The Ecocide and Potential Genocide Armenians Face

While the U.S. and other countries issue messages of support but no aid, Armenians face ecocide and the potential for another genocide in their ancestral lands, lands they were forced to leave on November 15, 2020. 

Azerbaijan, with the aid of Turkey, attacked the autonomous region of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) on September 27. For 44 days, civilian populations in Artsakh, an ancient Armenian region, faced constant bombardment from cluster munitions. Azerbaijan dropped white phosphorus on the forests of Artsakh, as video evidence shows.

In the Caucuses, history impacts present-day life. In 1918, the country of Azerbaijan came into being after the Russian empire fell. The country consists of lands stolen from Armenians, Georgians, and Iranians. The name of the country comes from a region in Iran. From 1918 to 1921, Azerbaijan was an independent country. Stalin gave control of Artsakh to Azerbaijan in 1921. That same year, Armenians in Artsakh faced massacres by Azeris, and 35,000 Armenians died. This occurred just a few years after 1.5 million Armenians died during the Armenian genocide, perpetrated by the Turks. The Azeris are a Turkic people. 

Turkey and Azerbaijan: A tale of two dictators

Turkey supplied Azerbaijan with arms, including the drones used to drop cluster munitions on civilians and white phosphorus on forests. Turkey also sent thousands of mercenaries to Artsakh, mercenaries Turkey paid to fight Armenians. While Armenia is a democracy, Freedom House grades Turkey as 32 out of 100 on its Global Freedom Scores and labels it not free. President Recep Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has ruled Turkey since 2002. A 2016 attempted coup caused Erdogan to crack down on opposition while constitutional changes in 2017 further concentrated his power. 

Azerbaijan has been ruled by the Aliyev family since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in the early 90s. Ilham Aliyev has served as president since 2003. In recent years, the Aliyev regime cracked down on civil liberties. In 2017, President Aliyev appointed his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva as vice president, a position created with little to no public consultation or parliamentary debate. Freedom House grades Azerbaijan a 10 and labels the country not free.

Ecocide and potential genocide

Within both Artsakh and Armenia lie primeval forests which contain biodiversity unseen in the rest of the Caucasus region. The forests contain 6,000 plant species, 153 mammal species, 400 bird species. The Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets (FPWC) established the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge (CWR) in 2010. Extending from the Azerbaijan border to Artsakh through two provinces of Armenia (Ararat and Vayots Dzor provinces), it is about 74,131 acres. Critically endangered species such as the Persian leopard and the Armenian mouflon are spotted there. Only about eight to 13 individuals of the Persian leopard remain in the region. Some of the oldest juniper forests remaining in Armenia are located in the CWR.

The white phosphorus Turkish drones dropped on Artsakh amount to ecocide. The Artsakh Human Rights Ombudsman noted on November 3 that 4485 acres of forest area in Artsakh had burned “but fires continue in various areas and there is a tendency for rapid growth.” The Ombudsman characterized the fires as an “environmental catastrophe, which undermines the environmental security in the region and contains long-term dangerous consequences for the life and health of the people of Artsakh.”

In early November, 50 non-governmental organizations in Armenia issued a joint statement about the use of white phosphorus weapons by Azerbaijan in Artsakh. The statement noted that the use of white phosphorus violates international humanitarian law, principles of customary law, the Geneva Convention, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Technique, plus provisions of UN conventions and documents. The statement pointed out that the use of white phosphorus threatens the region’s biodiversity, which is recognized as one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. 

While white phosphorus causes forests and other vegetation to burn, it is also toxic.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) characterizes white phosphorus as “extremely toxic to humans.” It can cause severe effects on the kidneys, liver, cardiovascular system, and central nervous system. 

War crimes

There is something else the organizations noted in their statement. During the recent war, Azerbaijan committed documented war crimes, including “beheadings of Armenian soldiers, the killing of civilians in a city square wrapped in Armenian flags, deliberate attacks on civilian infrastructures – residential buildings, churches, food markets, schools, and maternity hospitals.

The war crimes echo the Armenian genocide when the Turkish government killed Armenian men throughout Western Armenia (present day Eastern Armenia) and deported the remaining population, marching them to the Syrian desert without food or water. The author of this article is descended from people who fled the genocide.

The Armenian organizations sent the statement to 77 environmental organizations such as Greenpeace, and environmentalists like Greta Thunberg. There has been total silence from the organizations and individuals who received the statement. Silence is something Armenians all over the world expect when they face attacks from Turkic people, as history proves. 

On November 9, the news of an agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan stunned Armenians all over the world. The reason for the collective shock is that Armenia agreed to hand over parts of Artsakh to Azerbaijan. What that means is that Armenian lands will be handed over to the very people that caused ecocide within the region’s forests. What remains of Artsakh will be surrounded by Azeris. If history serves as a prophet, massacres of Armenians will take place.

What you can do

The non-profit organization, Armenian National Congress of America (ANCA) urges the Trump administration to re-engage in the Minsk Group process, which brokered the agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and re-negotiate the treaty. Armenia signed the agreement without the participation of two of the three chairs of the Minsk Group (Russia and the U.S.). Only one chair (Russia) participated. 

There is something you can do. You can sign up to receive action alerts from the Armenian National Congress of America (ANCA) where you will be instructed to email or tweet to your elected officials. Stand with Armenians in condemning the attacks by Turkey and Azerbaijan and convince them that there are non-Armenians who care. 


Image courtesy of ArmenPress News

The Climate of Our Moral Character

Our moral character should not be run by fossil fuel. How we chose to model the energy economy of the future says much of who we are now.

Energy, capital, and human well-being

The growing climate activism among the world’s youth opens a fresh debate on the moral character of a civilization that would foreclose the future in a last gasp effort to preserve, as Donald Trump sees it, the “wealth underneath our feet.” American wealth, Trump says, is “based on energy” and that he won’t “jeopardize that for dreams and windmills.”

To have a substantive discussion about wealth, dreams, windmills, and morality, we have to go beyond anything Trump says or does, of course. Especially when the discussion revolves around morality. And so we shall.

I will give Mr. Trump this, however: energy is wealth. Certainly in the capitalistic, transactional sense, there is wealth in energy, but limiting our worldview, as Trump does, to the simple equation of wealth accumulation in terms of capital transfer is, as Greta Thunberg so eloquently said at the UN last week, a fantasy of unlimited growth. It is, many argue, an immoral fantasy. One in which most of us live.

We all want energy, in this simple sense, to power the machinery of modern life. Without question, humanity has flourished from the “wealth beneath our feet.” As such, there is an argument for the moral good of pulling up the trapped sunlight in ever more sophisticated methods of extraction. This makes some of us uncomfortable. How can we consider a fossil fuel economy a “good” thing, when we see the environmental destruction, social injustice, unrestrained greed, and existential climate crises that come with it?

I suggest that the “good” we derive from access to fossil energy is not a moral grounding for humanity. Moral good derives from it, just as a moral wrong. Fossil fuel extraction is a method, a tactic, technology. It is not a basis upon which to hang any moral argument. It is amoral. Just like our president.

Moral energy

In order to consider issues of energy and morality, we must think past our current age, even past the totality of human history. Throughout the world, most of us underpin our moral sense in some form of religious ideation. We apply an abstract notion of “God” as an external moral force guiding our behavior.

Indeed, we are a storytelling species, framing our perception of consciousness and reality on personal and social narratives. In one form or another, this is arguably inevitable. Not having a story is not having a life.

The problem with pinning the ultimate nature of morality on any particular myth is that we pin our allegiance, and thus our humanity, on the story, not the underlying principle the story intends to illustrate. We learn to hate those who don’t know or don’t believe in our story. Or at least dismiss them as deluded.

What if morality is rooted in biology?

Evolution, biology, and moral character

Writing in New Scientist, neurophilosopher Patricia Churchland argues against the common notion that our self-interested survival precludes altruism. In Deliver us from evil: How biology, not religion, made humans moral,” Churchland says that it is through the evolution of our mammalian brains and our unrivaled ability of learning and abstraction that we find our moral ground. The plasticity of our brain and flexibility in our social interactions necessitates innate selflessness. Without it, we would never survive. We would have never come to be.

This is generally true of all mammals and even birds to some degree. Care for the other — kin, kith, and beyond. But no other species has climbed so high or developed such complex social interaction as Homo sapiens.

All this is enormously oversimplified, of course. It seems like war, cruelty, dishonesty, gluttony, egocentrism, violence, and greed are all part of the human package. Ages of philosophers have posited the reasons why. It will be on the minds of philosophers when the last breath of humanity flickers out, sooner or later.

If it is essentially the ability of selfless adaptation and learning from which our morality arises, we can then take agency and responsibility, not just for ourselves (though certainly that’s where it must start), not just for the greedy accumulation of wealth, not just to fearfully cling to dogma, but for a better world of our making.

Fossil fuels entrench us in a Faustian bargain. It has corrupted the human spirit even as we have thrived in its heat. It is the cognitive dissonance that isolates us from our moral grounding.

We act morally when learn and adapt to the world around us and in a manner that the moral climate of our character transcends the generations. It is here that we risk losing ourselves entirely. 

This article first appeared on the PlanetWatch channel at Earthmaven.io

COP23 Wraps : The Long Journey Continues, Nobody Said It Was Easy

Fight another day

The first COP climate conference of the Trump presidency wrapped up last week. True to form, the final gavel fell in the “wee hours” of Saturday morning.

Lacking the excitement of COP21 two years ago, COP23 is nonetheless one more step in the long road of transforming into reality the global aspiration expressed in Paris.

That reality is by no means assured. Despite the political upheaval of the past year, we survive to fight another day.

Life in the Anthropocene

A race to where?

Continue reading “COP23 Wraps : The Long Journey Continues, Nobody Said It Was Easy”

Community Capital: Economic Development With a Sense of Place

It’s the economy, stupid.

In 1992, political strategist James Carville coined his catchy admonition ostensibly to keep his staff on message, arguably helping pave the way to Bill Clinton’s presidency.

Carville’s “snowclone” phrase has since been bent and contorted into service across a wide swath of issues.

It’s time to bring the expression home.

Continue reading “Community Capital: Economic Development With a Sense of Place”

Looking for Tomorrow: Reasons for Hope in a Troubled World

A corrupted creation myth

Corrupted information tells the wrong story

The scientific debate whether we call our geologic epoch the Anthropocene is yet to be settled.

What is less debatable is the planetary-scale impact of human activity. As we posit throughout PlanetWatch, we live in the Age of Man. Our presence is felt in every corner of the Earth. Dominion over the Earth, what was once we imagined, an ageless myth, is our reality. We reap the benefits for a time.

Continue reading “Looking for Tomorrow: Reasons for Hope in a Troubled World”