Ethnic cleansing in Karabakh: the latest failure of the European diplomacy?

by Simone Zoppellaro

It took only a handful of days to empty Karabakh of its indigenous Armenian population, whose millennial presence, always a majority, has now come to an end. A few thousand deaths estimated, over a hundred thousand terrified persons who fled and have already taken refuge in Armenia. Thus dies a human presence, homes and lives, an entire history, in the blink of an eye – the vast majority of them fled with nothing, not even having time to realize what was happening.

Stepanakert, once full of youth and life, is a ghostly vision, in the videos I can find on the net (no foreign journalists, it should be reminded, have been allowed in for over two and a half years because of the Russian block). Not only that: the destruction of its monuments has already begun, because Carthago delenda est down to the last stone, the last ancient inscription. Dictator Aliyev, a new Erostratus, with the full complicity of Putin and Erdogan and the tacit acquiescence of the so-called free world, accomplishes a Totentanz that overwhelms everything, including hundreds of his young men who died to grab a patch of land as poor in resources as Azerbaijan, which he owns, is full of. “Perhaps the time of blood will return,” wrote Franco Fortini more than half a century ago – and here it is again, in front of us: from Ukraine to the Caucasus, in our Europe, with no more chance of escape. As always in history, when violence once again triumphs over reason, it is the minorities (Jews, Armenians, or perhaps the Yazidis) who pay first, as if their sacrifice – there is no shortage of horrid apologists, even today, to tell us so – could appease the bloodlust of the dictator of the day, sparing the lives of others, the majority, the herd. Grotesque and tragic together.

The Armenians again, then. An ethnic cleansing – as analysts and politicians, especially outside Italy, now repeat without hesitation – that continues the work of wiping out the Armenian presence begun over a hundred years ago by the Young Turks in the Ottoman Empire. No, today's is not a genocide, at least for the moment, but the fact remains that the encirclement of Armenians is ever more stringent, their anthropic presence – If mapped – ever smaller, the threat far from over. Distance is formidable cause of indifference, and I understand that. But for me these are friends, acquaintances, people whose fates have crossed with mine in the months I have spent in this beautiful and painful land. I have seen young people coming out of nine months of total blockade barely holding on like skeletons, a woman of one hundred and two dying exhausted from flight as soon as she arrived in Armenia. And again, the fear that on the list of three hundred Karabakh Armenians that the regime in Baku wants to get its hands on – to make political prisoners – are extraordinary people whom I do not want to name, because caution is never too much.

In an increasingly inward-looking Europe devoted to the mystique of borders in a world now out of control, the magnitude of what has happened has not been grasped at all. We continue – not without a hint of racism – to believe ourselves immune, superior, distant from what is happening just beyond the gates of the Union, in Europe as it should be and perhaps one day will be, extending as far as Ukraine and the South Caucasus. But the truth is another. From Sarajevo to Tbilisi, from Kyiv to Stepanakert, European diplomacy over the past three decades and more has demonstrated its entire inability to prevent and manage conflicts within its borders. Billions of euros thrown to the wind and, above all, massacres, ethnic cleansing and even a genocide (Srebrenica). The credibility of the Union's founding values has been reduced to zero, and, as a matter of course, a nationalism with an authoritarian vocation has risen again in Western Europe as well. Most alarming, however, is how few understand the gravity of the situation, as well as the lack of imagination of our leaderships who repeat the same old slogans, which we all know are fake.

We need to rethink the world and rethink ourselves, and we need to do it quickly, because there is very little time to defuse the devices with which our societies are littered. This risks being a new era of autocrats, and certainly not only far from us. The victory of the Putin puppet Fico in Slovakia; the pact between Russia and Azerbaijan in Karabakh to humiliate European diplomacy and punish Armenia for its democratic choice with an ethnic cleansing; the deployment of Moscow-funded Serbian troops on the border with Kosovo – all in the last few days. If all this is not a wake-up call for Europe, it means that the metastasis is already in danger of being too advanced to intervene.

After the ethnic cleansing of Karabakh – France and Germany seem to have realized this, at least – saving little Armenia is no longer just a matter of altruism, nor of historical justice, for a genocide denied for almost a century. It is a European security priority, a defense against the overweening power of dictatorships, which now trample and flout law and democracy by making a mockery of any residual humanity.

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