Three months after fighting ends in Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenian and Azerbaijani communities are still recovering

Armenians and Azerbaijani share different perspectives, post ceasefire

On Nov. 9, 2020 a ceasefire agreement was signed between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The deal was brokered by Russia and ended 44 days of warfare in Nagorno-Karabakh (known to Armenians as Artsakh). Now, both Armenian and Azerbaijani communities across the globe are dealing with the conflict’s fallout.

The capitulation by the Armenian government determined a complete victory for Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan will hold on to the land it took during the conflict and Armenia agreed to withdraw from several other adjacent areas.

Ismayil Alakbarov is a political analyst and one of the board members of the Network of Azerbaijani Canadians.

“We feel honoured and we feel very happy that justice is restored. We feel a responsibility on our shoulders to help this region to bring peace and stability,” said Alakbarov.

“We as Canadians want to help the region,” Alkabarov continued. “We as the Azerbaijani community and the Armenian community living in Canada need to prove that it’s here in terms of reconciliation we need to build inter-community here and bring this model to the region.”

While the Azerbaijani people are celebrating a victory, Armenians are disappointed.

Sevag Belian is the executive director of the Armenian National Committee of Canada.

“Armenians feel absolutely betrayed by the international community … Most countries did not lift a finger, or simply they kept it within the boundaries of some empathetic statements by saying, you know, they’re concerned and they would like for peace to reign,” said Belian.

Belian says many Armenians are feeling betrayed by their own government as well.

“They weren’t being transparent enough, and they weren’t being open enough in terms of how the negotiations were ongoing … But we can’t vent our fury at the Armenian government. As Canadians, we can only share that with our government here,” Belian continued.

Fighting being brought to an end is a good thing. But at the moment it seems like both sides —  both in their home countries and here in Canada —  have issues with the agreement.

“There was a very lopsided announcement, a lot of the grievances of the Armenian people and regions, the indigenous population of the land has not been addressed in the announcement … There are many prisoners of war that are still being held captive by Azerbaijan,” Belian said.

For the Azerbaijani people, the issues come from the new Russian military presence in Nagorno-Karabakh. The ceasefire agreement will bring nearly 2,000 Russian peacekeepers into the area.

“Of course, we don’t feel good about it, honestly Azerbaijani people are not happy with having Russian peacekeepers and military presence inside of Azerbaijan … It’s not welcome. We don’t want any other country’s military presence in our home country, but on the other hand, it is good for the security of the people living there,” said Alakbarov.

It’s difficult to tell if the ceasefire will lead to lasting peace within the region. At the time the deal was signed, Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh were under intense pressure, having just lost Shusha (known as Shushi in Armenian) the second-largest city in Nagorno-Karabakh.

While the situation remains delicate neither side wants a war to continue.

“Let’s sit down let’s talk, let’s bring forward our issues. What is wrong with coexistence together,” said Alakbarov.

Armenians also want peace talks to be revisited.

“We want peace to hold but whether lasting peace can be achieved based on the provisions that are included in the Nov. 9 ceasefire announcement is hard to tell because a lot of issues in the region were not addressed,” said Belian.

But Azerbaijani people feel hesitant to give up anything they won in November.

“If Armenians do not want war, if they want to have peace and stability they should forget about putting forward territorial claims. They should accept Azerbaijan citizenship and integrate into Azerbaijani society,” said Alakbarov.

“The president of Azerbaijan declared the highest level of guarantee to their security as citizens.” Alakbarov continued.

Despite tensions remaining high, a meeting was held on Jan. 11 between the leaders of  Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Russian President Vladamir Putin met for the first time since the ceasefire agreement. The three parties discussed reopening transit routes between the regions in an effort to return stability to the region.

“Now having achieved this peace deal there is a good and excellent opportunity for this region to reconcile … This could be a good opportunity for the region to integrate economically,” said Alakbarov.

For Armenians however, this is not the primary issue.

“I think it’s pointless to speak about opening back trade routes and transportation links … The issue of our cultural heritage, and all the issues that are related to that none of these were discussed,” said Belian

Click here for more information on the recent conflict and history.


Graphic by @ihooqstudio


“We need more action”: Canadian-Armenians demand bold measures on Nagorno-Karabakh

In an unprecedented show of force, Armenians from all across Canada poured into the capital on Friday

Gathered in front of Parliament, nearly 5,000 demonstrators were joined in solidarity by current and former MPs. Their objective? Compel the government to condemn Turkey and Azerbaijan as the aggressors in the Karabakh conflict, permanently halt the export of weapons to those countries, and recognize the Republic of Artsakh as an independent state.

Hrag Koubelian, president of the Concordia Armenian Students’ Union and a participant in Friday’s demonstrations, believes this is a fitting opportunity for Canada to show what it’s made of.

“Given Canada’s great record in defending human rights, we hope that it officially condemns Azeri and Turkish aggression against Artsakh and Armenia. We hope to see recognition of the Armenian people’s will to peacefully live on their lands.”

Sevag Belian, executive director of the ANCC, speaks to protestors at Parliament Hill. (Credits: Shoghig Tehinian)

However, with clashes intensifying and casualties mounting by the day, some, like Tamar Panossian, are worried that the government may be dragging its feet.

Panossian says, “Time is already being wasted because we have so many soldiers already dying, already so many people who have been displaced, and they’re taking a lot of time to take action.

Such concerns have been growing among the Canadian-Armenian community ever since open war broke out on Sept. 27 between Armenian and Azeri forces over Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh.

While sporadic fighting has occurred along the line of contact (LOC) in the past, the latest round has been the deadliest to date. Recent estimates place the number of casualties in the thousands.

The Armenian community is particularly worried that active Turkish interventionism has made Azerbaijan more belligerent. In response, Sevag Belian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of Canada, says the government needs to take some strong measures.

“Canada cannot afford doing business with a genocidal state such as Turkey that has absolutely no intention to adhere to international law. Let it be clear: this is a red line for our community,” says Belian.

Some current and former MPs are trying to bring this issue to the attention of the government. Alexandre Boulerice, New Democratic Party MP for Rosemont – La Petite-Patrie, and a long-time supporter of Armenian causes, says this is a matter of human rights and national self-determination.

Canadian-Armenian man looks over a demonstration sign calling for Turkey’s expulsion from NATO. (Credits: Shoghig Tehinian)

“You can count on us and the NDP to continue putting pressure on the Liberal government to do more.” He agrees the suspension of weapons exports to Turkey must be made permanent.

The Conservatives, for their part, are stressing the importance of an open and transparent investigation into weapons exports, as well as the right to self-determination.

Harold Albrecht, former Conservative MP for Kitchener—Conestoga, who also attended the demonstration, believes Canada ultimately must stand up for Armenians. He said, “I’m hoping I can influence my colleagues [in the Conservative Party] to put pressure on the government.”

Some of that pressure is even coming from within the Liberal party itself. In a statement that was read out on Friday, Fayçal El-Khoury, Liberal MP for Laval—Les Îles, expressed his full support for the demonstrators.

“We will never stop until we reach the recognition of the free and independent Republic of Artsakh. I have been with you, I am with you, and always will be with you,” he said.

Earlier this month, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne told his Turkish counterpart that “external parties should stay out [of the conflict].” Additionally, Global Affairs Canada temporarily suspended some weapons export permits to Turkey, pending an investigation into their use in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Mher Karakashian, chairman of the Armenian National Committee of Canada, says Armenians are definitely encouraged by these steps. However, he awaits what the government will do next. “We will have to see what happens in the coming days. Our hope is that Canada takes up a leadership role, together with its allies, mobilizing the international community to bring a peaceful resolution to this crisis.”


Photographs by Shoghig Tehinian


Pro-Armenian protestors gather to call for Mayor Valérie Plante’s support

A thousand protestors gathered in front of city hall on Thursday

A pro-Armenian protest in front of Montreal City Hall on Thursday Oct. 8 called on Mayor Valérie Plante to publicly support Armenians in the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh territory conflict.

On Sept. 27, conflicts re-erupted in the region, leaving at least 23 civilians killed. While the Nagorno-Karabakh territory is recognized internationally as located in Azerbaijan, the majority of the territory is occupied and controlled by a majority population of ethnic Armenians.

Aram Shoujounian, one of the organizers of the demonstration on Thursday, said they want Plante to denounce Azerbaijan and Turkey’s violence towards Armenians in a conflict that has claimed over 300 lives, according to Armenian, Turkish, and Azeri reports.

Shoujounian said the protest also calls on Plante to recognize the independence of the “Republic of Artsakh.”

While the disputed territory is officially called the Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenians refer to the territory as the Armenian-language name of the region: “Artsakh.”

At present, the majority of the territory is ruled by a government called the “Republic of Artsakh,” and positions within the government are largely held by ethnic Armenians.

“We’re telling Valérie Plante, and the entire city hall, to recognize the Republic of Artsakh as an independent state, because that’s the only way to guarantee the security and the right to live on the territory of the Republic of Artsakh,” Shoujounian told The Concordian.

“We do not want our democratic societies to stay neutral,” said Shoujounian.

Located between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the territory has been disputed through political and military conflict for decades, beginning in the ‘80s.

Russia brokered a cease-fire with both countries in 1994, but conflict continued throughout the years.

Canada suspended drone technological exports to Turkey after reports emerged that the technology was used by Turkey to target Armenian civilians.

A ceasefire agreement on Oct. 10 was promptly broken just minutes after the agreed upon deadline. Both countries put blame on the other for breaking the agreement.

On Friday Oct. 16, Justin Trudeau met with Armenian and Turkish leaders to speak on the conflict, and to encourage a peaceful resolution. A petition supporting Armenia and Armenians in Artsakh was begun by Ontario Liberal Member of Parliament Bryan May, and will collect signatures to present to parliament until Nov. 8.

Fourth-year Concordia student at the protest.

One fourth-year Concordia student said she was attending the protest because more needs to be done.

“There is a second genocide towards Armenians happening right now and people are silent,” she said.

She says leaders need to take a stand to get involved beyond peace talks, stating, “Talking nicely and telling them to cease fire won’t work because we had a ceasefire agreement.”

Nathalie Setian, the student’s close friend, said, “they [Azerbaijan and Turkey] just want to invade and erase us as a nation as an Armenian race.”

Both Armenian Montrealers said they came to pressure government officials to support the self-determination and safety of the people in the disputed region, and to aid the movement in Montreal.

“We’re raising money [for Armenian soldiers], we’re donating a lot, we’re writing open letters,  we’re urging the government and the politicians and especially the media to stand with us,” said Setian.

“We’re raising our voices and doing as much as we can to get people to stand up for us, because we’re not accepting biased and falsified information by journalists.”

Last week the Armenian diaspora in Montreal organized a protest in front of the Montreal Gazette and Global News media offices, to call out the “surface level” reporting on the conflict, and how the reporting does not accurately represent the level of threat this conflict has for the ethnic Armenians in the conflict zone.

“If you are neutral, that means you support terrorism,” said Setian.

“We don’t want genocide to repeat itself and we don’t want whatever happened in Syria to repeat itself in Artsakh,” said Setian.

Since the protest, Setian has co-written an article on the conflict.

On Saturday Oct. 17, Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to a ceasefire starting at midnight. The deal was brokered by the OSCE Minsk Group. Early Sunday morning, the ceasefire deal was broken with both sides blaming each other for the violation.

Today, Monday Oct. 19, Plante has released a statement saying she stands in solidarity with the Armenian people, and will support efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

“To the Armenian community of Montreal I would like to offer you all our support…I wish you strength and peace in these very difficult times and know that we stand altogether with you,” said Plante.

Photos by Hadassah Alencar

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