I’m an American citizen who’s outraged over his government’s complicity in the human-rights catastrophe in Artsakh. This is a letter which I’ve mailed to my U.S. Congressman, Gus Bilirakis (R-FL). Slightly different versions have also been sent to my US Senators, Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rick Scott (R-FL). This letter has been slightly edited for Antiwar.com.
Stop Arming Azerbaijan’s ‘Armenian Genocide’ in Artsakh
Rep. Gus Bilirakis:
My name is James Rutledge Roesch and I’m one of your constituents in Florida’s 12th Congressional District. I’m writing to you today to urge you to take action against Azerbaijan and Turkey’s joint war of aggression on Artsakh (also known as Nagorno-Karabakh) and Armenia.
Given your "A+" rating from the Armenian National Committee of America, I assume that you’re already aware of the situation, but just in case, I recommend reading "Armenia and Azerbaijan’s Fight over Nagorno-Karabakh, Explained in 500 Words" by Alex Ward at Vox. For even greater detail, see Alex Ward’s full article on Vox,"The Conflict Between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Explained."
Turkey is enabling and escalating Azerbaijan’s war on Artsakh in a contemporary continuation of its longstanding policy of genocide against the Armenian people, to which it has never admitted (let alone apologized for). This war also fits a wider pattern of Turkish aggression, Turkey has backed "Muslim Brotherhood"-esque Islamist forces and "Al Qaeda"-esque Sunni jihadists in Libya and Syria, is at the brink of war with Greece and Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea, and threatens that its large immigrant population throughout the EU is a potential fifth column. With "allies" like these, who needs enemies?
One year ago, you and Congressman Adam Schiff (who represents my in-laws’ district in California) introduced a historic resolution to recognize the Armenian Genocide. This resolution (H.Res.296) was passed by near-unanimous bipartisan support, with only a few hacks and cranks like Ilhan Omar voting "present" in protest. I was proud that for all the political differences between you two, that the Congressmen representing both sides of my family took the lead on an issue of such importance to all of us. We all thank you.
Just as you demanded justice for the Armenian Genocide, I hope that you also demand an end to Turkey and Azerbaijan’s potential genocide of the Armenian people living in Artsakh.
There are at least two things that the U.S.A. must do – or, more accurately, stop doing – to deter Azerbaijani and Turkish aggression against Artsakh and Armenia.
First, place an embargo on military aid to Azerbaijan. The USA is providing military aid to Azerbaijan over Armenia at a ratio of 25 to 1. This disparity occurred over the past four years, when American military aid to Azerbaijan increased by 3233% from $3 million to $100 million. Yet while Armenia is ranked 77 out of 198 according to the "Transparency International" index, Azerbaijan is ranked almost 50 spots lower at 126. Furthermore, while Armenia is ranked 120 out of 210 ("partly free") according to the "Freedom in the World" report, Azerbaijan is 70 spots lower at 190 ("not free"), shockingly below warzones like Sudan and Yemen, dictatorships like Venezuela and China, and even the Gaza Strip. While the USA shouldn’t be aiding any foreign countries in this way, why are we favoring a glorified petro-dictatorship like Azerbaijan over an aborning democracy like Armenia? At the very least, the exorbitant increase in American aid to Azerbaijan should be canceled. American allies should also be pressured to cease selling arms to Azerbaijan, such as Israel.
Second, place an embargo on military aid to Turkey. Since Turkey’s admission to NATO in 1952, the USA has helped build up the Turkish military by giving its government billions and billions of dollars in grants to spend on American military contractors such as Boeing, CAS, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and SAIC. Perhaps this made geopolitical-strategic sense during the Cold War, but now Turkey is more of a liability than an asset as an ally. Turkey is no longer a pluralist, secularist, and "pro-Western" ally, if indeed it ever was. Americans share neither security interests nor political ideals with Turkey, which has become increasingly authoritarian, nationalistic, and Islamist under Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The prospect of the USA being "treaty-obligated" to side with Turkey in a war against Artsakh and Armenia which Turkey and Azerbaijan started themselves is nauseating and exemplifies the need for "resetting" NATO.
Embargoes on military aid are preferable to economic sanctions, which are forms of "collective punishment" unjustly targeting the civil population for the actions of their government. Sanctions haven’t proved effective whenever and wherever they have been imposed, although they have come at a high humanitarian cost. I believe that Azerbaijan and Turkey are behaving criminally in Artsakh, but I don’t support imposing sanctions that hurt innocent Azerbaijani and Turkish people. Hitting those regimes where it hurts – through our military aid – is a more effective and more humane tactic.
While doing these two things, we must also be careful to learn from our recent failures in Syria and Ukraine. Iran (which shares a border with Armenia and Azerbaijan) and Russia (which borders the South Caucasus and has a military alliance with Armenia) have far more legitimate security interests in this conflict than the USA This war shouldn’t be seen as an opportunity for anti-Iran and/or anti-Russia crusaders in Washington, D.C., to fight a proxy war with their enemies, in the event that Tehran and Moscow get involved. If those crusaders get away with turning this conflict into another proxy war against Iran and Russia, as they did with the Syrian and Ukrainian revolutions, it’s the innocent people of Artsakh who will pay the price, just like the innocent Syrian and Ukrainian people.
The war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Artsakh isn’t a war over mere territory. It’s a war over the human right of self-determination, which has been the paramount "American idea" ever since Thomas Jefferson wrote about "unalienable rights" and "the consent of the governed" in the Declaration of Independence. "Any people, anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better," according to Abraham Lincoln. "This is a most valuable, a most sacred right, a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world." After World War I, Woodrow Wilson led the movement to protect the right of self-determination under international law. "National aspirations must be respected; people may now be dominated and governed only by their own consent," according to Wilson. "‘Self-determination’ is not a mere phrase; it is an imperative principle of action." Artsakh has acted just as Jefferson, Lincoln, and Wilson envisioned: The majority of people living there voted to leave Azerbaijan (the country to which map-redrawing Stalin had attached them) and return to Armenia (the country from which map-redrawing Stalin had detached them). Azerbaijan has resisted this act of democracy with military force, and now, backed by Turkey, it’s seeking crush it once and for all.
Yet the American creed of self-determination doesn’t mean that we must directly intervene in every foreign conflict – quite the opposite, in fact. In 1821, during the wars of independence in Latin America against the Spanish Empire, John Quincy Adams (then serving as President James Monroe’s Secretary of State) cautioned against the temptation to intervene in foreign conflicts when and where self-determination seems to be at stake. "Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions, and her prayers be," Adams avowed of America, "but she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy." As Adams put it, America must be "the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all" but "the champion and vindicator only of her own." America should support the cause of self-determination "by the countenance of her voice" and "the benignant sympathy of her example," explained Adams, but he added that she should know history well enough not to entangle herself "in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom." According to Adams, if America ever became "the dictatress of the world," even if it were in the name of a worthy cause such as self-determination, then "she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit."
Fortunately, we don’t have to "go abroad in search of monsters to destroy" in the South Caucasus. We don’t have to bomb Azerbaijan for the sake of Artsakh as we bombed Serbia for the sake of Kosovo, if indeed we ever had to do that. All that America has to do in order to be the "well-wisher to the freedom and independence" of Artsakh is simply to stop arming those forces which are fighting against the freedom and independence of Artsakh. I believe that I speak for many other Americans (and certainly many more of my Armenian-American family and friends) when I say that I’m appalled and ashamed that our country has failed to support Artsakh’s fight for self-determination with "the countenance of her voice" and "the benignant sympathy of her example." To make matters worse, America isn’t even "championing and vindicating" her own freedom and independence, for she’s entangled herself with foreign countries which are waging "wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition." Yet America can become the "ruler of her own spirit" again by placing an embargo on military aid to Azerbaijan and Turkey. Look at what this aid bought us – a war. It’s in Artsakh that the "standard of freedom and independence has been unfurled," and it’s with Artsakh that "our hearts, our benedictions, and our prayers" belong.
James Rutledge Roesch is from Florida and follows U.S. foreign policy.