The warning signs about atrocity are flash red, but Secretary of State Antony Blinken persists in forcing through a peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, a traditionally Armenian-populated enclave in what is now Azerbaijan.
Blinken may see a peace deal as a success he can trumpet against the backdrop of a tenure devoid of other accomplishments, but the consequence of Blinken’s actions will be huge.
He may want a Nobel Peace Prize, as might Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan or even Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. It is unlikely, but should the Norwegian Nobel Committee oblige, the Blinken prize would herald a humanitarian disaster, as did the Nobel Committee’s award to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in 2019.
The problems with Blinken’s peace plan are huge.
Democracies should not bully fellow democrats into conceding to terror in the face of aggression. Nor should the State Department dismantle democracies and force their submission to dictatorship. Most alarming, Blinken actively ignores Aliyev’s abuses, even as Aliyev incites genocide and denies the legitimacy of an entire population.
As Armenian lands have fallen under Azerbaijan’s control, Azerbaijanis have demolished churches and destroyed a millennium-old cemetery. They, like Palestinian extremists do toward Jews in the Holy Land, denied any historical connection between Armenian communities and the lands on which they have lived for thousands of years since founding the world’s first Christian state 1,722 years ago. This is why Azerbaijani restorers sandblast Armenian inscriptions from churches and insist they belong to ancient Albanians rather than Armenian interlopers.
That Blinken is silent as Azerbaijan demands Armenian priests abandon the Dadivank monastery suggests indifference to cultural eradication.
Aliyev, meanwhile, finds solace in sycophants who deny any legitimacy to Armenia’s population, dismissing their community in Nagorno-Karabakh as no more real than “Narnia.” That said, Blinken’s silence is the rule rather than the exception. Be it in Nigeria, with regard to the Uyghurs, or in the South Caucasus, Blinken has been the worst secretary of state for religious freedom, at least since Cordell Hull insisted on sending Jews back to Nazi Germany as the Holocaust loomed.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Armenian community in Nagorno-Karabakh has organized itself democratically. Freedom House has ranked them more democratic than Azerbaijan, a country Freedom House lists among the world’s worst dictatorships.
Things have heated up this week.
On May 28, Aliyev demanded the surrender of Nagorno-Karabakh’s elected president, but suggested he would offer amnesty for other ethnic Armenian administrators and elected officials should they accept Azerbaijani rule. Bizarrely, the State Department praised Aliyev’s offer.
This sets up a humanitarian disaster.
As soon as ethnic Armenians put themselves under Aliyev’s rule, they become Azerbaijani subjects with no civil or human rights of which to speak. Aliyev has already shown disdain for Armenians by subjecting them to a five-month blockade of food, medicine, and fuel. He has separated elementary school-age children from their parents and senior citizens from their caregivers by allowing some to visit Armenia, only to deny them the right to return.
During the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War and after, Azerbaijani forces embraced terror as a tactic. They circulated videos of prisoner beheadings and mutilations and destruction of graveyards to both desensitize their own population and force the flight of Armenians.
Should Blinken impose peace, expect that Azerbaijani tactic to accelerate.
Azerbaijan may want Nagorno-Karabakh, but it does not want its residents. It will treat regional capital Stepanakert like Serb nationalists treated Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica. The logic remains the same: Murder 8,000 but force 10 times that number to flee by exposing the impotence of peacekeepers and diplomats.
It is time to end the moral equivalence. Democracy should be a precursor to peace. So too, is an end to the incitement of ethnic hatred in Azerbaijan’s textbooks and media. Delaying the demarcation of borders until after peace only gives Azerbaijan a green light to renege on its commitments.
During the Obama administration, Jake Sullivan’s ego, naivete, and ambition played into Iranian hands and brought the Islamic Republic to the brink of nuclear breakout. The cost for Blinken’s ego, naivete, and ambition will be paid in tens of thousands of Armenian lives.
(c) 2023, Washington Examiner