From September 27 to November 10, the Armenian Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) in the South Caucasus was exposed to a genocidal assault at the hands of Azerbaijan and Turkey. The entire world watched while the aggressors committed many crimes and indiscriminately shelled the indigenous lands of Armenians.
Turkey also sent Azerbaijan mercenaries from Syria with known affiliations to Islamic radical groups. This was confirmed by a recent United Nations report, as well as by the testimonies of many Syrian mercenaries and reports by international media outlets.
Together with Azerbaijani military forces, they perpetrated war crimes against Armenians. They murdered civilians, injured journalists and targeted homes, forests, hospitals, churches and cultural centers, among other non-military targets. They used white phosphorus and cluster munitions in violation of international law. At least 90,000 Armenians were forced to abandon their ancestral lands in Artsakh as a result.
The war finally halted after 45 days as a result of the Russia-brokered agreement imposed on Armenia.
According to the agreement, there would be “an exchange of prisoners of war and other detained persons and bodies of the dead.” However, even after the signing of the agreement, multiple videos emerged showing Azeri military members and their partners beheading, mutilating and dismembering captured Armenian civilians and prisoners of war. These gruesome crimes were filmed and proudly posted on social media by Azerbaijani soldiers themselves.
On December 7, for example, Azerbaijanis uploaded yet another video of a beheading on one of their many Telegram channels. In the video, a soldier of the Azerbaijani special forces is seen beheading an elderly Armenian civilian while his fellow soldiers videotaped the war crime. The elderly Armenian man was begging for his life.
As these ISIS-like crimes were being committed against Armenians, Turkish and Azerbaijani soldiers participated in a military “victory parade” in Azerbaijan’s capital city of Baku on December 10. The parade, organized to celebrate the countries’ joint “military victory” over Artsakh, was attended by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev.
During the “victory parade,” Erdogan delivered a speech in which he praised Enver Pasha, one of the planners of Ottoman Turkey’s 1914-1923 Christian genocide, which cost the lives of around 1.5 million Armenians and at least one million Greeks and Assyrians. The Ottoman military march was also played during the event.
Erdogan referred to the 1918 Islamic Army of the Caucasus created by Enver Pasha and led by the Ottoman commander, Nuri Pasha. The Islamic Army of the Caucasus was responsible for the massacres to eliminate the non-Muslim population of Baku, mainly Armenians. Erdogan said:
“Today is the day when the souls of Nuri Pasha, Enver Pasha and the brave soldiers of the Islamic Army of the Caucasus are blessed.”
Erdogan also confirmed Turkey’s support for the recent Azeri assault against Armenians. According to the official website of Turkey’s Presidency, “Turkey, with all its institutions and organizations, supported Azerbaijan’s fight from the very beginning, underlined President Erdoğan, further stressing that it will continue to stand by the brotherly Azerbaijan with all its capabilities.”
During his speech Aliyev claimed that the Armenian capital of Yerevan, Armenia’s Lake Sevan and the Syunik (Zangezur) region in southern Armenia are “historic lands of Azerbaijan.”
This was not the first time Aliyev referred not only to Artsakh but also to the Republic of Armenia as “Azerbaijani lands.” In 2018, for instance, Aliyev referred to the same Armenian regions as “historic lands of Azerbaijan.” “Azerbaijanis’ return to those territories,” he added, “is our political and strategic goal, and we need to work step-by-step to get closer to it.”
Meanwhile, the Russia-brokered agreement appears not to provide security for Artsakh. On December 11, Azerbaijan violated the agreement by launching an attack against Artsakh’s Hadrut district. Aliyev, however, blamed Armenia for the attacks, threatening to “break its head with an iron fist” and added, “This time, we will destroy them completely.”
Dr. Anahit Khosroeva, a genocide scholar and historian based in Yerevan, said:
“The recent Azeri attack against the villages in Hadrut breaks my trust in the agreement. Russian troops did not immediately stop the attack. People in Artsakh’s capital, Stepanakert, think that the safety of their city is at risk, as well. There is massive diplomatic uncertainty concerning the agreement. How effective it will be and how committed Russian troops will be to protecting the security of Artsakh remains to be seen.”
Khosroeva also criticized the dominant media narrative concerning the war against Artsakh:
“The international media adopted this incredibly misleading narrative which tries to put equal blame on ‘both sides’. Can they not see the difference between the perpetrator and the victim? Who started the war and who committed an ethnic cleansing campaign is obvious: Azerbaijan and Turkey. Yet, much of the international media stuck to this unethical and false narrative and whitewashed Azerbaijani crimes, which misinformed the world community and has cost so many innocent lives.
“For 45 days during the war, our cities were bombed incessantly. But the international community did not care. They just watched as Azerbaijan, Turkey and jihadists massacred our people. At the very least they should now try the perpetrators in international courts for their crimes.”
Khosroeva noted that the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect is clear about the definition and punishment of war crimes:
“The UN says that lists of war crimes can be found in both international humanitarian law and international criminal law treaties, as well as in international customary law.
“According to the 8th article of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, several acts constitute war crimes such as ‘willful killing; torture or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments; willfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health; extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly; compelling a prisoner of war or other protected person to serve in the forces of a hostile power; willfully depriving a prisoner of war or other protected person of the rights of fair and regular trial; unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement; and taking of hostages.’ Azerbaijan and Turkey committed all these and more against Armenians during and after the war.
“Given Erdogan’s statements about Enver Pasha, it seems that Erdogan pursues an annihilationist policy that aims at completing the Armenian Genocide which his Ottoman ancestors started.”
Journalist Lika Zakaryan was in Stepanakert during the war and reported on it daily. “During the 45-day war,” she said, “people in Artsakh expected the world to do something to stop Azerbaijan and Turkey – to take concrete actions but not to stay silent, and stop calling on ‘both sides to de-escalate.’ They waited for the world to make the perpetrator and aggressor, Azerbaijan, stop its attacks. But it never happened.”
Zakaryan is also concerned about the agreement:
“I do not think it can provide full security for Artsakh,” she said. “No peacekeepers can provide it when in some places there are only 30 meters between Artsakh and Azerbaijan. I think the biggest risk concerning the agreement is the giving of Karvachar and Lachin districts to Azerbaijan, which turns Artsakh into an enclave.
“Azerbaijan remains a major threat to us. People here are scared of a second Armenian genocide, an even more suffocating blockade, and a new war. And until Azerbaijan is brought to account for its war crimes, these possibilities will remain.”
Turkey and Azerbaijan’s genocidal assault against Armenians are mainly propelled by two reasons:
1) The traditional Turkish/Azeri genocidal hatred against Armenians and Christianity, and
2) Turkey’s goal of pan-Turkist expansionism, which Turkey also calls the “Red Apple” doctrine.
One month before Azerbaijan and Turkey attacked Artsakh, the Director of Communications of the Turkish presidency, FahrettinAltun, shared a video of what he called the “Red Apple” anthem on his Twitter account on August 24. He wrote:
“For us, the Red Apple means great and strong Turkey. It is the sacred march of our nation that made history from Manzikert to July 15. The Red Apple is a great plane tree that provides shade for the downtrodden to refresh. The Red Apple is what the entire humanity has longed for from Gibraltar to Hedjaz and from the Balkans to Asia.”
The video presents the Turkish military and Erdogan as heirs to the medieval Turkic Seljuk dynasty, as well as to the Ottoman Empire.
“The Red Apple image, one of the most important symbols of Turkish nationalism, symbolizes a goal and purpose for Turkish states. It refers to a place to be reached, or a town to be conquered. It sometimes expresses the ideal of establishing a state, sometimes the ideal of world domination, and sometimes the ideal of Turkish unity…. Red apple is a symbol of jihad carried out especially towards Western countries during the Ottoman period.”
“As a trait of the Turkish state tradition, Red Apple represents the idea that the Turkish state should rule over other states and nations across the world. After oral literature, it [i.e., the Red Apple doctrine] was first passed to written sources through the Oğuzname [the name of several documents about the myths of the Turks]. According to a Turkish tradition, which is also mentioned in the Oghuz and Göktürk [Turkic tribes in the Central Asia] inscriptions, it is believed that the Turkish khan [ruler] is the khan of not only the Turks but of the whole world and that conquests were made in accordance with this principle.
“They [Turks] believed that God entrusted the world sovereignty to the Turks. It is seen as a very effective motif in the state tradition of the Huns, Göktürks and Seljuks [Turkic tribes from Central Asia]. According to Oğuzhan [the king of the Turkic people in Central Asia], the sky is the tent of the state and the sun is the flag. This idea included not only Turks’ thoughts of state administration, but also the very old principles of the Turkish religion.”
Turkic peoples are not natives of Asia Minor or the South Caucasus. They are originally from Central Asia and invaded the region starting in the eleventh century. Armenians, however, are an indigenous people of the land and have resided there for millennia. Throughout the centuries, however, Armenians have been assaulted by Turkic peoples several times. Among the greatest of these assaults were the 1071 Seljuk Turkic invasion of the Armenian town of Manzikert in the Greek Byzantine Empire and the 1914-23 Christian genocide by Ottoman Turkey.
According to “Red Apple” ideology, the presence of Armenians in Artsakh and Armenia is viewed as a barrier preventing a Turkic Islamic corridor among Azerbaijan, Turkey and other Turkic Muslim countries. Hence, Turkey and Azerbaijan appear to aim at erasing Armenia from the map. To this end, they commemorate the perpetrators of the Christian Genocide by Ottoman Turkey and claim the historically Armenian lands, including Yerevan. The Turkish government remains proud of its history, filled with many crimes against Armenians and other Christians, and thus continues committing further crimes against the descendants of the genocide survivors.
However, Erdogan’s regime will not stop at Artsakh, as Turkey’s imperialist agenda does not only target Armenians. Erdogan has publicly announced his regime’s neo-Ottomanist goals for years. If Turkey and Azerbaijan achieve their expansionist goals in the South Caucasus, they will continue targeting and trying to expand their influence and even territories through parts of Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, which the Ottoman Empire occupied for centuries. Turkey already occupies northern Cyprus and northeast Syria, which the international community ignores. And reports have recently surfaced that Turkey is allegedly preparing to send jihadist fighters from eastern Syria to Jammu and Kashmir to help Pakistan.
The unprovoked aggression by the Turkish-Azeri armies against Armenians once again demonstrates that the Turkish state sees the Armenian Genocide as “unfinished business.” Enver Pasha, whom Erdogan praised in Baku, was one of the leaders of the Ottoman Committee of Union and Progress, also known as the “Unionists,” who planned and perpetrated the Armenian Genocide.
Prominent sociologist OhannesKılıçdağı noted in an article he recently penned that for both the pan-Turkist ideology represented by the Unionists and the Kemalist ideology that established Turkey, wiping out Armenia remains a goal. Kılıçdağıwrote:
“For both the Unionists before Kemalism and the Unionists continuing their existence under the name of Kemalism, Armenia is a ‘road accident’ or a ‘historical accident’ that should have never happened. It was the result of an unexpected ‘last minute’ resistance of the exhausted Armenians after the genocide. I think that eliminating this road accident is still alive as a target for Turkey’s military and civilian government mechanisms.”
Given Turkey’s and Azerbaijan’s hostile statements and murderous aggression against Armenians, it is not an overstatement to say that the security of the rest of Artsakh and Armenia is at risk. A full century after the Armenian Genocide, Armenians are still exposed to a genocidal assault by Turkey and its ally, Azerbaijan. And sadly, the world is still standing idly by.
About the author: Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist and political analyst formerly based in Ankara. Her writings have appeared in The Washington Times, The American Conservative, The Christian Post, The Jerusalem Post, and Al-Ahram Weekly. Her work focuses mainly on human rights, Turkish politics and history, religious minorities in the Middle East, and antisemitism.