On the Struggle for Indigenous Self-Determination in the Republic of Artsakh

On the Struggle for Indigenous Self-Determination in the Republic of Artsakh

Los Angeles Review of Books

An essay on the Indigenous Armenian struggle for self-governance in Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh.

An Armenian translation of the essay by Astghik Atabekyan is available here.

From the essay:

Fabulations and geopolitical fictions swirl around accounts of the crisis in Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh. In a breathtaking redaction of the historical record, media narratives stage a scene of military offensives unfolding between equally-matched belligerents over territory populated by Armenians but claimed by Azerbaijan. Each time these scenes appear, they flatten the reality of Armenian liberation efforts into a tale of “territorial dispute” in West Asia. No accounting of the war can be possible without recognition of a determinative fact. The Indigenous Armenian peoples who live in the autonomous Republic of Artsakh are now engaged in a struggle for self-determination.

Bombarded by cluster munitions, suicide drone strikes, and untold human rights violations, Artsakh’s people defend their right to live and govern themselves on ancestral lands populated by Armenians since antiquity. To characterize the scenario otherwise is not to commit a semantic error. It is to falsely authorize Azerbaijan’s claim to stolen Indigenous territory, and to enable its Turkish ally’s neo-Ottoman genocidal gambit.

Nonetheless, media narratives in the west proceed apace with uncorroborated, chimerical fictions — fictions concocted by autocratic powers to legitimize the seizure and settlement of Indigenous Armenian land. They display what Tamar Shirinian calls an insidiously “dispassionate objectivity” that elides the truth of the situation: there are “agents of violence and dispossession” here. Such fictions are, themselves, agents of violence and of dispossession. They include the uncritical use of the name “Nagorno-Karabakh,” a cartographic invention of Josef Stalin conjured in service of the Soviet Union’s colonial regime.

Artsakh was stolen land gifted to Azerbaijan by Stalin during the region’s Sovietization. Its population was over 90% Armenian when Stalin absorbed the territory into the Soviet’s colonial cartographies in 1921 and dispossessed its people of the right to self-governance. A policy of Azerbaijani settlement was pursued in an express effort to “dilute the Armenian majority” and fortify a settler-colonial campaign through Indigenous erasure.

Today, settler-colonial logic suffuses the statements issued by Azerbaijan and Turkey’s autocratic rulers. After launching a highly choreographed offensive against Artsakh, Azerbaijani president — noted petro-oligarch and kleptocrat Ilham Aliyev — gave a televised address. He boasted, “This is the end….We are chasing them like dogs.” Perhaps most pointedly: “Nagorno-Karabakh is our land.”

Image on Index Page: Detail from photograph by Roubina Margossian / EVN Report. Images at right: Visuals by Kamee Abrahamian / text by Mashinka Firunts Hakopian.