Since September 27, Azerbaijan has launched a major offensive against the Armenian Republic of Artsakh, also known as Nagorno-Karabakh, located in the South Caucasus. Azerbaijan has since indiscriminately bombed civilians, with the direct support it receives from Turkey, who recruited jihadists from Syria and elsewhere.
The Israeli government, it seems, continues to sell weapons to Azerbaijan during the height of this war. In an open letter on October 5, a group of academics from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem called upon the Israeli government to immediately cease these arms sales. The letter reads, in part:
“From a reading of independent accounts and analysis we have concluded that this outbreak of violence in the last few days is due solely to aggression of the Republic of Azerbaijan, supported by Turkey and backed up by fighters from elsewhere in the region.”
“This belligerence has been directed towards military and civilian targets in the Republic of Artsakh and its mainly Armenian population, and deserves to be condemned in no uncertain terms. The response of the Republic of Artsakh and the Republic of Armenia is clearly one of defense of population, property and territory, and should enjoy the support of those who cherish the principle of self-determination of peoples.”
On October 15, the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS) issued a statement on the situation in Artsakh, saying, in part:
“We call on the Israel Government to cease all exports of weapons to Azerbaijan while the conflict is ongoing, and instead to play a role as a peace-seeking mediator.”
Artsakh is an integral part of historical Armenia. It has preserved its predominantly Armenian demographic character and semi-independent status as an Armenian entity despite falling under various invaders (such as Turkic nomadic tribes) throughout the centuries.
In 1805, the Russian Empire annexed Artsakh. In the early 1920s, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin placed Artsakh under the administration of Soviet Azerbaijan as an autonomous oblast (administrative division) although the region was predominantly Armenian.
The people of Artsakh were exposed to “a policy of economic and social discrimination and political repression” at the hands of Soviet Azerbaijan. From 1988 to 1990, in response to repeated requests by the people of Artsakh for reunification with Armenia, Azerbaijan resorted to violent persecution. This included pogroms and mass killings against Armenians in Sumgait, Kirovabad, Baku, and other Azerbaijani cities. When Artsakh finally declared independence in 1991, Azerbaijan responded by launching a full-scale war against the territory, targeting civilians and destroying villages and towns.
Twenty-nine years later, Artsakh is once again under attack. “Nagorno-Karabakh is our land,” Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev said in a televised address to his nation on October 4. “This is the end. We showed them who we are. We are chasing them like dogs.”
On the same day, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported that in Artsakh:
“Hundreds of homes and key infrastructures like hospitals and schools have been destroyed or damaged by heavy artillery fire and by airborne attacks including missiles. Other infrastructures such as roads, electricity, gas, and communication networks have also been damaged. Families are on the move looking for safe shelter, while others have retreated underground to unheated basements sheltering day and night from violence.”
Despite the temporary ceasefire brokered by Russia announced on October 10, Azerbaijan continues indiscriminately shelling Artsakh, including its capital, Stepanakert. Azerbaijani armed forces even targeted a hospital, where civilians are receiving medical treatment, Artsakh Beklaryan, the region’s human rights ombudsman, reported on October 14.
Azeri-Turkish wanton violence against Armenian civilians and residential areas confirms what Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced on October 7:
“What we are facing is an Azeri-Turkish international terroristic attack,” he told Sky News. “To me there is no doubt that this is a policy of continuing the Armenian genocide and a policy of reinstating the Turkish empire.”
Pashinyan was referring to the 1913-23 Christian genocide against Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks at the hands of Ottomans and nationalist Turks, who largely wiped out the victims from their ancient homeland.
On October 11, Arayik Harutyunyan, the president of Artsakh Republic, posted on Twitter:
“Israel is aware its weapons are used against the civilian population in Artsakh. Israeli drones were used for offensive & not defensive purposes back in April 2016. They are accomplices of Azerbaijan’s genocidal policy, despite being a nation that survived genocide.”
Meanwhile, Azerbaijani-Turkish attacks have displaced half of Artsakh’s population, according to its rights ombudsman Beklaryan.
“They left because of the shelling of civilians,” said the president of Armenia, Armen Sarkissian, in an interview with the German newspaper Bild. “And it wasn’t just one bomb that killed people, and not two bombs. There is shelling every day! Look at Stepanakert from the air… It looks like German cities during the Second World War.” (Not a very useful comparison to Israeli ears, as the Allied forces and Jews felt that the bombing of German cities was well-deserved.)
Arthur Atanesyan, a professor at the department of Applied Sociology of Yerevan State University, said that “By providing offensive weaponry to Azerbaijan, and especially in times of active offensive operations by Azerbaijan, backed by Turkey, on the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, any state, including Israel, becomes a supporter of the anti-democratic forces.”
“Turkey with its authoritarian leader and Azerbaijan as a totalitarian state with no political opposition and no freedoms and with many jailed journalists and aggressive rhetoric about the region, instrumentalized regional conflicts as a tool for their national identity construction. Hate speech is the only message constantly expressed by the Azerbaijani leading clan about other parties of negotiation process around Karabakh conflict, and military actions toward civilians in Karabakh are their way of conflict behavior aimed at another Genocide of Armenians on their homeland.
“Any third state supporting Azerbaijan politically and/or militarily, assists to the continued attempts of these two Turkish states to repeat the Genocide of Armenians that was committed by Turkey one hundred years ago and that still remains unpunished. And any military or political assistance by the third states to the Turkish aggression in Karabakh serves the criminal elites in both states of ‘the same nation’. It is important to note that Islamists and terrorists have also been invited by Turkish leaders to fight against democratic Armenian society in Karabakh and in Armenia.
“Having being exposed to the terrible crime of Holocaust by Nazi Germany, the Israeli society must feel and understand the suffering of Armenian civilians in Karabakh, and immediately ban its government from providing offensive weaponry to the totalitarian regime of Azerbaijan in order not to serve as a tool for the two Turkish states, and not to appear in the list of assistants of another cruel crime.”
On October 13, the Israeli High Court of Justice rejected a petition to ban arms sales to Azerbaijan “as lacking evidence to justify a hearing on whether they have been used for war crimes against Armenia,” reported The Jerusalem Post.
“Since the beginning of the war the Armenian side has been publishing photo and video evidence that proves the deployment of cluster munitions from Israel to Azerbaijan,” said historian Anahit Khosroeva, a professor at Yerevan State University. She continued:
“However, Israel’s High Court of Justice rejected a petition to ban arms sales to Azerbaijan.,,We, Armenians, do not see any solidarity from the people who went through the Holocaust.
“Since the current war in Artsakh started, I believe additional weapons were brought from Israel to Azerbaijan three times. The cargo planes of the Azerbaijani Silk way airlines, majority of whose shares belong to Azerbaijani president Aliyev’s daughter, have been operating flights from Baku to Israeli’s Uvda region, where Israel has an airbase, and back. As a genocide scholar, I strongly condemn that even during Artsakh war, Israel continues to supply arms and weapons to Azerbaijan, which, certainly, exacerbates the situation along the frontline. By now the Israeli government should know that the weapons they sell are being used against the civilian population not only of Artsakh, but also of the Republic of Armenia. This is unacceptable.”
Armenia said on October 1 that it had recalled its ambassador to Israel over their arms sales to Azerbaijan, who has acknowledged using Israeli-made weapons against Artsakh. “While the Israeli Defense Ministry does not publish details of sales by country, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in 2016 said his country had bought $4.85 billion in defense equipment from the Jewish state,” according to an op-ed on Arutz Sheva.
Yoav Loeff, a lecturer of Armenian history and language at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, commented:
“I think that the selling of Israeli weapons to Azerbaijan is problematic for three main reasons. The first and most important one is the humanitarian factor ‒ we see that Azerbaijan acts again and again as an aggressor, both towards the Republic of Artsakh and towards Armenia itself. In this current war, the Azeri side has been using masses of weapons, including Israeli ones, to deliberately target civilian population. This is immoral and violates the international law. Israel should stop providing weapons that are used this way.
“A second important reason is that one sided military involvement in the South Caucasus harms the tightening of relationship between Israel and Armenia (e.g., Armenia’s recent returning of its ambassador who had just arrived in Israel). The third reason is the fact that Azerbaijan cooperates in the current war with Islamic extremists. That raises the concern that although Israel and Azerbaijan are currently in good relations, ideas and interests may change over time, and we should be worried about possibilities that the Israeli weapons that were sold to Azerbaijan may be used in the future against Israel itself or against Israel ‘s allies. For all these reasons, it would be wise if the Israeli government reassesses its policy in the South Caucasus and the ways to make it more balanced.
“Also, the war over the tiny piece of land of Artsakh / Nagorno Karabakh seems to become more and more a matter of world politics. With the deep involvement of Russia, Turkey and other international forces, the future developments are very difficult to predict. Massive involvement of Israel with one side (the Azeri one) may lead to unpredictable complications. This may be an additional reason for Israel to reconsider its involvement.”
As of October 12, over 500 members of the Artsakh army have lost their lives, according to Armenian sources. Azerbaijan does not disclose military casualties. The Armenian Weekly reported on October 14 that “at least 70 civilians on both sides of the contact line have been killed with over one hundred wounded.” On October 15, video footage from the village of Hadrut in Artsakh emerged of Azeri soldiers capturing and later executing two Armenian soldiers. Mistreatment and murder of prisoners of war is prohibited under the Third Geneva Convention and is considered a war crime.
Donna Shalev, a Professor of Classical Studies of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said:
“I have great respect for the cultural and intellectual legacies of Armenia over the generations. I also empathize deeply with the Armenians’ right to life after all that they have suffered. Most of all, I am politically and morally concerned with and hugely disappointed by the foreign policy actions by some elements in the Israeli government; civilized people here did not sign up for selling arms to an aggressor, just as we have for a long time been disappointed with the ‘realpolitik’-motivated avoidance of officially recognizing the Armenian holocaust.”
Meanwhile, Jewish Armenians have also expressed their fears stemming from Israel’s arms sales to Azerbaijan. Journalist Lara Setrakian wrote for Haaretz: “An Armenian Jewish friend came over to my home in Yerevan. She is anguished. ‘Armenians are David,’ she says, and asks: ‘Why is Israel arming a genocidal Goliath?'”
Suren Aghasi Manukyan, the head of the department of Comparative Genocide Studies at Yerevan’s Armenian Genocide Museum and Institute, noted:
“As a scholar who engaged many years in genocide studies, I believe that genocide totally transforms society. It changes its understanding of human nature and worldview. It provides the victim community high empathy and compassion. The societies that have gone through genocide are more sensitive to others’ sufferings and pains, and indeed it should get a lot more selective in making friends and alliances. And we expect such a stance from Israel.”
“Now Israeli weapons are used by Azerbaijan to target civilians and civilian infrastructure in Artsakh and Armenia. It is time for civil society of Israel, academics, cultural and religious leaders to demand from their government to reconsider and cease arm-sales agreements with Azerbaijan as its policy can be considered not only as warning signs for genocide but also as genocidal in nature themselves; as conspiracy to commit genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide and attempt to commit genocide, which according to the UN Genocide Convention are acts that all states of the world are obliged to prevent and punish.”
In 2019, Israeli historian professors Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi co-published a ground-breaking book, The Thirty-Year Genocide: Turkey’s Destruction of Its Christian Minorities, 1894–1924, in which they documented Ottoman Turkey’s genocide against Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks. Professor Ze’evi, who teaches at the Department of Middle East Studies of the Ben Gurion University of the Negev, said:
“The recent bout of warfare in Nagorno Karabagh/Artsakh has no justification. This current flare-up emerged mainly from Azeri president Aliyev’s internal problems and from Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s aggressive (and perhaps expansionist) foreign policy that we have seen in Syria, Iraq, Libya, the Aegean, and even inside Turkey. Azerbaijan and Turkey have taken advantage of the paralysis in the world as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and America’s isolationism under Donald Trump, to further their aims in this battle-torn region.
“I believe we should not supply arms to any of the sides in this clearly immoral and vicious campaign. I also believe, as do many other Jews, that we who have suffered atrocities in the past should not assist an act of violence directed against a nation that has suffered as much as the Armenians did through modern history. I know Israel has a long friendship and a clear strategic interest in keeping good relations with Azerbaijan, but it has no business assisting it with arms shipments. Israel should send a field hospital, food and medicine, or even peacekeepers, but we should not have Israeli war machines participating in this war.”