Posted on November. 20. 2020

BY STEPAN PILIGIAN | The Armenian Weekly

I have been very fortunate with the opportunity to write for the Armenian Weekly. This week, however, is by far the most difficult column that I have ever composed. How can I add value with raw emotions dominating our thought process? Anger and profound sadness are the emotions de jour. Our feelings have resulted in a numbness in the last 48 hours. We are simply too sad, too upset, too angry to make sense of the shocking news released by the government of Nikol Pashinyan. There are too many questions and not a lot of answers yet about the future. My suggestion is that you not hide your emotions. We are mourning for the losses of our young heroes and for the territory that was lost. Prime Minister Pashinyan told the nation that it was not a victory but also was not a defeat unless we view ourselves that way. With due respect, I disagree. We were played in a web of international deceit with complicit pre-meditation. Perhaps Armenia knew and had no choice but to defend our lands, but it is clear that nearly everyone else was part of the plan. If we are to live for another day, it is critically important that we not behave as dependent victims beyond our mourning and early healing period. We have a right to bow our heads and grieve our losses but we also have a responsibility to those who sacrificed to internalize certain realities and write the next chapter of the history of Armenian Artsakh.

The signs were there. Left with no choice, we defended our land with honor and distinction. There is no disgrace in that—only respect and love. While we chose the only path at that moment, there were larger forces lurking that would use the Armenians of Artsakh as the justification for forcing their agenda. The argument of “territorial integrity” versus “self-determination” has never been a balanced discussion. World powers and key mediators are naturally biased and reluctant to change the status quo. The dreaded Madrid Principles illustrate that point. Nearly all the provisions advocate for “territorial integrity” with only one section (determining the final status of Nagorno Karabakh) vaguely referring to a final status. That one section is not addressed in the agreement with Russia and Azerbaijan.

Stepanakert, October 6, 2020 (Photo: Government of Armenia/Twitter)

All of the mediation nations were acutely aware that war was imminent. Turkish war games with personnel and equipment left in Azerbaijan, the timing during a pandemic and a contentious US presidential election are just a few of the overt signs. We can only speculate on the covert intelligence. Yet no one did anything—not the OSCE Minsk Group, not the EU, not the United States, and most notoriously not Russia. There is very little chance that this invasion took place without some or all of the stakeholders “green lighting” the decision or at least agreeing to limiting their involvement to benign rhetoric. The plan was not to approach this in a traditional way. The full military capability of Azerbaijan with Turkey’s active support and the dangerous use of imported jihadis were unreleased. Attacks were made on the territory of the Republic of Armenia—no support from Russia or the CSTO. Ordinance fell on the territory of the Islamic Republic of Iran—no support or response. Criminal action with genocidal intent was conducted with illegal munition, chemical agents and intentional civilian destruction—no response of substance.

Every comment made by other nations during the past 44 days focused on the return by Armenia of “occupied territories” despite the violation of international humanitarian law. Apparently the fix was on! The intent was to force capitulation on the Armenians by using the assault as the mechanism. Russia supplied their “strategic partner” Armenia with enough supplies to survive for a brief period, but not enough to win. Russia, the master manipulator, was commanding the action with the lives of our young men.

The rest were complicit, in my view, with their absence or intentionally aloof participation. The OSCE Minsk Group failed miserably and abdicated (or was simply ignored) to Russia and Turkey. While they expanded the rhetoric of “both sides,” Russia and Turkey put Armenia in a corner while everyone else watched. It is no coincidence that the unconditional surrender (my view) was “signed” after Shushi fell. In this way the Azeris can further humiliate the Armenians by losing their cultural capital. This is tragically reminiscent of Stalin giving territorial favors to Attarurk such as Igdir (Mt. Ararat) in an attempt to crush the Armenian psyche. At the end of this chapter, criminal behavior and moral decay prevailed over justice. It is that reality that has numbed our bodies with open wounds and paralyzing emotion. That emotion will eventually fade and our understanding will improve. It is then that our honorable people will adjust and live for another day. This much I am certain of. Imagine how the Armenians must have felt after the battle of Avarayr in 451—an epic defense but we lost the battle. The resistance continued for another 33 years and then our will prevailed. They mourned, analyzed and continued the good fight. Different time, same story. How do you think our people felt in December of 1920 when the First Republic was crushed by the same players—Russians and Turks. Some were relieved the fighting had stopped. Others wished to carry on (February revolt of 1921), but it was one of the darkest moments in our history. Artsakh lost. Nakhichevan lost. Ararat, Kars, Ardahan and Javakhk lost. Yet we endured to live for 1991. This book has not yet been completed.

Pashinyan in an interview this week spoke about the “occupied territories.” He intimated that if they had returned five of the seven territories last year, this situation may have been different. He said this in the context of an extraordinary discussion of mistakes that he made. The difficult lesson here for Armenia is that we can’t be going after the hornet’s nest without full protection from allies and supporters. Given the criminal and violent nature of the hornet’s nest, that support must be defined and reliable. It may be in the form of diplomatic support, but it must be consistent. It is a self-serving gesture to proudly state that we were alone, but it is impractical. We must be open to thinking that this may have been prevented if the liberated territories were traded last year.

Our cause is just, and we know that territory is Artsakh. But we have learned that we can only go as far as the regional players will tolerate. We didn’t listen to the sound of the wind. Returning the territory perhaps could have flipped Russia and certainly the mediator community. The United States would not even reverse the Section 907 provision to cut off military aid to an ever-increasing stockpile in Azerbaijan. We don’t like to admit it, but in the cold and manipulative world of geopolitics, we backed a number of nations in a corner, and the favor was returned. All of this was known. Russia has made it clear they wanted to provide peacekeeping troops for the last several years. Now they have accomplished their goal of regional control while neutralizing rivals France and the United States. Our policies need to be less idealistic and readjusted to our capabilities. The mistakes we made were in the last several years as the dots began to connect. The 44 days of valor were not the problem. We honor their sacrifices and mourn their loss. If we truly value their commitment, we will move beyond humiliated victims and write the next chapter of our history.

Armenia and all Armenians are wounded, but our hearts will heal. With each moment of healing, we must apply it to adjusting as we always have to build a better tomorrow. We cannot lose hope or turn on each other. Don’t hide your pain. Share it with friends and family. Purge that pain with expression so that our true recovery can begin. We must restore our mental state as quickly as possible to apply our collective will and capabilities into efforts that will prevent future destruction. In times like this we look for others to blame. The criminal Turks completed another atrocity. Our leadership failed us. We are always victims. Nothing changes. Others may feel that they are in shock and simply incapable of thinking clearly. This is another test of our eternal resiliency. We have work to do. We must be constructive in our self-assessment and not destructive. The democracy of Armenia must be preserved. We cannot go back to our reactive past. The answers will become clear over the next few weeks, and the bitterness will fade only if we apply ourselves to our recovery. There are many who say that we must only rely on ourselves. That notion will gain emotional momentum in the aftermath of this catastrophe. Let us keep in mind that there is a major difference between relying on ourselves and being alone. We were alone but did not possess the capability to succeed. We can build a self-reliance, but when you are isolated, you are easily manipulated. This is a painful lesson for us to learn. This world is not governed with moral compasses. Those forces exist, but they are in constant competition with self-interest and pure evil. Navigating those waters is what distinguished those with a future versus those whose book has been completed. Another chapter has been written, but with God’s grace and putting our capabilities to work, our book is far from finished.

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