Armenia’s survival will require unprecedented political sacrifice

Posted on November. 26. 2021

Internalizing the anguish over the latest criminal incursion by the rogue Azerbaijani nation creates a geopolitical replay of those fateful years of 1918-21. It’s a more deadly version of the Bill Murray classic “Groundhog Day” where his character lives in a constant loop of the rite of spring. During the aforementioned years, the democratic Republic of Armenia’s (commonly referred to as the First Republic) sovereignty was under constant threat by a resurgent Turkish nationalist movement in the West and territorial conflicts in the East by the new Republic of Azerbaijan formerly known as Tartars. The Turks under Mustafa Kemal were intent on finishing the work of their evil predecessors and capture all of what remained of Armenia. The Azeris with their newly-fabricated history claimed all of Karabakh (Artsakh), Nakhichevan and Syunik (Zangezur). These national security issues were compounded by economic chaos, starvation and disease. Although the quality of life of our brethren today has improved from their ancestors, the political parallels are daunting. Turkey still has nefarious intentions relative to Armenia and all Armenians. The rogue dictatorship of Azerbaijan has been gifted petrodollars to fuel its illegal and revisionist assault on the Armenian people. Erdogan and Aliyev seem intent on pursuing expansionist nightmares at the expense of the Armenians. Stalin is long gone, but his legacy of division and destruction remains as the initiator of the Karabakh theft. With his nationalist policy of division and dilution, it was Stalin who “awarded” Karabakh and Nakhichevan as “autonomous” oblasts under Azerbaijan. His policies directly created the results of decades of oppression and loss of life. The former Soviet role of manipulator has been updated to Putin. Control with selective support has been the hallmark of the relationship. In 1921, Armenia was forced to capitulate to both the Turks and Soviets or face continued genocide. Soviet Armenia was created as a survival alternative to Turkish annihilation.

One hundred years later and Armenia remains caught in the scissor of Turkish expansionism and Russian dependency. Many of us are quick to blame the ineptness of the Pashinyan administration, but a broader perspective would reveal that dependency and lack of leverage have been a historical dilemma for centuries. Certainly those in power currently bear the responsibility of the failures, but Armenia has rarely operated from a position of strength. Is this our fate as a small landlocked nation or a systemic weakness in our thinking? There is nothing we can do about what piece of real estate our ancestors settled upon nor can we excuse ourselves from the incredible misfortune of Turkish migrations in the 11th century that invaded the Armenian Highlands. We can however work to shed the victim mentality that has pervaded our thinking for decades. When you introduce yourself as an Armenian to others, do you lead with the Genocide or do you share a bit about our brilliant civilization? I would venture to say that most talk initially about the former, and it reflects our insecurity. We have a responsibility for justice, but obsession with the Genocide has limited our thinking and our vision in a post-genocide and post-1991 republic environment. There are examples of breaking out of that constraint with new approaches such as the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative and its affiliate programs as an example.

There is no doubt that Armenia and its military were weakened by the 2020 war, but it seems the leadership has migrated from a balancing act of pro-western thinking to a subordinate approach with Russia. This is clearly a reaction to Russia’s displeasure with the Pashinyan government prior to the 2020 war. The result, however, seems to be a reluctance to focus on the visible signs of national insecurity. The humiliation Armenians are experiencing from the Azeri incursion on the sovereign territory of Armenia cannot be rationalized to common Armenians. These are their homes and villages. The impact has lowered the confidence of our people to have hope. Our brave soldiers in the recent fighting in Sisian displayed the courage and capability that inspires. They need to be supported with constant upgrading of the military and border fortifications. A quick review of the Syunik map reveals the Azeri/Turk short-term intentions. Aliyev says he wants a corridor through Syunik to connect Azeri territories. A transportation route with sovereignty intact is much different than a corridor which has political implications. The area of Sisian is at the “neck” of Armenia with the distance from the “new” Azeri border through Syunik to Nakhichevan being less than 30 kilometers. The attacks are intended to soften the area by taking a few kilometers at a time and make the corridor a forced reality. In their distorted view of civilized behavior, it would effectively divide Armenia geographically. We can all talk about how the November 9 agreement does not contain any language on a corridor and that the opposition from Iran is clear. But when has any regional power intervened and when has Azerbaijan honored any agreement it has signed? The border incursions are a direct violation of the trilateral agreement and international law, yet Azeri soldiers stand today on sovereign Armenian soil.

The answers are complicated, but the Syunik “neck” must be protected. Aliyev and his neo-Ottoman ally have a history of waving an olive branch with one hand and loading artillery with the other. Yes, Armenia has been weakened, but her military is the only guarantor of sovereignty. Strengthen it and put that capability to work. This requires unity of purpose. The creation of local militias should proceed to supplement capability. We must refer to diasporan resources to assist in the defense of our rights. The enabler for many of these actions is to experience a oneness that has evaded us. I find it disgusting that while the “Huns are at the gate” we are attacking each other in the political halls in Armenia and from the diaspora. There is a significant difference between criticism that is a part of the democratic process and the vile attacks on all sides today. The existence of the nation is at stake, and we seem to have more energy for weakening each other. This is exactly what the Turks want, because it reduces our capability. They are pleased by our disunity. Frankly, I think most of us are displeased with the government, but criticism without civility and a solution is not in the interests of Armenia. This is difficult to accept because the easier reaction with casual participation is to bash the leaders. They deserve criticism clearly, but the Armenian people deserve solutions. We must all get our emotions under control and be part of an answer. 

The existence of the nation is at stake

This is not a time for division. Our support for Armenia and Artsakh will be tested in the coming months. Will we confuse that support for Armenia with support for Pashinyan, or will our patriotism and love for the homeland transcend politics? It’s a serious question because I see many Armenians taking themselves out of the process by self-declared ambivalence, opposition to individuals or being caught up in the emotion of the moment. Since when is our love of the homeland manifested through individuals? Isn’t this about a 4,000-year-old civilization and our responsibility as the current custodians of that history? There are times when we all lose sight of what really is at stake. Calling for Pashinyan’s resignation is a right of free expression, but it’s not practical. The civil unrest required to force a resignation would create enough instability to put Armenia’s sovereignty at even greater risk than the current policies. As an alternative, I would suggest the following moves. Prime Minister Pashinyan, please stop arresting and investigating charges against those who can too easily be considered opposition. This process of “anti-corruption” has run its course while our sovereignty is fading. I would suggest a selective amnesty that would enable a national reconciliation process. All factions must come to the table to freeze disagreements and work together for a single purpose: saving the republic. Instead of jailing those who have stolen funds, consider a financial settlement for reconciliation. End the vile civil war of mistrust. Is this naïve? Not if you consider what is at stake. The big money benefactors can play a role in this by using their financial philanthropy as leverage to assure this happens. The church should publicly rally the faithful around forgiveness and oneness so our society can heal. Demonstrators should be advocating and demanding unity and not the replacement of one faction with another. The division in our nation is fuel for the boldness of our enemies. This is a tall order for the political elite of Armenia, but true patriotism requires that egos are subordinated to national interest. This is the definition of patriotic leadership. It is a national emergency that requires everyone to change their behavior, but nothing will happen until the political leadership of all factions cast aside the attacks, subordinate their ambition to the needs of the nation and set an example of exemplary sacrifice.

true patriotism requires that egos are subordinated to national interest.

It should be obvious to everyone that Armenia is not strong enough for any one group to mitigate the risks to our nationhood. Our division is sub-optimizing our collective capabilities. Political unity in a time of national crisis is not only appropriate but can replace the current darkness with light. The diaspora is an integral part of this alternative. Criticism without a solution is not responsible, because it contributes to the dreaded instability. We should all be calling for national unity with an intolerance for division and conflict. If we are unable to put aside our differences and work through this crisis, then perhaps we have not yet earned the ability to sustain sovereignty. It is our right as it is for all nations, but it is also our responsibility to protect this gift. Endless bickering, disunity and operating in a pure partisan manner is not the best way to protect this inheritance. Our heroes lost, and our children deserve better.

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