How Martin Luther King posthumously guides Caucasus conflict resolution, OP-ED

Rachel Brooks

March 26, 2021 

Critical Analysis, Op-Ed

Image credit: “Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.” by U.S. Embassy New Delhi is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

The views expressed in this article are solely attributed to the author. 

Unyielding questions of genocide in the Caucasus region continue to dominate the political narratives of 2021. A common example of this inter-ethnic conflict is between Armenia and Azerbaijan, who have been engaged in a territorial dispute over the Karabakh, an enclave region of western Azerbaijan, for the past 30 years. 

The western approach and appeal of human rights in the Caucasus, which has been decidedly partisan and leaning toward the Armenian version of events, (see the constiuent appeals of Adam Schiff for example) has not only been flawed in improving the human rights situation of the Caucasus but has also revealed a flaw in western society itself.

That flaw is the tendency to maintain a false sense of peace by canceling narratives that confront the publicly acceptable opinions of the social elite.

While the majority of western institutions have reported the Armenian massacres of 1915 as a genocide, the local history disputes the deliberate ethnic targeting of Armenians, claiming rather that Armenians deported during the 1915 era were shown aggression during acts of war. This dispute has led to vehement debates between historians and the general public over the events of the early 20th century in the Caucasus, as it was experienced from all angles. 

The politicization of genocides perpetuates rhetoric and thus violence in the post-Soviet Caucasus region, as a mad scramble to validate the past outweighs the process of securing the future. 

The argument of “whose genocide will be recognized?” continues to dominate in the Caucasus, as Armenians argue against recognizing genocidal incidents that the Turkic groups report having suffered at the hands of the Bolsheviks and “Armenian gangs.” This argument counters the Turkish claim that 500,000 Turks were slaughtered in Eastern Anatolia during the events of the Bolshevik uprising and Ottoman collapse. Armenians also argue that the events of the Khojaly, Azerbaijan Genocide in 1992 do not constitute genocide, despite the crimes that Azerbaijanis stated were exacted against their citizens. Armenian lobbies argue that the Khojaly events either did not happen or were misconstrued. 

The international community continues to contribute to the politicization of local genocides by failing to record history in a nonpartisan manner.

Rather, the majority of western institutions have been seen to take a side in the recording of past events, condemning war crimes with partisanship and group-think labeling rather than addressing the insubordination of the offending groups or persons as individuals.

More attention has been given to this politicization and proverbial finger-pointing than resolving the underlying issue of intercommunal and interethnic conflict that resulted from politicization of regional violence and human rights violations. 

The international community has failed to mediate diplomatically in the Caucasus region because of the tendency to emphasize strongly with a partisan narrative rather than promote conflict resolution. 

If one were to apply the token jargon of conflict resolution to international social diplomacy in the Caucasus, then one would see that a moderator hearing both sides’ accounts of history is to formally resolve the politicization of 20th-century massacre history in the region.

UNC Charlotte addressed common misconceptions regarding conflict resolution as well as steps toward general interpersonal conflict resolution. Of the listed steps toward conflict resolution, the acrostic CALM was used. These steps were identified as Clarify the issue, Address the problem, Listen to the other side, and Manager your way to resolution. 

If one is to apply these token slogans of conflict resolution to the intersocial relations of the post-Karabakh conflict Armenia and Azerbaijan, one can see that international regard to the issues expressed by both sides should be equal. 

The western world has given its attention to the Armenian side of the argument but has been accused of foregoing listening to the Azerbaijani and Turkish social sides of this conflict. For over 100 years, the issues of early 20th-century genocide, therefore, continue to fuel interracial tensions, demands for territory, embargoes of trade, and appeals for the international condemnation of the complex issues of human displacement that resulted from the past 30 years of post-Soviet conflict. 

Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “I have a dream speech” spoke about racial equality from the perspective of the American civil rights movement. King expressed the hope that one day people would be judged “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

If one were to apply this virtue to the issues of the Caucasus conflict and of genocides, then the perpetual labeling of entire nationalities based on gang-initiated war crimes need not be made nationally collective and thus perpetuated in communal blame-share. Rather, the perpetrators of such crimes could be judged as individuals, the crimes could be behaviorally profiled, and civil discussion may take a more active approach toward educating in contrast to social behavioral categories that lead to mass acts of human rights violation. 

The western world has seemed reluctant to proactively engage the conflict resolution between the Caucasus states in a two-way capacity. This may likewise contribute to the continued perpetuation of social conflict in the region and amid the diasporas of these nations. The University of Pittsburgh’s communications department has resolved that conflict escalation often requires a widening of the conflict to address it.

The University of Pittsburgh likewise stated that conflicts require a higher degree of investment than “disagreements” because conflict is more serious and more complex. If one is to apply these general terms of interpersonal conflict resolution to international social dialogue, one might reason the need for a wider awareness of both sides of the Caucasus ethnic pogrom historicity issue. 

To address regional facts, one must accept that ethnic killings and pogroms occurred on both sides of the conflict during the Ottoman-Bolshevik era of the late 19th early 20th century.

Political pogrom killings of local ethnic groups in Anatolia included mass killings of Meshekian Turks, Azerbaijanis, and even Jews. The History Department of Baku State University recorded massacres from 1918-1920 committed by Armenians against Turkish Muslims in the Nakhchivan and Karabakh. This was three years after the ethnic deportations and killings of Armenians in the region of Anatolia. 

Fact: civilians were targeted by politicized actors in the Caucasus region in the conflict era of the late 19th early 20th century. Killings by these actors, who were individually war criminals, occurred across a diverse span of ethnicities. 

This resulted in post-historical conflict misconceptions, incorrect records, politicizations, and so on. Should the western world add narrative to these facts, the narrative will become unbalanced and therefore biased. Biases result in the perpetuation of the conflict rather than in humanitarian conflict resolution.

The western world has a fundamental issue to approach within itself. This is its approach to narrative conflict and the tendency to hold narrative favoritism and social-elite standards. Should society return to the community principles found in King’s civil rights movement, a prospective western intermediary presence in the de-escalation of Caucasus conflicts may be positive. Should the west fail to address its current flaws as an intermediary of such discussions, then it may be negative for the west to continue in the role of discussion moderator in Caucasus geopolitics.