Armenophobia in Azerbaijan based on the personal experiences of Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte

London –  (18.05.2021) — Mrs Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte gave a powerful lecture, entitled: Baku’s “Military Trophies Park”; Hate speech, Armenophobia and demonising Armenians in Azerbaijan. This talk was organised virtually by the Diocese of the Armenian Church on 18th May. Anna Der Tavitian, a member of IIWGNK, moderated the lecture and on behalf of the church invited Mrs Astvatsaturian Turcotte to visit London. 

This lecture was part of a series of talks about Armenian religious and cultural heritage in Artsakh sponsored by the Diocese in the United Kingdom, under the auspices of the Primate, His Grace Bishop Hovakim Manukyan.

Mrs Astvatsaturian Turcotte is an author, lecturer, lawyer, public servant, business woman and a human rights advocate. She is also an Armenian refugee from Baku (Azerbaijan) and it was this harrowing experience that was the subject of her lecture. Her talk centred around the pogrom initiated by Azeris against Armenians living in Baku during the Soviet period and, in particular, how her childhood came to a standstill in 1988 due to Azeri propaganda and aggression. She also spoke about the more recent Artsakh conflict in 2020 and how Armenians continue to be painted in a negative light by Azerbaijan but also, even more worryingly, by international media. 

In her introduction, Mrs Astvatsaturian Turcotte spoke about the 350,000 Armenian refugees from Baku who, to this day, have not told their stories out of fear of retribution. She felt greatly “honoured to speak on their behalf” and to be able to give a voice to the voiceless. The first part of her talk was linked more to her own experience, as well as her grandfather’s experience (post-1915), of being forced to flee from her home.

During the presentation, Mrs Astvatsaturian Turcotte gave moving accounts of the radical change in Baku during the 1970s due to Azeri nationalism being on the rise. She described a multicultural and sophisticated city where people of all different nationalities would socialise. However, there was always a tension hanging in the air if you were Armenian, for this very reason her parents decided to name her the more internationally accepted ‘Anna’ rather than ‘Anush’. 

In late September 1989 Mrs Astvatsaturian Turcotte and the rest of her family left Baku for good, with about four suitcases between them. Life had become far too dangerous in Baku due to the vilification of Armenians: anti-Armenian riots took place on the streets every day up until May 1988, her grandmother had to walk her to school despite the fact she lived very close by, her Azeri and Russian friends would stop speaking to her and would tell her she was a liar purely because she was Armenian, and after the Spitak earthquake many Armenians received cards rejoicing that so many of their fellow countrymen had died. However, Mrs Astvatsaturian Turcotte said that all of the above was nothing in comparison to the systematic villianisation of Armenians, by Azerbaijan, during the last thirty years. She brought our attention to the fact that today Shushi is being levelled to the ground and that Azeri soldiers are destroying Armenian civilians’ homes whilst they are empty.

Several questions were asked by the audience following the main presentation. At the conclusion, Bishop Hovakim thanked Mrs Astvatsaturian Turcotte for her most informative, personal and poignant talk. His Grace also stressed that no matter where Armenians live, in diaspora or in the Republic of Armenia, we should support one another as fellow Armenians. 

The recording of the talk is available via this link.