Society 15:11 11/04/2015

Haaretz: Israeli weapons supply to Azerbaijan is betrayal of memory of Holocaust and act of moral bankruptcy

''Ever since I learned that I would be traveling to the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, I thought I was traveling to a dangerous, sad, perhaps forlorn and hopeless place, a place where again people are being persecuted due to their ethnic Armenian identity. Now, after six extraordinary days in Nagorno-Karabakh, I think I know the answer to the question of why they don’t run away from this small republic in the southern Caucasus: It is an incredibly beautiful place; legends say it is the entrance to paradise,'' Yair Auron, Israeli historian, who has for the past 30 years struggled on behalf of recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the State of Israel, writes. The article, titled "David and Goliath in the Caucasus," is published on the website of the Israeli outlet Haaretz.

The author notes that about 51,000 people live in Stepanakert, all of them Armenian. It is a small but beautiful city, astonishingly clean and well designed. Stepanakert is the seat of an elected parliament, an elected president, a government and a cabinet. Nevertheless, not a single country in the world recognizes the Nagorno Karabakh Republic, established on May 12, 1994, following a cease-fire agreement between the sides of the conflict. Its total population is 140,000 – 98% of whom are ethnic Armenians. The cease-fire ended a bloody war that had begun in 1988, and that ended with the Azerbaijanis being driven out. At the time, military observers and experts assessed that Armenian Karabakh would not survive for long. 

The author highlights that Azerbaijan defines itself as a secular Muslim state although it has recently exhibited some extremist Islamic phenomena. The border between it and Nagorno Karabakh is 370 kilometers long; along it, on the Karabakh side, are hundreds and perhaps thousands of bunkers.

''I was received by the president, Bako Sahakyan and the head of parliament; I toured the border zone and spent a few hours in an Armenian bunker, where I was able to speak with complete freedom with the soldiers.A sign at the entrance to the bunker read: ‘If we lose Artsakh [the Armenian name for Karabakh], we will be sealing the fate of Armenian history.’ This feeling is shared by many of the Armenians with whom I spoke,'' Auron writes noting that a “prolonged war” is now under way and this is the tensest and most difficult period since the cease-fire was declared, 21 years ago. 

Noting that not only soldiers are killed in the shootouts, but also farmers working their land along the border, the author highlights that the Armenian soldiers are forbidden to shoot without explicit orders. However, the Azerbaijanis fire indiscriminately, and also employ snipers. Auron was allowed to peer toward the Azerbaijani lines for only a few seconds.

Auron also reminds that an Armenian helicopter was shot down in no-man’s-land during a training flight. For 10 days, the Azerbaijanis refused to return the bodies of the three pilots. International mediation efforts failed. It was then decided at the highest levels of the officialdom of the Armenian side to bring them home for burial on their own. Two Azerbaijani soldiers were killed during the rescue operation. The Karabakh army was placed on high alert.

A civilian airfield that was built in recent years near the capital city of Karabakh and that is ready to commence operations has been paralyzed, because Azerbaijan has openly declared that it will shoot down any civilian aircraft flying in proximity to it.

''The biblical story of David and Goliath stayed with me all through the week. The Karabakh David is certain of the justice of his ways and of his eventual victory. Everyone shares this feeling of certainty, from the president to the head of the parliament and senior army officers, down to the lowest-ranking soldiers. The prevailing sentiment is "We want and we seek peace, but we are ready for war and we will win it,'' the historian writes adding that the Armenians in Karabakh receive significant aid in the conflict from Armenia, but not from anywhere else. He heard more than once during his visit that they have no one to rely upon other than themselves.

''The Karabakhis exude determination, and confidence in their power and in the righteousness of their struggle. They speak proudly of the “Karabakhi spirit” as a significant factor in bolstering their military prowess,'' Auron writes.

He notes that often, during his visit, he thought of his own country, Israel, which ships weapons to Azerbaijan, valued at billions of dollars, and the denial over the years by the State of Israel of the Armenian genocide have recently been supplemented by new developments in the complex relationship between Israel and the Armenians. Rafael Harpaz, Israel’s ambassador in Baku, Azerbaijan, told a press conference there in January that Israel would not recognize as “genocide” the killings of Armenians perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire 100 years ago. No Israeli diplomatic representative has ever said such a thing. Asked who gave him the authority to make this statement, the envoy replied that he was not saying anything new for the Foreign Minister of Israel Avigdor Lieberman had said the same thing. However, Auron found no evidence of that claim.

The author resents: Israel, a country of many Holocaust survivors, not only fails to recognize the Armenian Genocide, but also denies it. “Without a doubt, the prime minister, defense minister and president all know that the sophisticated Israeli arms sold to Azerbaijan are intended to achieve a single goal: that of defeating and occupying Karabakh. Of banishing the Armenians from there,” the historian writes stressing that Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has publicly reiterated this objective in nearly every speech he has made in recent months.

The author reminds that in 2012, there were published reports that Israel had agreed to a colossal arms deal, valued at $1.6 billion, by which it would supply drones to Azerbaijan. The author highlights that when Aliyev, in one of his speeches, declared that they had the most advanced weapons in the world, he was referring to the weapons sold by Israel as well.

Auron also stresses that the territories, which the Armenian side seized during the war, historically belong to Karabakh, and the ancient Armenian churches, some dating back to the 10th century and even earlier, serve as evidence to this claim. In the 1920’s, during the rule of Lenin and Stalin, these territories were wrested from them and annexed to Azerbaijan, against the will of the Karabakhis, who were ethnically Armenian, and the region was severed from the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic. “Soviet Karabakh,” however, was not identical in terms of its territory to historic Karabakh. During the years of Soviet rule, the Azerbaijanis adopted a variety of methods to augment the proportion of their compatriots in Karabakh and to reduce the number of Armenians, who in the early 1920’s numbered about 95 percent of the residents.

The author highlights that in all of the villages close to the border the mosques were left intact. “We are not barbarians,” one Armenian soldier told him. Meanwhile, the Ottoman Empire, Turkey in its wake, and then Soviet Azerbaijan demolished hundreds of churches – converting some of them into mosques, the article reads. 

Auron also writes about his meeting with Bako Sahayan, the President of the NKR. In a wide-ranging and informal conversation President Sahakyan refused to say a bad word about the Azerbaijanis. He said repeatedly that his country seeks peace, but is certain of victory in the event of an all-out war. The President emphasized that their long-term vision is to gain independence and peace, and to take their place in the family of the democratic peoples.

“The days I spent in Karabakh were formative ones for me, and I intend to return. I identify with the struggle of the Karabakhis for freedom and independence, and as much as possible will endeavor to take part in that effort. I am doing so, first and foremost as a human being, but also as a Jew and an Israeli,” Auron states.

It is noted in the article that if out-and-out war breaks out in Nagorno Karabakh during the centenary year of the Armenian Genocide, the Karabakhis will have only Armenia to rely on. The world was silent in 1915, was silent during the Holocaust, was silent during the genocide in Rwanda, and has been silent in the face of many other similar events.

“The thought of Israeli weapons going to Azerbaijan makes me lose sleep at night. This is a betrayal of the memory of the Holocaust and the memory of its victims; it is an act of moral bankruptcy,” the author writes adding that he and his friend, Itai Mack, an Israeli lawyer, for the past few months, have been raising the call to end widespread arms shipments to Azerbaijan.

In response to a Haaretz request to address the subject of defense industry sales to Azerbaijan, a Ministry of Defense spokesman said: “The ministry is not in the habit of relating to issues of subjects related to security exports.”


Haaretz: Israel should not sell arms to Azerbaijan, in order to avoid repetition of Armenian Genocide

Argentinian media: Immersed in cozy landscape around Gandzasar it is hard to believe that contact line is within hour’s drive 

TV channel BBC tells about Armenians’ lives in NKR under Azerbaijan’s permanent threats

The National Interest: Strategic advantage and favorable defensible terrain in Nagorno Karabakh are under Armenian control 

HAARETZ: Western leaders are happy to trade with Aliyev, but less keen to be seen with him in public 

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