A Call to Defend Our History, Our Identity, the Truth

Posted on March. 2. 2022

BY STEPAN PILIGIAN | The Armenian Weekly

In the vast diversity of the Armenian nation, there are a few threads that bind our existence. They connect us like a web of cultural sustaining oxygen that breathes life into our civilization. It is our history and our very identity. With it, we have a prominent place in this world. Without it, we will fade into the woodwork of those forgotten by time. We practice our history and culture every day by remembering, educating, speaking, dancing and just about everything we do as Armenians. For most, our God given right to live through our identity is respected and even encouraged by our neighbors on this earth. There are those who, however, seek to distort, destroy and revise the truth. During those moments, we must be diligent and respond. A vibrant yet small nation cannot afford to become victimized by those who can use political leverage and bribery to lie and disrupt our place. We are currently experiencing one of those moments in history. The current version of the Turkic alliance is determined to not only continue a policy to eliminate the presence of Armenians on their historic land but to employ other practices to kidnap the truth.

The Turkic alliance has maintained a destructive relationship with the Armenians for generations. We are all too familiar with the institutional discrimination of the Ottoman Empire that resisted reform and degenerated into genocide. The modern Turkish Republic, as the successor nation, has maintained a similar policy of revisionist history, occupation of territory, dispossession of an entire ethnic group and a policy of discrimination today. There has been no justice and closure as a result of the crimes committed against the Armenian people. Today, the Azerbaijani play the role of headline oppressor backed by their cousins to the west. Prior to 1918, these people were known to history as Tartars and have been a thorn in the side of civility for decades. There was constant unrest in the years prior to the Genocide and during the First Republic. They “borrowed” a name from a district of Iran and laid claim to much of the Armenian territory in the east. The period of 1918-22 was a constant battle of Azeri aggression in Nakhichevan, Syunik (Zangezeur) and Artsakh (Karabakh). Syunik was saved thanks to Armenian patriots such as Karekin Njdeh, but Artsakh and Nakhichevan were stolen by Stalin and “awarded” autonomous status to Azerbaijan, thus planting the seeds of today’s atrocities.

The modern Azeris, under despots such as Ilham Aliyev, have updated their tactics from earlier decades. Petro dollars can buy a number of friends in the right places and fuel an attack on the truth. What Azerbaijan cannot destroy outright (Nakhichevan) or through current occupation (seven territories, Hadrut and Shushi), they will resort to investing in cultural genocide. The strategy is simple. In places where they have administrative control such as Nakhichevan, they physically destroy the presence of the Armenian civilization including churches, cemeteries, monuments and monasteries. The evidence is clear as the crime was filmed in progress. What was done to the criminals? Absolutely nothing! The same process is being attempted in occupied sections of Artsakh. If they are able to destroy the centuries-old presence of the Armenian civilization, then they are enabled to revise history. With the Russian troops guarding the border areas primarily, there is ample opportunity for the criminals to conduct their vile destruction. There have been constant reports of the Azeris preventing third party groups into the occupied areas to conduct observations. The OSCE Minsk Group has been stymied in its attempts to re-engage Azerbaijan in the peace process. The Azeri response has been that the Karabakh issue has been resolved despite the fact that every participating nation and body from the European Union, Minsk co-chairs, and other European nations have stated otherwise. UN organizations, such as UNESCO, charged with the responsibility of protecting cultural heritage monuments, have had no impact. That’s either because they have been refused entry or have been weak in their efforts; the presence of international bodies to prevent an obvious cultural genocide in Artsakh has been absent. It is absurdly ironic that Aliyev’s wife, Mehriban Aliyeva, who is the vice president of Azerbaijan (democracy at work), is also a goodwill ambassador of UNESCO. What a stain on the credibility of UNESCO that they appoint a goodwill ambassador from the government of a country that has promoted racist policies, overt destruction of cultural monuments and mocked international law! We have seen politics at work, but it also demonstrates the serious impact of financial strength when the truth is not in your portfolio. What do you think the chances are of UNESCO making serious efforts to prevent the destruction of culture in occupied Artsakh? If we are able to avert this disaster, it probably will not be due to the efforts of the UN branch charged with this responsibility. 

Dadivank (Photo courtesy of author and Weekly contributor Chris Bohjalian)

The ever-threatening racist Azerbaijani regime has employed a new approach with increasing intensity. There are certain areas that these Turks do not have direct access to destroying. These include territories under the direct control of the Republics of Armenia and Artsakh. There are other domains under Azeri occupation but in high visibility locations or under Russian peacekeepers. The Dadivank monastery lies near the current border of the Artsakh Republic in Azeri occupied territory. This situation is a result of the 44-day war. Several Armenian priests remain onsite ministering to the needs of the monastery. The Russians have publicly stated they will ensure that the functioning of the monastery continues and pilgrims can gain access. The Azeris have done all they can to deter the flow of pilgrims, virtually isolating the ancient place of worship. In parallel, the Azeris have conducted a campaign that Dadivank, Ghazanchetsots in Shushi and hundreds of other churches are not of Armenian origin but rather Caucasian Albanian. Like most conquering despots, the Azeris claim lineage to the Caucasian Albanians and promote themselves as some sort of warped cultural purifiers. Several scholars have challenged this absurd claim, but suffice it to say that we should be taking this as a serious threat to our very identity. Through genocide denial, we have seen how money can buy the truth and create distance to justice. The Azeris’ artificial nation will use their resources to justify their existence through violence. Have we forgotten the purging of 350,000 Armenians from Baku and other areas of Azerbaijan? Not to mention warfare, destruction (Nakhichevan) and grotesque revisionism….

Azerbaijan is a corrupt dictatorship that has bought its place and openly commits cultural genocide on the indigenous Armenians of Artsakh and Armenia. They have a long-term plan to conquer all of Armenia, destroy any vestiges of our civilization and rewrite history that the Armenians are revisionists. They will claim that removing the Armenian inscription on our consecrated churches is an act of cleansing them to their non-Armenian origin. They will go beyond their Turkish cousins to the west who hide the Armenian origin of Ani but will use it as tourist revenue. The Azeris will claim lineage to the Caucasian Albanians and use that to create a fictitious narrative for the expressed purpose of territorial and cultural destruction. It is at the core of their racist behavior.

Why do we exist if not to practice and extend our culture?

This matter should shake the motivational core of every Armenian. Why do we exist if not to practice and extend our culture? Each of us has a responsibility and ability to contribute to preventing this crime. Scholars have and must continue to research and publish the truth. There must be more academic symposiums and public panels on this subject with the non-Armenian scholarly community to completely discredit their work. There was a time when genocide denial volumes were published and given visibility. Those days are thankfully nearly over. It was our collective efforts that defeated denialism. We must remain vigilant, but the truth did prevail. This must be viewed in a similar light. Community groups like NAASR have sponsored programming and should expand their efforts. Prominent Armenians with influence should publish op-eds in every major newspaper in America and Europe. Each of us can write on social media, blogs and newspapers to expose this criminal behavior. Our advocacy groups will continue to take on the challenge of political pressure and legislative action to thwart the Azeri attempts. The republics will continue lobbying efforts in the European courts and legislative bodies to keep this matter visible. The operative word here is “sustainable.” This should not be a short-term effort. We must prepare for a marathon of sorts that becomes an integral part of our journey for justice. We must internalize that a casual approach by our people will not match the efforts of a  

nation that seeks to destroy a civilization. We have turned the tide on genocide denial with genocide recognition. We are capable of the same here with each of us contributing based on our capability. When you walk into an Armenian church free to pray in the beauty of our iconic architecture, think about your brethren who are denied that right in Shushi or Dadivank. Consider the implications of someone succeeding in stripping these churches of their Armenian core. This is a crime and should rally each of us for a call to defend our churches, our history and our very identity. I would ask that you read to become fully informed and become inspired to advocate. Excellent reports have been issued by the human rights defender office (ombudsman) of the Artsakh Republic and through our advocacy groups such as the ANCA and Assembly.

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