Irish-Armenians worry as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict rages on

The conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh region has been ongoing since the 27th of September. Amber Baxter discusses the consequences of this for Armenians near and far from their home.

Photo taken by Melania Arutunyan

The latest US brokered ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Nagorno – Karabakh conflict was broken minutes after it came into effect on Monday, the 26th of October. Two previous ceasefires, brokered by Russia, between the countries were also broken almost immediately.

The fighting, which began on the 27th of September, is the latest in the ongoing dispute over the Nagorno – Karabakh region. The area is internationally recognised to be part of Azerbaijan however the region is mostly occupied by ethnic Armenians.

More than 700 Armenian soldiers have been killed since the conflict erupted, along with civilian casualties on both sides. It is reported that more than half the population of the Nagorno-Karabakh region have fled their homes. Martial law in place means that men of military age are barred from leaving the region. 

US president Donald Trump said in a tweet, “Congratulations to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, who just agreed to adhere to a cease fire effective at midnight. Many lives will be saved. Proud of my team @SecPompeo & Steve Biegun & @WHNSC for getting the deal done!”

However, within minutes of the ceasefire coming into effect, Azerbaijan accused Armenian forces of shelling the town of Terter and nearby villages in “gross violation” of the agreement. Armenia’s defence ministry said Azerbaijani artillery had fired on military positions in various parts of the front line after the ceasefire agreement had begun.

Melania Arutunyan, a 20 year old Irish-Armenian from County Meath, said: “Even though we are thousands of miles away, the effect this has on people, on me and my family, no one can understand that.”

She continued, “I can’t sleep properly. I’m constantly looking at news or updates and hearing the horrible things that are happening. The deaths are just piling up and the conflict is progressing. There’s only so many people that can fight on the frontline. Armenia is a small country”.

Arutunyan spoke about the community of Armenians living in Ireland, “There’s been so much money raised here for families. The stories you see are just heartbreaking. Some [casualties] are so young. It’s a feeling you can’t describe when you have absolutely no control over something like this. You really take it to heart.”

She said, “There was a group chat set up to organise a small peaceful protest in Dublin recently. In some ways it feels like the only asset Nagorno-Karabakh has at the moment is the Armenian diaspora. Although there’s a small Armenian community in Ireland, if you look at America and across Europe, there have been so many peaceful protests.”

The majority of Irish Armenians live in Dublin but the exact figures of how many Armenians are in Ireland are unknown. Estimates range from 150 to 350 individuals who identify themselves as being of Armenian descent.

A post on the Armenians in Ireland website stated: “The demonstration took place at 4:30PM local time when the Committee of Foreign Affairs was meeting in the Dáil. The petition was handed to the Committee on behalf of the people and the Armenian Community on the island of Ireland, with a call to condemn Azerbaijan for their aggression and Turkey for active involvement in the conflict by use of their military force and by transferring jihadist groups from Syria to Azerbaijan. Over 1300 people, mostly non-Armenians, signed the petition within only one day.”

It continued, “Meeting with a number of deputies, the Armenian Community highlighted that they are grateful but they are not satisfied by the statement of the Minister of Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, calling both parties of the conflict to the peace. It’s a time when everyone must be called by their names, and the aggressor must be recognised and condemned for their atrocities in Ireland”.

Since the fighting started, Turkey has declared its unconditional support to its ally Azerbaijan and provided military assistance. It has threatened to spiral into a wider regional conflict, with the potential to further draw in Turkey who is Azerbaijan’s main ally, Russia, which has a mutual defense agreement with Armenia and even the region’s southernmost neighbor, Iran.

Arutunyan said, “This is reminding people of the genocide.” The Armenian Genocide resulted in the killing of 1.5 million ethnic Armenians in Turkey and adjoining regions by the Ottoman government between 1914 and 1923. More than 30 countries have recognised the killings as genocide, though Ankara fiercely disputes the term. Russia and Turkey have coordinated at times in the past to ease tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia. However, the uneasy cooperation between Turkey and Russia is starting to fade as both countries become increasingly assertive in the Middle East. As the United States steps back, relations between all three countries have become more complicated.

Armenian genocide memorial in Yerevan, Armenia. Photo taken by Amir Khajouie courtesy of unsplash.com

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