I have always found it fascinating how we attribute such importance to the changing of the year. It is a great study in the psychology of humans to witness the refresh of thinking and commitments that takes place during the new year transition. Politicians speak of optimism, and individuals declare improvements in their personal lives that have evaded them to date. We ended 2022 on a humiliating note with the genocide motivated blockage of the peaceful citizens of Artsakh. We also learned that Russia will play dangerous politics with their responsibility and commitment to keep the Lachin Corridor open and free of intimidation. Apparently, only the Armenians play by the established rule. Perhaps there is an important message there. Well, 2023 has arrived, and the problems remain in place. If the New Year arrival motivates us to re-examine our approach, then perhaps it does add some value. In case there is anyone left on this earth who believes Azerbaijan wants peace and friendly relations with Armenia, take a good look at the genocidal blockade of the lifeline of our people.
Perhaps this is just a perception, but it seems that the Armenian government is still fearful of Russian or Azerbaijani retribution if the Armenians took offensive actions at the border. Has our victim mentality inspired our passivity? If our military is lacking the capability to defend our borders, then shame on all of us for wasting precious time. If we are paralyzed by fear or waiting for someone else to rescue us, then perhaps we do not love our sovereignty enough. While the diplomatic process churns at a snail’s pace (is there any other speed), perhaps a public display of resistance would be in order.
We need to challenge the anarchy of the Azerbaijanis and the duplicity of the Russians in a way that avoids direct military confrontation, but creates visible and public displays. If 25,000 citizens of Armenia were to approach the corridor on the RoA end and were joined by another 20,000 from the Artsakh end in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience, we just might catch the attention of a world driven by hypocrisy. It might make them publicly guilty enough to offer tangible support. We would dare the Russians to oppose these peaceful citizens. Yes, it would challenge their “authority,” but it would also be a strong statement of standing up and exposing Azerbaijan’s terrorism. This would require logistics and supply planning to support the protesters who would be committed for the duration of the blockade. Political and diplomatic work would be coordinated to optimize the visibility created by the resistance. I have a hard time believing that the powers that be in Russia and the West will take us seriously when we accept every level of humiliation the Azeri rogues throw toward Armenia. Calculated risks in desperate times do not equate to fearful subordination. Imagine that the trilateral agreement of November 9, 2020 specifically spells out that free passage of Armenians through the Lachin area will be secured and guaranteed by Russia, yet two of the three parties ignore their own signature and the remaining party is left to beg for integrity. Furthermore, the Azeris cook up another lame excuse to pursue their genocidal agenda, and our response is to ask others to do their job. There is no doubt that Russia has failed and betrayed Armenia, but our lack of effective responses calls into question our will. I am addressing this comment to the entire global Armenian nation and not simply to the Armenian government. Another option that has gained some prominence is an emergency airlift. Once again, we are fearful that the Azeris would respond militarily with any flights between Yerevan and Stepanakert. The concern is real, but the strangulation of Artsakh is a higher priority. I believe the Azeris are cunning and bluffing. Shooting down a humanitarian helicopter or transport plane would have losing implications for them. It could become an international nonviolent rallying point for Artsakh while providing life-giving assistance.
Should we wait and allow the Azeris to “open” Lachin in return for the potentially fatal “Zangezur” corridor? Turning this into a tradeoff negotiation would be another blow to the Armenian position. We all should understand that Azeris are proficient in this type of extortion. Unfortunately, we enable this criminal behavior by acting in a subordinated and defensive manner. The Azeris may hate the Armenians, but that should not preclude their respect. Hatred is a disease driven by their propaganda and government policy. Respect for enemies creates fear and leads to restraint. Today, in the absence of respect, there are no limits to what Aliyev will do. He feels free to attack the border, kill civilians, steal territory and now apply a chokehold on Artsakh. Our response has been: Russia do your job; to the West, please sanction the terrorists. These are noble objectives based on sound logic, except in the absence of Armenia showing the fortitude to defend what is theirs, it becomes empty. Many of you have stated that we are not in a position to respond to Azeri aggression. If that is true, then I would call into question the validity of our sovereignty. Armenia has been independent for 31 years. Prior to that there was 70 years of Soviet control. With the exception of the two-plus years of the First Republic, Armenia did not exist as an independent state since 1375. Let’s do the math. Since the fall of the last Armenian kingdom (Rupenian in Cilicia), Armenia has been a free state barely five percent of the total. Given the scarcity of sovereignty and the euphoria expressed when Armenia and Artsakh became free in 1991, we should all expect a more tenacious global defense. The border should be flooded with our people, and we should rally for unprecedented humanitarian assistance via land and air. We have failed thus far to put the criminal Azeris on the defensive because we are working through surrogates that will only assist the Armenians when it aligns with their self-interest. Likewise, they will turn a blind eye to the Turks when it is in their interest. The traditional silence of the British is a classic example. We would go a long way in convincing friends to take a stronger position if they believe that the Armenians will not blink against Turkish oppression. No one should expect the Armenians to engage in a full-scale war against the Turkish alliance, but the nation must have red lines. Who will respect Armenia if they absorb every humiliating offensive? Detractors will point out that the incursions are intended to draw Armenia into another conflict and continue to erode the morale of the population. The options suggested would be non-military, civil disobedience designed to increase visibility and thus force resolution.
We enter a new year, but all that’s changed is the three in the numeric indicator. The lessons of 2016, 2020 and 2022 are that our friends will follow and not lead. The world is populated by self-interest; the quicker we internalize that reality, the faster our recovery will take place. Progress will be clear when we no longer act like victims and blame others for what is ours. The road back to dignity is a long one, but we can begin with some of the suggested actions. Why have the communities in the diaspora not taken to the streets? The grassroots advocacy is important and is functioning, but there have been precious few public rallies to voice our concerns. Are we relying on the diplomatic pressure behind closed doors to advance our cause, or do we only take to the streets on major anniversaries? Why would we display such vigor on the recognition of the Genocide when we are comparatively passive as another genocide is in the making? Every day, it becomes clearer that any governance of Artsakh under Azerbaijan will result in overt ethnic cleansing and deportation. This is a repeat of what our ancestors experienced. This is Nakhichevan again. Can we live with ourselves when we have not exhausted every option to end the Azeri oppression? Until every option, every voice and every resource is expended, we have not fulfilled our responsibility. Aside from the physical atrocity of possibly losing Artsakh, I wonder what would be the psychological and sociological impact on our nation which is still wounded by 100-year-old crime. There can be no trading of Lachin for “Zangezur.” The former is our right agreed to by all parties and has incredible humanitarian ramifications. The latter is a fantasy to divide Armenia and essentially lose Syunik. This is a “red line” upon which sits the essence of the nation. Placating a terrorist nation like Azerbaijan by showing “restraint” and “good faith” only encourages their evil intent.
My prayer for 2023 (or any other day for that matter) is that we finally hit the bottom and re-discover our soul—the spirit of Vartanantz, of Sardarabad and of the heroes of Artsakh. I pray that the Armenian government builds a national unity government to eliminate internal dissension until this defense of the nation is resolved. We must unleash the potential of Armenian capability worldwide to build a national defense and intelligence service that will protect the nation from our enemies. I ask that each of us identify one thing that we can do within our own daily lives to contribute to the survival of the nation. We must discard the feeling that we must always follow the advice of others who are driven by self-interest and rather do what must be done to defend Armenia’s self-interest. If we expect Armenia and Artsakh to survive, then for each of us, it begins with a serious discussion in the mirror.