Today thousands of citizens gathered in Republic Square in Yerevan to commemorate the massacres of Armenian civilians in Sumgait, Azerbaijan, located just north of Baku, on February 27-29, 1988. The rally was sponsored by the “Armenian Help Union” as well as by many political parties, most notably the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (ARF), marked by several of its red party flags being waved. As a result of the pogroms, reportedly 370,000 Armenians were displaced from Azerbaijan. About 18,000 of the quarter-million residents of Sumgait were Armenian. Not surprisingly, none are left there today. These attacks were attributed to Armenian calls for Karabagh’s autonomy from Soviet Azerbaijani rule at the time.
From what I saw at the rally and on the streets, the overwhelming majority of the attendees were youth. Apparently universities let out classes early in response to requests from political parties for students to attend the rally. Thousands of people were purportedly bused in from the regions.
A poster campaign launched about 10 days ago sponsored by the ARF called for people to never forget the Sumgait pogroms and to remember that the Armenian presence in Jugha, Nakhichevan is being erased, with the destruction of apparently more than 1,000 stone crosses placed as tombstones in historic Armenian cemeteries there. I was somewhat surprised to see billboards flanking a stage, which singers and political figures took to for conveying their messages, displaying anti-Turk rhetoric. One sign read “No to Turkish Fascism,” while another pointed out “Panturkism And Panturanism—Facist Ideologies! Nothing To Do With Islam.” The ARF has been churning out similar sorts of nationalist propaganda, especially relating to the Armenian Genocide, for decades, but not on Armenian soil until recently. It was and is understandable in the Armenian Diaspora, but not in the homeland, where Turkic peoples can be found just across Armenia’s western and far eastern borders (meaning with Karabagh), waiting for any excuse to pounce.
Although remembering the horrors inflicted against the Armenians in the past must certainly be commemorated, antagonizing Turkey and Azerbaijan is for the most part unjustified. There are about 25 times more Turks in the region than Armenians—Turkey alone has a population of over 60 million people and an army of purportedly 1 million troops. Furthermore, Turkey also has the capability of crippling Armenia economically, as overwhelming amounts of construction materials, domestic goods, and clothing supplies enter Armenia’s markets and stores illegally from Turkey, amounting to millions of unaccounted-for dollars exchanged in business transactions (this issue is hardly ever discussed by anyone, not surprisingly). Turkey at a whim could refuse to sell to Armenian businessmen if provoked hard enough, which would drastically hurt Armenia’s economy.
During a year when both Armenian and Azeri sides are still negotiating a peace settlement over Karabagh, even after talks broke down a couple of weeks ago, the last thing either side needs to deal with is hateful provocation aimed towards the enemy. Armenians cannot afford to suffer from any other losses—economically, socially, militarily, or otherwise. Azerbaijan this year plans to spend $650 million on reinforcing its military, up from over $300 million in 2005. So such protests and declarations, most definitely made to irk the enemy when they watch the news later this evening, are uncalled for, as in the end they do nothing but incite more hatred.
I doubt that nationalist political parties, particularly the ARF, are expecting anything to come out of these protests. Such rhetoric is usually followed by a lack of action by the Armenian people, who at the end of the day could care less about Turks being fascists or whatever else. The Armenian government and its representative political parties have huge issues to overcome, most notably socioeconomic when it comes to the interests of its citizens. Sponsoring anti-Turk protests does nothing to help combat issues regarding increasing homelessness, low pensions, absurdly low minimum wages, and mass unemployment, let alone cracking down on government-wide corruption in Armenia. Instead of holding demonstrations to rally the masses to tackle these issues under the leadership of the leading political parties, the choice is to convey messages of hatred towards Armenia’s neighbors. It doesn’t make sense—nevertheless yet another example of Armenian logic.
Labels: Thoughts and Musings