The skirmishes in Tovuz, on the international border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, led to confrontations between representatives of the diasporas of the two states overseas. Radical attitudes and attacks by the representatives of Armenians were particularly noticeable. The first large-scale attack happened in Los Angeles, the United States, also known as the capital of the Armenian diaspora with 500,000 Armenian residents. A large group of Armenians attacked and injured a much smaller group of Azerbaijanis in Los Angeles on July 21, the latter having gathered to peacefully protest the recent Armenian aggression on the border with Azerbaijan. According to the Los Angeles Police Department, detectives are investigating the assaults as a hate crime. Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, sent a letter to Consul General of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles Nasimi Aghayev and condemned the assaults.
This incident was followed by a number of provocations staged against representatives of the Azerbaijani diaspora and diplomatic missions in Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Georgia, the Ukraine and Russia. On July 30, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan dismissed 13 employees of the Office of the Commissioner for Diaspora Affairs. According to the pro-Pashinyan news portal lragir.am, these dismissals were due to the latest string of assaults in the US and Europe.
After these events, experts began to discuss the reasons behind what seems to be a rebirth of radicalization within the Armenian diaspora and the resulting attacks. The debate revolves around three particular reasons: first, the radical ideology that continues to be fed into the perceptions of Armenian youth; second, the shattering of the image of Armenia as a “victimized” nation; and third, the Armenian government’s relations with the diaspora.
The spread of radical ideology in the Armenian diaspora passed through three stages. The first period started at the beginning of the 20th century. According to historical documents, during meetings in Yerevan in September and October 1919, the Armenian political party Tashnak decided to assassinate politicians, including Armenians from Turkey and Azerbaijan, as proposed by Armenian-American Shahan Natalie (born in the Ottoman Empire as Hagop der Hagopyan). As a result of this meeting, an assassination team was created, led by Shahan Natalie, Armen Garo, and Aron Sachaklian. The organization established for this purpose was named Nemesis. The Nemesis terror organization assassinated Azerbaijani Prime Minister Fetali Han Hoyski on June 19, 1920 in Tbilisi. Later, Minister of Internal Affairs of Azerbaijan Behbud Khan Javanshir was assassinated on July 18, 1921 in Istanbul by Nemesis member Misak Torlakian, who then fled to the United States and lived there to the end of his life.
The second period of the spread of radical ideology in the Armenian diaspora began in 1975. In this year, the diaspora established two organizations: The Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) and the Justice Commandos of the Armenian Genocide (JCAG), both of which adopted terrorism against civilians as a strategy. Between 1975 and 1983, Armenian terrorist organizations perpetrated 161 bomb attacks, 77 people were killed as a result of the attacks perpetrated by these organizations, among them 31 Turkish diplomats. At that time, ASALA and JCAG were specified as terrorist groups by the United States. However, many Armenian intellectuals continued to celebrate the activities of ASALA and JCAG in their writings and hailed these terrorists as heroes.
Moreover, Armenian diaspora organizations continue to idealize these two organizations to Armenian youth as an exemplar. For example, on July 26, 2020 a number of Armenian churches organized religious ceremonies to commemorate the five “heroes” who gave their lives for the Armenian people. On July 27, an Armenian diaspora newspaper published in Los Angeles remembered the five Lisbon “heroes” who attacked the Turkish embassy in Lisbon in 1983. These so-called heroes killed two civilians, including the wife of a Turkish diplomat and a Portuguese police officer. Through such commemorations, Armenian youth are encouraged to emulate the ideology and actions of the terrorists.
The third period in the rebirth of radical ideology in the Armenian diaspora started in 1988 during the occupation of Azerbaijan’s territories by Armenia. In 1987, ASALA members dissolved their terrorist organization and came to Armenia, where they were welcomed as heroes. Upon their return, ASALA members also took an active part in the occupation of Azerbaijani territories by acting in cahoots with other terror organizations. Armenian terrorist groups not only operated in the occupied territories, but also attacked buses, metro stations, and other civilian locations in Baku and other cities of Azerbaijan, causing many deaths and injuries.
The second reason for the rebirth of radicalization in the Armenian diaspora today has to do with its declining influence. During the period 1988–1994, when Armenia occupied Azerbaijani lands, the Armenian diaspora worked to legitimize the occupation in the eyes of international public opinion. On Jan. 19-20, 1990, for example, the Soviet Union invaded Baku and attacked demonstrators demanding the resolution of certain social and human rights issues. Through misrepresentation by the Armenian diaspora, some newspapers in the West tried to form a lobby against Azerbaijan and portrayed the Soviet attacks as a “suppression of Islamists in Baku”. In 1992, at a time when Armenia continued to occupy Azerbaijan’s territories and just after the Khojaly genocide, the US Congress, under the influence of the Armenian diaspora, adopted “Section 907” against Azerbaijan. Ironically, Section 907 demanded that Azerbaijan stop the “aggression” against Armenia. A few months after the adoption of Section 907, the UN Security Council adopted four resolutions (822, 853, 874, 884) demanding that Armenia withdraw its forces from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. These episodes from history highlight that during the 1990s, the Armenian diaspora formed a monopoly over the narrative against Azerbaijan.
However, after the 2000s, the Armenian diaspora started to lose its influence in this field. The first reason was related to the increasing activism on the part of Azerbaijan’s own diaspora. Stronger institutionalization and mobilization of Azerbaijani diaspora contributed greatly to the recognition of the Khojaly massacre as a genocide committed by Armenia by more than 10 countries in the world and nearly 20 states in the US. What’s more, despite the efforts of the Armenian diaspora to portray Azerbaijan as an aggressor, the international community began to recognize that Azerbaijani lands are in fact occupied by Armenia.
The third and final reason for the resurgence of radicalization relates to a policy pursued by the Armenian government. Pashinyan, who desires to enlist the support of the diaspora in Armenia’s domestic policy struggle, also wants to use the diaspora as a foreign policy tool and therefore wants to please the diaspora by adopting a populist and nationalist policy. During his first visit to the US, Pashinyan went to Los Angeles and made a speech to the Armenian diaspora there, in which he thanked them for supporting him during the “Velvet Revolution”. Subsequently, Pashinyan also asked them to support his government economically. In addition, Armenia’s Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan, who was appointed by Pashinyan, threatened Azerbaijan, during a speech to the Armenian diaspora in New York, with occupying new territories. Thus, speeches by officials of the new government are also greatly contributing to the rebirth of radical attitudes among the Armenian diaspora.
The Armenian government supports this reemerging radicality in the Armenian diaspora as the latter is no longer able to perform its assigned roles through conventional lobbying activities. It has also become largely evident that the Armenian diaspora is also no longer able to legitimize the occupation of Azerbaijan’s territories or sell Armenia as a “victim”. As a result, the diaspora, in its desperation, has started to adopt radical methods to make its voice heard once again.
By Dr. Cavid Veliev
– The writer works at the Baku-based think-tank Center for International Relations Analysis.