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Anatomy of Genocide: How the State Department Inadvertently Green-Lighted War on Armenians

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No Room for Moral Equivalence on Azerbaijani Aggression

Azerbaijan today turns morality upside down with its narrative that it is the victim of aggression. Putting aside the fact that Artsakh is an indigenous republic rather than a vestige of occupation, and that it was autonomous under the Soviet system, the Azerbaijani narrative elides important context. Against the backdrop of the Armenian Genocide, neither the Ottoman Empire’s Young Turks nor the nascent Azerbaijani state accepted Armenian statehood. Just as Turks drove Armenians out of their eastern Anatolian homelands to open the land for Turkish colonization, many Turkish chauvinists hoped to complete the process by uniting Turkey and Azerbaijan, bringing the notion of “one nation, two states” to its natural conclusion.

While the Soviet conquest temporarily put a lid on the pressure cooker, Stalin’s gerrymandering catalyzed grievance. As the Soviet Union descended into chaos, populists in Azerbaijan, including its capital Baku, staged an escalating series of pogroms against the Armenian Christian community reminiscent of those that occurred during the Armenian Genocide. Azerbaijan subsequently sought to encircle, blockade, and starve the Armenian towns and villages in Nagorno-Karabakh. It was in this context, and with the widespread recognition that Azerbaijan sought a final solution for the Armenian population, that the United States Congress included Section 907 in the Freedom Support Act banning most assistance to Azerbaijan.

After 9/11, Azerbaijan played its cards well. It offered to join the U.S. War on Terror in exchange for a waiver to Section 907. Under the terms of that waiver, the United States could assist Azerbaijan on the condition that Azerbaijan remained committed to resolving its dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh diplomatically and foreswore any effort to impose a military solution. Azerbaijan’s September 2020 attack, timed to coincide with the centenary of the Ottoman effort to invade Nagorno-Karabakh, violated Azerbaijan’s commitment and should have ended American assistance. Hakan Fidan, Turkey’s new foreign minister (and its intelligence chief at the time), has since acknowledged what the CIA and Pentagon had already learned through covert means: Turkish special forces participated in the assault.

While US President Joe Biden fulfilled his campaign promise to recognize the Armenian Genocide, he soiled that recognition by allowing further military sales to Azerbaijan. This convinced Aliyev that he could get away with murder. Indeed, Azerbaijani aggression against not only Artsakh, but also Armenia proper, grew in direct proportion to Blinken and his team’s moral equivalence and inability to call out Azerbaijani aggression as the source of the problem. State Department officials from Blinken on down based their pronouncements less on moral clarity and more on “Chicken Kiev.”

Yuri Kim Takes a Bad Situation and Makes It Worse

There is an unfortunate irony that Biden, who promised as a candidate to stand against genocide and took A Problem from Hell author Samantha Power under his wing, now through negligence or incompetence appears to greenlight the eradication of the region’s oldest Christian community.

On a day-to-day basis, though, neither Biden nor Blinken take the lead on the Caucasus. That falls to Acting Assistant Secretary of State Yuri Kim. who most recently served as US ambassador to Albania. That the current crisis accelerated under Kim’s tenure as assistant secretary is no coincidence. Within the State Department, Kim’s ambition to be ambassador to Turkey is an open secret, based partly on her comments to colleagues and to others while she was political counselor at the US Embassy in Ankara. Perhaps then, some of her moral equivalence in the face of growing Turkish and Azerbaijani aggression toward Armenia and Artsakh is simply self-censorship in order to assuage those whom she hopes will be her future hosts, or perhaps her moral equivalence is simply her style. Either way, her default reaction tends to exacerbate conflict and undermine U.S. interests.

The end of her tenure in Albania should have been a red flag. In May 2023, just two days before Albania held municipal elections, Albanian forces arrested Fredi Beleri, the opposition candidate to be mayor of Himara, who hailed from Albania’s ethnic Greek minority, on unsubstantiated vote-buying charges. Beleri nevertheless won. Albanian authorities proceeded to keep Beleri in jail in a cynical attempt to keep him from being sworn in. The case has ramifications for NATO solidarity and, by extension, for American interests. Kim should have realized this, but she did not press the message with her superiors. As a result, Greece did not invite Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama to the Western Balkans Summit in Athens last month, distracting from some Ukraine conversations. Most other observers see Albania’s actions as being rooted in religious hatred. They see Albania as wrong and Beleri as the victim. Kim’s approach caused Albania to double down, putting its EU aspirations in jeopardy and undermining stability in the Western Balkans.

Back to Artsakh: As Azerbaijan mobilized forces, Kim tweeted, “We urge all sides to work together now to immediately simultaneously open Lachin and other routes to get desperately needed humanitarian supplies into Nagorno-Karabakh.”

Within the State Department, hands hit foreheads for two reasons: First, for her bizarre choice to draw equivalence between those withholding food and those starving. Azerbaijan and Artsakh are no more moral equals than the Soviets were equivalent to those they blockaded in Berlin. Second, it has been less than three years since Aliyev agreed in writing to allow aid to flow unimpeded from Armenia through Lachin and into Artsakh. Aliyev’s violation of that agreement is not up for debate. Does Kim not realize the damage she does to diplomacy by signaling that intransigence works, and agreements need not be honored?

Make no mistake: The person responsible for the starvation of Artsakh’s Armenians is not Biden, Blinken, or Kim. It is Aliyev. And, just as with Darfur, his decisions should lead him to The Hague. That said, not every dictator puts his closet desire to eliminate an ethnic group into action. They read the tea leaves to try understanding whether an outside power will care enough to act. Unfortunately, Biden, Blinken, and Kim have each repeatedly signaled disinterest. They care little about right or wrong, or about defending the liberal order.

Aliyev, like Abiy, may allow some aid trucks in and hope the spotlight moves on, but genocide in Artsakh looms. Bill Clinton apologized for doing nothing to head off Rwanda’s anti-Tutsi genocide. The Dutch government apologized for Srebrenica. Armenians do not need an apology after the fact. They need the West to show moral backbone and signal, through sanctions on Azerbaijan and direct aid to Artsakh, a red light that Aliyev would be foolish to ignore.

[This article first appeared at Now a 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East? (AEI Press, 2019); Kurdistan Rising (AEI Press, 2016); Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes (Encounter Books, 2014); and Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos (Palgrave, 2005).]

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