Europe would be foolish to switch its energy reliance from Russia to Azerbaijan. It would simply replace one autocracy with another
“The EU is turning to trustworthy energy suppliers. Azerbaijan is one of them,” Ursula von der Leyen declared in July. Over the past week, the EU’s “trustworthy partner” — a phenomenally corrupt hereditary dictatorship in the Caucasus — has slaughtered more than two hundred people in unrelenting attacks on its democratic neighbour Armenia. The carnage in the Caucasus can seem startling because Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s ruler, has been engaged in talks with Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan since Armenia’s defeat in the 2020 war over Nagorno-Karabakh. The two men shook hands just over a fortnight ago in Brussels.
But so little about Azerbaijan’s attack, which goes beyond the disputed territory of Karabakh and targets Armenia proper, is surprising. Emboldened by Europe’s deepening dependency upon Baku — and by the weakened state of Russia, which has a security treaty with Armenia and has traditionally brokered peace in the region — Azerbaijan views this as the perfect moment to coerce Armenia into total submission. The West is as distracted today as it was in the autumn of 2020 when Azerbaijan and Turkey — bound by a “two states, one nation” policy — launched a joint military operation against Armenia at the height of the pandemic in which Syrian mercenaries on Ankara’s payroll were deployed alongside regular soldiers.
Travelling through the region in the aftermath of that war, it was impossible not to notice that Azerbaijan’s animus against Armenia, the world’s oldest Christian state, was founded on more than territorial disagreements over Karabakh. It was animated by something much more sinister: a chauvinistic belief in the superiority of the Turkic peoples over Armenians. It was a continuation of history. In April 1915, Ottoman Turkey inaugurated a methodical campaign to exterminate its Armenian population. A community of two million Armenians lived under Turkish rule at the time. Four years later, fewer than 200,000 remained. The rest were either massacred, marched into death camps, or starved to death. Countless women and children were forced to relinquish their faith and submit to the religion of their overlords. The Armenian diaspora, one of the largest in the world, is a result of the dispersal triggered by the genocide. The word “genocide” was in fact neologised by the Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin to describe the Armenian tragedy. Every Armenian heart is a repository of inextinguishable grief and loss. (To its enduring shame, Britain refuses to confer official recognition on the Armenian genocide.)
More than a century after that protracted atrocity, there is a resurgence of the same homicidal rage against the Armenians, a people shaped by the harrowing memory of death, dispossession, and displacement. On the eve of the Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day in April, for instance, Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, taunted Armenians mourning their tragic past by making a “grey wolf” sign with his fingers — the gesture devised by unrepentant Turkish ultranationalists. The Armenian Genocide is clearly a source of mirth and gratification for Turkey and its client in the Caucasus.