Washington, D.C. - The Armenian Assembly of America launched its 2021 Fall Advocacy Week on September 27, 2021 in honor of the first anniversary of the 44-day war on Artsakh. Panel discussions by specialists addressed the topics "One Year After the War in Artsakh: Atrocities" and "Cultural Desecration and Christians in Peril," which shed light on the state of Artsakh and its people one year later.
The first panel, moderated by David L. Phillips, focused on the adversity that the people of Artsakh are currently facing, including "the security and human welfare challenges." Phillips, Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University's Institute for the Study of Human Rights, who established the Artsakh Atrocities project noted that the armed drones and jihadist mercenaries provided by Turkey "shaped the battlefield" and "changed the outcome of the war."
Arman Tatoyan, the Human Rights Defender (Ombudsman) of Armenia, discussed the implementation of the November 9 ceasefire statement, the ongoing problems of the Armenian prisoners of war unlawfully held by the Aliyev regime, the roots of the conflict, and questions about the border. Tatoyan also explained how a virulent anti-Armenian attitude has become the now established norm in Azerbaijan, citing the unprosecuted examples of war crimes, from the 9-year-old girl, Victoria Gevorgyan, immediately killed on September 27 as a result of the bombing of her house in Martuni, Artsakh, to the 82-year-old man from the village of Azokh who was beheaded. "This cruel war by Azerbaijani military forces is the result of years of state-supported hatred towards Armenians in Artsakh and Armenia," said Tatoyan, who indicated that he studied over 300 videos of beheadings, killings and mutilations of soldiers and civilians by Azerbaijani forces. Tatoyan also touched upon the "illegal and artificial" proceedings in Azerbaijan of Armenian POWs who remain in captivity, despite the clear terms of the November 9 ceasefire statement and its provisions that all POWs must be returned. "Armenians returned [Azerbaijani] POWs but Azerbaijan has politicized the whole process and is using the existing POWs for bargaining purposes and to acquire control over the territories," said Tatoyan, who affirmed that such actions are in violation of not only the ceasefire, but of the third Geneva Conventions. "Their goal is to erase the Armenian ethnicity." Dr. Michael Rubin, Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, who is an analyst of developments in Iran and the South Caucasus region and a critic of Turkey's genocidal policies, elaborated that the war on Artsakh was a "test case" and has larger implications for the region. "If Turkey and Azerbaijan can get away with using jihadist mercenaries, then they are simply going to use them more," said Dr. Rubin. "It creates a plausible deniability for not only Turkey and Azerbaijan, but for a host of other countries." Dr. Rubin explained that there have been a number of attacks across the Armenian border, and that Aliyev is putting his "rhetoric into the realm of reality" by testing the Armenian border. He reminded the audience that the November 9 ceasefire statement was "not a peace agreement," and that the U.S. has been "absent, ineffective and relatively passive by treating the two sides with moral and policy equivalence." Rubin pointed out that although President Biden and his Administration "rightly acknowledged the Armenian Genocide," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, only two days later, "illegally by the letter and spirit of law" waived Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act." Looking forward, Dr. Rubin conveyed his concern that American policymakers and think tank analysts want to "gauge American policy to what Turkey was, rather than what it is today," and are following "wishful thinking rather than reality." "We're giving countries like Azerbaijan a free pass, which doesn't end well for stability in the South Caucasus, and it's time for the U.S. to wake up," Dr. Rubin concluded. The afternoon panel, "Cultural Desecration and Christians in Peril," was moderated by Reverend Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, Executive Director of Churches for Middle East Peace and featured Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Ecumenical Director and Diocesan Legate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) and Board Member of Churches for Middle East Peace, and Andrew Crane, Advocacy Associate at International Christian Concern (ICC). Crane spoke about the ICC's focus on the three A's: awareness, assistance and advocacy, which are all used to "respond to these problems in Artsakh." "To increase awareness, ICC went to work covering the war itself to highlight the broader narratives, including the erasing of Christianity and war crimes perpetrated by Azerbaijan and Turkey," said Crane. Following the war, ICC released three reports and hired two staff members to work full-time there on the ground to assess the humanitarian needs. The ICC has also joined the Armenian community’s advocacy efforts in Washington, D.C. "ICC will continue to work with the Armenian Assembly of America to push back Azerbaijan and Turkey's erasure of Artsakh's rich culture and its destruction of churches," he said. Crane focused on the importance of education, studying the history, and staying up to date on the news because "Turkey and Azerbaijan don't want you to see this pattern of cultural genocide that they're doing." He emphasized that both countries are putting forth a "perpetual narrative that this is a territorial dispute, but this falls into a pattern of Turkish and Azerbaijani actions against the Armenian people and Armenian Christianity to erase the Christian identity of Artsakh and Armenia." During his remarks, Archbishop Aykazian stressed the importance of being "aggressive in advocacy," and highlighted Azerbaijan and Turkey's purpose to "erase everything that is Christian in that part of the world. By destroying the church, they destroy the spirit of every Christian in the world." He noted that the destruction of Armenian churches is occurring secretly and there are "very few churches left." Before 1915, there were 2,890 Armenian churches and monasteries in present-day Turkey, on occupied Western Armenian lands. Speaking of Artsakh, Archbishop Aykazian concluded that "there is a fear that the churches will be destroyed if Western governments do not interfere." The Assembly's Advocacy Week panels continue tomorrow, Tuesday, September 28 with "Working to Make Artsakh Safe & Green" from 11:00 am to 12:00 Noon EDT and "Fuel Advocacy" from 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm EDT.
Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.