Resurgence of Armenian Struggle Painful for UT Student
By Caroline Betik
While Armenia’s modern struggle against the encroachment of others is grabbing headlines today across the globe, it can be said what is happening in Armenia is old news.
As the first nation to establish Christianity as its national religion 18 centuries ago in 301 A.D., Armenians have accepted their biblical call to, “glory in their sufferings.” Throughout history, Armenian culture seems to be an outward visualization of the script from their religious text in how “suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character and character produces hope.”
“It’s kind of like what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, you persevere,” Julia Delaguila, a junior at the University of Texas said. “Knowing what we have been through, I think it definitely made us stronger and more proud to be Armenian.”
Their pain stretches all the way back to the 15th century—and it cuts deep.
Back when Armenia was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire, they were treated unfairly for their beliefs and their ethnicity. Christians were required to pay higher taxes and had fewer political and legal rights than their Muslim, Turk neighbors.
In 1908, the reformist group called the, “Young Turks,” established a new, nationalistic constitutional government which sought to eradicate non-Turks from their land. April 24, 1915, marked the start of the Armenian genocide where 1.5 million Armenians were killed and many more were displaced, arrested, tortured or raped over the span of seven years. A period in history that continues to shape Armenian lives to this day.
Delaguila’s grandparents met after both of their families fled to Iraq seeking refuge from danger in Armenia. When Delaguila’s mom, Susan Taijan, moved to New York when she was seven years-old, she continued to learn about how the tragic event in history shaped her family.
“Growing up I would hear stories about how my grandmother came from Armenia during the genocide and how she had to hide my aunt underneath her skirt because she was afraid the Turkish men would either try to kill my aunt or rape her,” Tajian told Reporting Texas. “With what is happening now, it feels like we went back to the past, to the whole thing over again.”
In 1922, Armenia was incorporated into the Soviet Union, which is now Russia. During that time, Armenia was industrialized and its people better educated. But daily life under strict Communist rule continued to be a struggle.
By 1988, Armenians began to campaign for a predominantly Armenian occupied land called Nagorno-Karabakh, known as Artsakh to Armenians. At the time, this land was an independent political unit, holding value to both Armenians and Azeris. However, this attempt to secure the territory angered Azerbaijan which sparked military action backed by Turkey over the disputed land. Many more Armenians as well as Azeris were displaced and killed.
After Azerbaijan and Armenia broke from the Soviet Union and became independent nations, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh signed a ceasefire to stop violence.
However, this ceasefire was no peace deal.
Since 1994, opposition to each other has led to small outbreaks of violence between the two countries. The most recent happening in September 2020.
The BBC reported that Armenians claimed Azerbaijan fired the first shots while Azerbaijan said it was launching a counter-offensive in response to built up Armenian aggression.
It is estimated that thousands of soldiers and over a hundred civilians were killed in the conflict which once again has created ethnic tensions to turn to brutality and displaced people forced to leave their homes.
From America, Taijan said her heart breaks for the suffering her people are continuing to go through.
“There are still Armenian soldiers who have been captured by Azeris who are being tortured,” Taijan said. “A couple days ago I saw a video on Twitter of an older gentleman Azeris had captured. They kept punching him in the face and hitting him with the butt of the gun trying to make him say stuff he would refuse to say.”
Delaguila said the things she has witnessed her people going through overseas makes her feel guilty.
“I feel helpless, honestly, just knowing that I cannot really do much more than posting stuff and making people aware of the conflict, donating to organizations and supporting local Armenian businesses,” Delaguila said. “It just makes me want to go there directly, to help them and talk to people.”
On Oct. 25 a ceasefire was announced to begin the following morning after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hosted meetings with Armenia and Azerbaijan’s foreign ministers.At his New Hampshire rally, President Donald Trump addressed the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh calling Armenians, “incredible people who fight like hell.”
“You know what, we are going to get something done,” Trump said. “I was in Ohio yesterday and we had a tremendous group of Armenians with the flag and the whole thing. The problems they’ve had, with the death and the fighting, we are going to get that straightened out. That’s going to be, I call that an easy one.”
This ceasefire was the U.S.’s first attempt in settling the dispute. However, as fighting continued, the deal quickly fell apart. On Nov. 9, the president of Azerbaijan and the Prime Minister of Armenia ended the war over Nagorno-Karabakh with a Russian-brokered peace deal in which Azerbaijan gained control of much of the region with the overwhelming support of Turkey.
Taijan said she was disappointed and angry with the way the U.S. and other countries around the world have neglected to show more support for Armenia.
“For some reason, I don’t know, not all countries, but some, have just turned a blind eye,” Taijan said. “And it actually makes me angry because it seems like every time there’s a presidential election they always promise to do something for Armenia. Then they get elected. And guess what. Nothing.”
While Taijan said she does not have hope the Biden presidency will be any different, her daughter, Delaguila said there are still ways Americans can show support for the country and its people by not being afraid to speak up and raise awareness.
“We appreciate it so much because even the littlest support can make a big difference,” Delaguila said. “We just want to make sure our culture doesn’t get erased or outgrown. We are a really unified group of people and some of the most welcoming people I have ever known. We just want Armenia to be strong, as strong as they were back before this all started.”