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Why the U.S. Must Not Support Azerbaijan’s War

Soldiers atop a tank bearing the flag of the Nagorno-Kabarakh Republic. (By Bumble Dee/Shutterstock)

Eldar Mamedov warns against the push to get the U.S. to side with Azerbaijan in their attack on Karabakh and Armenia:

As fierce fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan continues into a second month, neoconservatives in Washington are pushing the United States to side with Azerbaijan. Their rationale – involving Iran and Israel, as so many of Washington’s priorities in the Middle East do – is facile, naïve and dangerous to the region’s minorities.

The U.S. has no vital interests in this conflict, so it would be a serious mistake to take sides in it. If the U.S. were to tilt towards anyone in the conflict, it ought to be towards the Armenian side that came under attack, but neutrality is the wisest course. The best thing that the U.S. can do is to use whatever influence it still has with Turkey and Azerbaijan to halt the offensive, and to support Russian mediation efforts that have the best chance of succeeding in stopping the fighting. Armenian and Azerbaijani civilians will pay the heaviest price if the war is not stopped, and preventing further attacks on civilians should be the focus of U.S. diplomatic efforts. Azerbaijan is not an ally of the United States, and our government has no obligations to assist or defend them. While Turkey is formally an ally, they are acting as a regional arsonist and the U.S. should be reining them in rather than helping them.

The death toll from the conflict is already in the thousands, many of them civilians killed by indiscriminate use of missiles and shelling. Both governments have launched unacceptable, illegal attacks on civilian areas, and the U.S. should warn both governments against further such attacks. There are credible reports of war crimes being committed against Armenian prisoners of war by their Azerbaijani captors. Ethnic cleansing of Armenians in parts of Karabakh has already been carried out by Azerbaijani forces:

Siding with Azerbaijan makes no sense for American interests. It is being promoted by Iran hawks that hope to use this conflict as part of their fixation on destabilizing the Iranian government and potentially breaking up Iran’s territorial integrity. Michael Doran is one of the leading hawkish cheerleaders for Azerbaijan, and he has been making the case for siding with Baku explicitly for quite some time. In the quoted tweet, he is promoting Azerbaijan on account of its supposed diversity and tolerance:

Calling for the U.S. to side with Azerbaijan because Armenia is aligned with Russia and Iran is absurd. Armenia at least has a democratic government, and Azerbaijan continues to be ruled by the same kleptocratic family dynasty that has been in power since the collapse of the USSR. Armenia aligns itself with Russia and Iran because these are the only states in the region that support them at all. Armenia has been economically isolated by Azerbaijan and Turkey for decades, and so it seeks assistance where it can. That doesn’t make them our enemy, and it shouldn’t lead our government to back Azerbaijan. On the contrary, the U.S. needs to suspend all military assistance to Azerbaijan and Turkey so that it is not used in the commission of war crimes.

The hawks hope to use Azerbaijani nationalism to fracture Iran, and Mamedov spells out how this would encourage anti-Armenian hatred:

Doran, Luttwack and Schaffer may be excited about the prospects of Iran’s disintegration, but they don’t publicly consider the potential consequences for Iran’s other ethnic and religious groups, such as Christian Armenians and Assyrians.

That silence is not surprising. Any honest analysis would recognize that fueling ethnic Azerbaijani nationalism in Iran could endanger local Armenians. Such an admission would put this group at odds with an administration that portrays itself as a defender of Christians worldwide.

To understand how the rise of Azerbaijani nationalism in Iran could impact the Armenian community there, look a little further north, to the Republic of Azerbaijan. There, a legitimate desire to retake territories occupied by Armenian forces for a quarter century has metastasized into an official policy of anti-Armenian intolerance and prejudice. The State Department has reported that people with Armenian-sounding names have been routinely denied entrance to the country; the government has purposefully erased Armenian heritage, destroying traditional tombstones in Nakhchivan; and in a clear example of hate speech, senior officials in the ruling party declared this year that alongside coronavirus, Azerbaijan also had to fight the “Armenian virus.”

It is because of this intense anti-Armenianism that Armenians are understandably afraid that the assault on Karabakh could turn into the beginning of another Armenian genocide. The hatreds stoked by the new war are already exposing Armenians in other countries to threats and violence, as we saw recently when a mob in Lyon, France attacked local Armenians in the streets. The U.S. should obviously have no part in anything like this, and it should not be encouraging nationalist fanaticism that might lead to it.

Interventionist policies have already done tremendous harm to Christian communities in Iraq and Syria, and it would be disastrous if the same thing were to befall Armenian communities in Iran and elsewhere because of a twisted Iran obsession in Washington.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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