Ethnic Cleansing

How Corporate Power Facilitated Ethnic Cleansing of Indigenous Armenians in Artsakh

Gayane Matevosyan

April 15, 2023

In October of 2020, the brother of an Armenian soldier receives a call from the Azeri Armed Forces. They tell him that they beheaded his brother. And that they are going to post a photograph of the beheading on his brother’s social media page. Hours later, he finds the video of his murdered brother on the internet. In December of 2020, Azeri troops hold down an 82-year-old Armenian man and saw off his neck with a knife. They film the decapitation and the video surfaces on the internet days later. In January of 2021, the brother of a 58-year-old Armenian woman with a mental disability finds his sister’s body mutilated in the yard outside her home. Her hands, feet, left ear, and tongue were dismembered, likely while she was still alive. These atrocities, and the many others like them, were part of the deliberate and intentional campaign of ethnic cleansing organized by the governments of Azerbaijan and Turkey. In a blatant attempt to eradicate Indigenous Armenians from their native homeland in Artsakh (also known as Nagorno-Karabakh), Azeri and Turkish government officials relied on corporate power and the traction of a confounding narrative to fuel their publicized genocidal agenda while evading accountability from the international community.

On September 27, 2020, the Azeri government launched a military attack on Artsakh, a breakaway state in the South Caucasus region officially recognized as part of Azerbaijan but largely populated by Indigenous Armenians.

This map depicts the beauty of Artsakh and highlights its unique landmarks and architectural features

A tourist map of Artsakh with information about its natural and cultural diversity created by Aram Mirzoyants, Ani Djaferian, and students in two TUMO Stepanakert labs under the framework of a project jointly implemented with the Tourism Department of Artsakh

What followed was a monstrous pattern of human rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law. The Azeri armed forces bombed civilian regions indiscriminately, including schools, churches, and hospitals far from military areas. They tortured prisoners of war. They wreaked havoc on the environment with white phosphorous munitions. They hired mercenaries, one of whom explained that he was promised payment for each Armenian whom he beheaded. While the motivation of Azeri and Turkish government officials was made clear through brazen public statements detailing their genocidal intent, political leaders hid behind the corporate shields of private military companies that funded the murder of civilians and public relations firms that convinced the West to take no notice.

An Ethnic Cleansing Campaign

Over 5,000 Armenians were killed and more than 100,000 Armenians were displaced from their homes in Artsakh during the Second Artsakh War. Even after a ceasefire was signed on November 9, 2020, Azeri troops continued to violate the terms of the agreement, killing 3 Armenian soldiers and wounding 14 more as recently as March 2022. The Azeri government’s purpose in perpetrating this tragedy was no secret. Neither was the Turkish government’s goal in providing its unwavering support. In a May 2022 video interview with Ilham Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan, posted on his official website, he declares, “Our primary duty was to expel the Armenians from our lands, and our children … succeeded in doing that.” All of the lives lost and the countless people who were forced to flee their homes were cause for celebration for President Aliyev. His view is that the unspeakable suffering of the Armenian people is proof of his success, a trophy in his quest for ethnic cleansing.

“Our primary duty was to expel the Armenians from our lands, and our children … succeeded in doing that.”

Indeed, President Aliyev opened a Military Trophy Park in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital city, in April 2021. He was photographed parading through the exhibit, which proudly displayed the helmets of Armenian soldiers killed during the Second Artsakh War alongside “cartoonish-like mannequins” of Armenian soldiers. These dehumanizing caricatures were sculpted with the intention to portray Armenian soldiers as “ugly and cowardly,” with distorted features such as crooked noses and abnormal skull shapes. Following the public opening of the exhibit, images circulated in the Azerbaijani media of people bringing their children to pretend to kill Armenians there. The Military Trophy Park was deemed “highly disturbing and humiliating” by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. The European Parliament described it as “a glorification of violence [that] risks inciting further hostile sentiment, hate speech or even inhumane treatment of remaining POWs and other Armenian captive civilians, thereby perpetuating the atmosphere of hatred and contradicting any official statements on reconciliation.”

Aliyev has left no doubt about what his next plans are. Just a few years ago, he proclaimed, “Yerevan [the capital city of Armenia] is our historic land and we, Azerbaijanis, must return to these Azerbaijani lands … This is our political and strategic goal.” Likeminded Recep Erdogan, the President of Turkey, declared just two months before the start of the Second Artsakh War, “We will continue to fulfill this mission which our grandfathers have carried out for centuries in the Caucasus region.” His historical reference is likely the Armenian Genocide, a massacre led by the Ottoman Empire that systematically exterminated 1.5 million Armenians in the years surrounding 1915.