Since the disintegration of the USSR in 1991, the greatest number of war crimes have been committed against the Azerbaijani, Syrian, and Ukrainian peoples by Armenian, Syrian, and Russian security, and paramilitary forces. This article focuses only on war crimes committed by Armenia during the First Karabakh War from 1988-1992, and Russia since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
Armenia, with the military assistance of Russia, undertook a wide range of war crimes against Azerbaijani civilians and prisoners of war (POWs). After winning the First Karabakh War, Armenia undertook a policy of cultural genocide in the fifth of Azerbaijani territory it illegally occupied for nearly three decades. In Ukraine, the Russian army and secret services have undertaken the same war crimes against civilians and POWs and cultural genocide in occupied areas and through attacks against targets in Ukraine.
The roots of Armenian and Russian war crimes are similar in three ways.
Firstly, Armenia and Russia deny the existence of Azerbaijani and Ukrainian peoples respectively. Armenian nationalists routinely describe Azerbaijanis as ‘Turks’ or agree with Persian nationalists that Azerbaijan should belong to Iran. Russian imperial nationalists believe Ukrainians, Russians and Belarusians are three branches of a single pan-Russian people.
Secondly, war crimes and brutality are viewed by Armenian nationalists as revenge for the 1915 genocide of Armenians. Russian imperial nationalists see the so-called special military operation as a second great patriotic war to fight the revival of Nazism in Ukraine. Azerbaijanis had nothing to do with the terrible crimes committed in 1915 against the Armenian people. Meanwhile, it is plainly ridiculous to view Ukraine as run by Nazi’s when its president is Jewish and far-right parties are marginal. Armenian and Russian nationalist are far more extreme than nationalists found in Azerbaijan and Ukraine.
Thirdly, Armenian, and Russian war crimes are in pursuit of Greater Armenia and Greater Russia through the occupation of Azerbaijani and Ukrainian lands. Of the fifteen former USSR republics only Armenia and Russia did not recognise Soviet republican boundaries as international borders from 1991. Azerbaijan liberated territories occupied by Armenia and put paid to greater Armenian ambitions. Ukraine is still at war with Russia to liberate lands occupied by Russia since 2014.
Armenian and Russian war crimes against Azerbaijanis and Ukrainians are similar in nature in six areas:
- Ethnic cleansing: between three quarters of a million Azerbaijanis and fifteen million Ukrainians were forced to evacuate from their homes in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine. Millions of Azerbaijanis and Ukrainians became IDPs (Internally Displaced People) or fled abroad as refugees.
- Children: of the 3,888 Azerbaijani’s missing from the First Karabakh War, 71 are children and are presumed dead. Rashid Beglaryan was detained and charged with torturing prisoners and other persons in children’s hospital No. 3 in the city of Khankendi. Other children were killed during Armenian attacks on villages. Russia has pursued a more systematic policy of deporting Ukrainian children to Russia where they are adopted and Russified by Russian government and state officials. Armenia and Russia planted mines that resemble toys, a practice the Soviet Union used in Afghanistan in the 1980s, which have injured or killed children in Azerbaijan and Ukraine.
- Rape and Sexual Violence: during the First Karabakh War, there were cases of Azerbaijani women being raped and gang raped, as well as the use of other forms of sexual violence. In Ukraine, the United Nations reported that Russian forces have committed hundreds of cases of sexual violence against children and women aged between four to 82 years of age.
- Extrajudicial Killings: of the 3,888 Azerbaijani’s who remain missing, of whom 3170 were soldiers and 718 civilians. 600 Azerbaijani civilians were massacred in Khojoly in 1992. Russian forces have tortured and massacred Ukrainians in every region of Ukraine they have occupied. Madat Babayan has been detained for his involvement in the Khojoly massacre.
- Looting: Armenian and Russian forces systematically looted the areas they occupied with the stolen goods taken back to Armenia and Russia.
- Cultural Destruction: Armenian and Russian occupations aimed to destroy Azerbaijani and Ukrainian national identities in the areas they occupied. Libraries, archives, museums, historical monuments and plaques, mosques, churches, government buildings, utilities, and homes have been targeted and destroyed. UNESCO has been passive towards Armenian and Russian cultural genocide in Azerbaijan and Ukraine.
- Mines: Former Armenian-occupied Azerbaijan and Russian-occupied Ukraine are the most mined regions in the world. These mines are a threat to the lives of returning IDPs and refugees and obstacle to the revival of economic activity. The removal of these mines will take decades and cost high levels of government expenditure.
- Ecocide: Armenian and Russian occupations of Azerbaijani and Ukrainian lands have devastated their environments. Again, this will take a lot of time and government funding to rectify.
Azerbaijan and Ukraine have begun seeking, investigating, criminally charging, and convicting Armenian and Russian war criminals. Azerbaijan cannot request the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Armenian crimes because they were committed before the Rome Statute was adopted in 1998.
Armenia recently joined the ICC knowing that its crimes committed in the First Karabakh War could not be investigated. If the ICC had jurisdiction over war crimes committed in the First Karabakh War, former presidents and other Armenian nationalists from the Karabakh clan, which has dominated independent Armenia, would have been issued with arrest warrants.
The ICC is investigating war crimes in Ukraine. In March 2023, the ICC issued arrest warrants for President Vladimir Putin and Russian Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova. Putin’s travel plans have been restricted to Belarus, China, and North Korea.
Azerbaijan has detained eight senior Armenian nationalists and 38 Armenian soldiers on charges ranging from war crimes, terrorism, separatism, and genocide.
With the use of modern technology and social media, which did not exist in the First Karabakh War, Ukraine has been able to investigate Russian war crimes on a scale that was previously impossible in conflicts and wars. Ukraine has criminally charged hundreds of captured Russian soldiers and Russian soldiers in absentia for similar war crimes to those committed by Armenian nationalists.
These war crimes have ranged from military aggression, violating international laws such as the Geneva Convention, torture, rape, and murder. Russian nationalists have allegedly pursued a policy of genocide by stealing Ukrainian children and placing them in Russian homes.
Ukraine will follow Azerbaijan in pursuing criminal charges against Russia and Armenia respectively over cultural destruction, ecocide, and the laying of thousands of mines. Demands for compensation from Armenia and Russia will run in the billions of dollars for cultural and environmental destructions of lands they had under occupation.
Western governments and international organisations have focused on Russian war crimes in Ukraine while largely ignoring Armenian, Syrian, and Russian war crimes against Azerbaijanis and Syrians and Chinese crimes against humanity towards the Muslim peoples of Eastern Turkistan (Xinjiang). Western orientalist double standards towards crimes committed against Islamic people is immoral; human rights are indivisible while and international law should be applicable to all countries. Azerbaijan and Ukraine are both pursuing justice and the indictment of war criminals.