Opinion guest column

Speak up to save Armenian lives

What hurts most is silence

It was a very typical Saturday night that ended with a very shocking twist. At least, it would be shocking for the average person. But to me, it came less as a surprise than as a familiar reckoning with grief and emptiness. “War broke in Armenia,” my mom texted. “Azerbaijan has attacked us.”


The first thing you do in this kind of situation: don’t panic. I am speaking from experience, trust me. The second thing you need to do is get familiar with the situation, learn what caused the attack this time, and check all the latest news. Afterward, check on your loved ones. If you are a soon-to-be-19-year-old girl like me, most of your guy friends are in the army, and they are the ones protecting your holy land and making sure your people can sleep safely at night.

I really hope no one has to experience what my people are going through right now, and the thing that hurts the most is the silence.

On the morning of Sept. 27, Azeri forces began a large-scale attack of multiple fronts on Artsakh, also known as Nagorno-Karabakh. The decades-old fight of the people of Artsakh for self-determination has not been this bloody in 25 years.

Artsakh has been populated primarily by ethnic Armenians for millennia, boasting many dozens of ancient churches and other monuments. Upon the formation of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin, at his whim, redrew each member country’s borders of national republics, and this territory was handed over to Azerbaijan. For the duration of the USSR, Armenia and Azerbaijan were at peace, even though people of Artsakh kept on voicing their dissent. When the USSR collapsed, Azerbaijan unleashed a full-scale attack to prevent Artsakh from realizing its right to self-determination. Against all odds, Artsakh conducted its referendum, won the war, and declared its independence. Azerbaijan signed the ceasefire, yet it did not want to give up on Stalin’s prize, so it continued on and off violating the agreement, instigating small and large provocations at the line of contact.

Azerbaijan, an oil-rich country with significant restrictions on freedom of speech, has been ruled for decades by the dictatorial regime of the Aliyev family. They have been actively using Armenians as a scapegoat and manipulating the issue of Artsakh as an excuse to silence opposition and cover up Azerbaijan’s internal problems.

Azeri dictator İlham Aliyev and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have been preparing for this. They have imported hundreds of Syrian mercenaries and launched their missiles at critical public infrastructures. They’ve sent drones to Armenia proper, not even close to the Artsakh border. Moreover, they’ve issued the shelling of civilian settlements in Artsakh in blatant violation of international humanitarian law. Thousands of civilians and international reporters have been subject to incessant shelling and cluster bombs across the entire region, including in Stepanakert, the capital of Artsakh.

Western media likes to portray this issue as a territorial dispute with two parties fighting on the same moral grounds, too apathetic to delve into the nuances of the conflict and take a stance (a remarkable exception is The Guardian). But the imbalance is clear: Azerbaijani leadership wants to claim Artsakh for their own, and they will not stop until its citizens have been driven out or slaughtered. For Armenia and Artsakh, the territory is their ancestral homeland, and as a tiny landlocked country enveloped by more prosperous powers, it is fighting for its very identity and right to self-determination.

Very few ethnic Armenians remain in the world; the last thing any of us want is even more dead Armenians. Yet, we also do not want dead Azeris. Our dearest wish right now is for the fighting to stop, but that won’t happen until the corrupt, authoritarian Azerbaijani regime calling for violence is stopped.

MIT is home for the bright and talented. We live, study, and create here together, learning from each other and growing professionally together. We felt it would be insincere of us not to try and share with you the pain we feel for senseless destruction, suffering, and death we see as the result of Azeri aggression. Though imperfect, the BLM protests from this summer serve a great example that if people unite and demand justice, change will happen. Police officers were indicted and fired, statues came down, private organizations took stances, and even MIT developed an Institute-wide action plan for diversity, equity, and inclusion. This is the power of spreading awareness and standing up for a just cause.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Every day there’s a new attack on another city, another village, another house. Every day another mother loses her child, another woman becomes a widow, and another child becomes an orphan. Every day houses that were standing for decades are demolished, and yet another family stays without a roof over their head. Every day there’s a new list of heroes who fell while protecting our homeland. Every day there is a person who hesitates to make a statement.

I hope you won’t have to be in my shoes; at eighteen, I have already seen three wars in my lifetime. But the only way we can achieve peace is by speaking up for justice in this world.

The authors of this article are members of the MIT Armenian Society:
Alexandra Martirosian ’21 is an undergraduate studying computer science and a member of the MIT Armenian Society.
Natalie Muradyan ’23 is an undergraduate studying computer science and mechanical engineering and the president of the MIT Armenian Society.