The Consequences of Apathy: The Humanitarian Crisis in Artsakh Deserves a Just Resolution

By Alexander Voses

“Armenian Massacres” “United States Urged to Save Armenians” “Armenian Horrors Grow”

These headlines, all from United States newspapers in 1915, exemplify one simple truth. When the Armenian Genocide began, the world community was well aware of the slaughter taking place. Journalists around the globe covered the events as they unfolded, bringing the information not only to those in power, but to all citizens of nations that had the capacity to offer aid to the Armenians. So why did 1.5 million Armenians still die by 1918? And how does this tie into the role of the United States today in the recently concluded conflict between Armenia and the Turkish-backed Azerbaijan? Simply put, the apathy of the world community then mirrors the current reaction to the horrors of a brutal conflict today.

This past year, a bipartisan resolution passed by both houses of Congress officially recognized the Armenian Genocide, which for 104 years had not been acknowledged by any branch of the United States government. This was seen as a massive victory for the Armenian people because this was no longer simply a “mass atrocity.” It was finally being recognized for what it was: genocide, a crime against humanity. One of history’s greatest wrongs was on the precipice of being exposed and acknowledged for what it was. The story should have ended with the Executive Branch of the United States government fully recognizing the Genocide and commiting itself to peace in the region, but the story doesn’t end there. After the resolution passed in Congress, it was sent to the desk of President Trump for approval. He rejected it. Seemingly, he either did not care about the potential impact of not recognizing it or had a greater interest in economic gains for the United States and maintaining good relationships with a nation of Genocide deniers. 

This all sets the stage for the events that continue to unfold along the Armenia/Azerbaijan border. Artsakh is a region of Azerbaijan that sits near the Armenian border and consists of mostly ethnic Armenians. This region was once a part of Armenia, but during the redrawing of boundaries throughout the 20th century by the Soviet Union, it ended up in the hands of Azerbaijan. This division gave no heed to the ethnic makeup of the regions it divided, ensuring that the current conflict would be inevitable. The Soviets either did not care about the potential loss of life when they drew that boundary or did not anticipate the consequences.

In the 1990s, a brutal war was fought over the region by Armenia and Azerbaijan that ended in an unsteady truce. Flare-ups in the region occurred intermittently, but none have led to such prolonged fighting as that which began in September of this year. Since the initial unrest in September, both sides have accused each other of murdering civilians. The presence of regional powers, Russia and Turkey, looms large since any major involvement by either could have meant all out war.

First Russia and then the United States took turns dealing with the region and providing oversight of peace negotiations. After an initial peace treaty brokered with Russian oversight failed, a new effort began, this time with the United States hosting the proceedings. Within hours of the new treaty taking effect, fighting had resumed. The US brokered treaty was, in effect, placing another band-aid on a broken leg when it was readily apparent that the initial band-aid had failed to get the job done. In other words, this exemplifies disingenuous interest and laziness on the part of world leaders when lives are on the line.

Ceasefires are not enough when this action has so clearly failed. Actual attention must be given to this region and its people, not a simple shrug of the shoulders when innocent lives are at stake. Aggression in the region must be ended by different means; the struggle for the preservation of lives must not be abandoned. Instead of putting additional effort to support the ceasefire that the United States brokered, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo decided to go on a tour of East Asia, all but confirming the United States’ apathy towards the ongoing loss of life in the region. He literally moved on. The United States put in minimal effort, gave itself a pat on the back, and moved on without second thought. It is the moral obligation of the United States, the “defenders of the free world,” to come to the aid of all of the innocent people caught in this struggle. 

Russia realized it had to do more than call for a ceasefire when a Russian helicopter was shot down over Armenia. Tensions ran high for a day, but when the dust settled, an end to the conflict had been penned and signed. The struggle ended, but not on the right terms. Armenia had agreed to cede territory in Artsakh to Azerbaijan and to give up the fight because they did not have the support of a stronger nation in the same way Azerbaijan did from Turkey. Armenia, a nation smaller than many states in our own country, was forced into an unfair deal because of the apathy of the world community which did not come to their aid. Is it not the moral duty of the United States to be a nation of upstanders? Is it not our purpose to ensure fairness towards all nations and all people? The answer to these questions is obviously, yes. This nation was created to be the protectors of the underdog and to seek justice against oppression.

Why haven’t humanitarian pleas for help been answered by the world community? No nation that hears these cries for help and chooses to remain an impartial observer can claim moral right. The world knew then, the world knows now. 1.5 million Armenians died last time due to the apathy of world leaders. What will it be this time? People made to flee their homeland and their entire lives? People being persecuted for their ethnicity? Civilians continued to be harmed even though the conflict has officially ceased? Another genocide?