Alexander Pogosyan,the defendant, is an ethnic Armenianfrom Baku, the capitalof Azerbaijan. His mistreatment, as an minority, molded his development and can explainhis behavior and crime.
Therefore, the often tortuous and painfulhistory of Alexander’sArmenian people reveals the suffering and struggling that formed Alexander.Armenians are a people with ancient origins in the Caucasus, a region situated at the crossroads of the two continents of westernAsia and easternEurope. Their homelandswere once much larger than the present-day stateof Armenia, coveringan area bounded by theCaspian Sea in the eastand the BlackSea and as far asthe Mediterranean Sea in the west. The fluidancestral homeland of the Armenians was also bounded by mountains; the northernreaches were the Caucasusand the southern reaches were the ZagrosMountains (of Iran) and the Taurus Mountains. The largestArmenian kingdomof the Artashesian or Artaxidunder Tigranes the Great covered areas now belonging to the modernnation states of Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, eastern and southernTurkey/Asia Minor, Syria, Lebanon, northernIsrael, and of course the official state of Armenia(Jendian 2008, 39-40; Dagirmanjian 2005, 348; Hewsen 2001, 13).
Although Armeniansonce ruled their own kingdoms,they were oftencaptured by foreignempires. Persian rulers in the form of the Parthians, Medes, and Achaemenids dominated the Armenians before the invasion of the Persians’great ancient foes of the Alexander the Great and his Greek and Macedonian armies. These Greeks in the 300sB.
C.E. then established Hellenistic Kingdom of the Seleucids. These two conquerors, the Greeks and the Persians, providehistorians with the first documentation of Armeniansas early as the sixth century B.C.E. Romans, including the Second Rome of the ByzantineEmpire, ruled over Armenians.
Later empires introduced and sowed the seeds of ethnic and sectarian–which is religious-based–conflict between themselves as the latestinvaders and the Armenians. Arab and variousTurkic invasions and empires introduced a differentreligion to the area, Islam. This infusionor superimposition also introduced new ethnic groups to the region, the Seljuk,Ottoman, and Azeri Turks. These IslamicTurks and their descendants laterattacked the ChristianArmenians in the 1800s and 1900s. The most recent domination was that imposedby the USSR, which controlled Armenia or, more accurately, the ArmenianSoviet Socialist Republic (SSR) from 1922 to1991 (Jendian 2008, 39-41). Although, the Bolshevik Red Army had invaded and occupied the newlyindependent nation-state of Armeniasince 1920.Despite these incursions, their Armenian culture has survivedand shown remarkable resilience, but not withoutdamage and trauma.
Their culture revolves around two key touchstones of identity.The first touchstone center on their Christian faith and theirArmenian ApostolicChurch. Armenians were the first nationthat accepted or embracedChristianity in 301 or 314. The secondkey touchstone of identityis their alphabet, which inscribes theunique Armenian language,a tongue in an independent branch of the Indo-European language family. Armenians take pride in the enduranceof their language,which has enduredand is extantwhile many otherIndo-European languages have gone extinctand disappeared in this often conquered region. Another formative historical development shaping the Armenian people is far more tragic, genocide. Armenians, as a “dominated minority,”have survived tremendous persecution, including mass murder,rape, physical assault,and dispossession of land (Mangassarian 2016, 375; Jendian2008, 41-43). In the three decades between 1890 and 1920,the Ottoman Turks massacred Armenians.
First, the Sultan Abdul Hamid II massacred Armenians near Lake Van in the Hamidian Massacres, which bearhis namesake, in the 1890s. In 1909, Ottoman Turks killed as many as30,000 Armeniansat Adana. Despitethe ferocity of these massacres, none of these acts of violencereach the scale of destruction as that of the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1921/1922. Armenians and scholars often refer to this plan of murderand removal as the Genocide, which they remember each April 24 as ArmenianMartyrs Day. This day marked the beginningof the Armenian Genocide,when the nationalist Turks of the Committeeof Unity and Progress(CUP) expelled Armenian intellectuals from the imperial capital of Istanbul/ Constantinople and then murderedthem.
Believing that Armenianswere a fifth column supporting the Allied Powers during WorldWar I, the Young Turks killedall fighting-age adult males in the borderregion with Russia. These Young Turks led by Ataturk and CUP espoused nationalistic pridein their Turkishrace and culture;their frenzied, jingoistbelief in Turkish superiority alienated all other cultures, especially the Armenian minority. The Turkish military and their Kurdish militias removedthe remaining women and children in a forced march that killed many more.Approximately one quarter(¼) of the Armenianpopulation perished, with a total or final deathtoll of 800,000to 1.5 million (Naimark 2001, 41;Suny 2015, xviii,376)After and, some scholarsargue, because of this tragedy, the international community grantedthe surviving Armenianstheir own independent nation-state after the Ottoman Empirewas officially dissolved in the aftermath of World War I. This nation-state was much smallerthan the historical range of Armenia and excluded Armeniansliving in neighboring areas in Central Asia which Armenians had residedin the past and present,such as Nagorny Karabakhand the Azerbaijani cities of Sumgait and Baku, which was theyoung Alexander’s hometown and placeof birth. However, Armenian independence did not endure long.
The Soviet Union invaded Armenia and other lands that ethnic Armenians still inhabited, includingAzerbaijan, to the east.Here tensions eruptedinto violence between these easternArmenians living outside of Armenia and Azerbaijanis in the late 1980sand early 1990s in the twilightof the USSR’s control over the region and freezingof ethnic and religious tensions during the Cold War. Azerbaijanis attacked Armenians over NagornyKarabakh, which means Mountainous Black Garden. A popularalternative transliteration of the geographic term is spelled and appearsas Nagorno-Karabagh. Armenianshad called the northern highlands Artsakhbefore the fourteenth century.
This semi-independent island of the NagornyKarabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) surrounded by Azerbaijan held specialimportance to Armeniansand included thousands of Armenian(as well as Azerbaijani) residents.Black Garden is a fertile mountainous area that has grown not only food–such as mulberries, silk, grapes,and corn–but also sustainedrevered and important Armenian poets, warriors, and monasteries in its forests and mountains(DeWaal 2003, 8). Drawnby both these materialand historic attachments, in February1988, Armenians sought to unify this site within Armenia. Anti-Armenian (and also anti-Azerbaijani) violence broke out first in the actual region of NagornyKarabakh and then quickly spread throughout Azerbaijan,including Alexander’s home town of Baku in theeast.The conflict spread in part by echoing the Genocidedecades before. Azerbaijanis, like the Turks, claimed that resident Armenians were disloyalenemies within,enemies who were plotting with foreign countries. In the Nagorny Karabakh conflict, Armenians there were conspiring with Armenians across the borderin the west in Armenia SSR to seize Azerbaijani soil and territory.
This allegation is the old “fifth column” characterization reborn with tragic consequences for Armenians.These recent killings and beatinghave been calledpogroms and genocides interchangeably. A pogrom,however, is an organized slaughter or massacre of a targetedethnic group.
Althoughthe term usually is used to describe violentattacks on Jews of Russia, a pogrom can describe similarattacks on other minorities, such as Armenians in Azerbaijan. Scholars and juristshave called these pogromsgenocides. A genocide is differentfrom a pogrombecause it is a criminal law established and recognized internationally as the United NationsConvention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide(UNCG).
Genocideis defined under this international law as “any of thefive following acts committed with intent to destroy,in whole or in part, a national,ethnical, racial, orreligious group: (a.) Killingmembers of a group; (b.) Causingserious bodily ormental harm to members of a group;(c.) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its destruction in whole or in part;” (d.
) Imposing measures intended to prevent births withinthe group; (e.) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” Genocide, under this official definition, can take formsof suffering short of outright or direct killing of a targetedgroup’s members. Similar to the Genocide of 1920, isthe genocide in Sumgait and Baku between 1988 and 1990.Genocide andpersistent persecution has inculcated or instilled “cultural trauma”in Armenians. Some of this collective trauma stems from the Genocide of 1915.Descendants of thisgenocide’s survivors continue to manifestsymptoms.
Decades later,third- and fourth-generation descendants oftenfeel anger and resentment and surprisingly more hostilitythan their ancestors. Alexander undoubtedly shares this anger and resentment, as a memberof this fourth-generation. Alexander and the rest of his cohortresent that the government of Turkeyand even the United States continueto deny the ArmenianGenocide (Mangassarian 2016,376-377, 373; Dagirmanjian 2005,439-442). Moreover, as mentionedabove, Armenians have been targetsand victims of genocidesin Azerbaijan in the 1980s and 1990s that dominant majorities launched decadesafter 1915.
The more recent genocidessparked in the Land of Flames,which is a translation of the word Azerbaijaninto English, bare striking resemblances to the Armenian Genocide. Armenians view their Azerbaijani perpetrators and attackers as similar to the Young Turks, who had perpetrated the earlierArmenian Genocide.Azerbaijanis, like the Turks, are Muslim.They also speak Azeri,which is a Turkic language.Armenian victims of and refugeesfrom the February1988 genocide in Sumgait,a port city on the CaspianSea in Azerbaijan north of Baku, call the Azerbaijanis “Azeri Turks” (Shahmuratian 1989, 5).
The Azerbaijanis’ behavior of attacking Armenians,moreover, is a shockingreminder of the Young Turks and CUP decades before. Direct victims and survivorsof genocide often have a hard time trusting outsiders. Alexander, as a victim of the genocidein Baku, is undoubtedly and understandably prone to be hypervigilant and attack individuals whom they perceive as threats(Staub 2006; 871; Dagirmanjian 2005, 437-441,449).
In part because of this violence,many Armenians have been forcedto flee the Caucasus. Armenianshave immigrated to the UnitedStates in the following distinctive groups or waves:1890-1924, duringHamidian Massacres and the ArmenianGenocide of 1915 post-WWII, just before,the iron curtainfell across the Caucasus1988-1990 following the most recent pogroms/genocide(s) (Bakalian 1994, 2, 9-14; Jendian 2008, 45-59). As theabove chronology clearly shows,each major or “big” wave was oftenprompted by persecution and violenceat home. This last wave mentionedis very importantand especially pertinent for the defendant because it carriedthe ten-year-old Alexanderto the United States. How the Genocidesin theOttoman Empire (the Genocide of1915) and Later in Sumgaitand Baku Impacted Alexander, Direct Trauma and Cultural Trauma Alexander family immigrated to the United States during this 1988-1990 wave of immigration.
which included Armenianrefugees who were forcedfrom their homes in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku, where Azerbaijanis massacred Armeniansbefore and during BlackJanuary of 1990. Alexander’s family of four, which included his mother,father, and brother,arrived in Arizona in 1990.Before arrivingin America, however, his family temporarily fled to and resided in Russia.
They thus followedthe same path as thousandsof other Baku Armenians, as unwelcomesojourners in this part of the USSR. Whole Armeniancommunities, including young Alexanderand his family,fled from and thus were brutally and utterly erasedfrom Azerbaijan, most notablyin Sumgait and Baku. The last or remnantsof the Armenian residents of Baku fled from Baku during the “Black January” of 1990, althoughthousands, including Alexander’s family,had already left the port. Alexander fled to avoid being killed or beaten,leaving behindall of his childhoodpossessions.
In sum, the ethnic violence of the Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict created hundreds of thousandsof Armenian refugees. As many as 353,000Armenians were forced to leave Azerbaijan and the contestedautonomous region of NagornyKarabakh.Approximately 6,000 Armeniansdied and many more bore scars of theviolence and disruption (de Waal 2003, 89-95, 285; Yunusov).Alexander, at the age of seventeen, has been convictedof the Labor Day Massacreor Killings of September 7, 1998, in Aurora,Colorado. However,this massacre was not his first exposureto horrific violence.He and hundreds of thousandsof fellow Armeniansin the late 1980s and early 1990s had been targetsand victims of massacres in their homes in the Caucasus, an otherwiseisolated regionwhose turbulent history echoed in the United States. Alexander, as an Armenianrefugee, brought this most recent distressor trauma with him to the U.S.
The seven-year-old Alexander himself experienced traumatic events in Baku, Azerbaijan, in the 1980s.As a child in Baku, he like fellow Armenians, felt increasingly alienated by his violentAzerbaijani neighbors. Azerbaijanis threatened, attacked, killed,and raped Armenians. Azerbaijanis killed at least ninetyArmenians in Baku alone (de Waal 2004, 90), including a member of Alexander’s family.
Azerbaijanis viciously killed Alexander’s own great uncle witha skewer. In 1989, they capturedhismother Lilia, threatening to rape her. She had returned briefly to Baku in 1989 after the family fled in the summer of 1988 to Russia. Lilia latershared the beatingand attemptedrape with Alexanderand his brotherRoman, a horrificstory that traumatized the young boy, Alexander.
This violence against his motherAlexander witnessed the desecration of several Armenian historic architectural sites, such as Baku’s Armenian Church (Libaridian1990, xi; Shahmuratian 1989, 5). AsAlexander’s father recalled, gangsof Azerbaijanis collectedthe addresses of Armenians at communitycenters so that they could find and victimizeArmenians. Alexander was a targetof this violence.The testimonies or oral histories of the survivorsfrom the Sumgait violence confirm this deliberate targeting and invadingof Armenians in their homes.In this nearby town, Armeniansreport that they were attackedin their homes, where many had tried to hide.Alexander’s distresswas not identifiedlet alone treated by mentalhealth professionals anywhere, even once he and his brokenfamily arrived in the United States. Psychologists have commentedthat Armenians livingin the United States are especially unlikely to seek psychological treatment from non-Armenians and Armeniansalike.
Psychologist Steve Dagirmanjian confirms that Armeniansvalue their self-reliance, a trait that has helped them to maintain their cherishedcultural integrity. This sense of fierceindependence, however,prevents Armeniansfrom seeking treatment. According toDagirmanjian, “Armenians are unlikely to see psychotherapy as a way of dealingwith their problems. The idea of paying someone for “advice”runs counter to centuries of self-reliance individualism and may even be considered shamefuland dishonorable (447).
He concludesthat “probably the singlemost difficult obstacleto achieving a successful therapeutic experience with Armenian families is getting beyond theirheightened wariness of outsiders, coupled with their reflexiveself- reliance” (449). Because of their repeated mistreatmentby an oppressive majority,Armenians do not trust outsiders, including clinicians (Mangassarian, 2016, 376-379; Staub 2006, 871; Dagirmanjian 2005, ).As an ethnicArmenian, Alexander did not seek psychological treatment for his anger.Alexander felt anger and even fury as an elementary-school student in Phoenix,Arizona. Alex “wouldget flipped off.” He was deeply frustrated by this persistent mistreatment, this time by Americans, who did not help the young boy and, later, adolescent assimilate or at least fit into U.S. culture, anotherdominating culture that excludedAlexander.
Alexander’s Harsh, Discriminatory Schoo ling andother Experiences in Three Countriesand on TwoContinents Alexander has experienced extreme prejudicein school throughout his life.Although he attended schoolsin three different countries, each country’s school system failed to treat the young, displaced Alexanderfairly and discriminated against him as an outsider.In Baku, the MuslimAzerbaijanis targetedhim for his Christian religion. At times he was unable to attend school at all becauseof the rovinggangs or police,who prevented him from travelingto school in safety. Radicals once shelledhis school.
In 1988 and 1989,once again classmates mistreated him by (inaccurately) targeting him as Muslim because of his dark hair. Americanstudents behaved like his former Azerbaijani school matesin Baku and Russian classmates in Moscow/Georgievsk.Americanstudents, he thought, disliked him because hewas a foreigner and spoke with an accent. He struggledwith basic tasks like openingmilk cartons. Although, indifference in U.S. schoolsat first prevailedover outright animosity and prejudiceagainst Armenians in schools in Azerbaijan. Elementary school teachers ignoredhow Americanchildren mistreated him in the classroom.
However, high schoolteachers exacerbated his struggles by forcing him into an alternative school, where he met the criminaland gang-member Michael Martinez. These persistent or repeatedexperiences created severeresentment in school or, more accurately, multiple schools.Alexander was also the victimof racism outsideof school. The police in the United States, Alexanderfelt, constantly and unjustlyaccused him of crimes in the neighborhood.
The Aurora County police continued a patternof harassment that had begun in Baku by Azerbaijani police and military. Stereotyping persisted among Alexander’sneighbors in Colorado. A witnessof the crimes of which Alexanderwas tried and convictedlabeled him as a Spanish American male, as recordedin the affidavit for warrantless arrest.Neighbors and landlordsin the United Stateswere also racist and cruel, not only in Colorado but in Arizona.
Alexander, beforethe age of twenty or even eighteen, was thusbetrayed not only by institutions in three countries but by his friend, Michael Martinez. His traumatic experiences in Azerbaijan, Russia, and even the UnitedStates engendered a fatal hypervigilance, a hypervigilance against enemies in misplaced loyaltyto his close friend, Martinez (Staub2006, 871-872; Dagirmanjian 2005, 437).He also lackedthe support of an Armenian community in the UnitedStates. Dagirmanjian extolls the unity of Armenian-American communities in the United States,including theirChurch, which usuallyinclude and supports Armenianimmigrants. Yet, he also noticesthat the 1988-1990 refugees, including the barely ten- year-old Alexander, were not oftenwelcomed by established Armenian-Americans.Instead, a young Alexanderwas cut off from much needed cultural comfort.
Neither could be find comfort within his nuclear family of his mother, father, and younger brother Roman. His parents, Lilia and Yuriy, divorced once in the United States,breaking up even a semblanceof a stable household by separating the family.Once again, Alexanderwas arbitrarily moved to anotherplace.Altogether, Alexander was betrayed on numerouslevels wherever he sojourned. Government institutions in Azerbaijan SSR, Russia proper,and various states in the United States failed to protecthim. His Armenianethnicity, with its persistent cultural trauma, molded his development, behavior, and his crimesbefore he reachedhis twentieth birthday.
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