Sep 14, 2022
What is happening between Armenia and Azerbaijan Transcript
Azerbaijan launched an attack on Armenia, killing at least 49 soldiers and damaging civilian infrastructure. Read the transcript here.
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Speaker 1: (00:03)
Alex Galitsky, thank you so much for joining me this morning. You are now working with the ANCA National Office, and I wish we were talking under better circumstances, but it appears that anytime we have a conversation, it has to do with something that’s going wrong in Armenia and Artsakh. And unfortunately, the latest development for those who have not yet been following, I decided to have you on, because I thought you could do a really nice job of breaking it down and letting people know why they need to pay attention and why it matters. So thank you for being here. Let’s start with what has happened, what we know so far.
Alex Galitsky: (00:41)
So what’s happened is in the early hours of the morning on September 13th, Azerbaijan launched a military assault on Armenian positions and Armenian civilian settlements within the Republic of Armenia itself. So it’s important to note here that these aren’t military clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan. These aren’t border clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This is an outright assault on the Armenian people on Armenian civilian settlements, civilian infrastructure within the borders of the Republic of Armenia, the internationally recognized borders of sovereign Armenia. So this follows two years now of repeated aggression and belligerency by Azerbaijan towards the Armenian people that really came to the fall with the invasion of Artsakh in 2020. But it’s important to know that this is distinct from the conflict within Artsakh. This is now within the borders of Armenian territory, which is an unprecedented escalation by the Azerbaijan side.
Speaker 1: (01:46)
That is worth repeating because I think people who may not be following this as closely may think after two years, it’s back on to what it was. And that is not the case. This is different. This is not Artsakh. We’re now talking about Armenia proper, and that is a completely different, dangerous ballgame that we’re dealing with. The significance of this. Why is this happening now?
Alex Galitsky: (02:13)
I think there are a number of factors that come into play and that we need to take into consideration here. Importantly, Azerbaijan is now seeing what’s happening in Ukraine and seeing Russia’s weakening position on the Ukrainian front and thinking that it can take advantage of this international instability and insecurity to press its advantage against Armenia.
Alex Galitsky: (02:34)
Also, we see Azerbaijan as trying to consolidate the military gains that it made during the 2020 Artsakh war by now pressuring and forcing Armenia on the defensive and pushing into Armenian territory. I should say as well that this isn’t really anything new. Back in 2021, Azerbaijan actually made a military incursion into the Republic of Armenia proper, where it set up military checkpoints on Armenian highways, disrupting international trade, where it would routinely harass and terrorize Armenian civilians. And they’ve been remained entrenched there for the last year or so now. This is an escalation. This is coming two weeks after Azerbaijan took control over two Armenian villages in Artsakh and effectively blocked the line of access between Armenia and Artsakh. Now, Azerbaijan is trying to consolidate those gains and cut Armenia off from Artsakh entirely as part of a broader project to effectively ethnically cleanse Armenians in their ancestral lands.
Speaker 1: (03:35)
Why does this matter on a bigger scale, moving beyond the borders of Armenia and Azerbaijan? Why should people care who are not in Armenia or Azerbaijan and maybe even not part of the big community here in Los Angeles?
Alex Galitsky: (03:50)
So Azerbaijan is one of the most authoritarian regimes on earth. Almost every major international human rights organization has classified Azerbaijan less free, less democratic, more abusive and repressive than even Russia and Iran. Azerbaijan is attacking Armenia, a fledgling democracy, a country that was effectively built by the survivors of genocide. This is part of the broader conversation about the rise of authoritarian expansionism and the attempt to destroy and smother democracy.
Alex Galitsky: (04:22)
So we need to think about it within these terms. Unfortunately, Azerbaijan has been seen for a long time by the US and the EU as a sort of alternative energy provider for Europe to reduce Europe’s energy reliance on Russia and Azerbaijan has, especially since the invasion of Ukraine being positioned to play a more prominent role in the European energy security framework. This is emboldened Azerbaijan. This has led Azerbaijan to believe that it can act with impunity throughout the region. The belief that it is somehow an indispensable actor and can get away with these egregious human rights abuses, but for all of those who care truly about the cause of defending and preserving democracy and the wake and in this crucial time where democracy seems to be under threat at all corners of the earth, this is something that should be of grave, grave concern, especially when you consider the conduct and the practices of the Azerbaijan military in their aggression towards the Armenian people.
Speaker 1: (05:21)
Well, it’s interesting that you bring this up because right now I think many Armenians or Armenian Americans are having these feelings they had back in 2020, and recently in seeing the support and not to take away from the support that people gave and our giving to what’s happening in Ukraine between Ukraine and Russia. But it was almost difficult to watch that because no one seemed to be talking about it or caring about it or getting it right when this atrocity was happening back in 2020. And the fear is now, or people are waiting to see, will people care now? Will people react differently? Or is it just, we pick and choose when to jump on a cause or when to decide to hashtag and go along with something.
Speaker 1: (06:10)
Again, I don’t want to take in any way, shape, or form away from a horrible war that is being waged upon in Ukraine, but why is it that certain stories, and you could be asking me this since I am in the media, but from your observation, from your point of view, because you’re working with this context day in and day out, why is it that things get attention and some things just don’t?
Alex Galitsky: (06:36)
I mean, it’s an incredibly important point to raise. I think part of it really is, and it comes down to a lack of understanding or awareness of the dynamics within the region. When it comes to Russia and Ukraine, Russia has been positioning itself aggressively against Ukraine for many, many years. The Ajerbaijan Armenia conflict has been simmering for decades. And a lot of people just simply weren’t aware of it and the attention wasn’t there yet. But right now, and I think especially after the kind of global attention being put on the Ukraine war and the rise of authoritarian expansionism, people are paying attention now more so than in 2020.
Alex Galitsky: (07:17)
Also, the fact that Azerbaijan is now kind of at least indirectly party to the geopolitical sort of playing field with regards to the Ukraine conflict. There is now I think more of a sense that this region is pertinent to the future stability and security of not only Europe, but more broadly speaking the region. So I think that it really comes down to unfortunately, a very callous, a very cynical balance of interests and balance of priorities by Western countries and by audiences across Europe and the US that simply don’t know about these issues and don’t care about these issues to put it quite bluntly.
Speaker 1: (08:05)
Something that you and I talked about before, and this is worth noting right now as well. How important words are. The phrasing, the words matter so much. There’s a difference between saying these two countries are fighting, there’s fighting going on between these two countries, or this was done against another country. Maybe to an outsider you’re speaking and you don’t realize, but those words matter so much. And they matter in context.
Alex Galitsky: (08:32)
And part of the Azerbaijan governments game here as well is to try and sort of confuse and obfuscate public understanding of what’s happening by playing these word games, by making it unclear who was the aggressor. So when the active aggression started and Azerbaijan launched its assault, it just as quickly announced that Armenia was the one instigating conflict. It has done this on several occasions, we call it mirror propaganda. The idea is you try and confuse public discourse, confuse public comment by accusing the other side of doing exactly what you were doing. Now, this is taking place, obviously with regards to attributing blame for the aggression. In this case, Azerbaijan blaming Armenia for the onset of aggression, but also it’s happened with Azerbaijan sort of playing into the nuances of language with regards to say it’s continued detention and torture of prisoners of war. Azerbaijan refuses to acknowledge those 100 plus Armenians that remain captive as prisoners of war.
Alex Galitsky: (09:35)
They’ll refer to them as terrorists or detainees, or use other language to try and diminish the sort of responsibility that they have under international law to immediately release all prisoners of war. Then what you start to see in the United States and in Europe, a refusal to use the term prisoners of war to describe those Armenian detainees, and instead referring to them as detainees or captives, which again takes the onus off Azerbaijan to immediately release those prisoners. So there are major concerns with how we frame these issues and how we use language to describe what’s taking place. When the US or the state department releases a statement and calls for both sides to deescalate, the question is, well, Armenia has to refrain from being invaded by a foreign dictatorship? The onus is obviously on the aggressor and on Azerbaijan to deescalate and to pull back. Armenia is operating purely out of self-defense and there’s no alternative to self defense here.
Speaker 1: (10:38)
Armenia has done something as of yesterday, appealing for help. Who is Armenia appealing to help and what’s going to come of that appeal?
Alex Galitsky: (10:51)
So Armenia has appealed to the CSTO, which is the security Alliance it has with Russia, which is meant to kick into action as soon as the sovereign territory of a member state like Armenia is under attack by a non-member state, which Azerbaijan is. Armenia has also appealed to the United Nation Security Council through the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and has also appealed to the OSC, the organization for security and cooperation in Europe, which is the body delegated to effectively come to a peaceful resolution or negotiated settlement to the conflict. So these diplomatic efforts and channels are being explored right now. What is clear is that there is no alternative to multilateral diplomacy here. Azerbaijan has sought to bypass multilateral diplomacy by engaging in unilateral military aggression against Armenia, by attacking Armenian settlements, and by effectively throwing out the window 30 years of efforts to come to a diplomatic solution to this crisis. And that is a situation that we’re in now.
Speaker 1: (11:59)
The ANCA is asking for American leaders to cut military aid to Azerbaijan. For those who don’t follow this closely, please let people know how much of their taxpayer money goes to give Azerbaijan military aid. And maybe that’s why it matters.
Alex Galitsky: (12:18)
So in the year immediately preceding Azerbaijan’s invasion of Artsakh, the United States gave Azerbaijan over $120 million in military assistance. Azerbaijan is an immensely oil rich country with importing arms from countries like Turkey. It does not need US military assistance whatsoever. It certainly should not be emboldened, enriched, and enabled by the United States through the provision of military assistance. Military assistance that the United States provides not only frees up resources for Azerbaijan to use against Armenians. It also sends a very dangerous signal to Azerbaijan, which is we are effectively rewarding Azerbaijan for its aggression. There will be no consequences for its military aggression. There will be no consequences for its war crimes and human rights abuses. Now, then President Biden, when he was on the campaign trail during the war released a statement condemning the Trump administration for providing that $120 million in assistance to Azerbaijan.
Alex Galitsky: (13:25)
And in fact, vowed to uphold a provision of the Freedom Support Act known as section 907, which explicitly prohibits the United States from sending military aid to Azerbaijan, given its aggression against Armenia. Unfortunately, after coming to office, the president has now on two separate occasions, reauthorized military aid to Azerbaijan, allowing US taxpayer dollars to continue to flow into the Caspian Petro dictatorship. So we are as a community, as the ACA calling on Congress members, calling on elected leaders to demand that the Biden administration immediately cease all military assistance to Azerbaijan and to also increase its humanitarian commitment to Artsakh and Armenia, which are in dire need of humanitarian aid, still reeling from the war in 2020.
Speaker 1: (14:12)
That was my next question was in comparison to 2020, even though these are very different situations in that sense, the call to action by leaders, it seems like I’m seeing much more… I guess they’re swifter and much more vocal in putting out statements. Yet, the question at the end of the day is will these statements actually lead to something? I saw Adam Schiff talking about how he’s going to introduce a resolution to Congress, but what comes of it once that resolution is introduced, that is a completely a different thing.
Alex Galitsky: (14:47)
So we need to ensure that there is public outcry. There is condemnation. That there are efforts underway to try and ensure that the United States does not continue its complicity in Azerbaijan’s military aggression by providing aid. The next step needs to be try and legislate to ensure that the United States does not continue to send aid to Azerbaijan. There are actually provisions under section 907 of the Freedom Support Act that should prohibit the United States in this current moment from sending aid to Azerbaijan. There are also within US law prohibitions on sending military assistance to serial human rights abusers like Azerbaijan that have not been implemented now.
Alex Galitsky: (15:28)
So we need to try and build as much pressure as we can through these congressional offices, through our friends, to ensure that the United States does not continue to arm Azerbaijan. In fact, earlier in the year, the US Government Accountability Office found that the United States had actually violated statutory reporting requirements on how military aid to Azerbaijan was being used by Azerbaijan, how it impacted the balance of power between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and also how it affected the negotiation process by contributing towards a massive imbalance between the military capacities of the two sites. These sorts of reports and resources are absolutely crucial because it demonstrates that there has been a fundamental negligence on the part of the US government in assessing its impact on the region through the provision of military aid. And we have to do everything we can to ensure that that comes to a halt.
Speaker 1: (16:21)
As we wrap this up, just what is your advice for people? What can they do if they are looking to get involved, but they want to channel that energy in the right direction?
Alex Galitsky: (16:33)
So the Armenian National Committee of America has a number of very accessible digital advocacy platforms that people within our community and beyond can use to contact their Congress members, to ask their Congress members to release statements, and also to urge President Biden to uphold section 907 restrictions and end military assistance to Azerbaijan. So they can visit ANCA.org/907 and also follow the Armenian National Committee of America on social media to see live updates as to what’s happening on the ground and how they might be able to assist in holding Azerbaijan accountable for its aggression.
Speaker 1: (17:09)
For the person watching this who has no connection to Armenia whatsoever, why do they care? What’s your final word?
Alex Galitsky: (17:18)
This is fundamentally the battle for the survival of the Armenian people. This is an existential struggle for the Armenian people. For a nation, for people who have experienced genocide, who still are haunted by the legacy of that genocide today in the aggression that they experience at the hands of Azerbaijan and by Turkey, this is the battle for the life of the Armenian nation. But beyond that, it’s also the battle for democracy in a region of the world where democracy has proven elusive. If the international community stands by and allows an authoritarian dictator in Ilham Aliyev to invade a democratic country like Armenia with impunity, the reverberations of that will be felt the world over. It would be incredibly dangerous.
Alex Galitsky: (18:04)
And right now the international community needs to understand that there is no way that you can contain an authoritarian expansionist regime like Russia by enabling and emboldening just another authoritarian expansionist regime, like Azerbaijan. The stakes are incredibly high and the consequences and costs of not acting immediately to condemn Azerbaijan’s actions and to put a halt to violence will only lead to the proliferation of this kind of violence in the future.