Writers: Elina Tin, Anna Audare, Mariia Lysikova
Editors: Gabrielė Malūkaitė, Dr. Michael Patrick, Marina Harutyunyan
Photographers: Vera Dubouskaya, Mykola Muzhytskyi, Anastasia Kuten
It has been twenty-three days since military and political violence escalated on the border between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan. The military conflict in the Artsakh Republic, also known as the Nagorno-Karabakh region, is shrouded in years of controversy, conflict, and misunderstanding about who is to blame.
The polarization of the people groups who live here makes it challenging for a regular on-looker to navigate social media posts, international news, or their absence.
By looking at the information provided by the governments involved in the conflict, international organizations, and LCC International University students who witness the conflict first-hand, IUC paints a bigger, more detailed picture.
According to The European Armenian Federation for Justice and Democracy, prior to the establishment of the USSR power over both of the countries, the mountainous and nationally dispersed region of Nagorno-Karabakh was predominantly Armenian, with more than 95% of the populations identifying themselves as Armenian.
The official source for the Armenian President claims that the conflict initially began in 1918 when the three ethnic republics of Transcaucasia (Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia) were formed. At the time, the Nagorno-Karabakh region had all signs of an independent democratic state, such as “the army and the legitimate authority.”
The next two years of conflict included adverse military aggression against the local ethnic majority by the Azerbaijani government aided by Turkey. As the official Armenian source states, in March 1920, about 40,000 Armenians were killed and deported only in Shushi.
However, as the USSR established its power in the region, the attention of international organizations was shifted to other issues with no apparent resolution.
The Soviet Period
During the period of the USSR rule in the region, the controversial political standing of Nagorno-Karabakh was resolved through the implementation of autonomy under the Azerbaijan Soviet Republic.
While it gave some freedom to the ethnic Armenian majority, Azerbaijani officials claim that the establishment of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) “laid the foundation of separatist trends” that disturb the allegedly historical Azerbaijani territory.
In response, the Armenian officials comment that the establishment of NKR oblast was an unconstitutional act that started the period of oppression from the Azerbaijani side expressed through “ethnic cleansing, destruction, and misappropriation of Armenian monuments and cultural values.”
As a result, the previously dominant Armenian population of 94,4% at the start of Autonomy transformed into 76,9% by 1989.
As the Soviet rule weakened, the territorial claims on the region began to flourish again. According to the Azerbaijani government, in the period between 1987 and 1989, 250,000 ethnic Azerbaijani minorities suffered from Armenian oppression by expulsion from the land.
In their turn, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Artsakh Republic claims that, as a response to the peaceful and internationally legitimate establishment of Nagorno-Karabakh, or Artsakh, through the referendum on December 10, 1991, the Azeri government-enforced ethnic cleansing of Armenians, and started a full-scale war.
The Human Rights Watch wrote that “what began in early 1988 with demonstrations calling for the unification of the Republic of Armenia with Nagorno-Karabakh had become a full-scale war by 1992,” with its eventual end in 1994 as a part of a ceasefire.
While the official ceasefire remained a barrier for overt military aggression, it did not clearly establish the status of Artsakh and, consequently, resulted in the continuation of the “frozen conflict,” according to the Global Conflict Tracker.
What international on-lookers see today, starting from September 27, 2020, is the biggest act of military aggression in the region since the ceasefire.
History, Politics, and a Bumpy Road to Peace
Scott Neumann, a professor and head of the International Relations department in LCC, shared some of the historical and political insights into the events happening on the Artsakh border.
“It is a deep-rooted conflict; in part, it is driven by the geography of the Southern Caucasus, which is a very mountainous region,” commented professor Scott Neumann. “It creates a large number of small communities that people live in, which was okay at one time before the creation of centralized countries when people were loyal to their local ruler.”
“However, now, with the rise of national identities, many people who identify themselves very differently are densely packed in one small area, which creates a fair share of conflict,” said Scott Neumann.
“Since the ceasefire, the so-called “frozen” conflict remained. The events that started on 27 of September appear to be one of the largest acts of military aggression so far,” said Scott Neumann.
Emmy Irobi, a conflict studies professor and a Ph.D. at LCC International University, shared his understanding of possible resolution of the conflict.
“Escalating a conflict does not mean that everything is bad. Let us see if we can use this as an opportunity to resolve this issue, talk to both regulators, come to the table, bring out their problems, their interests, and goals and resolve the issues,” said Emmy Irobi.
The professor also stressed the importance of being careful with social media.
“Public media could be another avenue for violence, it can unleash violence, increase tension. Instead, the media should do a good analysis of the issues and then channel it without inflaming it, without rhetoric,” stressed Emmy Irobi.
A Look from the Inside
As the examination of the governmental statements from all sides showed, there is a dual narrative in regards to the regional situation.
LCC International University has over 50 international representatives, Armenia and Azerbaijan happen to be among them. IUC asked the representatives of both countries involved in the current events to share their stories.
Narek Najaryan, junior business major and a proud Armenian, shared his personal experience regarding the war.
“We (Narek and his family) lived in Nagorno-Karabakh for 5 years, getting into sleep while hearing the sounds of everyday shootings and heavy bombings,” he said.
He continued, “On the one hand, it made us stronger, much more mature, but on the other hand, there comes a question: ‘What is the point of being mature when you are supposed to be a child?’”
Narek grew up in a military family where his father served for 25 years, Narek for 2, and his younger brother Nairi Najaryan, is currently serving in the military his last three months.
“Now, I don’t see any other part of this war beside my brother being there, and being wounded but still fighting in the frontline,” said Najaryan.
Narek said that he grew up always having his brothers back, but now he feels powerless.
“There are two parts of me,” said Najaryan.
“The first is the rational one understanding that there should be no war and this all should be settled peacefully...”
He continued, “the second me is the one who reads the death reports every day, filling with anger and hatred, and seeking revenge for every single 18-year old person who was killed and cut into pieces, for every mother whose eyes are always wet of crying, for every civilian who was killed without even having a connection to the war, for every child who gathers food to send to the frontline to their loved ones.”
When asked what the international community can do to support, Narek replied, “Informational war is more important, so no one should be silent! Silence, in these matters, is an unforgivable sin!”
The Azerbaijani Perspective
Niko Braun, a former LCC student, said that it was also extremely painful to grow up with this conflict in Azerbaijan.
He said, “Seeing how people who are just a little bit older than me are getting killed”.
He noted that it almost became normal.
Braun would always think to himself ‘why?’, ‘why are people getting killed?’, ‘why can’t we all just live in peace?’.
“There are a lot of Azerbaijani people who are against war. We don’t want our people getting killed. I mean why should we?,” he said.
Braun said that the consequences of the war affected him directly.
“One of the people from my graduation class also got killed,” he explained.
“I can't believe that that has happened. He was a university student, maybe he had plans for life!” said Niko.
At the end of the day, Armenia and Azerbaijan are neighboring countries, “We have to live with each other forever”, he said.
Niko also shared the opposite side of the conflict that claims that the Artsakh Republic should stay part of Azerbaijan.
“I feel like Armenia has to hear the world because they are breaking international laws and that's a fact, you can read it everywhere. Karabakh is a part of Azerbaijan, even the name, Karabakh - it means a black garden because of the soil there, it's very good soil, that's why it's called Karabakh,” stated Braun.
“These are UN Resolutions on this conflict if you want to look at it from the International Law’s perspective,” shared Barun in hope of a fresh look on the conflict.
Attention: Peace Ahead
Boris Harutyunyan, an LCC student from Armenia, is at the heart of a political campaign for peace and justice in relation to the current conflict.
“We don’t want the conflict to proceed. There are people dying from both sides, and I believe that this is the real tragedy of the situation,” commented Boris.
Boris, along with other Armenian students, organized a campaign for spreading awareness.
Small groups of students went out to the public transport in Klaipeda holding English and Lithuanian posters - not stating that either Armenia and Artsakh or Azerbaijan is right or wrong but asking for peace and conflict resolution.
“The real aggressor is the military leadership of Azerbaijan, not soldiers who fight and die from both sides,” said Boris.
Despite the mutually signed ceasefire, the violence continues. The Crisis Group estimated civilian and military casualties at 529 cases from both sides during the past two months. On October 16, the Foreign Minister of Armenia Zohrab Mnatsakanyan claimed that since the start of the ceasefire, “more than 32 civilians were killed and more than 106 were injured, 86 of them seriously in the operations carried out by the Azerbaijani armed forces and their supporting forces.”
Azerbaijan Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims that “the leadership of Armenia is responsible for the latest heinous attacks directed at the peaceful population of Azerbaijan, killing 47 civilians and injuring 222.”
The Crisis Group forecasts that the military aggression on the Artsakh border is projected to escalate further unless the countries arrive at a mutual solution in regards to the conflict.
Despite the regional, cultural, and political differences, the LCC community was brought together to honor those affected by the conflict at a candle lighting event.
During the evening, the leaders of the event stressed that it is crucial for the international community to spread awareness, push for conflict resolution, and, most importantly, treat those who have died, regardless of their nationality, with dignity and respect.
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