BY HAYK DEMOYAN
At least, on three occasions in history, Turkey has attempted genocidal acts, in its effort to implement a policy of total extermination and deportation of the Armenian population from Karabakh. From a historical perspective, Turkey’s current position and attempts to force preconditions on Armenia, as well as its continued pressure on Armenia to make concessions in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution process, are very real. Referencing historical records are important in shedding light on the origins of the “Turkish Strategy” vis-à-vis the Karabakh issue.
The first attempt
The expansion of borders of the Ottoman Empire to the Caucasus had started from the 16th century. On the way to the Caspian shores, the Turkish armies faced with heavy resistance from the Armenians of Artsakh (Karabakh) and, on many occasions, they suffered defeats as a result of the organized resistance of Karabakh Armenians.
In 1725 Sultan Ahmet III (1703-1730) issued a special fatwa to exterminate Armenians for their successful resistance against the Ottomans and ordered to kill them all for bringing the Russians into the Caucasus and blocking access of the Ottomans toward Baku.
The confession of a Turkish general, Saleh pasha, who was captured by the Armenians in Karabakh, confirmed that the Sultan aimed to completely exterminate local Armenians. He said: “The Sultan ordered the extermination of Armenians and Persians, since the troops of the Russian Tsar had occupied that shore of the (Caspian) sea, thus we have to attack them. We should remove the Armenians, who are like a wedge between us. We should destroy any obstacle existing in our way and open the way. If it weren’t for you (Armenians), we would have already marched on Derbend and Baku that belong to us from the ancient times.” .
In this 18th century document we see the formation of the Turkish approach toward the “non-obedient” Armenians, who as it was stated, were like a wedge between Istanbul and the Turkic East. After losing thousands soldiers and pashas, the Sultan’s and his allies’ attempts to annex Karabakh and station Ottoman forces there failed. Thus, the first attempt of the Ottoman regime to commit genocide against Karabakh Armenians was not successful, but this was just the beginning.
The second attempt
The second attempt to destroy the Armenian population of Karabakh took place after the Ottoman armies invaded the Caucasus during the WWI and created an artificial state and calling it “Azerbaijan” by using the name of the Northern Iranian province with the purpose of annexing the latter to the newly born Azerbaijan Republic. But this was not the only example of the Turkish state-building engineering. The proclamation of “Araz republic” and the “South-Eastern Caucasus democratic republic” followed the creation of Azerbaijan with the intent to ease Turkish expansionism. (the modern example of such policy is the creation of the Turkish republic of Northern Cyprus after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974).
The Caucasus campaign of the Ottoman army resulted in capturing the city of Baku and committing horrible massacre of the Armenian population of the city in September 1918. After taking Baku, the Ottoman forces launched a new military campaign this time
“to quell” Armenian resistance in Karabakh.
Ottoman war minister Enver pasha, who was one of the architects of the Armenian Genocide in 1915, ordered his cousin Nuri pasha, the commander of the Turkish forces in Azerbaijan, “to clear Azerbaijan of Russians and Armenians, in order to ensure Turkish-Turkic territorial continuity”(!)
A week after this order, Turkey admitted its defeat in WWI. The Ottoman army suffered its last defeat in WWI in Karabakh, when a detachment of the Ottoman army, which was on its way to invade the southern villages of Karabakh, was ambushed by Armenian villagers who warded off about 400 Ottoman solders. The end of WWI and the Turkish withdrawal became the second failed attempt of genocide in Karabakh. Of course, later, as a result of Bolshevik and Kemalist Entente, Karabakh was annexed to Soviet Azerbaijan in 1921.
The third attempt
I will not claim that the third attempt was a direct policy of extermination of Karabakh Armenians, but Turkey’s strong support of Azerbaijan in the latter’s attempts at deportation and crimes against humanity, enable us to claim that Turkey was directly involved in this new attempt to commit genocide against the Armenians in Karabakh. It is enough to say that hundreds of soldiers and officers of the Turkish regular army, including 10 generals were involved in the military operations carried out against the Armenian self-defense forces. And again, Turkey was the loser in Karabakh, this time together with Azerbaijan, and became a passive observer of Baku’s humiliated defeats in 1992-1994.
Turkish interference in the Karabakh conflict and the open support to Azerbaijan in the war against Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia made Turkey more a part of the conflict than its resolution. Turkish involvement in the conflict included the following components: threats of military intervention, pressure by displaying armed forces, imposing transportation and energy blockade of Armenia; providing military support to Azerbaijan; developing initiatives directed to the formation of anti-Armenian coalition and informational isolation of Armenia; lobbying Azerbaijani interests in international organizations .
Ongoing military threats and attempts at escalation, the blockade of Armenia and the efforts to isolate Armenia from the regional and international politics created a direct threat toward Armenia and Karabakh.
Based on the aforementioned facts, we can argue that Turkey’s approaches toward the resolution of the Karabakh issue (both historical and contemporary), made Karabakh the nexus for implementation of genocidal policies by Sultans, Young Turks and Kemalists/Republicans.
Moreover, the Azerbaijani state created by Ottoman Turkey has adopted the very Turkish code of demographic engineering, i.e. to solve the entire national or minority issues by imposing forced deportations or committing pogroms on its road to creating a “safer and more secure” nation state. Turkey and Azerbaijan were created through the extermination and displacement of nationalities. This will have dire consequences for these to states in the future.
The three attempts at genocide against Karabakh Armenians and the defeats it received at the hands of the local Karabakh Armenians must send a clear message to Ankara that it has to recognize the Genocide committed against Armenians and many other nations during the “Pax Ottomanica” era. The imperative to reevaluate history can usher in a “zero problem” with its own history and memory, since Realpolitik cannot be applied to the country’s current national identity crisis.
For Turkey there is not other alternative.
1. Armenian-Russian Relations, Yerevan, 1967, vol. II, part II, Document 315 (in Russian)
2. FO 371/3388, file 1396, no. 173495, the Director of Military intelligence’s no. B. I/565 (M.I.2), secret to the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, dated 18 Oct. 1918 see Jacob Landau. Pan-Turkism. From Irredentism to Cooperation. London, 1995. P. 55.
3. Hayk Demoyan. Turkey and Karabakh conflict. Yerevan 1995.
Hayk Demoyan is the director of the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute, which is housed at the Dzidzernagapert Memorial Complex.