Vol. 5, No. 7 (April 01, 2012)

Azerbaijanis go over to the offensive about genocide

Paul Goble
Publications Advisor
Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy

Since recovering their independence in 1991, Azerbaijanis have often felt themselves to be on the defensive; not just because Armenian forces have occupied 20 percent of their country’s territory, but also because Yerevan has engaged in an international campaign to elicit sympathy for Armenia vis-à-vis Azerbaijan by seeking international recognition of what some call the Armenian genocide in 1915. 

Azerbaijan has won increasing international support for its view that international law requires that Armenia withdraw from the occupied territories, but Baku until very recently has remained on the defensive on what might be called “the genocide front.”  Azerbaijanis have consistently supported Turkey’s position that what happened in Anatolia in 1915 was not a genocide as Armenians suggest—even when such support has deprived Baku of support in some countries.  But only recently has Azerbaijan gone over to the offensive on the genocide issue, pointing out that Armenian forces committed genocide against Azerbaijanis both at the beginning and the end of the 20th century.
Azerbaijan’s efforts in this regard have had two important consequences.  On the one hand, they have made it far more difficult for Armenia to present itself as a uniquely victimized nation, thus depriving Armenia of the moral high ground it has sought.  And on the other, these efforts have attracted expanded attention to the ways in which Azerbaijan itself, typically presented by the Armenians as an aggressor state, in fact has been a victim, too, of this most horrible crime against humanity.

Azerbaijan in the World has chronicled Baku’s successful efforts to attract attention to the genocide committed by Armenian forces in Khojaly in 1992, but the full dimension of Azerbaijan’s efforts in regard to the genocide against its people were outlined most fully on March 31, the date Azerbaijanis since 1998 have marked as the Day of the Genocide of the Azerbaijanis, an event that one Baku commentator pointedly suggested this year was to remind everyone that the Armenians “who present themselves as the victim of genocide are in fact those who have committed genocide against the Azerbaijanis.” [1] 
Azerbaijani historians see the roots of the Armenian genocide against Azerbaijanis in the 1813 and 1828 treaties between Russia and Persia that led to the beginning of the division of the historic lands of settlement of the Azerbaijanis, a division that was reinforced by acts of genocide against them.  Under the protection of the tsarist authorities, the Armenians advanced claims on and actively worked to expel Azerbaijanis from the region that they declared to be the Armenian oblast, part of what Armenian writers proclaimed as Greater Armenia.

During the 1905 Russian revolution, Armenian activists engaged in acts of genocide against the Azerbaijanis not only in the Armenian oblast, but throughout Azerbaijan, destroying hundreds of villages and killing and wounding thousands of people, Azerbaijani historians say.  Tragically, in the years following the 1917 Russian revolution, Armenians worked closely with the Bolsheviks to “cleanse” even Baku gubernia of Azerbaijanis.  At that time, a Baku commentator says, “thousands of peaceful Azerbaijanis were destroyed only because of their nationality.  Armenians burned houses, burned people alive, destroyed the pearls of national architecture, schools, hospitals, mosques and monuments, leaving the greater part of Baku in ruin.” [2] 

During the period of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, its officials devoted attention to these events, and on March 31 in 1919 and 1920, Azerbaijanis marked this tragedy as a day of national sorrow, the first effort the Baku commentator says to give “a political assessment of the genocide of Azerbaijanis and the continuing occupation” of Azerbaijan.  However, with the fall of the ADR and the beginning of Soviet occupation, both attention to the 1918 events and this commemoration was blocked by the communist authorities.  Indeed, Soviet officials even assisted in further Armenian acts of genocide against the Azerbaijanis by backing Armenian claims to historic Azerbaijani territory and even calling, in December 1947, for the resettlement of Azerbaijanis out of Armenia to make way for ethnic Armenians returning from abroad.
The situation deteriorated still further when Armenians invaded and occupied Azerbaijani territories at the end of the Soviet period, and in one of the most cruel acts of genocide, Armenian forces in February 1992 destroyed the population of Khojaly and wiped that city off the face of the earth.  Since that time, Azerbaijani historians and commentators have published research on these crimes, but that task is still far from complete, with many people around the world still convinced that in the South Caucasus, only the Armenians have been the victims of a genocide.

Today, Azerbaijan as the successor to the ADR “considers giving a political assessment of the events of genocide its responsibility.”  And in a message to world leaders, the country’s ombudsman argues that the international community which “has set as its goal the struggle with international terrorism must finally give an objective political assessment of the continuing today use of force against Azerbaijanis.” [3] 


[1] See http://news.day.az/politics/323946.html (accessed 30 March 2012).

[2] See ibid.

[3] See http://news.day.az/politics/323718.html (accessed 30 March 2012).