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Some troubling comments by Robert Fisk   3/09/2007

Some troubling comments by Robert Fisk

by Armen Ayvazian 

On August 28, 2007 Robert Fisk published one of his articles in The Independent on the Armenian Genocide. As in previous cases, this article too focused on the veracity of the fact of Genocide, denouncing Turkey, its politics of denialsim and the support it gets from political allies in the West. Fisk did it, as usual, robustly and emotionally.

I would have praised and applauded this article as another strong slap in the face of genocide denialism, if there were not very troubling comments by Fisk about the most recent history of Armenian-Turkish/Azerbaijani conflict, specifically regarding the war for the liberation of Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijani colonialism.

Below I quote the two passages from Fisk’s article (see in full at http://news.independent.co.uk/fisk/article2901136.ece):

I sensed some political problems up at the Yerevan museum – international as well as internal. While many Armenians acknowledge that their countrymen did commit individual revenge atrocities – around Van, for example – at the time of the genocide, a heavy burden of more modern responsibility lies with those who fought for Armenia against the Azeris in Nagorno-Karabakh in the early 1990s. This mountainous region east of the Armenian state saw fierce and sometimes cruel fighting in which Armenians massacred Turkish Azeri villagers. The Independent was one of the newspapers that exposed this.

Yet when I arrive at the massive genocide memorial next to the museum, I find the graves of five "heroes" of the Karabakh war. Here lies, for instance, Musher "Vosht" Mikhoyan, who was killed in 1991, and the remains of Samuel "Samo" Kevorkian, who died in action in 1992. However upright these warriors may have been, should those involved in the ghastly war in Kharabakh be associated with the integrity and truth of 1915? Do they not demean the history of Armenia's greatest suffering? Or were they – as I suspect – intended to suggest that the Karabakh war, which Armenia won, was revenge for the 1915 genocide? It's as if the Israelis placed the graves of the 1948 Irgun fighters – responsible for the massacres of Palestinians at Deir Yassin and other Arab villages – outside the Jewish Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem near Jerusalem.

 There are several problems in this presentation as I see them:

  1. The causes and essence of Karabakh conflict are turned upside down: It was not about ”cruel fighting in which Armenians massacred Turkish Azeri villagers”, as maintains Fisk. No verified evidence has ever been produced about these Azerbaijani claims. On the other hand, Fisk overlooks and ignores the vast and well-documented evidence about the massacres of Armenians in Sumgait, Kirovabad, Baku, Maragha and elsewhere. In particular, the pogroms in Sumgait in February 1988 had reanimated the genocidal strategy against the Armenians adopted by the leadership of Azerbaijan since then and withheld up to the present. Fisk overlooks and ignores the vast evidence about the ethnic cleansing of Armenians from Karabakh during the operation “Ring” in April-August 1991, when overall 22 Armenian villages were ravaged and their population deported by the Soviet and Azerbaijani special forces (see, e.g., Cox, Baroness Caroline and Eibner, John. Ethnic Cleansing in Progress. Zurich, London and Washington, Institute for Religious Minorities in the Islamic World, 1993).
  2. Neither does there lie “a heavy burden of more modern responsibility with those who fought for Armenia against the Azeris in Nagorno-Karabakh in the early 1990s”. For Armenians, this was a classic case of “Just War”, where they fought in self-defense for their fundamental right to live on their native land. 
  3. The Armenian fighters who are buried at Tsitsernakaberd are heroes without any reservation: denouncing them, WITH NO PROOF WHATSOEVER, in conducting massacres against Turkish Azeri villagers is ABSOLUTELY false and deplorable. The equation of the buried heroes at Tsitsernakaberd with the Irgun terrorists is unfounded, to say the least, and is in fact a total invention.
  4. All in all, Fisk’s comments amount to the denunciation of the Armenian suffering and heroism in countering the threat of a new genocide, this time in Artsakh/Karabakh. After all, what is the use of acknowledging the past Genocide while attempting to denounce Armenia's (including Artsakh's) current struggle to prevent the new one at the hands of the same perpetrators -- Turkey and its junior ally Azerbaijan?

I am also strongly concerned about a clear distortion of my points regarding the Fisk article in three responses sent by Hovann Simonian, Joe Kéchichian and Asbed Bedrosian (see their responses below): I haven't urged anyone “to attack” Fisk and make a “foe” of him. My suggestion to a friend in a private mail was to offer a fair and balanced presentation of the Armenian position on the Karabakh conflict, one which could perhaps prompt Fisk to revise his views and preclude in the future what clearly appears to be a misconception and misinterpretation on his part. Obviously, The Independent’s readers would have benefited from a clear exposition of facts around these issues. Further, I opined that the response would have been more effective, if it came from a professor in Armenian Studies from a well-known US university. After all, what is the use of the Armenian Studies in the USA, if the leading professors in the field (Armenians by descent as well as non-Armenians) should shy away from correcting the wrong interpretations of historical and political facts about Armenia and the Armenians?

Ignorance in the history of the Karabakh liberation war could somehow be explained in the case of an English journalist (albeit one with a vast knowledge and sophisticated understanding of Middle Eastern politics). However, the full and immediate support by some American Armenian scholars and observers to Fisk’s harmful misrepresentation of the Karabakh conflict could hardly be justified. The attempts by the three protagonists quoted below to silence and even distort any constructive and healthy criticism of Fisk’s position are shocking and a painful reminder of the unenviable state of Armenian political thought, its immaturity and lack of responsibility.

Those who "see nothing to protest about" in the article in question, basically, agree with Fisk that the Karabakh war was just about the "cruel fighting in which Armenians massacred Turkish Azeri villagers." Such a position sides with the Azerbaijani/Turkish propaganda and is tantamount to a dangerous form of historical denialism, which directly undermines the security of the Republic of Armenia and Artsakh.

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