Amid International Backlash to Invasion of Ukraine, I Wonder: What About the Armenians?

Ani Arzoumanian, Copy Editor

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a horrifying attack on human rights and on a nation’s entitlement to self-determination. My heart goes out to all Ukrainians across the world, especially to those forced to flee from their homes and to those determined to stand their ground and fight in Kyiv.

In response to this attack, the U.S. and other major powers have imposed significant sanctions on Russia, according to The New York Times, and international media outlets continue to cover the progress of events day and night. People around the world are outraged, many taking to the streets in protest or using social media as a platform for activism, according to The New York Times. Even The Maroon-News has been flooded with submissions from student writers eager to cover the events in Ukraine, many of which were published in the first March 2022 issue.

I am not dismayed by the attention that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is getting in the media. I am envious. 

In September of 2020, when Azeri forces marched into the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh (called Artsakh by Armenians) and committed internationally-recognized war crimes, as listed by Forbes, the world was silent. When illegal cluster bombs were deployed against civilians and white phosphorus munitions set forests ablaze, the world was silent. When churches and hospitals were targeted and destroyed, the world was silent. When the Azeri military openly posted videos on social media of them torturing and beheading their Armenian captives, the world was silent.

The war in 2020 was an invasion of superior forces and technology on an indigenous population with virtually no defenses other than the 18-22 year-old men faced with an impossible task: that of defending their nation, alone. Azerbaijan was assisted by Turkey, the country responsible for massacring 1.5 million Armenians during the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1918. This is a reality which both Turkey and Azerbaijan continue to deny to this day, along with a litany of other massacres and pogroms against Armenians, as documented in The New York Review.

During the war, international media outlets showed their general disinterest in covering another conflict in the Middle East by utilizing a both-sides narrative, such as calling the invasion “deadly clashes,” as reported by Politico. Rather than acknowledging the one-sidedness of the conflict, governments chose to remain neutral and issued vague statements, such as “We urge both sides to take immediate concrete steps to reduce tensions and avoid further escalation,” as issued by U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.

Growing up as an Armenian American woman, I am not new to this kind of blatant ignorance. I’ve dealt with having to explain to people where Armenia is on the global map. As a direct descendant of Armenian Genocide survivors, I’ve constantly been faced with the task of educating those around me about the history of atrocities committed against the Armenian people. But when war came to my country in 2020, I was devastated and alone on a college campus with only a handful of Armenians. My whole world shifted, and no one knew it. Every time I checked my phone, I would see the names of more soldiers and civilians killed by a seemingly endless stream of drone bombings. I would watch a video of someone who looked just like me being tortured, and then have to push it to the back of my mind and sign-in to class on Zoom.

It seemed like no one was talking about it. None of my professors emailed me to check-in on my mental health during this time. There were only two Maroon-News commentary articles submitted about the topic: I authored one of them, urging my fellow students for support. The other, authored by Staff Writer Nathan Biller, argued that the U.S. shouldn’t intervene in the conflict.

There are many parallels between the events in Ukraine and what happened in Artsakh in 2020. Azerbaijan is a dictatorship, and has been ruled by the same family for most of its existence as a post-Soviet nation, and the governments of Armenia and Artsakh are both democracies. Yet the invasion of Artsakh was labeled as controversial, and no third party took a stand in defense of the indigenous Armenians. It all boils down to politics and people’s ability to empathize with victims. Historically, the U.S. and its Western allies have had no stakes in Armenia or Artsakh, and therefore nothing to gain from intervening. Neither country has oil or gas, which makes it more difficult to convince international parties that it’s worth fighting to preserve democracy or human rights, notions which are so frequently touted by major global powers. 

Additionally, what we’re seeing from the media coming out of Ukraine today is nothing short of blatant racism. There is a growing record of state officials and reporters expressing shock that war can happen in a European and white nation; Ukraine’s Deputy Chief Prosecutor David Sakvarelidze explained that “It’s very emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blonde hair being killed,” as reported by CNN.

And so I wonder what it is about Armenians that makes us so hard to empathize with.

In an email sent on Monday, March 7, the Office of the Chaplains informed the campus community that there will be a “Vigil of Solidarity with the people of Ukraine” on March 8. While I am proud that the office is supporting Ukrainian community members, I can’t help but think how nice it would’ve been if someone had thought of the Armenians during our time of need.

There are fewer than 10 Armenians on campus, but that is no excuse to ignore us. The next time you hear about conflict in a non-European country, take a second to evaluate your own biases. Would your reaction be different if the same thing happened to people who looked like you?