When Vice is Celebrated as Virtue: Azeri Atrocities Writ Large

Book review by Lucine Kasbarian, NJ USA, 6 June 2024

Sadistic Pleasures: The Silent Crimes of Azerbaijan
By Ashkhen Arakelyan
Foreword by Gregory Diehl
Identity Publications, 2022, Second Edition

The book’s cover, designed by David Vardanyan, “depicts a human eye rolled up and back towards the skull. The two most common times this exaggerated expression occurs are during death and orgasm. Hence, appropriate to the title and theme of this book, it is a potentially profound symbol of both sadism and pleasure.”
– Excerpted from the credits page of Sadistic Pleasures.

“It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.”

– Joseph Heller, from his satirical war novel, Catch-22. The above excerpt describes how evil is repackaged as heroism and rewarded. The words resonate for anyone familiar with the injustices endured by Armenians at the hands of Azeri and Turkish persecutors

Just before Azerbaijan invaded the Armenian Republic of Artsakh in September 2020, independent journalist Ashkhen Arakelyan’s childhood friend Narek (not his real name) was captured by Azerbaijani soldiers. Three months later, Narek and 44 other Armenian hostages were released to Armenia. Arakelyan interviewed 14 of these freed captives and documented their tales of torture and psychological abuse in Sadistic Pleasures: Silent Crimes of Azerbaijan. 

Baku’s state-sanctioned education curriculum indoctrinates its citizens to harbor a pathological hatred for Armenians. That hatred was on display in each of the tales documented by Arakelyan, who sought to draw attention to the fate of hundreds of Armenian prisoners of war still held by Azerbaijan as of this writing. Sadistic Pleasures has been presented in English with the intention of informing the world of a faraway land that has undergone and continues to undergo horrible events unknown to the majority of humankind.

Gregory Diehl of Identity Publications, the publisher who produced the second edition of Sadistic Pleasures, is an American of Armenian descent who moved to Armenia in 2019.  As he describes in his Foreword to this volume, “the powers that be” have gone to great lengths to keep hidden the true history of the Artsakh region, the way in which Artsakh was stolen from its indigenous people and how its people have repeatedly been savagely mistreated.

Sadistic Pleasures begins with a brief historical overview of Armenia, Artsakh and Azerbaijan. Each chapter that follows spotlights one of the detainees. These individuals were comprised of military personnel, irregulars and just as often civilians – all of whom were assaulted and/or ambushed and rounded up for detention, even after a so-called Russian-brokered ceasefire went into effect on November 9, 2020.

Thanks to the patient coaxing and compassionate listening skills of Arakelyan, interviewees recreated the daunting conditions under which they found themselves in Artsakh, how they were seized by Azeris and taken to prisons in Baku and Nakhichevan, what transpired during their horrific incarcerations, and the circumstances surrounding their return to Armenia.

Author Ashkhen Arakelyan

Readers familiar with the tortures carried out over 100 years ago by the Ottoman Turks upon the unarmed, native Armenian civilian population during the Armenian Genocide will recognize the Gehennas described in these pages. It is not lost on many that the first Christian nation has been repeatedly subjected to the same manners of persecution and brutality as the Lord Jesus Christ.

The interviewees also did not shy away from discussing the unforgivable way in which the Armenian authorities sold out their people, fighters and country. Readers will empathize with the detainees’ discouragement (and determination in spite of all). They will also be reminded of the Armenian/Assyrian-American bombardier, Captain Yossarian in Joseph Heller’s war novel Catch-22, who was on the verge of distrusting his commanding officers as much as, if not more than, he distrusted the enemy attempting to shoot him down.

The profiles of civilians, volunteers and enlisted soldiers in Sadistic Pleasures demonstrate just how much the typical Armenian loves his/her country and is willing to sacrifice his/her life for its salvation.

The stories also demonstrate that courageous Armenian patriots are more abundant than apparatchiks, deserters or traitors.

Most important, the gruesome tales in Sadistic Pleasures remind us that citizens cannot solely rely on governments or the military. Every Armenian must be prepared to engage in armed struggle if we are to protect our ancient, embittered homeland from extinction.

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Lucine Kasbarian is a journalist, book publicist and political cartoonist.

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