- - Monday, May 25, 2020

I was born in Azerbaijan as member of the Armenian minority. Mr. Suleymanov does not write about Azerbaijan as we both know it, because he is a mouthpiece for a dictator (“Pandemic highlights the protracted Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh region,” Web, May 19).

Thirty years ago 350,000 Armenians lived in Azerbaijan, and many of them were murdered, maimed and/or raped. All were exiled. As a proud American and an elected official in the great state of Maine, I live and breathe the ideals of this country, and with those I vehemently reject Mr. Suleymanov’s blatant lies, anti-Armenianism and shameless propaganda.

The truth is that in today’s Azerbaijan there is no evidence of Armenian culture due to the systematic policy of ethnic cleansing and history erasure. In response to the Artsakh’s democratic movement of self-determination, everyone I knew was exiled, if not killed. My grandparents’ graves in Baku were destroyed, as were all Armenian cemeteries in Azerbaijan. My neighbors were killed, my relatives beaten. I was physically attacked at age 11.

The lone Armenian church in Baku is a stark reminder of Azerbaijan’s true face: The Christian crosses of the church were removed, as all are Armenian insignia from that boarded-up and vandalized structure. The guise of a tolerant Azerbaijan is contradicted by U.S. State Department warning against any Armenians — even American citizens — visiting Azerbaijan. The newly released 2020 report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommends that Azerbaijan be added to the State Department’s special watchlist for severe violations of religious liberty.

The main obstacle to peace in the region is Azerbaijan. The ambassador’s op-ed is a desperate effort to distract attention from Azerbaijan’s continued gross human-rights violations towards Artsakh, Armenia and its own people. It is a confirmation for the people of Artsakh that the path of freedom and self-determination has no alternative. It is simply self-preservation.



ANNA ASTVATSATURIAN TURCOTTE

Author, human-rights advocate

Westbrook, Maine

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