Israeli Weapons Are Common to the Displacement in Nagorno-Karabakh and Gaza

Gaza and the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh share a history marked by slaughter, displacement, and broken promises from the West. They also have in common the influence of Israeli weapons, which have driven violence and upheaval in both regions.

A protester holds a placard showing a Palestinian flag alongside a flag of Artsakh (the Armenian name for Nagorno-Karabakh) as students participate in a “Walkout to Fight Genocide and Free Palestine” at Bruin Plaza at UCLA in Los Angeles, California, on October 25, 2023. (Frederic J. Brown / AFP via Getty Images)

It comes as no surprise that Israeli weapons are driving the violence in Gaza. But it is less well known that a similar scenario has unfolded in Artsakh [Nagorno-Karabakh], a majority-Armenian region surrounded by Azerbaijan. Following a ten-month blockade, Azerbaijan, armed with weapons purchased from Israel, launched an attack on civilians in Artsakh. In just a few days in September, nearly the whole population of 120,000 faced ethnic cleansing.

After a seventeen-year Israeli blockade, bombs are also raining down Gaza. Just as hundreds of thousands fled Artsakh, 1.5 million are being displaced in Gaza. Beyond the tragic circumstances, Armenians and Palestinians share a common struggle. Both groups are subjected to colonialism and slaughter supported by Western states.

Shared History

Between 1915 and 1923 the Ottoman Empire perpetrated the Armenian Genocide, resulting in the deaths of between 664,000 and 1.2 million Armenians. Armenians were forcibly expelled from their homes, massacred and buried in mass graves, and subjected to death marches across the country. After living in Anatolia for two thousand years, almost the entire Armenian population was eradicated.

A year after the Armenian Genocide began, the Arab Revolt erupted against the Ottoman Empire. The Arabs received support from the British and French, who promised Arab independence. However, this promise was broken by the end of World War I when France and Britain were appointed colonial administrators of multiple Arab states by League of Nations mandates. Despite this, due to their shared opposition to the Ottomans, many Arabs provided refuge to Armenians fleeing persecution. Thanks to Arab hospitality, hundreds of thousands of Armenians still live in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria.

In 1920, as the Armenian Genocide neared its end, Azerbaijan was integrated into the Soviet Union. Artsakh, with a predominantly Armenian population, resisted joining Azerbaijan and declared its integration with Armenia. Despite receiving approval from the Central Committee of the Communist Party, Joseph Stalin intervened and stopped this incorporation. Consequently, Artsakh was designated an “autonomous region” but remained under Azeri rule.

Similar to Armenians, Palestinians also faced foreign rule when, in 1948, Israel declared its independence. During the Nakba, that same year, Zionist militias forced seven hundred thousand Palestinians from their homes, including thousands of Armenian Palestinians who, once again, were forced to flee for their lives.

Post–Cold War Imperialism

In the 1950s, the Soviet Union formed alliances with Arab states such as Egypt and Syria. Following the Six-Day War in 1967, the Soviet Union provided support and arms to the Palestinian Liberation Organization. However, when the Soviet Union collapsed, so did this support, and the Russian Federation restored relations with Israel. As the United States emerged as the sole superpower, Palestine became more vulnerable. Under pressure, the Oslo Accords were signed, but instead of fostering peace, the agreement led to much of the West Bank falling under Israeli rule, further fragmenting Palestine.

This not only impacted Arabs, but also Armenians under Israeli rule. In the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem, Armenians are prohibited from constructing new buildings, while Israelis freely purchase properties in the area. Israel settlers routinely harass Armenians. Notably, Israel refuses to recognize the Armenian Genocide.

Despite their victory in the First Karabakh War, Armenians soon faced a situation similar to their counterparts in Israel and Palestine. After the war ended, Azerbaijan discovered large deposits of natural gas, leading to a fivefold growth in its economy between 2004 and 2008. In the post-9/11 era, Azerbaijan, situated halfway between Europe and Afghanistan, became a strategic hub for the American military. More than one-third of nonlethal equipment destined for Afghanistan passed through Azerbaijan. Consequently, Azerbaijan became allied with the West.

Armenia’s strong alliance with Russia deterred any invasion from Azerbaijan. However, when Russia invaded Ukraine, Armenia found itself isolated. In an effort to circumvent Western sanctions, Russia supplied gas to Azerbaijan, which was subsequently sold to Europe. This shift in dynamics led to Russia aligning itself with Azerbaijan.

Since 2007, Gaza has faced a land and sea blockade imposed by Israel, restricting the movement of civilians and essential goods, such as food and medicine. Following Israel’s example, Azerbaijan implemented a blockade on Artsakh in December 2022, resulting in starvation and miscarriages. In September 2023, Azeri cargo planes flew to Israel to load drones, rocket launchers, and missiles. Shortly after, these weapons were deployed to invade Artsakh, prompting the rapid displacement of 120,000 people within days. Civilians, including women and children, were killed and tortured.

It was not the first time Israel assisted Azerbaijan. Cluster munitions, explosive weapons that release smaller bombs, pose a significant threat to civilian populations as they often scatter widely and may not explode immediately, functioning as de facto land mines. In 2006, Israel used cluster munitions against Lebanon. Subsequently, Israel supplied these munitions to Azerbaijan, which were later used in 2020 to bombard Stepanakert, Artsakh’s capital. According to recent figures, 70 percent of weapons Azerbaijan imports comes from Israel.

Mapping Displacement

A widely circulated map illustrates the gradual reduction of Palestine, from Zionist settlements to the UN Partition Plan, the 1949 Armistice borders, and finally the Oslo accords. This pattern draws parallels with the United States’ historical westward expansion, which began with the thirteen colonies and resulted in the confinement of indigenous people on reserves.

Similarly, the map reflects the history of Armenia. Before the genocide, majority-Armenian areas extended from Eastern Anatolia (Western Armenia) to Azerbaijan. Western Armenia was ethnically cleansed during the Armenian genocide, Armenians in Azerbaijan were expelled after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Armenians are now being displaced from Artsakh. This pattern mirrors the situation in Palestine and the historical displacements in North America.

In 2021, Azerbaijan began extending its control over Armenia, occupying 250 square kilometers without facing consequences for ethnic cleansing and illegal occupation. Azerbaijan ambitions continue as it is demands that Armenia surrender eight villages and the Zangezur corridor, a land strip connecting Azerbaijan with its exclave, Nakhichevan. It appears Azerbaijan is once again preparing for conflict.

Just as Palestine approached the West after it lost the Soviet Union’s support, so too is Armenia turning to the West as Russia focuses on Ukraine. Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan visited the European Union Parliament, while his wife visited Ukraine. France is sending military equipment to Armenia and Canada has opened an embassy in the region.

To gauge Armenia’s future with the West, however, one should look to the West Bank. Despite the West’s professed support for a two-state solution, Palestinians in the West Bank face persistent and ongoing violence and the indignity of daily security checkpoints. Israeli settlers, who have been relocating to the region since 1967, continue to encroach upon Palestinian-owned land. While Western leaders have warned of severe consequences if Azerbaijan invades Armenia, a similar stance was taken before Artsakh was ethnically cleansed, with no sanctions imposed, and Azeri gas continues to flow to Europe.

What Is to Be Done?

The West has limited incentive to aid Armenia, given Azerbaijan’s significant gas and oil resources compared to Armenia’s few natural resources. Any attempt to help Armenia risks alienating Turkey, a key ally of NATO. As with Gaza, Iran stands as the only country slowing down Armenia’s full annexation. As an alternative to the Zangezur corridor, Iran has agreed to develop rail and highways on its territory to connect Azerbaijan with its exclave Nakhchivan. While this may not prevent a war, it is buying Armenia time.

Armenia is in an exceedingly tough place. Russia is engaged in Ukraine, and the West shows little interest in supporting Armenia over Azerbaijan. Iran may offer some support, but its struggle under Western sanctions limits its ability to stop a full-scale Azeri invasion.

Unlike Russia and America, Palestine is not a superpower. It cannot provide military support to Armenia. However, given global outcry against Israel’s siege of Gaza, Armenians can demonstrate solidarity and leverage international attention. The bombs dropped by Israel on Gaza are the same bombs Azerbaijan drops on Armenians. Any challenge to Israeli militarism stands to benefit Armenians.

No external saviors are on the horizon for Palestinians or Armenians. Salvation for Armenia, much like the ongoing movement in Palestine, hinges on bottom-up pressure and mass politics. Grassroots activism overseas can support this aim. Despite the West’s support for Israel’s actions in Gaza, global protests and Palestine solidarity activism are exerting tangible pressure, leading to the recall of Israeli ambassadors by some states, disruptions in Israel’s rapprochement with Saudi Arabia, and calls for a cease-fire from members of Congress and even some Western leaders.

A parallel scenario could unfold for Armenia. Envision millions protesting against the Artsakh genocide, states recalling their Azeri ambassadors, and the derailment of the Russian-Azeri rapprochement. The lack of public awareness regarding Azeri aggression has hindered such actions, but as the pro-Palestinian movement grows, efforts can be directed toward highlighting how Israeli imperialism impacts Armenians. Emphasizing Israeli attacks against Palestinian Armenians and its supply of weapons to Azerbaijan is crucial.

Of course, it is not simply through solidarity with oppressed people that Armenia will be free. But given that Western promises to protect Armenia will be broken — just as they were for Palestinians and Artsakh — Armenians may find strength in the recognition of their shared common struggle with Palestinians.