stop twisting History for your propaganda!!

Recently, I read this article off of the francophone Azerbaijani press, which a friend, equally disgusted by its language, had sent me. Its goal, like everything else Azerbaijan has publicly published in France, was to 1. thank Macron for his little speech to the Armenia Fund’s France branch and 2. compare Nagorno Karabakh* with Alsace-Lorraine. This last point is infuriating. It denotes Azerbaijan’s  will to liken itself with France, pushing all context out the window. In addition, it also denotes, once again, the will to support cultural genocide, downplay it to then ironically disprove.

All in all, it was quite disgusting. My friend, who like me had just bought last week-end’s edition of Le Figaro**, was equally disgusted by this Azerbaijani propaganda. As if it wasn’t enough that thousands of people are now displaced out of their homeland. As if it wasn’t enough that Azerbaijan is pushing worldwide for a screenplay-worthy tale that they are getting their land back. As if it wasn’t enough that they were directly and indirectly funded by Turkey, who recruited Syrian -Iraqi jihadists for the cause, and Israel. As if it wasn’t enough that Azerbaijan has gloated over the “support” several countries are “giving” and the “two sides” narrative in the international press.

No, apparently, it wasn’t enough.

The Azerbaijani have to publish an article declaring that France understands them and that their Nagorno Karabakh is France’s Alsace-Lorraine. The audacity of Azerbaijan never seems to end. Not only has the country republished all its history books, omitting every fact and mention on Armenians, since the end of the 20th century, it also has the audacity to rewrite the histories of other regions and countries. This is the case with this particular article I mentioned above.

Alsace-Lorraine is the eastern-most part of France today since post-WWII. Administratively, they were separate regions until 2016. Now both regions are grouped with Champagne-Ardennes (one region) under the crude name Grand Est. (If you want to know more about that, search “réforme territoriale France 2015” and then add to that search “Alsace”.) The term Grand Est is an invention; the regions’ populations’ general anger at Paris was great. The fear at the time was that the French government would again, in several ways, erase regional history and the unique historical identities. However, neither region is historically French. The dialects, Alsatian and Lorrain, are still spoken in certain circles of society. There lies the real comparison with Nagorno Karabakh. It doesn’t even come close to what Azerbaijanis are saying.

Why?

Because Alsace was never French. France, since the 17th century at the earliest eyed Alsace with a burning desire for its natural resources. That and apparently the Vosges forest was a strategic spot against the Habsburgs, as was the Rhine river. 

As for Nagorno Karabakh? Apart from natural resources and precious metals, it is not clear why Azerbaijan wants it. Control the border with Iran maybe? Create a closer link with Nakhichevan, also historically Armenian but is part of Azerbaijan’s borders, despite the fact that it is on the western border of Armenia***. Whatever the additional reasons, they do not excuse this particular use of twisting history to justify itself.

Alsace and Lorraine were, has always been Germanic in their architecture, culture, histories, languages, and people. To this day, it continues to honor its roots and traditions. While France tried to, almost successfully, kill the Alsatian language, a dialect of German, Alsace always kept its memory alive. Today, Alsatian and Lorrain are on the same list as Western Armenian: the list of endangered and extinct languages. In recent years, in Alsace, villages have begun creating French-Alsatian bilingual schools, beginning at a young age. 

During the late 19th century and again in the 20th century, at each point in history, when Alsace-Lorraine was under French control, the French carried out a cultural genocide aimed at the languages. For example, the following. In families where only one parent was Alsatian, the French language dominated both Alsatian language and culture. This, for me, is personal. My own grandmother was from such a family unit. My great-grandmother, Alsatian, German, and Swiss, knew Alsatian German, French, and Italian but was prohibited by her husband to speak Alsatian to their children. As such, my grandmother quickly lost the ability to speak Alsatian after 1935 when my family was forced out of Alsace by the Nazis.  Not only was there a cultural genocide but rape was also common in war. This obviously doesn’t make it right. As a matter of fact, that is exactly one of the threats Azerbaijanis are sending to Armenians worldwide at the moment.

So is the comparison justified? No. The name Nagorno Karabakh signifies “Black Forest” but its historical, ancient, and Armenian name is Artsakh, which signifies “the woods of Aran”. Its architecture, culture, history, language, and people have been and continue to be Armenian. As well as observer of assimilations, its history is marred by ancient wars waged by different regional powers over the millennia.  Much like Alsace and Lorraine’s histories. However, the people have never forgot who and what they are. In Nagorno Karabakh’s case, much more happened as genocide is not simply cultural. 

Armenians have been, like the Jews, victims of physical genocide, including the biggest one of 1915. The only link with Alsace and Lorraine here is the centuries-old Jewish presence in Alsace and Lorraine. Over the centuries, since the Roman days, the community contributed to the region’s culture and society. One notable exhibition at the MET’s Cloisters in NYC focussed on the Jews of Colmar during the Middle Ages through the objects they left****. In addition to pogroms over the centuries, the Holocaust was destructive, including the 1940 destruction of the new synagogue in Strasbourg.

This same show of brutality continues in historical Armenian regions. Nakhichevan’s khatchkars and architecture were destroyed in 2005, specifically those in Julfa, by Azerbaijan. These past two months alone saw, through the prism of war and after the “peace deal” brokered by Russia, a will to destroy anything, which shows history and history’s ancient presence. During the 45 days of “fighting”, many Azerbaijani actions hit Armenian monuments and historic architecture in addition to government and civilian structures.

This shows the will to commit genocide, furthering the discourse “Karabakh is ours”, the argument used by Azerbaijani officials. It goes hand in hand with the semi fabricated national history developed during the Soviet Union.

Why “semi-fabricated”? Because the carefully written histories over the millennia since the beginning of writing were pushed under the rug, the ancient civilizations’ presence twisted to fit the discourse. This includes transporting one ethnic group out of its original homeland and into another ethic group’s original homeland. Worse, the erasure creates another history, a third depicting ancestry even though every written and oral history to this day states Azerbaijanis are Turk (or Turkic) and have nothing to do with the Caucasian Albanians*****.

France did not rewrite the histories. Erasure of language and identities were brutal policies but not a rewriting of history for ethnic appropriation. In several ways, it lives on in today’s French mentality as demonstrated by the recent territorial reforms and deliberate stumbling on Alsatian and Lorrain names. But never, a matter of declaring Alsace-Lorraine as the “homeland”. Destructive discourse and actions but not in the same way.

For that reason alone, the comparison should not even be made. For that reason alone, it makes the Azerbaijani Francophone article worse. Once again it is an appropriation of lies in the name of a spiteful hateful propaganda based on lies. Worse than that, it all plays on our doubts and hesitations as France, Europe, and the world. As a quarter Alsatian, I am the third generation of that trauma. As a quarter Armenian from Lebanon, I am floored at how far the hypocrisy can go. And this is going too far over the limit.

Detail of buildings in Shushi. Damage. Shushi, Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh). October 2018. ©le_chah_errant

Notes

*We’re using the internationally used name for this self declared republic.

** “Arméniens: Un peuple en danger”, reportage exclusive de Sylvain Tesson, in Le Figaro magazine, 20-21 novembre 2020. URL: https://www.lefigaro.fr/international/les-armeniens-un-peuple-abandonne-20201120

***Azerbaijan is to the east of Armenia.

**** “The Colmar Treasure: A Medieval Jewish Legacy” ran from July 2019 to January 2020 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s The Cloisters.

***** The modern day current official Azerbaijani discourse is that Azerbaijanis are descended from the Caucasian Albanians as their state is partly on that ethnic group’s ancient homeland. However, Nagorno Karabakh is to the west of that particular territory and the Azerbaijanis share a common ancestor with the Turkish to the west and Central Asian populations to the east, including Turmenistan and the Ouïghurs (today living under Chinese brutality because of their ethnicity. Yet Turkey and Azerbaijan have done nothing to help them.)

5 Comments Add yours

  1. paulkayaian says:

    Outstanding, thoughtful, honest piece! Excellent journalism.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. beachah says:

      Thank you! I am not calling it journalism but I needed to get the thoughts out.

      Liked by 1 person

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