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Op Eds

Armenia’s Two Battles: War Amid the Pandemic

By Elida Kocharian, Lara Rostomian, and Catherine E. Saint
Elida Kocharian ’21 is an Earth and Planetary Sciences and Environmental Engineering concentrator living in Adams House. Lara Rostomian is a first-year graduate student at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Catherine E. Saint is a second-year graduate student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

On the morning of September 27, Armenians around the world awoke to the horrifying news that the Azerbaijani Armed Forces had attacked Artsakh, a de-facto Armenian state that has declared itself independent of Azerbaijan — breaking the 1994 cease-fire agreement between the two sides. Many in the region had feared this attack since the fighting in July, when the Azerbaijani Armed Forces had targeted civilian and military forces alike, including a PPE factory, in Armenia’s Tavush region. The recent offensives on Artsakh have targeted civilian centers too, including the capital, Stepanakert, where the population has been forced to evacuate to shelters for safety. Today, fighting continues not only in Artsakh, but in Armenia proper as well, where Azerbaijani military forces opened fire on the Vardenis region.

While Azerbaijan has referred to the operation as a “counterattack” to Armenian “provoking,” it is abundantly clear that it premeditated the operation and has done so in collaboration with Turkey. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, stated on Sunday that Azerbaijan has his country’s full support. Turkey has provided not only artillery and military aid to Azerbaijan, but has also recruited Syrian mercenaries to aid its military forces, a recruitment process that began around a month ago. In the days before the attack, Azerbaijan also called on army reservists for inspection and training, and confiscated several private vehicles for military use — actions further suggesting that it premeditated these attacks with support from the Turkish government.

Armenia, a country of 3 million, and Artsakh, a state of 150,000 with an Armenian ethnic majority, are withstanding attacks from Azerbaijan and Turkey whose populations sum to nearly 95 million — a 30:1 ratio. Artsakh’s Defense Minister Jalal Harutyunyan said of the attacks: “Their plans have been clear to us for a long time, the essence of which can be expressed in the following way: to depopulate Artsakh and Armenia of Armenians.”

The current events taking place are all too familiar to Armenians, a people of great resilience and perseverance, whose thousand-year history is fraught with changing regimes, persecution, and genocide. In 1915, our ancestors suffered a genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, carried out under the guise of World War I as a distraction to the world — much like what Azerbaijan is doing today with its planned attack during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the Armenian people suffered through pogroms and attacks in Azerbaijan committed by Azeris in both the early and late twentieth century.

In the sphere of geopolitics, history has not been favorable to Armenia either — the U.S. considers Turkey a key NATO ally and has delivered $100 million in security aid to oil-rich (and corrupt) Azerbaijan. This political and financial backing has enabled Azerbaijan to carry out its expansionist agenda without fear of consequence or accountability.

The result of these atrocities committed by Turkey and Azerbaijan was the formation of the global Armenian diaspora, whose population of 8 million is almost three times that of the Republic of Armenia. One microcosm of the diaspora is the Harvard Armenian Students Association, a collective of undergraduates and graduate students, faculty and staff hailing from the U.S. and U.A.E., all the way to Argentina and even Armenia itself. Despite the odds, we have managed to sustain our communities in our home countries and have found it imperative to once again create a new community together in Cambridge. Armenian heritage, and sadly our tragic past, are the unifying factors among us — and, as a community, we will not stand for yet another tragedy to define our country.

As the fighting escalates and the number of civilian and military casualties increase, we join Armenians worldwide to call on the international community for support. An outbreak of large-scale war in the South Caucasus could have unpredictable consequences, threatening international security and stability.

Unfortunately, yet again, the Armenian community’s struggles are met with silence from Western media outlets and coordinated pro-Azerbaijani social media campaigns. It has become evident over the years that when it comes to conflict in South West Asian/North African regions, we cannot rely on coverage by American broadcasting outlets; the responsibility falls on us to educate ourselves and seek accurate information. The consistent attribution of violence to both Armenia and Azerbaijan at the hands of Western media outlets demeans and undermines the greater context of Armenia’s current and historic struggles against both Azerbaijan and Turkey, which Armenians have fought honorably to overcome.

We call on the Harvard community to break the silence. We ask you to recognize the dangerous nature of international indifferences towards crimes against humanity, and ask you to not allow history to repeat itself. We want to thank those who have already spoken up, such as Law School Professor Adrian C. Vermeule ’90, setting a precedent we hope will be upheld by our colleagues and faculty at Harvard. In a war waged against our freedom, independence, and very existence, we ask you to amplify our voices; we ask for solidarity.

We also implore you to take action. We implore you to please contact your state representatives and ask that they promote an end to this violence and condemn the attacks made by Azerbaijan and Turkey these past days. The Armenian Assembly of America and Armenian National Committee of America have made forms to do so easily and quickly. Take action, break the silence, and help be the difference between peace and war.

Elida Kocharian ’21 is an Earth and Planetary Sciences and Environmental Engineering concentrator living in Adams House. Lara Rostomian is a first-year graduate student at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Catherine E. Saint is a second-year graduate student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

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