International Policy Digest

Ministry of Defence of Armenia
World News /16 Oct 2020
10.16.20

Truth, Lies and Artsakh

What does “Artsakh” mean to you? Perhaps the name for a trendy hipster bar in Portland – or some fictitious eastern European country?

Sometimes truth and lies cross paths, and no more so than in the case of the Republic of Artsakh. If you thought post-Soviet state – you’d be right. But it’s one that doesn’t exist. No-one recognizes this “republic” – the Armenian name for the place really called Nagorno-Karabakh – and it is where, earlier this week, a ceasefire lasted a whole hour before the fighting was restarted by the Armenian-backed separatists who control it, against Azerbaijan who legally owns it.

America should care about this, for far beyond the battlefield an international media war is underway to re-brand dangerous Russian and Iranian-backed separatists as freedom fighters – and in the same breath condemn as aggressor the nation which by international law and every other country in the world rightly claims ownership. It is an attempt to drag the United States into the fight on false pretenses. And it would be all too easy to believe the tale being woven, leading America into making vital – and disastrous – foreign policy decisions.

The real facts are simple. Some thirty years ago, during the fall of the Soviet Empire, Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a brutal war within Azerbaijan over the majority ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, leading to its control by separatists and separation – along with swathes of additional Azerbaijani territory with majority Azerbaijanis – from that country until the present-day.

Majority ethnic Armenian it was, and it remains. But in the 1990s there was a large Azerbaijani and Muslim minority – one million who were forcibly evicted from these lands and their homes and who now live as internally displaced persons within their own country of Azerbaijan. Then, Christians and Muslims lived therewith their churches and mosques – both with a joint claim to one and half millennia of history and culture. But no longer. Today the mosques are destroyed, their remains used as pens for grazing cattle. Now we are told this place which Armenia renamed “Artsakh” is Christian, and Armenian, only – and always was. And we are told it is under attack from Muslim invaders.

This is not – as Kim Kardashian, self-appointed geopolitical strategist and celebrity supporter of the “Republic of Artsakh” has claimed – a reason why America should do more to assist Armenia. It is a reason why we should be careful to base U.S. foreign policy on fact and not a carefully crafted Hollywood fiction.

For behind the separatists stands Armenia – a country with a military pact with Russia so intense they are host to a military base with thousands of Russian paratroopers and a dedicated Russian border guard corps.

Armenia is similarly backed, funded, and armed by Iranian Mullahs. They are opposed to Azerbaijan because one-third of Iran itself is ethnic Azeri – and it was that minority within Iran who first took to the streets to bring governance reforms during the Middle Eastern spring.

Armenia in its turn is so symbiotically connected to the separatists it is impossible to disconnect one from the other. During the recent two weeks of war, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan even traveled to the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh to review the separatists’ troops, with American and British TV anchors in tow for the media exclusive.

What Pashinyan really did was step into someone else’s country to encourage a militant Iranian-backed, ethnic-cleansing army to keep on fighting for lands they control but do not own. When that army fired missiles at Azerbaijan’s second city Ganja last week killing civilians it was not, in fact, any form of defensive action – but rather an attack launched from illegally occupied Azerbaijan into non-occupied Azerbaijan. Who is the aggressor and who is the defender now?

This doesn’t mean we should be arming, or backing, Azerbaijan. But it does mean that we should be avoiding completely falling into the media confidence trick that is being played across our TV screens – where Russian and Iranian backed Armenia and its separatist proxies are being sweetened with a sprinkling of Hollywood stardust in an attempt to drag America into someone else’s war.

Artsakh is a land of make-believe. So is the story behind it. If there’s anything the United States can do it is to wade into the conflict carefully.