“They (Azeris) are the poets and singers of the Turkic world, not the soldiers.” ― A Turkish Military Officer
“No aspect of life has gone untouched by the war in Azerbaijan’s west — not even football.” ― Fuad Alakbarov, Exodus
“What experience and history teaches us is that people and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.” ― Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
This week I am beginning a three-part series in “More than Meets the Eye.” The topic may surprise you, but it is a subject that is of extreme importance to each of us as we move forward into the second decade of this 21st century.
Lately, we have been hearing cryptic newscasts about a festering conflict in a place called, the “North Caucasus.” Most of us would be hard-pressed to point out the North Caucasus on a map, much less to name the parties involved in this conflict; countries such as Azerbaijan and Armenia. We would also be even further pressed to know the enclaves and exclaves represented in this potentially disastrous struggle.
It would be easy to conclude that this is a new conflict that has emerged from some form of xenophobia or struggles over resources or land. We are more likely to determine, however, that this conflict has been simmering with the occasional eruption for thousands of years. It is a struggle for self-determination, territorial sovereignty, and separatism.
The conflict I am referring to is known as a “Wicked Problem, a problem that appears to be unsolvable.” It is one that has no easy solutions, even if everybody did what was right for the other side. We will discover that there may not even be prescribed “sides”.
In Part 1, we will discuss the parties involved, their histories, national development, and linguistic make-up. These factors will each play a key role in helping us to understand the chaos within this region.
In Part 2, we will take a look at a more contemporary history of the region as it was ruled by the Soviet Union and currently under self-rule. We will discover that much of the problems as they exist today, are the direct result of failed nationalistic policies under the leadership of Lenin and Stalin.
In Part 3, we will look at the implications of the current progress and outcomes of the conflict. We will see how the failed policies were built on an even greater failed set of socio-economic theories, which will interestingly seem oddly familiar to us today. I am talking about Critical Theory, Social Justice Theory, and others.
These few theories are driving much of our socio-political-economic chaos today. I will establish that the same set of theories that are causing confusion in the North Caucasus are doing the same in Western nations as well, minus the bombing and shelling,… so far.
One thing we will certainly discover is that there is so much more, that has happened over millennia, and which is happening today, than meets the eye, both in the North Caucasus and in the United States, Canada, and Europe.
In Part One, let’s take a brief look at the history of Armenia and Azerbaijan to see how the stage was set millennia ago for this modern-day malaise.
Who are these people called, Armenians? Many, especially Americans know little about them. They are in fact, a centuries-old people group with one of the most unique languages.
Armenian Language- Armenian is an Indo-European language, meaning it is genetically related to languages such as Hittite, Sanskrit, Avestan, Greek, Latin, Gothic, English, and Slavic. This implies that the ancestors of the speakers of Proto-Armenian and all the other proto-languages once spoke the same language, which is conventionally called, Proto-Indo-European (PIE.)
Indo-European is a family of languages that first spread throughout Europe and many parts of South Asia, and later to every corner of the globe as a result of colonization. The term Indo-European is essentially geographical since it refers to the easternmost extension of the family from the Indian subcontinent to its westernmost reach in Europe. The family includes most of the languages of Europe, as well as many languages of Southwest, Central and South Asia. With over 2.6 billion speakers (or 45% of the world’s population), the Indo-European language family has the largest number of speakers of all language families as well as the widest dispersion around the world. Indo-European languages are classified into 11 major groups, 2 of which are extinct, comprising 449 languages (Ethnologue).
Armenian Ethnography- The Armenians are the descendants of a branch of the Indo-Europeans. The ancient Greek historians, Herodotus and Eudoxus of Rhodes related the Armenians to the Phrygians—who entered Asia Minor from Thrace—and to the peoples of the ancient kingdom upon whom the Phrygians imposed their rule and language.
Who are the Phrygians? Phrygia was the name of an ancient Anatolian (Turkey) kingdom (12th-7th century BCE) and, following its demise, the term was then applied to the general geographical area it once covered in the western plateau of Asia Minor (Turkey.) With its capital at Gordium, a city just south of modern-day Ankara, the Turkish Republic’s capital and culture which curiously mixed Anatolian, Greek, and Near Eastern elements, one of the kingdom’s most famous figures is the legendary King Midas, he who acquired the ability to turn all that he touched to gold, even his food. Following the collapse of the kingdom after attacks by the Cimmerians in the 7th century BC, the region came under Lydian, Persian, Seleucid, and then Roman control. I also discussed another important figure from Gordium a couple of weeks ago. His name was King Gordios, the creator of the “Gordian Knot.”
Armenian History- One of the decidedly distinct features of the Armenian peoples is that it was founded in the 1st century AD, and in 301 AD became the first branch of Christianity to become a state religion. This was 36 years before Constantine the Great was baptized. It has been this distinctive that has set the Armenians apart from many of its other Middle Eastern co-inhabitants. The Armenian people are fiercely Christian.
Armenia is one of the oldest peoples in the world with a recorded history of about 3500 years. The oldest known ancestors of modern Armenians, the Hayasa-Azzi tribes, also known as Proto-Armenians, were indigenous to the Armenian Highland in Eastern Anatolia (Turkey.) Scientific research, numerous archaeological findings, and old manuscripts suggest that the Armenian Highlands are the very cradle of Civilization. To put that in perspective, it is recorded that Egypt dates back to the year 3100 BC, China to 2070 BC, India 1500 BC, and Greece, 800BC.
Armenia as a nation- Armenia is a small nation with an area of 29,743 square kilometers. It is just slightly smaller than Belgium, or slightly smaller than Maryland. Armenia has a population of just 3 million people (in 2015.) Its capital and largest city is Yerevan. Yerevan has a history of 2800 years and is considered one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. There is a legend about the name of Yerevan. It is said that after Noah’s ark landed on Mount Ararat, Noah first noticed the land which is now the territory of Yerevan. When he saw the land, he said, “Yerevats” which means “it appeared.” After this, the land was called, Yerevan. Historically, Armenia is known to be the landing place of Noah’s Ark.
Azerbaijani Language– Azerbaijani (Азәрбајҹан дили, آذربایجان دیلی), also known as Azeri, is a member of the Turkic branch of the Altaic language family. Turkic-speaking peoples first appeared in the area that is today’s Azerbaijan in the 7th century AD. The region became Turkic-speaking in the 11th century when it was invaded by the Turks. It was invaded by Mongols in the 13th century, but the invasion was short-lived. In the early 1800s, Azerbaijan was divided between Persia and Russia. Russia took control of the northern region, while Persia took over the southern region of the country.
Northern Azerbaijani is the official language of Azerbaijan. It is used at all levels of education, in media, business, and government. Azerbaijani is the main language of instruction with most school children being taught in Azerbaijani. The rest learn in Russian or Armenian. Azerbaijani is nearly mutually comprehensible with modern-day Turkish, Turkmen language, and Gagauz.
Azeri is a gateway to accessing Turkic languages spoken by millions of people in Iran, Iraq, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. These regions are of vital strategic importance in the world today. Azerbaijan is the largest and most populous country in the South Caucasus and possesses sizable reserves of oil resources.
Azerbaijani belongs to the Turkic group of languages, which include languages such as Turkish, Uzbek, Kazakh, Uyghur, and Tatar. Turkic languages have been spoken for many centuries across vast territories, from the Balkans to China.
Azerbaijani Ethnography- Azerbaijan considers itself to be a primary center of human civilization. The very favorable climate, rich flora and fauna, antiquity, stable population, economic life, multi-faceted art, material, and the spiritual world have formed a basis for the comprehensiveness of Azerbaijan from the ethnographic point of view.
It is also true that the Azerbaijani people have always been in close economic and cultural contact with the other peoples of the Caucasus, the Middle East, Russia, and other countries for the past couple of millennia. From these mutual contacts, the country has developed well in many areas of science, literature, and the arts. The ethnography of the peoples of the Caucasus, in a broad sense, is an integral part of the ethnography of the peoples of the Near and Middle East.
Azerbaijani History- The Azerbaijani people are of mixed ethnic origins. These include the indigenous peoples of eastern Transcaucasia, the Medians, an ancient Iranian people, and the Oghuz Turkic tribes that began migrating to Azerbaijan in the 11th century AD. Modern Azerbaijanis are the third most numerous ethnic group among the Turkic peoples after Anatolian Turks and Uzbeks. They speak North Azerbaijani (spoken mainly in the Republic of Azerbaijan and Russia) and/or South Azerbaijani (spoken in Iran, Iraq, and Syria). Both languages also have dialects, with 21 North Azerbaijani dialects and 11 South Azerbaijani dialects.
The Azerbaijani are of mixed ethnic origin, the oldest element deriving from the indigenous population of eastern Transcaucasia and possibly from the Medians of northern Persia. Between the 3rd and 7th centuries CE there was a Persianization of the population, during the period of the Sassanian dynasty. A subsequent Turkification of the population occurred after the region’s conquest by the Seljuq Turks in the 11th century and a continued influx of Turkic peoples over subsequent centuries – including groups that migrated during the Mongol conquests of the 13th century (most of the tribes that formed the Mongol forces or were led by them to migrate were Turkic peoples.)
In a nutshell and not a popular position to have in Azerbaijan is that genetic testing reveals that a large percentage of the people on the Azerbaijani plains are largely Caucasus peoples and Persians who became fused with the Turks. As I said, this is not a popular version of their history, but it is becoming increasingly supported by independent DNA studies.
Azerbaijan as a nation- After the collapse of the Russian Empire during World War I, the short-lived Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic was declared, constituting what are the present-day republics of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia. This was followed by March Days massacres that took place between 30 March and 2 April 1918 in the city of Baku and adjacent areas of the Baku Governorate of the Russian Empire.
When the republic dissolved in May 1918, the leading Musavat party adopted the name “Azerbaijan” for the newly established Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, which was proclaimed on 27 May 1918, for political reasons, even though the name of “Azerbaijan” had always been used to refer to the adjacent region of contemporary northwestern Iran.
The ADR was the first modern parliamentary republic in the Turkic world and Muslim world. Among the important accomplishments of the Parliament was the extension of suffrage to women, making Azerbaijan the first Muslim nation to grant women equal political rights with men. Another important accomplishment of ADR was the establishment of Baku State University, which was the first modern-type university founded in the Muslim East.
As you can see, what is being confronted in the North Caucasus today is the culmination of thousands of years of interaction, fusions, and conflicts. It is really important to be careful to not just write these kinds of conflicts off as simply religious, or economic, or even socio-political.
The events occurring today in the North Caucasus have been unfolding slowly for thousands of years. They are geopolitical in nature and will not be easily resolved by a man to man armed struggle. They are the result of years of tragic interactions, such as the attempted genocide of the Armenian peoples at the end of World War I. Close to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turkish forces, a massacre that the Turkish government still refuses to recognize that even happened.
Azerbaijan marks the 1918 March genocide which was committed by Armenian forces jointly with Bolsheviks, claiming the lives of around 10,000-30,000 Azerbaijani people.
Although many years passed, that bloodshed has not been forgotten, and after the restoration of Azerbaijan’s independence in 1991, then Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev declared March 31 as the Day of Genocide of Azerbaijanis which is marked every year in the country at the State level. The feelings of mistrust and anger have not subsided in this region even after a century.
We must pay attention to the events that are happening in the world today. It is easy to simply point one’s finger and make accusations without knowing what is behind such actions. Sir Winston Churchill once said, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” We must always look forward, but we have to understand our history in order to not repeat the mistakes of the past.
Nations seem to be determined to re-commit the atrocities of the past rather than learn from them. We must free ourselves from them in order to see these same patterns in our own lives as well.
There may be far more about Armenia and Azerbaijan in this article than you ever wanted to know, but it sets the course for helping us to understand the unfolding events that are encapsulated within deeply held ethnographic and geo-political biases; biases that have the power to draw in the influence of major players in the region and from around the world.
My conclusion? Watch this closely as it unfolds. It is not over yet, not by a long shot.
10 Conflicts to Worry About in 2020… https://acleddata.com/2020/01/23/ten-conflicts-to-worry-about-in-2020/
Unfavorable Views of China Reach Historic Highs in Many Countries… https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2020/10/06/unfavorable-views-of-china-reach-historic-highs-in-many-countries/
For your comments or questions about any of our digests please feel free to write to me at: [email protected]