I feel like we are living through a recurring nightmare. This week, when Armenians across the globe remember the barbaric and unpunished atrocities with prayers for the intercession with our holy sainted martyrs and demand justice for the earthly population of our people, we are drawn back into these horrifying images of another genocide in Artsakh. It is depressing that we are actually speaking to this possibility, yet many feel powerless to alter the dynamics. It is often said that public views are considered naïve as we are constantly reminded by authorities that we “don’t know the whole picture.” Most Armenians disagree with the policy of the Armenian government to abandon the goal of “self-determination” and encourage Artsakh to negotiate directly with the rogue government of Aliyev’s Azerbaijan.
This past week, Prime Minister Pashinyan further clarified that controversy by stating that Armenia is ready to recognize the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and cease to make any future territorial claims on that nation. Pashinyan did offer himself an out by declaring that Azerbaijan must do the same in regards to the Republic of Armenia with its Soviet-era borders. Of course, that is a major “if” for Baku since they acquired some Armenian territory from unilateral incursions and are on record as demanding a corridor through sovereign Armenian territory (which they demand control of) and have spoken openly about a second wave of Azeris to Armenia, which they fabricated as “western Azerbaijan” (the first would be to Artsakh). One would surmise that dealing with such a dangerous and uncompromising party, Armenia should operate in a unified manner with careful compromise and clear red lines. Armenia has continued a position of concessions without reciprocation. Thus far, Azerbaijan has shown no appetite for even the smallest compromise.
Why would they? Azerbaijan is a classic bully nation led by a dictator that survives on his fossil fuel revenue, buying influence and creating a racist narrative that keeps his people distracted from their crimes. Armenia has been overly anxious to secure an agreement that will bring peace to the region. This is a noble objective, but it takes two willing parties for peace. Azerbaijan’s definition of peace is the unconditional surrender of Artsakh and Armenia. Pashinyan’s bold announcement on territorial integrity was met with frustration by large segments of the Armenian nation but should have been applauded by Aliyev. After all, it is what he has been arrogantly insisting on for years.
Aliyev, sensing an opportunity for a complete victory, insisted on even more absurd demands. Most good faith negotiations operate with enough mutual respect that even the dominant party will allow some concessions to the others in order to maintain some level of stability. Aliyev maintains a hatred of Armenians and openly states his mission to usurp all Armenian sovereign territory. His response to Pashinyan included an insistence that the Armenian Prime Minister specifically and publicly renounce Artsakh as Armenian. He also demanded that the so-called “Zangezur corridor,” which he falsely claims was agreed to in the trilateral agreement of 2020, be immediately implemented. There is no counter balance on Aliyev’s appetite to destroy Armenia and Armenians. The government of Armenia knows this, yet apparently tolerates being humiliated. The loss of Artsakh would be tantamount to genocide for the Armenian population and for the psyche of our global nation. In a culture where our clannish nature encourages support for each other, it is unheard of to turn our backs on other Armenians. The “Zangezur” conflict would eliminate the sovereignty of Armenia and is as clear a red line as could be defined. It also illustrates that Azerbaijan has no intention of recognizing Armenia’s territorial integrity since their entire policy toward Armenia has been to violate territorial integrity. Why is this so difficult to understand? Apparently, the entire premise of compromising Artsakh is to satisfy Aliyev and bring peace to Armenia. This is a completely false assumption. The facts suggest otherwise, and we may pay dearly.
I would like to connect this to April 24. This week of remembrance has a religious component elevated with the sanctification of the martyrs. There has always been political content that is intended to deliver justice for the crimes committed. The first phase has been the nearly 50-year campaign of attaining recognition of the crime as an act of genocide. Recognition has been driven by a substantial scholarly base of academics and publications. The grassroots activism has been global in nature and has resulted in substantial gains. Today, the Armenian Genocide is recognized as a historical fact, and the foundation for a legal phase of reparations has been driven by the diaspora. The sad irony is that none of this has been able to prevent the real possibility of genocidal continuation in our historical land of Artsakh. The diaspora is a strong partner, but on the world stage, the Republic of Armenia is recognized as the legitimate representative of the Armenian nation. While the diaspora speaks of “reparations,” including acknowledgment, territorial return and financial consideration, the government of Armenia has announced it is ready to fully recognize the “territorial integrity” of Azerbaijan. The statement has been intentionally vague to encourage a response before final commitment. The response was hardly conciliatory. In parallel with the Azeri “peace” talks, discussion with Turkey on “normalizing” relations is in progress. The opening of the common border is rumored to be the first step, followed eventually by diplomatic relations. Based on Turkey’s long track record of duplicity and aggression, we should fully expect the “pre-conditions” to be announced soon, although the dialogue has been hailed as a “non-precondition” engagement. What if the Turkish pre-conditions for normalization are for Armenia to renounce its insistence for Turkey to recognize its crimes and to fully accept the Treaty of Kars (no territorial demands)? Armenia would be faced with Turkish demands, which never come forward as positions, that would be contrary to a decades long journey in the diaspora. If the Turkish demands were agreed to, it would deal a significant blow to diaspora/Armenia relations. It is important to understand that during the decades when sovereignty was lost (1921-1991), it was the diaspora that kept the torch of justice alive and used its capability to build an international infrastructure which has supported the homeland. We have often stated that the unity of vision between the diaspora and the homeland is essential for the attainment of a prosperous and secure Armenia. There is no clearer example for this need than integrating the strategic implications of the Turkish dialogue. This is not an unreasonable objective given the fact that Armenia has essentially accepted the Azeri position on territorial integrity while removing the Armenian position of “self-determination.” Turkey also coordinates its interaction with Azerbaijan, and it is doubtful that they would take a position that does not extract some major concessions. This is the danger of “showing your cards” with an enemy that has no respect, only contempt, for you. The demands never end, and you continue to negotiate from a defensive posture. The Turks sense a total victory and aren’t likely to be a “partner” for a mutual agreement. In addition, Armenia would need guarantees for any agreement with Azerbaijan and Turkey. Who will provide that level of on-site support?
The story of April 24 this year is much less about history or even our stated goals. It is about the triage needed to re-connect the diaspora and Armenia on our national goals. It is about preventing the abandonment of justice. Skeptical? Who thought a few years ago that any Armenians would back away from Artsakh and trade our blood-stained goal of “self-determination” for the vague notion of “security and rights?” How does Armenia stop the slippery slope of defensive negotiating when Azerbaijan rejects any “security and rights?” Aliyev’s response has been that the people of Artsakh can live in Artsakh as Azerbaijani citizens. We have been there. Our martyrs were “citizens” of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Our people living in Nakhichevan were citizens. It is a sad irony that as we have shouted “Never Again” for decades as our response to Turkish crimes that we are living the nightmare in Artsakh. It is impossible to utter “Never Again” and support a policy of capitulation in Artsakh. It has been repeated numerous times; any governance relationship between Artsakh and Azerbaijan will directly lead to the destruction of our Artsakh. This is the story of April 24, 2023. A genocide denied enables repetition.
The truth is that we are all failing to honor that sacred statement. It is fashionable to criticize any sitting government, but we are all complicit. The opposition in Armenia is ineffective. The primary activity seems to be almost daily criticisms of the government with a slant toward justifying the past. Attacks with no closure are distracting. The government operates with virtual political control rendering the Parliament to a rubber stamp society with little collaboration. One of the shortcomings of Armenia’s democracy has been the inability to formulate an effective legislative opposition. One party always seems to have almost total control. It was the Republican Party for years and now, since 2018, Civil Contract. At a time when politically “Rome is burning,” we squander our time on political attacks rather than creating a national unity coalition to confront the survival challenges. For its part, the diaspora has been frustrated with current events but is almost hopelessly disorganized to have impactful influence. As long as the diaspora is relegated to individuals or organizations, it will be “managed” by Armenia. Interestingly the recent conference of the Future Armenian offers some hope of strategically aligning our beleaguered nation. We are failing to fulfill our responsibility as the current gatekeepers of our ancient civilization. This is less about being critical and more about accepting a reality that will inspire us to new heights. The final pages in this chapter have yet to be written. Each of us (the government, the opposition, the “unaligned” citizens and the diaspora) have an obligation to respect each other so that this incredible culture can deliver to its capability. Anything less than that should be unacceptable.