Russia and Armenia have both promoted a discourse about threatened national minorities without any proof to back up their exaggerated claims.
Russia and Armenia are the only two of the 15 former Soviet republics with irredentist claims to their neighbours. Their exaggerated claims about alleged threats to national minorities merely camouflage these irredentist claims.
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Since the early 1990s, long before Vladimir Putin became Russia’s president, Moscow claimed it had a right to ‘protect’ ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in the former USSR. This has been a constant element in Russian security policy through to the present day.
Russia intervened to allegedly ‘protect’ Russian speakers in Moldova’s Transnistria region and in Ukraine’s Donbas in 2014. In 2022, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine with the goal of ending a mythical ‘genocide’ against Russian speakers.
Another strategy used by Russia has been the distribution of Russian passports in frozen conflicts which it has purposefully manufactured or in regions it is occupying. Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 to defend Russian passport holders in South Ossetia and Abkhazia and then recognised their fake ‘declarations of independence’. The Kremlin has distributed Russian passports in Crimea, the Donbas and in occupied southern Ukraine.
It should not be surprising Armenia has copied Russia’s policies to allegedly ‘protect’ national minorities; after all, Armenia is a member of all Russian-led Eurasian integration projects. Armenia uses similar exaggerated threats to the Armenian minority in Karabakh as Russia has used in Ukraine, Moldova and elsewhere in Eurasia. In all these cases the alleged threats to Russian speakers and Armenians have nothing to do with reality.
In Ukraine no opinion poll has ever shown large numbers of Russians and Russian speakers who feel discriminated against by Kyiv’s policies. Volodymyr Zelensky is after all the third Ukrainian president who is a Russian speaker. Four out of six Ukrainian presidents were from Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, including Zelensky.
Russia’s invasion of Crimea had nothing to do with ‘protecting’ Russian speakers as they were never under any repression and had their own autonomous republic since 1990. In the Donbas there was also no discrimination against Russian speakers as the region was run by the pro-Russian Party of Regions. Only three per cent of Ukrainians believed Russia’s claim that its so-called ‘special military operation’ was launched to end the ‘genocide’ of Russian speakers.
Armenian war crimes
Armenia won the First Karabakh War which lasted from 1988-1994. Although both sides committed atrocities, the bulk of the crimes were committed by Armenia, the militarily victorious side. Armenia ethnically cleansed one million Azerbaijanis from Armenia and the seven provinces of Azerbaijan that it occupied. In 1992, 600 civilians were murdered in Khojaly and another 4,000 civilians and prisoners of war went missing and are presumed to be murdered.
Looting on an industrial scale took place throughout the seven Azerbaijani occupied provinces. Gold teeth and wedding rings were stolen from skeletons dug up in cemeteries. Cultural institutions, such as museums and libraries, mosques, and official buildings were purposefully destroyed. The seven provinces look like Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the US dropped nuclear bombs on them in 1945.
In the Second Karabakh War there were few war crimes committed by either side. Nevertheless, the few that did happen were by Armenia which fired large missiles at civilian targets. Human Rights Watch, ‘documented 11 incidents in which Armenian forces used ballistic missiles, unguided artillery rockets, and large-calibre artillery projectiles that hit populated areas in apparent indiscriminate attacks. In at least four other cases, munitions struck civilians or civilian objects in areas where there were no apparent military targets’.
The Kremlin’s playbook
Despite the many examples of Armenian war crimes committed in the first and second Karabakh wars, Armenian discourse continues to claim the status of victimhood and accuse Azerbaijan of planning ‘genocide’.
This discourse is taken straight out of the Kremlin’s playbook.
Robert Kocharyan, a discredited Armenian opposition leader, and member of the ‘Karabakh clan’, claimed that if a peace treaty is signed with Azerbaijan it would lead to ‘the end of Karabakh’. Armenia’s prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, always one for making outlandish statements, said that Azerbaijan’s goal in closing the Lachin Corridor was to surround Karabakh and ‘subject them to genocide and expatriation, under the pretext of Armenia not fulfilling its obligations’.
The reality is that Russians and Russian speakers had nothing to worry about in Ukraine and Armenians have nothing to be concerned about living in Azerbaijan. Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine led an autonomous republic in Crimea, were part of Ukraine’s ruling elites, and transmitted and published Russian-language electronic and print media. Practically all Ukrainian oligarchs, who were primarily from the Donbas, Kharkiv, Dnipro, and Odesa, were Russian speakers.
Armenians in Karabakh have schools and media in their own language which would remain after a peace treaty was signed that recognised Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan. These and other minority rights for a very small Armenian population of 25,000 (Azerbaijani estimate) to 100,000 (Armenian claim) could be guaranteed by both the Azerbaijani government and backed up by international organisations, such as the EU and OSCE.
Time to move on
Being a citizen of a country is always a two-way process. In return for the state providing services to citizens and guarantees for the personal security of minorities, citizens should refrain from supporting separatism. Russia has hundreds of thousands of troops fighting its war in Ukraine while Armenia has 10,000 illegal forces in Karabakh. In both Ukraine and Azerbaijan, Russian and Armenian security forces need to be withdrawn before a meaningful peace treaty can be signed.
Peaceful coexistence between Armenia and Azerbaijan and Turkey would be especially beneficial to Armenia. A peace treaty would reduce the Armenian economy’s reliance upon Russia, increase its trade with Europe, and spur Armenia’s integration into regional energy projects.
Ukraine never planned to conduct ‘genocide’ against its Russian and Russian speaking populations. Azerbaijan has no intention to commit ‘genocide’ against the small Armenian minority remaining in Karabakh.
Armenians should not be concerned about the plight of their brethren in Karabakh. It is time for Armenian politicians to no longer play by the Kremlin’s playbook, put past wars and crimes in the past and move on in the interests of both countries.
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