September 26, 2022

MKRTCHYAN | Sometimes It’s Not “Both Sides”

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Content warning: This article contains graphic descriptions of torture and of war crimes. 

“Azerbaijan launches a full-scale attack on Armenia.” This was what I woke up to on Sept.13. More than 200 Armenian soldiers martyred, nearly 300 soldiers wounded, 20 prisoners of war, three civilians killed, six civilians wounded and more than 7,600 people displaced from their homes. Death from war is so common, in fact, that in Armenia, we don’t even say soldiers are “killed,” but rather, that they’re “martyred.” When I say that my home is being invaded and there is a war, people look at me blankly, trying to empathize with me. The concept of a war is like the concept of infinity; people’s minds are not designed to understand it. So I decided to write this column to give an idea of what it feels like to exist when there is a war raging back home.

The first thing I worry about in this situation are my loved ones. If your country is at war and you are not “involved” in it, it means you are sufficiently privileged. Armenians, peaceful civilians living their lives back home, don’t have any other choice but to flee their homes, to flee certain death, so that the war crimes of Azerbaijan don’t kill them too. So that the number of already wounded or killed civilians doesn’t include them. So that when Azeri soldiers decide to target their homes or hospitals, they don’t find themselves among the wreckage. Speaking of war crimes, there are ones I see happening more often: molesting people, raping women and beheading people — especially the elderly. Azerbaijan has even posted videos of beheaded and tortured Armenians online — videos that haven’t been taken down.

A video of an Armenian servicewoman was published by Azeri soldiers online, where she was raped, all her clothes were ripped off, her legs and fingers were cut off, her eyes were guaged and replaced with stones, and one of her cut fingers was put in her month. The Azeri soldiers were cheering while making the video. The news was reported by The Chief of General Staff of Armenia, Edward Asryan, and the video is still up on the internet. That was the peak of my trauma as I looked at my hand and tried to imagine the unimaginable pain she must have gone through. I urge you to imagine their audacity to post the video. Worse yet, I urge you to imagine sitting in Olin Library, and that is what floods your social media feed as you take an “internet break” from studying for your upcoming prelim. The most helpless and unbearable feeling for me is the ignorance of the people around me. My homeland crumbles and none of my peers even know because what’s happening in Armenia isn’t  “trending.”

The world is silent even when the governments of Turkey and Azerbaijan publicly announce their plans of genociding Armenians and forming a new country in its place. For instance, the former mayor of Azerbaijan’s capital in 2005 stated: “Our goal is the complete elimination of Armenians. Nazis … already eliminated the Jews in the 1930s and 40s, right? [Germany] should be able to understand us.” On the same note, Safar Abiyev, Azerbaijan’s Defense Minister, said: “Within the next 25 years, there will be no state of Armenia in the South Caucasus. These people … have no right to live in this region.” After all these announcements, the world continues to “encourage peace on both sides,” taking Azeri oil money in exchange for arms. The world is not trying to help, nor is it trying to appear fair anymore — it is just being hypocritical. For those in doubt about the legitimacy of my claims, the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention has released a Red Flag Alert to Azerbaijan, referring to their actions as “a genocide through a thousand strikes … with the full support of Turkey.” Even research funded by Cornell University and Purdue University through the Caucasus Heritage Watch found that Azerbaijan is also committing cultural genocide by destroying the cultural heritage that is left on the Armenian lands.

But are Armenians even safe in other countries? In the 2004 NATO Partnership for Peace program, Azer soldier Ramil Safarov axed to death sleeping Armenian soldier Gurgen Margaryan. During his trial in Hungary, Safarov claimed that he killed Margaryan because he hates Armenians. Hungary sentenced Safarov to life imprisonment; however, when handed to Azerbaijan to continue his sentence, Safarov was welcomed as a hero by the current president, even earning the country’s “Person of the Year” award. “Making a hero out of a criminal” on a government level could encourage people living in Azerbaijan to hunt for Armenians and implies that everyone who would kill an Armenian would be made a hero back in Azerbaijan. How can we guarantee that nobody will be murdered just because of their nationality? I can’t help but to worry about my personal safety when my university has not made any public statement on the invasion and genocide that is going on? It took Cornell no time at all to denounce Russian aggression against Ukraine, yet my country has been under attack for decades and not a word has been said aloud.

On further Azeri aggression, Azerbaijani people have created a Telegram sticker pack that contains stickers out of recent photos of tortured, beheaded and killed Armenian people. These stickers have been downloaded more than 20,000 times. People using these cherish and cheer on the fact that Armenians die, while I only want a safe and free home. 

Armenia right now is being invaded by Azerbaijan that is continuously funded by the U.S., the U.N., by Israel, by Turkey. Armenians are facing a genocide that is not being talked about enough. In the midst of being killed, Armenians feel the need to prove to the rest of the world that they are being killed. Please help Armenians to live, help Armenia to survive this genocide. Share the news, donate and sympathize with your Armenian friends.

Lili Mkrtchyan is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]cornell.edu. Tea With Lily runs every other Monday this semester.