The West’s Double Standards in the Armenian Crisis

The West is indifferent to Azeri aggression in Armenia because Azerbaijan’s strategic significance makes it an essential partner for Western energy security, leaving democratic Armenia with limited support in its time of need.

Demonstrators rally to demand the reopening of a blockaded road linking the Nagorno-Karabakh region to Armenia and to decry crisis conditions in the region, on July 25, 2023. (Ani Balayan / AFP via Getty Images)

Armenians are again facing extermination. A century ago, the Ottomans deported and massacred them in the Armenian Genocide. Reduced to a landlocked state smaller than Kentucky, Armenia is now inundated with bombs and gunfire from its eastern neighbor, Azerbaijan. With Western and Israeli support, Azerbaijan is cleansing Armenians from its territory and slicing up Armenia until nothing is left.

Despite Azerbaijan’s aggressive colonialism, the West tends to downplay the severity of the conflict, framing it as a mere misunderstanding between two countries. Instead of imposing divestments and sanctions on Azerbaijan, the West has actually increased economic and military cooperation with the country.

To further complicate matters, the West is also now attempting to broker peace — via EU mediation — between both countries. However, these efforts may simply be laying the groundwork for Armenia’s demise.

History Repeated

Armenia and Azerbaijan have been fighting since the Soviet Union collapsed. As the Union disintegrated, Soviet republics divided into nation-states. This nationalism led to violence against ethnic minorities. Both Armenians in Azerbaijan and Azeris in Armenia were ethnically cleansed.

One of the largest minorities were Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh (now called Artsakh), a majority ethnic Armenian region of Azerbaijan. Soon after Azerbaijan became independent, it revoked Artsakh’s autonomy and began a siege on its capital. In response, Artsakh declared its independence and fought with Armenia against Azerbaijan. When the war ended in 1994, Artsakh and its surrounding territories were under Armenian control.

Azerbaijan’s luck turned in the next two decades. Soon after the Second Nagorno-Karabakh war broke out in 2020, President Joe Biden recommitted to a resolution denying military aid to Azerbaijan. Biden has since rescinded the decision. Indeed, the resolution has been waived annually, by both Democratic and Republican presidents, since it was first established in the early ’90s. Positioned halfway between Europe and Afghanistan, Azerbaijan is a strategic hub for the American military. Over one-third of nonlethal equipment going to Afghanistan went through Azerbaijan.

The 1999 discovery of a gas field led to an economic boom. Between 2004 and 2008, Azerbaijan’s economy increased fivefold. The West helped exploit Azerbaijan’s fossil fuels, with British Petroleum becoming the largest foreign investor. In 2018, the European Union invested €1.5 billion to help build a gas pipeline from Azerbaijan to Europe. As its economy grew, so did its military, which received support from Israel, driven by their common adversary, Iran. In the 2010s, about a third of Azerbaijan’s arms imports came from Israel, a number that has increased to two-thirds, according to recent figures.

Armenia soon found itself isolated, situated between adversaries Azerbaijan to the east and Turkey to the west. Unable to bolster its military at the same pace as Azerbaijan, Armenia faced challenges in defending itself. Nonetheless, it had a crucial advantage that Azerbaijan lacked: Russia’s support. While Azerbaijan aligned itself with the West, Armenia was a part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Russia’s equivalent of NATO, obliging all members to come to the defense of any attacked member.

In 2020, Azerbaijan launched an offensive against Artsakh. Initially, Russia did not intervene, as the territory was internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. However, when Azerbaijan shot down a Russian military helicopter, Russia issued an ultimatum demanding a halt to operations. Consequently, a cease-fire was eventually signed, and Russian peacekeepers were deployed to Artsakh.

Energy and Military Alliances

Everything changed when Russia invaded Ukraine. While Russia was distracted, Azerbaijan launched a military offensive. But whereas previous offensives were against Artsakh, this one was against Armenia. Armenia tried calling on the CSTO’s help. But none of the members, including Russia, answered. Armenia’s only deterrent was gone. In just two days, two hundred Armenians were killed. Azerbaijan now occupies 140 square kilometers of Armenia’s territory and kidnaps, tortures, rapes, and executes Armenians in the border regions.

Azerbaijan then turned its eye directly on Artsakh. In December 2022, Azerbaijan blocked all food, medicine, electricity, and water to the region. Azerbaijan president Ilham Aliyev stated that Armenians in Artsakh “will come with their heads bowed” or “will have to look for another place to live.” This was not an idle threat — Azerbaijan has previously bombed civilian areas in Artsakh to clear its inhabitants. Recently, Aliyev said he would settle 150,000 Azeris in the region. The International Court of Justice may have ruled that Azerbaijan must “take all measures at its disposal to ensure unimpeded movement of persons, vehicles and cargo,” but the situation remains extremely dire.

Unfortunately, Western foreign policy remains the same. While the West strictly upholds international law in the context of Russia, it shows only mild concern regarding Azerbaijan’s actions. When Azerbaijan began bombing Armenia, the United States noted “increased tensions” at the border. The EU stated that “the forces of either side must be withdrawn to a safe distance” and UK ambassador Neil Holland demanded substantive negotiations from “both sides,” implying an equal responsibility for the conflict, despite the “disproportionate aggression” from Azerbaijan.

Just as Israeli attacks against Palestine elicit little response from the West, so too is the West apathetic when Azerbaijan attacks Armenia. Azerbaijan is a key partner for Europe’s energy security and for the West and Israel’s military alliance against Iran. In contrast, Armenia has no fossil fuel reserves and is one of only ten countries hosting a Russian military base. For the West, it would be better if Armenia was gone.

Armenia now finds itself where Palestine was in the 1990s. When the USSR collapsed, Arab states lost their most powerful ally, leaving Palestine to work with the United States. Unfortunately, the alliance with Israel led to a peace agreement made in bad faith. Rather than granting statehood to Palestine, the Oslo Accords granted Israel control over the West Bank. Palestine now fights for its life under Israeli apartheid.

With Friends Like These…

With Russia focused on Ukraine, Armenia has no choice but to work with the West to survive. The West does make its peace-building efforts seem genuine. The EU sent experts to monitor the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and talks have been hosted in Brussels and Washington.

But behind these overtures, the West’s true interests lie with Azerbaijan. Monitors in Armenia did not change the EU’s foreign policy. Rather, it seems to be a publicity stunt to improve the EU’s image. The EU Foreign Affairs Council said the purpose of the mission was “to maintain the EU’s credibility as a facilitator of dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan.” While Armenia was attacked, the EU agreed to double gas imports from Azerbaijan by 2027.

Little support has been given to Armenia. The EU recently proposed sending aid to Artsakh, but this idea was hotly rejected and roundly condemned by Armenia and Artsakh. Why? Because the aid would come from Azerbaijan — the very same country that is starving Artsakh. The EU’s Orwellian named European Peace Facility has provided military aid to Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, but has rejected requests made by Armenia.

According to the most recent figures, the United States provided over $100 million in military aid to Azerbaijan in 2018 and 2019. US trade with Azerbaijan is $400 million a year and growing, while trade with Armenia is one quarter of this and declining. The United States seems to downplay Azerbaijan’s actions, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken suggesting progress is being made, despite Azerbaijan’s blockade of Artsakh, cease-fire violations, and threats to Armenians. Even as Azerbaijan tries to cleanse Armenians from Artsakh, US ambassador to Armenia, Kristina Kvien, says she believes Armenians can live safely under Azerbaijan rule.

The continuing demand for “both sides” to cooperate comes as Armenia makes significant concessions. After twenty-five years of supporting Artsakh’s independence, Armenia now agrees to recognize and uphold Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. Additionally, Armenia has taken steps to normalize ties with Turkey, which is a close ally of Azerbaijan and refuses to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide.

Hope for Armenia and Artsakh

Armenia’s primary demand is simple: respect for its sovereignty and the rights of the people in Artsakh. Azerbaijan has shown no inclination to meet these demands. And the international community’s lack of action in response to Azeri aggression only emboldens it further. It seems as if the more damage Azerbaijan does to Armenia and Armenians, the more allowances it can get greenlit by the international community.

Armenia itself — not Artsakh — is the focus of recent Armenian compromises. Azerbaijan is demanding that Armenia hand over the Zangezur corridor, a stretch of land that would connect Azerbaijan with its exclave, Nakhichevan. This move would grant Azerbaijan access to southern Armenia and sever Armenia’s connection to its regional ally, Iran. Despite Armenia’s opposition, even Armenia’s closest ally Russia has voiced support. With little Western opposition to Azerbaijan’s ongoing occupation of Armenia, this corridor might become a reality.

No one is coming to help Armenia. The salvation of Armenians and Armenia lies in bottom-up pressure. Despite limited left-wing mobilization, opposition to colonialism and imperialism should drive condemnation of Azerbaijan’s plans to remove Artsakh’s indigenous people. Opposition to Western support for Israel should extend to Azerbaijan, a significant importer of Israeli arm exports. European energy reliance on Azerbaijan should concern anyone opposing abiding fossil fuel exploitation.

The anti-apartheid movement offers inspiration. Despite expressing some “concern,” the West supported white-ruled South Africa. However, a decades-long campaign brought apartheid to an end. Just like with Israel and South Africa, the focus should be on boycotting, divesting, and sanctioning Azerbaijan while working with the Armenian diaspora.

One of the largest Armenian diasporas is in France, which is one of the only Western states that strongly denounces Azeri aggression. This is not driven by benevolence but rather fear of how Armenians in France would respond to support for Azerbaijan. The roughly one million Armenians in the United States are already applying pressure, with members of Congress demanding the termination of military aid for Azerbaijan. An alliance between the Left and the Armenian diaspora could potentially lead to the end of Artsakh’s blockade and bring security to Armenia.

Ensuring the safety of Armenia and Artsakh is the initial step toward peace, but lasting solutions will require reparations, the right to return, and acknowledgment of historical and ongoing atrocities. Safeguarding Armenia and Artsakh is crucial because, left unchecked, Azeri aggression will continue until there are no Armenians left.