Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 01/23/23

A Tale of Two Continents. A disturbing feature-length documentary called The Desire to Live (based on an ongoing YouTube series of the same title) is currently making the rounds on the festival circuit. The film chronicles alleged Russian-sanctioned atrocities against the mostly Armenian population of the Republic of Artsakh, a breakaway region of Azerbaijan that borders Armenia in Western Asia. Azerbaijan itself is located smack on the boundary of Western Asia and Eastern Europe.

Since December 12th, the Azerbaijani military, said to be masquerading as environmentalists, have reportedly blocked the only road connecting Artsakh to Armenia, in effect shutting down the only physical connection the Artsakh Armenians have to the outside world. The alleged ploy would be a clear violation of a 2020 agreement between Armenia, Azerbaijan and supposed peacekeeper Russia. The little-reported blockade of Artsakh has created a humanitarian crisis that some observers fear could be a prelude to genocide.

Both the feature film and the YouTube series are written and directed by Artsakh native Mariam Avetisyan and produced by Peter Bahlawanian who is of Armenian heritage and whose grandparents were both orphaned in the Armenian genocide in Eastern Turkey. My conversation with Peter Bahlawanian follows the film’s trailer.

JWK: What are the issues involved in this conflict? What exactly are we talking about here?

Peter Bahlawanian: This is a bit of a complicated issue (for) a short story but I’ll do my best. Right before the collapse of the Soviet Union the states that became countries, like Armenia and Azerbaijan, obviously were both part of the USSR. A little enclave everybody who knows anything about it has always identified as Nagorno-Karabakh – which is kind of like a higher ground…It’s very tough terrain but beautiful terrain. People have been living their for centuries – Armenians, mostly. Over 90% of them have always been Armenians, historically. Right before the fall (of the Soviet Union), the Armenians there decided that they needed to break away from the State of Azerbaijan of the USSR and join the State of Armenia of the USSR. It was 1989, I believe, (that) they started doing protests and asking for recognition. They democratically made a vote at that time which, basically, showed that 98% of them wanted to separate.

JWK: 98%?

PB: Yeah…This goes way back (to) when it was part of Armenian land and then Stalin decided to separate them because he wanted to separate the people there in (the 1920s) and gave that part to Azerbaijan. He figured, you know, separate the people (and) have conflict. This was his plan plan all the time. It was all over the place. So, that kind of created a big problem for the people there even though their number-one nemesis, obviously due to the genocide, was Turkey. Turkey states, even today, that Turkey and Azerbaijan are (like) two people, one state – or two states, one people. They see them as brothers. At this point, Azerbaijan – the country itself and the Azeris – see Armenians as almost subhuman…

…In 1991 there was a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan to protect the people there because there were all kinds of pogroms in Azerbaijan. In Baku, they started killing Armenians…and then there was a massive deportation from there. Then there was a massive deportation from Armenian regions to that area. So, it was like this real big happening of conflict (between) the two people but then it settled in 1994 when the war ended and…Armenia captured that part of the Armenian land back.

From that point on, that was it. You know, it was like peace – or, at least, whatever you want to call peace…For decades Armenia went on and focused more on building up their country, their education and their infrastructure while Azerbaijan spent tons of money on the military, always thinking probably that they’re gonna come back and attack – which they did.

That happened in 2020. (Post war skirmishes erupted in 2022) that lasted about 44 days. (All in all) it was pretty deadly. On the Armenian side, I know they lost about 5000 people. It was gruesome too because it was a different type of war. You know, a lot of kamikaze drones and technology came into play. The Armenians were not prepared at all for the war. They were totally caught off guard.

Also, the other big player in this was Putin and Russia. Putin didn’t want a war to happen in that region because that’s his backyard…He still has a base in Armenia…Officially they had a pact (where) all the ex-Russian states that have signed this agreement together that, if any one of them gets attacked, they all come to their defense. Armenia is part of that pact.

Now, what’s happening is that three years ago, when the new president (of Armenia) came in, he had ideas of breaking away from Russia and Putin and joining the EU. That created a lot of problems and that kind of turned the Russians into becoming more accepting of Azerbaijan attacking Armenia. I mean this is all about power and power and power. This is about Putin showing Armenia that you cannot exist without us because you have neighbors that are willing to kill you – and they’re trying…

…So, Putin decided at that time (that) we’re gonna let the Azerbaijani government and military loose on them and then they did and then, finally, came in at the last minute because nobody else was around and they said “Okay, we’re gonna sign a peace treaty here” and they did. They actually sent Russian peacekeepers into the region. There are about 2000 Russian peacekeepers now on the ground where that conflict was, right outside of Armenia. Their job is to protect the people of Artsakh…

…So, Artsakh is the land there in that region. Right now, there there are about 120,000 people or more in an area that’s cut off except for one road that goes into Armenia. Everything around it is Azerbaijan. So, now it’s all surrounded by Azerbaijan territory. That land is still protected by, if you want to call them (that), the Russian peacekeepers but the people there in 30 years (have) created a government. They created an education (system). They created schools. It’s beautiful. Stepanakert is the main city there which probably has most of the population. Then the surrounding villages and areas that we filmed mostly in (are largely made up of) farmers living off the land. That’s basically how they have survived and how they can survive in the future.’

That road, which is the Lachin corridor, is vital. That’s the only road in and out. After the war, there were no airports open because the air is covered by Azerbaijan (which threatens) that anything going up is going to be shot down…So, now it’s been (since December 12th) that some kind of proxy eco-protesters showed up and they started protesting the mines because because, you know, Artsakh has these mines that they control. Armenia has them too but Artsakh has these mines that they control…These mines have these rare earth (elements) in them. Incredible amounts! They haven’t been exploited that much because Armenians treat their land like holy land. Basically, a lot of it is still there. I found out with my research and everything that Azerbaijan and Aliyev, the president of Azerbaijan, has already made deals with companies pre-selling these rights to the mines that he doesn’t even control. Basically, his goal is to get that area under his control and then, of course, hand it over to the Anglo-Asian Mining Company – which is a company based out of Europe with ties to the US – so that they can exploit those mines.

JWK: When I hear a company name with word Asian that is into mining rare earth elements, I think of China. Is China involved in this?

PB: China is probably part of it because they’re all for microchips. All of this now is all about microchips (and) all of the stuff that they need for AI and things like that. This is all coming up. We had no idea. Armenians are very into weddings and parties. They love to celebrate events and stuff. They actually mourn very hard when there’s a death. This is the way that they think. They think a lot about family…They’re not the type to focus on something like a mine and then all of a sudden “Let’s exploit the mine.”…Well, now everybody’s got their eyes on anything they think they’ll find that hasn’t been exploited yet. Azerbaijan especially has their eyes on it because their contract with this company is three-billion dollars. They’re expected to mine a lot of product out of that mine.

JWK: I guess this also plays into the push for electric cars.

PB: Yes.

JWK: Getting back to the genocide against Armenians, are you saying it’s still going on?

PB: If you think about it, what’s happening now is kinda like a continuation of genocide because a war is a war. You know, war is like, okay, two countries fighting over land or whatever it is. In (this) case, it’s interesting how the Armenians always have to suffer because, first, their faith. They are Christians. I mean 99% – most Armenians – are Christians. They’re in a geographic region where they’re surrounded by Muslim countries. The Turks on one side, obviously, were the perpetrators of the genocide in the 1900s…Then, after that, Armenia came under Russian control because they, you know, didn’t have anywhere else to go. The Russians and the Turks were fighting at one point so they ended up going on the Russian side because Russians weren’t killing them like the Turks were but then once they became a state of Russia…they had to follow their regime – but the Armenians that were from the eastern side of Turkey that had to leave or got deported or were able to escape found their futures all over the world. That’s why there’s a huge Armenian population outside of Armenia. There are more Armenians outside of Armenia then there are in Armenia…No matter where they live, they’re still brought up – most of them – understanding the culture, knowing our history and then even, as I did (growing up) in Canada, going to Armenian school and learning the language. This was part of our upbringing.

JWK: So what’s going on right now?

PB: Right now the Lachin corridor has been blocked by these so-called eco-protesters…There has been nothing going in or out except for really emergency cases where people have been in intensive care and they need to be in another hospital. So, the Red Cross has been able to take some people out…but Artsakh, right now, is running low on food and wood. Electricity and gas has been shut off regularly – and this is in the middle of the winter. So, basically, these people have to stay warm. They’ve lost much of the woodlands around them which they use for fires to keep warm…They’re in a state of huge vulnerability. Azerbaijan is, basically, trying to squeeze them so that either they just leave voluntarily or they starve. It’s become a humanitarian crisis and people don’t see it…This is why it’s so important for us to get the word out because there’s no media. There’s no coverage, nothing.

JWK: Why do you think that is?

PB: The same thing happened when the war broke out in 2020. There was no coverage. I think because Turkey has a very strong power over media – even in the US and in Europe. In Europe we know that Azerbaijan has had these incredible back-end deals with politicians. Basically, they just turned the other way and let that happen.

The Minsk Group was part of the original group that came to that 1994 ceasefire and treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan was between the US, France and Russia. So, these three countries were part of the Minsk Group. When the war was happening, the US didn’t get involved at all. France did their best but I don’t think France had the power without the European Union and the rest of the European Union didn’t want to back France, not with everything France was trying to do to help Armenia. So, that left Russia and Putin decided that he’s going to let this play out a little bit until it gets to a point that he can get what he wants out of it. This (was) a very bad situation…

…(Eventually) the Azerbaijanis actually attacked Armenia proper. They attacked them at the border and then there were another couple of hundred people fighting off the attacks. They ended up holding them off but, at that time, it was very difficult to understand why they were attacking. Then I found out (about) all these mines. They want  to open up a corridor that spans all the way through to Turkey…They’re, basically, preaching that that whole area called Armenia is going to be wiped out. They have a plan…It’s another genocide in the making. It’s continued on. We’ve had a timeout. Now, the timeout is over.

John W. Kennedy is a writer, producer and media development consultant specializing in television and movie projects that uphold positive timeless values, including trust in God.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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