From bloody February to bloody Septembers or why as victims we can still be agressors
This month marks the third consecutive September (2020, 2022, and now 2023) stained with bloodshed in the tragic history shared by Armenians and Azerbaijanis. On September 19, 2023, Azerbaijan initiated an assault on Karabakh/Artsakh under the guise of an “anti-terror operation,” ruthlessly prioritizing its interests over the lives of the people in the region. The purpose of the operation was to force the authorities of Artskah/Karabakh to sit at the negotiation table and agree on the terms of capitulation. Negotiations did not give any expected results, and despite of agreement of ceasefire and disarmament, the shootings and aggression continue.
These days in the midst of desperately waiting for evacuations to Armenia from the Stepanakert/ Khojaly airport, Azerbaijanis celebrated a hollow victory, callously rejoicing in the suffering of Armenians and dubbing it the historical justice for the Khojaly massacre. In this moment of complete apathy and hatred, it is important to remind ourselves that once becoming a victim does not immune us from being an aggressor. We are trapped in the false victim/aggressor dichotomy, that transitioned the cycle of bloody February (notably the Khojaly massacre) into equally grim Septembers. The persisting feelings of injustice, trauma, and victimhood do not absolve Azerbaijan of turning into an aggressor. The ethnic cleansing, forced displacement, anguish and pain the Armenians experience now is as unjust and unfair as the pain, anguish, forced displacement and ethnic cleansing of Azerbaijanis 30 years ago. Thus, there are no “winning” or “losing” nations when we have both suffered immense loss, and this violence continues to exact a toll on all of us.
Azerbaijan’s persistent efforts to justify its aggression against Nagorno-Karabakh by claiming to restore constitutional order are an alarming attempt to legitimize state terror. The international community must recognize that labelling this as an anti-terror operation is nothing but a thinly veiled act of state terror against the vulnerable and weaker political communities—a tactic historically employed by imperial states like the USA, Russia, and Turkey. While the first used this tactic to justify its actions for intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, the latter applied it against Chechnya and most recently in Ukraine, just as it is used against Kurds in Turkey, to distort reality and enable the mobilization of grievances to fabricate a mythology of a “just war.”
We also call out the inadequacies of the international law and order that inadvertently legitimizes states engaging in wars, exposing the tragic consequences of nationalism that have led us to this point, dominating our understanding of our past, present, and potentially our future. This disturbing logic extends to how the international legal order determines the status of human lives. Categorizing individuals into “military targets” and “civilians” is fraught with ambiguity, allowing Azerbaijan to manipulate this distinction for its own interests, demonstrating a blatant disregard for the sanctity of human life. For example, the Azerbaijani state announced a safe passage for civilians but left out a significant group of the population (such as relatives of de-facto authorities, whoever bears arms) filtering them as non-civilians, whatever this can imply.
Trapped in this vicious cycle of war, it becomes imperative to reiterate why we must vehemently oppose war in general, especially these protracted attacks. A century of attempting to assert dominance through violence has only perpetuated suffering, offering no hope for a positive future. We cannot ignore the fact that state force and violence have always brought us nothing but misery, pain, and uncertainty. Those who believe in this war and the propagation of fascist narratives by Azerbaijan as a path to peace fail to grasp that it only ensnares us further in a never-ending cycle of hostility. Or those who believe that the war is over, and peace is achieved through this total victory fail to understand that state violence is permanent, that anti-terror operations will keep targeting any politically active insurgencies, and that peace will be a time for preparation for upcoming wars.
The tragedy lies in the relentless pursuit of nation and state-building at the expense of peace and prosperity. Nationalist discourse and aggressive state-building have led us to this grim reality, where the misery of nationalism inhibits our ability to freely determine our lives and choices, as individuals and as communities who do not freely dispose of the land and water (privatisation and nationalisation), our time (schools, prisons, wage labour, “free time”), our bodies (wage labour, war, restriction on access to knowledge, medicine). So how could we ever called upon to love and defend “our” nation, when nothing is really ours to love and defend? So the question is what are we dying for – the lands where we never will have emancipated life, the lands that we will visit without our dear family members who we lost in the war, the lands we have hardly any right to visit freely, the lands where we will be still oppressed beaten and humiliated, where our different views and opinions will be shut up in the name of saving nation? The nation that is built only on hating and othering other nation.
We vehemently oppose being ensnared by this indoctrination and reject the enslavement of people in the name of the nation, built upon hate and othering. We call on Azerbaijan to halt its terror against the Armenian population in Karabakh. Our plea extends to the people of Azerbaijan, urging them to recognize their own rationality and empathy, not allow their grievances to be instrumentalized for the regime’s nationalist desires, and not allow their bodies to be exploited for the capitalist greed of their state and ruling elite.
Meanwhile, as a part of the Azerbaijani society and Azerbaijani citizens, we question and expect others, especially the ones who claim to be politically active to think about the following questions. We believe as people we must demand the plans and terms the government prepares according to its interests under the label of our future co-existence.
1) How does the government plan to integrate, rather than assimilate, Karabakh/Artsax Armenians?
2) What measures will be implemented to ensure the security of Karabakh/Artsax Armenians?
3) Will the Russian army continue its presence, and after all can anyone trust them as reliable guarantors of security?
4) Is there a plan to move past perpetual enmity with Armenia and Armenians? Is there a willingness to engage in discourse aimed at changing the narrative of enmity?
5) Is the Zangazur corridor still being considered as part of an expansionist nationalist agenda?
6) Are amnesties being contemplated, and how will people reconcile and forgive each other?
7) Will there be opportunities for communities, people, activists, and organizations to freely and openly interact without constraints?
8) Will individuals advocating for peace and actively working towards it continue to be labelled as enemies and traitors to the nation, prosecuted and jailed?
9) Will this war be over?