Today we enter the sixth day of the coordinated Turkish-Azeri aggression to invade and ethnically cleanse Artsakh, an Armenian-majority region gifted to Azerbaijan by the Soviet Union in the early 1920’s in the hope of appeasing the newly founded Turkish Republic and for it to also become a Soviet Republic.
The Azeris are cultural and linguistic kin with Turks. For Turkey’s ultra-nationalist government, a Greater Turkey that incorporates different Turkic states in the region, including Azerbaijan, as well as many former Ottoman territories, is a long-term strategic goal of Ankara’s.
Beirut-born Armenian Serj Tankian, most famous as the lead vocalist of metal band System of a Down and a lifelong human rights activist, has spoken with Greek City Times to discuss the Turkish-Azeri attempt to invade Artsakh, more commonly known as Nagorno-Karabakh, and ethnically cleanse the indigenous Armenian population.
GCT: Artsakh has an undeniable continuous Armenian heritage since at least 500BC and has always been an Armenian-majority region, even to this very day.
Why do the Azeris and Turks feel so strongly that they must expel the indigenous Armenian population from this region?
Tankian: I think Azerbaijan and Turkey have different intentions in their aggression against Artsakh and Armenia. For Azerbaijan it’s a matter of regime survival as they have a petro-oligarchic corrupt government that is being challenged by their opposition, who are mostly in jail, and from the people. Turkey’s motivation is and has been for more than a century Pan-Turanism. That is why they committed the genocide against Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians a century ago and of course used our nations as scapegoats for their defeats during WWI. [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan and his corrupt, oppressive cohorts, thugs if you will, are using military adventurism in Syria, Libya, the Mediterranean and now the Caucasus to further their agenda.
I think those are the major motivations from the two aggressors in this conflict.
GCT: As Greeks, we share the same generational trauma that genocide and ethnic cleansing has had on Armenians. Most Greeks view the Turkish and Azerbaijani aggression against Artsakh as a potential second genocide against the Armenians.
Are Greeks justified in believing this or is this an over exaggeration?
Tankian: When the grandchildren of genocide perpetrators are firing at the grandchildren of genocide survivors, bombing not just military positions but civilians, it is safe to assume that the people of Artsakh and Armenia are fighting an existential battle. This is also the message coming out of Yerevan today. Armenians cannot afford to lose.
GCT: The Greek government has expressed solidarity with Armenians and revealed that the visit of Greek Foreign Minister, Nikos Dendias, to Yerevan “is imminent.” Greece however has not once condemned Azerbaijan for its invasion attempt of Artsakh.
Besides empty words of solidarity, what should and could Greece and the international community be doing to end the Turkish-sponsored Azerbaijani aggression?
Tankian: Armenians are very grateful for the overtures by the leaders of Greece and Cyprus in this battle. Besides calling out Azerbaijan and Turkey for their invasion, Greece can team up with Cyprus on insisting that the EU sanction Turkey and Azerbaijan for their aggressive attack on Artsakh and Armenia. I don’t understand how the EU can threaten to sanction Turkey on the drilling issue and not include starting a full war in the Caucasus in the same week.
GCT: Although the Greek government has been “weak,” as Greek media and social media describes it, in their support for Armenia and Artsakh, there has been huge public solidarity. Separate from the government, there has been protests, Greek Twitter users have made hashtags trend that are in support of Artsakh, Greek hackers brought offline over 150 Azerbaijani government websites, and the first batch of ethnic Greek volunteers, as well as Armenian-Greek volunteers, are soon preparing to leave Greece to fight and defend Artsakh – with more batches of volunteers organizing to leave in the coming weeks.
Do you have any particular message you want to give to the Greek people and what can they do to support Armenia and Artsakh during this existential crisis?
Tankian: First of all, thank you for all the support. I wasn’t aware of the website hacking that had taken place. More of that geared toward Azeri and Turkish air command and control centers would be nice.
Armenia also stood by Greece when the drilling started by the Turkish ships in the Mediterranean. I think we need to work with each other [and] to help each other through these situations, as we are both dealing with the same aggressor that we know too well.
I am also moved by the volunteers who want to come and fight for justice. Humanitarian aid can also be very helpful of course as a good part of the population of Artsakh is living in bomb shelters right now. Most of all, making your voices heard to the leadership and having them work through the EU and international organizations to help Armenia and Artsakh. This would be very helpful. Again, I personally am very grateful.
GCT: Moving to the U.S., former National Security Adviser John Bolton described Donald Trump’s relationship with Erdoğan as a “bromance.” Trump has also said that he gets “along” with Erdoğan and described him as “very good.”
What kind of impact has this relationship had on leading up to this crisis in Artsakh?
Tankian: Trump’s “bromance,” as you put it, with Erdoğan has given him the green light to do whatever he wants in the region. That is clear. The U.S. did not stand up for their own Kurdish allies in Syria against Erdoğan. The U.S. administration has not tempered Turkey in Libya, Greece, Cyprus, nor the Caucuses. Many say that it is because of his hotel investments in both Turkey and Azerbaijan. There could be something even more than that. That is why it is imperative for Russia and the EU to temper Turkey’s regional ambitions and aggressions.
GCT: Although Azerbaijani media is already describing the volunteers from Greece going to Artsakh as “mercenaries,” the fact remains that they are not being paid unlike the Syrian terrorists that Turkey has and still is transferring to Azerbaijan. These are the very same Syrian terrorists who were/are attacking and killing the Armenian minority in Syria. These mercenary jihadists are now at the doorstep of Iran and Russia, and Turkey risks creating a wider geopolitical crisis in the entire region.
How do you analyze these events?
Tankian: I agree. The funneling of Syrian fighters under the control of Turkey will further destabilize the region. Iran, France, and Russia have expressed their dismay with this revelation. There are reports that Iran is amassing troops on their border with Azerbaijan. Russia does not want to fight Turkey on another front as they already are in Syria and Libya so Turkey is really pushing it as always. If not stopped it will lead to a larger regional war and maybe worse.
GCT: Turkey and much of the world resists recognizing the Greek, Armenian and Assyrian genocide of 1914-1923. Now more then ever it appears that genocide recognition is an international imperative.
Do you think international recognition and reparation’s could have made a difference in avoiding Turkey’s and Azerbaijan’s current invasion attempt of Artsakh?
Tankian: Absolutely!!! Without punishing a crime, let alone a crime against humanity, the perpetrators are allowed to continue without impunity.
600 years of Turkish diplomatic experience has been at work. They tell everyone what they want to hear then do what they want to do. It’s called the many faces of Turkish diplomacy. We know it all too well. Erdoğan is pushing his luck though and there will come a time for payback soon. I think the world community should encourage regime change in both Turkey and Azerbaijan so we can all deal with more reasonable leaders and so that their people can also progress into the next millennia without being imprisoned for speaking their mind or belonging to this or that political group or party.
GCT: Armenia is a poor, landlocked country of only 3 million against 80 million in Turkey and 9 million in Azerbaijan. The military spending of Azerbaijan and Turkey in comparison to Armenia is several times over and incomparable. Yet, the Armenians are stubbornly and successfully defending their ancestral lands. It appears that an indigenous people fighting against neo-imperialist invaders can overcome such intimidating odds faced against them. However, despite the bravery of the Armenians, more then half of the martyred soldiers are 19 and 20 years old.
Would you agree with the statement just made, and what kind of impact will this war have on future generations?
Tankian: Artsakh and Armenia are fighting an existential battle that we cannot afford to lose. That is why the whole Armenian nation is unified in doing everything we can to provide a better tomorrow for our children. That is correct. We are fighting an enemy with more weapons that outspend our defense budget manyfold. But history has taught us all that it is not armies that win wars, it is the spirit and hearts and minds of those willing to sacrifice that wins wars.
No one in history has ever conquered Artsakh.
They are our Spartans.
GCT: Thank you for your time Serj.
Tankian: Thank you Paul.