In the shadow of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine by Russia, another European democracy (technically Western Asia) has been invaded by its authoritarian neighbor. I am of course talking about Armenia, which has recently seen its borders violated by Azerbaijan.
While many in the media have taken a cowardly “both sides” tract, the fact of the matter is that Azerbaijan launched attacks, mostly via Turkish TB2 drones, unprovoked against Armenia. Turkey backs Azerbaijan in the conflict, while Armenia is mostly on its own. While many in the media have harped on the tacit support of Armenia by Russia, this leaves out a lot of context.
Armenia does have a security agreement with Russia, however, this does not mean that Russia has actually supported the small Caucasian state, and it certainly does not mean that Armenia supports Russia or its belligerent invasion of Ukraine, as a number of intellectually lazy journalists have suggested. It is true that they have abstained from United Nations votes recently, including one to remove them from the UN Human Rights Council.
The fact is that the former Soviet state had essentially no where to go after the disintegration of the Union. It is also constantly under threat of attack, and ethnic cleansing from its neighbors, namely Azerbaijan and Turkey. It has come under fire from places like Human Rights Watch which brings up allegations of Armenians also attempting cleansings against Azeris as well.
Turkey has already committed genocide against the Armenians, though it continues to deny this fact. The Azerbaijani government, for its part constantly threatens to do the same routinely.
Ilham Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan, who is an autocrat and has been in his position for nearly 20 years following his father’s death, recently met with Vladimir Putin in Samarkand. The two dictators discussed relations between their two countries. This meeting clearly demonstrates the close relationship between these dictatorships.
Aliyev has also been consistent in his calls to cleanse Armenians from their homeland, both Artsakh, where Armenians are the majority population, and in Armenia proper. He has referred to Armenians as “dogs” and used other dehumanizing language in the past. Most obviously he has overseen the shelling of civilian populations, both in the past and presently.
In spite of the security agreement between Armenia and Russia, Putin has routinely sat idly by as violence was meted out against Arminian soldiers and civilians. This obviously includes the most recent indiscriminate bombing campaign, but one can also look back to the six-week war in 2020 to see more evidence of war crimes committed by both sides of the conflict.
Azerbaijan’s military bombed key infrastructure, including schools, located far from military instillations. They also tortured Armenian POWs. There were also beheadings and extrajudicial killings, not just of military personnel, which is a war crime in itself, but also of civilians including an elderly man.
Azerbaijan has even opened a theme park based on the 2020 war. The Spoils Of War Park opened in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, in early 2021. It features seized equipment, alongside grotesque, racist caricatures of Armenians.
The world cannot sit by and allow such violence and imperialism persist. Just as many have stood up against the invasion of Ukraine, they should also decry violation of territorial integrity by Azerbaijan, more importantly they should help to arm the Armenia military to prevent against future invasion and ethnic cleansings.
Armenian values, generally speaking, line up much more closely with fellow democratic countries around the world than the Azerbaijani government. Looking at Freedom House rankings, Armenia is one of only two states in the region, the other being Georgia, that score over 50. Azerbaijan scored just 9, lower than its northern neighbor Russia, with 19, and its southern neighbor Iran, with 14.
This would also help support democracy. Similarly to Ukraine, if the international community really does value democracy, then it must step up and put its money where its mouth is. Without actions and solidarity between these countries, authoritarians will fill the vacuum.
More than all of this is the simple fact that people, nations, and international organizations should defend self determination and territorial integrity to the hilt. It should be nonnegotiable, simply invading other countries because a nation feels like it (looking at you America), or has some vague claim based on blurry history no longer relevant (looking at you China) must be taken completely off the table.
Taiwan should have special understanding regarding Armenia’s plight. Having a much larger, better armed neighbor constantly threatening to invade you, and even indiscriminately shelling you, based on archaic drivel about ancient territorial claims.
Taiwan has done a pretty solid job of standing behind Ukraine. They have raised a lot of money and the two have recently been growing closer diplomatically.
Taiwan should likewise push for closer relations with Armenia. This could be another potential democratic ally, which Taiwan desperately needs. Of course all democratic countries need to do a much better job of coming together and drawing red lines against imperialism, whether it comes from within their ranks or from the outside.
It does seem that some around the world are starting to pay attention. Perhaps the most notable instance of this was a recent visit by Nancy Pelosi. She talked about Azerbaijani “illegal” attacks on Armenia. She also visited the genocide museum, where she wept.
While it is good to hear the strong language used by Pelosi, it goes no where near far enough. Armenia, like Ukraine, needs weapons not watery eyes. The international community needs to take a firm stand against authoritarianism, and this requires actions, not empty rhetoric.
Thankfully there is also an ongoing ceasefire, however, there have been many of these throughout the long history between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and nearly all of them have been broken. Armenia has, in fact, already reported multiple violations of the current ceasefire by Azerbaijan.
Real actions is needed and eventually someone will step up, the question is, will democratic nations take initiative, or will they leave Armenia in the wind for despots to pick clean?