Statement on behalf of the Writers for Peace Committee of PEN International on conflict in the disputed territory of Artsakh/Ngorno-Karabakh

The Writers for Peace Committee notes with concern the continuing warfare between Armenia and Azerbaijan over control of the Artsakh/Ngorno-Karabakh territory. The current round of hostilities began with an assault by Azerbaijan on 27 September. This is a deeply rooted conflict that has shown its ability to erupt destructively over several generations, dating back to decisions made by Stalin in 1921, a time when he was deliberately complicating the ethnic tapestry of Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

The international community, in particular the UN and the Council Of Europe, have been calling all this century for an end to attacks on both Azeri and Armenians: their persons, property and culture. The solution is not victory for either state but a peaceful negotiated settlement that enables all those who live in the area to coexist without rancour.

The prospects for this are not helped by the picking of sides by surrounding regional powers; Turkey, Iran and Russia, a competition for influence over the territory that goes back many hundreds of years. We have particular concern about the timing and motives for the current upsurge in violence, seemingly fuelled by escalating aggression throughout the region and along its borders by Turkey in ways consciously harking back to the Ottoman Empire. Such retrograde ambitions do not serve the cause of peace nor of civilised humanity.

The freedom of expression in most of the surrounding countries is severely curtailed by censorship, intimidation and violence. Only very recently has the situation improved in Armenia itself. The lives of the people are not served well by evasions, half-truths, selective history and propaganda. The attacks by artillery and a new generation of guided missiles are barbaric and without justification, except in the warped minds of arrogant rulers.

The WfPC calls for ceasefires to be observed by all protagonists, for neighbouring countries to desist from aggravating grievances, for free and accurate reporting to be facilitated, and for peace and reconstruction measures to be put in place. We also call for the writers of the Caucasus to come together in solidarity, to celebrate their writing with each other and to help heal the pain of their communities.

November 2020

photo by Areg Balayan [Stapanakert, residential building, Oct 12, 2020]