The Armenian-Azerbaijani Conflict Comes to Michigan

“In September 2023, the Azerbaijani military stormed the Armenian-majority territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, driving out almost the entire population, an act that many outside observers have called ethnic cleansing or even genocide. It was the ugly coda to a long, brutal conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

During the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh had attempted to declare their independence from Azerbaijan, leading to a war that involved atrocities and mass displacement on both sides. (The territory is also called Artsakh in Armenian.) The conflict froze in the mid-1990s and restarted with an Azerbaijani offensive in September 2020.

“If they do not leave our lands of their own free will, we will chase them away like dogs and we are doing that,” Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said in an October 2020 speech. Aliyev also stated that he would welcome Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenians as fellow citizens, a claim that Armenians were inclined to disbelieve after Azerbaijani troops beheaded two elderly Armenian men on camera.

Azerbaijan’s wars have been funded, in part, by the American taxpayer. Congress initially tried to stay out of the conflict, banning military aid to Azerbaijan in 1992. A decade later, the U.S. government reversed course, hoping to gain a new strategic ally, because Azerbaijan is located between Iran and Russia and along key air routes to Afghanistan.”

“U.S. military aid, which mostly focuses on border security, is not a make-or-break issue for the Azerbaijani army. Between 2010 and 2020, the majority of Azerbaijan’s weapons came from Russia, with smaller contributions from Israel, Belarus, and Turkey. Russia also supplied nearly all of Armenia’s weapons in the same period.

In addition to selling weapons to both sides, Russia has had peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh since November 2020. Those troops have largely not acted to protect the local population.

However small U.S. aid was in the grand scheme of things, Hamparian believes that the very existence of that aid was “morally emboldening” to Azerbaijani leaders, who thought they had an American green light.”

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