-Karabakh.
The first act of the newly independent Armenia was to attack neighbouring Azerbaijan. Armenia engaged in a massive campaign of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Armenia uprooted almost one million Azerbaijanis and approximately thirty thousand were killed.
Armenia was supported by Russia in its campaign of ethnic cleansing signalling a pattern that would later crystalise in all of Russia’s dealing with its former territories and neighbours.
Although Russia was the arsonist, it also played firefighter and brokered a ceasefire that left the issue unresolved. Today Nagorno-Karabakh remains mostly depopulated but with many Armenian settlers.
Although Armenia has engaged in many international campaigns to paint itself as a victim, neither the United Nations nor the United States recognises Armenia’s claims.
Nagorno-Karabakh is a part of Azerbaijan. The ethnic cleansing and killing have never been addressed and Azerbaijanis to this day tell stories of merciless violence at the hands of Armenia.
Despite international condemnations of Armenia and global recognition of Azerbaijan’s claim over the territory, Armenia continues a state of mild hostility leaving the area tense.
Armenia has not annexed Nagorno-Karabakh and takes no responsibility for the almost one million Azerbaijanis it expelled during Armenia’s ethnic cleansing campaign.
Amazingly, Armenia has concurrently engaged in a campaign to obtain recognition for what it claims as a genocide over 100 years ago. The United States recently passed legislation recognising the Armenian genocide without ever mentioning Armenia’s ethnic cleansing of Azerbaijanis. It was the result of many years of lobbying by Armenia as well as the United States Congress' animus towards Turkey.
The United Nations Security Council has adopted resolutions condemning Armenia’s ethnic cleansing. The resolutions refer to Armenia as an “occupying force.”
Turkey has been a close ally to the White House and that has been easy fodder to attack President Donald Trump with.
Armenia is now emboldened to attack Nagorno-Karabakh because of the victory of having legislation passed in the United States; Russia’s successful disinformation operations regarding Syrian president Assad; Turkey’s demonisation on the world stage; undermining Azerbaijan’s Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline.
It’s the perfect storm for Armenia. They can capitalise on the disinformation war created by Assad and Russia to paint itself as the defender of all Christians.
In fact, today as the parties fight, it is Azerbaijan fighting within its own borders while Armenia is fighting within the borders of Azerbaijan. Armenia is simultaneously claiming they were attacked while fighting over the border inside of Azerbaijan.
The Prime Minister of Armenia tweeted:
All #Armenians must unite to defend our history, our homeland, identity, our future and our present. And we will win and there is only one prerogative, that we promise ourselves that we won't retreat a single millimeter from defending our people and our #Artsakh.— Nikol Pashinyan (@NikolPashinyan) September 27, 2020
Notably, the Prime Minister talks about defending “the identity” of Armenia. Prime Minister Pashinyan makes it clear that he has his eyes on Nagorno-Karabakh. While trying to make it seem like a defensive position he is really acknowledging that Armenia is fighting in the territory recognised universally as Azerbaijan.
Meanwhile, journalists discovered that Russian military trucks were entering Armenia from Iran at the Julfa crossing.
The battle lines have been clearly drawn. Armenia has aligned itself with Russia and Iran. Azerbaijan will rely on its close relationship with Turkey.
Many of the statements from Russia, Armenia and Iran have been focused on Turkey as much as they have been on Azerbaijan. Much of the narrative building has also been reminiscent of the campaigns conducted by Russia and Iran on Assad’s behalf.
Armenia has even found allies in the United States. United States Senator Robert Menendez tweeted:
I strongly condemn Azerbaijan’s attack on Nagorno Karabakh, yet another act of aggression supported by Turkey. The Trump Administration should suspend security assistance to Azerbaijan and engage through the OSCE Minsk Group to bring about a ceasefire. https://t.co/hBAR7abDAc— Senator Bob Menendez (@SenatorMenendez) September 27, 2020
Yet the senator’s tweet is contrary to official US policy and seems to be as much about opposing Turkey as it is about Nagorno-Karabakh.
Unsurprisingly most of Armenia’s allies seem to be opponents of Turkey. Greeks have joined the bandwagon, as have Serbians. These same parties were also keen on supporting Assad’s genocide of Syrians - a genocide stopped by Turkey in Idlib.
Armenia's supporters have pulled out the same playbook that was used in Syria. Portray the battle as a fight between Christians and Muslims, east vs west.
In Syria, Assad falsely claimed the mantle of “the protector of Christians”— and countries like Greece and Russia promoted that propaganda and furthered the sectarian message. The Assad regime has killed and tortured hundreds of Christians and 60 percent of the churches destroyed during the war have been at the hands of the Assad regime.
The battle – in Armenia’s narrative – is no longer about land, it is now about a religious battle inciting images of crusaders and Jesus on the cross.
What we now see is that Armenia has learned from Assad and its close relationship with Russia to play the Christian card. They claim to be defending Christianity against Islamic terrorism. Western media loves it and is running with the narrative that it is a battle of Christianity vs Islam.
The headline from today’s Daily Beast is: “Turkey Sends ISIS Warlord to Face Off Against Putin’s Allies”.
Armenia is trying to say it is “Armenia or the terrorists” just as Assad tried to make you believe that it was “Assad or the terrorists.” It’s a simple and effective narrative for people who are ignorant about the realities of the conflict.
The result in Syria has been hundreds of thousands dead Syrian women, children and men. We must not fall for the lie again. The battle over Nagorno-Karabakh has everything to do with raw aggression for land, ethnic nationalism and nothing to do with religion.
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