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As the people of Artsakh face grave threats, we must act now

<h5>The entrance to Frist Campus Center.</h5>
<h6>Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
The entrance to Frist Campus Center.
Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian

Since Sept. 27, the civil population of Artsakh, also referred to as Nagorno-Karabakh, has been under malicious attack from Azerbaijan. Bolstered by the President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s military assistance that includes ​4,000 hired mercenaries​ from Syria on the ground, a ​F-16 warplane​, and ​150 senior military officials​ in their command centers, Azerbaijan has started a full-on military offensive throughout its line of contact with Artsakh and Armenia.

Concurrent with its ongoing military operations, Azerbaijan has been using targeted artillery and missile strikes to ​terrorize the civilian population​. Though a ceasefire was declared on Oct. 9, Azerbaijan has since ​continued striking Stepanakert​, the capital of Artsakh. The people of Artsakh are thus facing the existential threat of ethnic cleansing, strongly echoing the Armenian Genocide committed by Turkey from 1915 to 1923.

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As a member of the Princeton Armenian Society, I am all too familiar with the dangers of such aggression. Given our collective history and ethnic identity, we learned how the Great War of the previous century was used as a pretext for the Armenian Genocide within the Ottoman Empire. We are also aware of the fact that, despite alarming reports of massacre and deportation en masse, the major powers of the world did not intervene and allowed the Armenian people to succumb to this fate.

Now, civilians in Artsakh are threatened with the same fate that their ancestors faced just over a century ago. Knowing the steep cost of silence in these times, we believe it to be our responsibility to spread awareness about this conflict, and we urge others to raise their voices as well.

The seeds of this conflict were planted in the early 1920s, when the Soviet state, in its internal land distribution, decided to give the ethnically Armenian-majority Artsakh to the oil-rich ethnically Turkish Azerbaijan. This was potentially done to please the newly formed Turkish state. At that time, the Soviets still had high hopes for global communism, and they were hoping that Turkey would join their ranks.

The people of Artsakh were never content with this decision, and in 1987 presented an official request to the Soviet government, demanding to leave the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) and join the Armenian SSR. This led to pogroms in Sumgait and Baku, where Azerbaijani mobs targeted ethnic Armenian minorities. When the USSR started falling apart, just like in the other Soviet Republics, the people of Artsakh exercised their right to self-determination and, through an official referendum, voted to become an independent state.

The newly formed Azeri state declined to recognize the results of the referendum and started the 1991–1994 war between Artsakh and Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan was defeated, and with the help of Armenia, brokered a ceasefire with Artsakh, placing the conflict in a geopolitical freeze, which has lasted until now.

Currently, the conflict is interpreted by the international community as one solely between Armenia and Azerbaijan, referring to Artsakh merely as a disputed territory. This territory, however, is populated by people. This territory has daughters, sons, mothers, grandfathers, and whole family lineages tracing back centuries, and even millennia, who have not called any place home other than Artsakh.

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And when Azerbaijan dares to commit war crimes against these people — whom, as an extension of Azerbaijani territorial claims, Azerbaijan considers its very own people — humanity should stand with the peaceful people of Artsakh.

At this moment, Armenia represents humanity. As you read, our friends and family are dying on the frontlines, protecting peace and democracy. The calls for all sides to put down their weapons issued by the international community are equivalent to silence in the face of a humanitarian crisis and imply false equivalence. If Azerbaijan and Turkey put down their weapons, there will be peace. If Armenia and Artsakh put down their weapons, hundreds of thousands will die. That is the difference.

In times such as these, we must learn and amend mistakes of the past. We cannot allow ourselves to view unwarranted aggression in silence, aggression that may very well lead to renewed episodes of ethnic cleansing and genocide. As such, we encourage everyone in the Princeton community to act in whatever capacity they can. The actions that can be taken are plentiful, from a simple social media post to raise awareness to donations to the Hayastan All Armenia Fund, which provides humanitarian assistance to the regions which this war has devastated.

Currently, the issue of recognizing the right of Artsakh’s self-determination is being raised in several state legislatures as well as on national platforms. In accordance with our values at Princeton, we encourage our peers to raise their voice of support for these efforts and to encourage their respective representatives to deliver justice for the people of Artsakh.

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This article was written by Arthur Sirkejyan on behalf of the Princeton Armenian Society. He can be reached at arthurks@princeton.edu.

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