A small nation does not have to be a weak one

Posted on March. 24. 2023

By Stepan Piligian | The Armenian Weekly

In sports, performance is driven by talent and what many refer to as the “intangibles.” Some athletes are winners because of their physical skills and how they approach the challenge. Focusing on the objective and being confident are self-disciplines that separate individual and collective performance. Coaches motivate their teams to new heights by painting a vision where each player can see themselves. Limits in results are often self-imposed. This past week, I was honored to be invited to speak to a parish community in Hartford, CT on the subject of Artsakh. The audience was informed, engaged and insightful. This is always a thrill for a presenter – to witness such a participation level. At one point in the discussion, we discussed the underperformance of Armenia in many areas of nation building. During these times of crisis, it is particularly easy to blame our problems on the current government—our first instinct, but perhaps not totally accurate. Led by the audience commentary, the tone evolved to our psyche as a people. How often have you heard fellow Armenians rationalize our situation as a result of being a “small nation?” The context is often in the form of using “small” and “weak” interchangeably. There is much truth in defining us as a small nation. The territory of our homeland sits on less than 30,000 square kilometers, which is the smallest of any country in the adjacent region. The population of Armenia is estimated to be slightly less than three million, sending the population density into the lower bracket. The economy is improving but struggles with a population poverty level estimated to be about one third of the total. We’ve heard all of this and more. Factually correct until we associate it with weakness. Weakness is more a state of mind and defines how we approach the challenges of life. Do we have a vision that unites our people or are we saddled with the burden of simply surviving? Is our foreign policy motivated truly by our interests, or is it defined by the intimidation of others who we deem more powerful? It is obvious that a smaller nation has to maneuver the tricky waters of geopolitics carefully, but operating with a clear vision and the will to go with it have nothing to do with being a “small nation.” I am tired of the standard Armenian commentary that we are weak and therefore we must accept our fate.
Buried deep in our culture is a victim mentality. During my corporate life, I had a boss who refused to let his staff think as victims when adverse business conditions or other challenges occurred. He insisted that we focus on a solution and not waste time rationalizing the circumstances. It is human nature to complain and make excuses. It is a winning formula to jump into the future. For centuries, our people have been subjected to unthinkable oppression; deceit, dispossession, murder and expulsion are some of the atrocities. The Genocide created a victim mentality in our global life where we have obsessed over our misfortune. Some of that mentality has been replaced with our advocacy work for recognition and our investment in a homeland. But many Armenians are full of negative thoughts and hopelessness. Our people are kind and generous, but as a global nation we lack the self-esteem necessary to overcome these burdens. We have been lacking in a global vision, unity and confidence in international relations. We are always asking others to support us when we have at times failed to act ourselves. The result has often led to disappointment and a furthering of the victim mentality.
For 30 years under a variety of administrations, Armenia did not declare a political status with Artsakh. Whether that was recognizing the Republic or absorbing it into the RoA is secondary. The point is that we did nothing, yet we have been asking the Europeans and United States to recognize Artsakh. I am certain that these requests have always been accompanied by a sidebar explanation that Armenia can’t because it would cause a war with Azerbaijan. It did not serve as a deterrent for Azeri aggression or invite Western assistance as Artsakh has been continuously under attack for almost 30 years.
Armenia has always played by the rules of others and received little. What was our end game? Our vision? A defensive posture does not garner respect…only doubts. Recently, a meeting of Azerbaijan and Artsakh was sponsored by the Russian “peacekeepers” to discuss the blockade. Prior to the meeting, Aliyev demanded that he would meet with representatives of the Artsakh Armenians, but only with individuals born and raised there. This was, of course, a poorly veiled pre-condition to prevent Ruben Vardanyan, then-state minister of Artsakh, from participating. It was an audacious demand, even from Aliyev, that was only outdone by the Armenian side’s acquiescence. Vardanyan’s dismissal was ordered by Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan, which prevented him from participating; Armenia was in silent agreement. This embarrassing display of subordination was produced out of fear, not conviction. If Aliyev can influence the government official and condition of engaging, then the negotiations are a mockery. The Armenian side offered this gesture in order to engage in serious discussions. They were rewarded with an opening statement by the Azeris that this meeting’s purpose was to discuss the “reintegration of the Karabakh Armenians” into Azerbaijan. The Armenian side was shocked, but they should not have been. Subordinating yourself will only embolden tyrants. Perhaps the Armenian side should have demanded that any Azeri participating should prove they do not have racist behavior toward Armenians?
Why is it so difficult for us to display the will and conviction of our rights? We are very defensive in our duplicitous relationship with Russia. Why can’t we equally comprehend that Russia needs Armenia also? They have lost Georgia, and Azerbaijan will play with them but will align as Turks in the end. Armenia is their only hope in the Caucasus. There are ways to leverage that reality. It is not by drifting to the West when it is not reciprocated.
There is hope if we seize the opportunity. This past week, the Future Armenian Convention took place in Armenia. This pan-Armenian initiative gathered 200 participants selected through a transparent lottery. Armenians from our global nation deliberated on critical issues. The Future Armenian is another trailblazing idea co-founded by Noubar Afeyan and Vardanyan, who established the Aurora Initiative several years ago. The Future Armenian has stated more than a dozen goals; three of them were deliberated on during this Convention: historic responsibility, Armenia-Diaspora unity and population growth. Each goal area was led by experts who offered content and was interactive in nature. Participants voted on several priority initiatives. The results will lead to projects to further the stated objectives. By all accounts, this convention was diversely represented and professionally conducted. The co-founders are serious people with a deep commitment to strategic work. Many of you know Afeyan as a community member here on the east coast and his lifesaving leadership at Moderna. As Armenians, we have witnessed the unique and international impact of the Aurora programs. Vardanyan is continuing his leadership and will continue to apply his unique skills. Despite the blockade, he participated via video from Artsakh, which I am certain was an inspiring experience. We are not a weak nation. We are what I would refer to as “underutilized.”
The talent in the diaspora and within NGOs across Armenia and Artsakh is impressive. What has driven our underutilization has been a lack of global integration and a unifying vision. This initiative should give us hope because it directly addresses both matters. We are a unique nation with three million people in the homeland and over twice that amount scattered around the globe. This is the legacy of the Genocide, but it has become a powerful, although sub-optimized, capability. Without a unifying vision, the diverse global Armenian nation remains tragically less than its potential. Given our challenges, a much higher yield is essential. I would encourage all to review the results of the deliberations from the Future Armenian Convention. They are focused on what will enable prosperity in Armenia. They understand that a strong Armenia will have a positive impact on the diaspora. There is no victim mentality in their thinking. They are respectful and mindful of our past yet are committed to our future. There were many participants from the United States. We should all spend time with participants and come to our own conclusions. You will be pleased with the professionalism, inclusiveness and focus on the key indicators of our future as a global nation.
Small nations are not always weak. We are not weak. We have just been scattered in our thinking as we are geographically. Powerful and refreshing visions can dispel a victim mentality that drags down capability. We are not here simply to “keep the lights on.” We are the current gatekeepers of a remarkable civilization. It is our responsibility to build for the future just as previous generations accepted that role. Working together united by a magnetic vision is a powerful formula. The diverse inclusiveness of any initiative is critical to success. We all love Armenia, but sometimes we lack the humility to work together. Future Armenian seems unique in that regard with its open door and inclusive values. We cannot survive with self-imposed walls. We need examples of vision and strength to evolve our psyche from the past. Trailblazing examples can have a remarkable impact of adjacency with other areas of communities. It can bring light where there was darkness. Let’s shed our victim thinking that leads to fear and weakness. We have the capability in our inventory if we choose to build for our future.

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