Discover more from Carl Beijer
Azerbaijan ramped up denazification rhetoric after Russia invaded Ukraine
Aliyev's pretext for war in Armenia has echoed Putin's rhetoric time and time again.
Two years after the frozen conflict in Nagorno Karabakh reignited into an open war the violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia has started once again. And predictably, US discourse has devolved into its only mode for understanding every single conflict in the world: figuring out which side are the Nazis. US media has already launched some initial salvos against Azerbaijan:
Armenia, of course, has long held Turkic Azeris responsible for the Armenian Genocide, which they understandably compare to the Holocaust. Azerbaijan’s more recent blockade of the Lachin corridor, starving ethnic Armenians inside of Nagorno Karabakh in what amounts under international law to a genocide, has drawn similar comparisons.
But US media is a latecomer to this discourse, and Armenia’s pleas for recognition of the Genocide have fell on deaf ears in much of the world. And Azerbaijan, meanwhile, has found considerable success advancing its own narrative: that Armenia itself is a hotbed of fascism. Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev has markedly escalated this rhetoric in recent years, for example in a speech last April:
We have crushed fascism. We have saved the South Caucasus from fascism. However, there are still manifestations of fascism there, as some circles in Armenia and Armenians of the world, Armenians living abroad are still trying to intimidate us…we should always be prepared to crush Armenian fascism if it happens to raise its head ever again. Armenia knows and understands this perfectly well and should never forget it.
Azerbaijan’s case against Armenia typically leans on three points of evidence. First, Armenia’s unusually prolific anti-semitism: by multiple measures, it has one of the most anti-semitic populations of all of Eurasia. Second, its continued tolerance and even celebration of Armenia’s historical Nazi collaborators, whose statues and street names still dot the country. And finally, various atrocities committed during its ongoing war, in particular the Khojaly massacre of 1992. Only a few months ago Azeri media a small group of Khojaly survivors who pointedly insisted that “Armenian fascists who committed crimes against humanity should be punished in the same way as fascists and Nazis were punished after World War II.”
If these lines of criticism sound familiar, they should: they are identical to Russia’s case for invading and “denazying” Ukraine. Here Garegin Nzhdeh is Armenia’s Stepan Bandera, Khojaly is any number of atrocities carried out by Ukraine in Donets / Luhansk, and the Republican Party of Armenia is Svoboda. Ironically, Azerbaijan has largely refused to sign onto these narratives when Russia levels them against Ukraine; but Azerbaijani media and the government have certainly found their usefulness in war if the surge of talk about fascism in Azerbaijan since the invasion of Ukraine is any indication.
Ultimately, the basic point that Armenia has a Nazi problem — like Ukraine, Russia, and the US for that matter — should be beyond serious dispute. The notion that it was rising fascism that drove Azerbaijan and Russia to wipe it out, and that either country would even try to do so, is patently absurd. Nagorno Karabakh is best understood as power vacuum struggle set off by the collapse of the Soviet Union and facilitated by the failure of international peacekeeping. The USSR had maintained a stable peace in the region for decades after centuries of recurring war; when it disappeared, liberal institutions like the UN and OSCE failed to play the same role. In their absence, all the forces that led to war in the Caucuses before — in particular, its geographic position as a kind of hinterland crossroads between multiple great powers — have become relevant again; it seems curious to imagine that the they no longer matter.
Azerbaijan’s fascism line has caught on in some places, particularly in Turkey and Israel where it has become common in the media. It is less common, however, in the Russian Federation, which remains generally aligned with Armenia. A telling incident in 2017 illustrates the diplomatic two-step Russia is trying to pull off: that November, Russian state television criticized Armenia for erecting a monument to Nzhdeh, even explicitly adding that the country was walking “in the footsteps of Ukraine.” After loud complaints from government and party leaders in Armenia, however, Russia hastily walked it back and sent a formal letter of apology to Armenia’s ambassador. Evidently, walking in the footsteps of Ukraine on fascism wasn’t that big a deal for Russia after all.
The war in Nagorno-Karabakh doesn’t map onto US interests as cleanly as the war against Ukraine does, which means that popular opinion will probably be less polarized and more fragmented than usual. With any luck, Americans will take the opportunity to think critically about how imperialists often use anti-fascism as a pretext for aggression.
Carl Beijer is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.