Posted on May. 22. 2023
By Stepan Piligian | The Armenian Weekly
The Armenian government has been defending a new policy on Artsakh since the 2020 war, but the debate continues in the diaspora and Artsakh. A major strategy of Pashinyan’s “peace agenda” is to concede two major demands of Azerbaijan in the hope (wish is probably a more appropriate term) that their appetite for aggression is satisfied and peace comes to the region. The two concessions are the independence of Artsakh, a hallmark of Armenian policy from 1988 to 2020, and the commitment to have no territorial demands on Azerbaijan. Of course, this assumes that we can agree on a border such as the stated demarcations at the time of the dissolution of the Armenian and Azerbaijani SSRs in 1991. This is a challenging dialogue when your adversarial party states that all of Armenia is Azerbaijan. Our focus here will be on the impact of the strategic change within the global Armenian nation.
Prime Minister Pashinyan’s policy is based on a pragmatic compromise to enable peace. Proponents will admit it is a gamble when your negotiating partner lacks any integrity. We are still waiting for the first time that Azerbaijan will actually uphold an agreement it has signed. Other proponents take on a more “victim” attitude by stating that Armenia is a defeated nation and is in no position to resist. It is interesting to note that when Azerbaijan was the “defeated” nation in the mid-nineties and had been militarily vanquished, they never behaved like a defeated party. They violated the terms of the ceasefire immediately and continued aggressive activity while they rebuilt their military. You are a defeated nation only if you choose to behave that way. We behave like a defeated party and have resorted to pleading with others like victims. I am more concerned about the impact of this behavior on the psyche of the nation than any singular policy. Honestly, I do not understand how you negotiate when you display your “cards” without any reciprocation. Armenia has publicly offered the “security/rights” position and no territorial demands before any Azeri compromises. For those who believe we are not in a position to receive any compromises, then you are relegating Artsakh to its demise. Unless this veneer of a negotiation is unconditional surrender, then compromises must be part of it.
The two concessions that Pashinyan has gone public with are very unpopular in the diaspora, Artsakh and probably a good portion of Armenia. What did he gain with this risky move? Apparently nothing, as the dictator and murderer Aliyev responded by insisting that Pashinyan must make humiliating statements of “Artsakh is Azerbaijan” (a play on an earlier comment from Pashinyan that Artsakh is Armenia). Aliyev further stated that he intends to capture all of Armenia; he audaciously calls it Western Azerbaijan. This is his response for respecting each other’s territorial integrity. Some of you may ignore these comments as rhetorical politics. I do not. Aliyev has telegraphed his move for years. The third party mediators in the current confusing parallel format with Russia, EU and the US State Department applaud Armenia’s commitment. Why not? They want peace and are not particularly concerned about the impact on Armenia. I really can’t blame them. Each nation has a responsibility to itself and its citizens to advocate for their interests. The art of negotiation brings these self interests together to convince each party that it is in their interests to compromise. If Armenia chooses to show its cards, then others will not object. Pragmatic politics is acceptable as long as each party operates in good faith. This is not a good faith process. If Armenia doesn’t surrender, then Aliyev threatens destruction. Azerbaijan acquired this playbook from its cousins in Turkey who claim to support “normalization” but insult Armenians with painful comments (remnants of the sword) or illegal aggression (closing air space). Azerbaijan ignores the ruling of the International Court of Justice on Berdzor (Lachin) and continues to illegally hold Armenian prisoners. The solutions are challenging, but as long as an adversary such as Turkey sees no adjustments from Armenia on the former’s offensive behavior, it will continue. Armenia has been relying on either Russia or western democracies to provide security guarantees. As long as Armenia behaves like a victim, the intervention parties will do so with minimal commitment. We have already seen that the CSTO, rather than fulfilling its defense pact responsibilities, has chosen to act more like an occupation group. The western powers have sponsored discussions that frankly are more about embarrassing and weakening Russia than securing an honorable peace.
These are the external dynamics. Let’s take a closer look at the impact within the global Armenian nation. For the diaspora and most of the global Armenian nation, the struggle for Artsakh has been an inspiring journey. From its inception in the late 1980s, Artsakh has become a contemporary representative of the aspirations of the Armenian people to be freed from the Turkish yoke. Comparisons to Sardarabad have been frequent and valid. In a relatively short period of time, the people of Artsakh have established a functioning representative democracy and market economy. It has become a model of the homeland and diaspora working to evolve the Republic of Artsakh. The results have been stunning. Most of Armenia’s political leadership has adhered to a “realistic” policy toward Artsakh. We lost the war, and as a result, the contiguous territory with Armenia and the expanded border with Iran (Hadrut). They believe that without major compromise, we will be left with another debilitating war. The trilateral agreement of November 2020 was supposed to bring interim peace guaranteed by the Russian peacekeepers. It has been a tragic farce. Border attacks, ethnic cleansing, blockades and prisoners retained—all are illegal and all are apparently tolerated by the Russian “authorities.” It is apparent that the only group abiding by the 2020 agreement has been Armenia. This behavior is perceived as overly tolerant and encouraging more aggression. The impact on the morale of the diaspora and common citizens has been significant. Cynicism has replaced optimism as we fall back into victim mode. We have no effective opposition. The legislative and parliamentary process is locked up with one party in control.
Many of us rationalize today’s reality by stating that the people spoke in the 2021 election. That is correct, but I am not certain this was the outcome they envisioned. When people feel they have limited ability to change the outcome, the danger of an estrangement between the people and their government exists. Many Armenians feel hopeless, not about the ideals, but about their ability to impact them. The diaspora, in particular, is a unique example. It was created over a century ago out of a sense of loss. We lost the six provinces of Western Armenia and Cilicia through genocide. We lost Javakhli through political manipulation and ethnic cleansing in Nakhichevan. Our ancestors in the diaspora were products of dispossession. When the diaspora looks at Artsakh, it feels the exhilaration of revival and the nightmare of another loss. For 100 years, we have mourned the loss of Western Armenia. We cling to the dream that these stolen lands of the Armenian Highlands will be returned through an act of justice. Armenians in the diaspora still refer to their lineage as “Kharpertzi” or “Sepastiatzi” even though we are three generations removed. This is a significant part of the mentality of those outside the homeland. Whenever Armenians meet and they ask “where are you from,” they are not referring to Watertown or Glendale. They are asking about your family history and indirectly asking about your survivor generation. Many of us worry that our children will become further detached from this history and forget. We publish books on the highlands (Matthew Karanian) and architecture (Christina Maranci, PhD) to educate a generation deprived of its Western Armenian heritage. Now we face another loss, another piece of historic homeland ripped from the heart of its indigenous Armenian Christian population. This is why the diaspora feels such empathy for Artsakh. They are looking at their grandparents and great-grandparents when they look into the eyes of our brethren of Artsakh. There is discontent about our policies and mental trauma in watching the slow motion of oppression. Is there a difference between the forced expulsion/murder of the Armenians of Artsakh and the deportation of our ancestors from the western lands? How about the “silent” cleansing of the Armenians of Nakhichevan that constituted nearly 50-percent of the population when Stalin did his dirty deed?
The political consequences of the Artsakh struggle are not the only impact. The most important aspect is the denial of their God-given and UN chartered right to live their lives as they choose. All people have the right to practice their culture free of oppression and subjugation. This is a fundamental right and not a granting of benevolence by barbaric neighbors. When we talk about security and rights, there is only one metric to determine its worth. Will the Armenians of Artsakh be able to live free of cultural, political and economic oppression? Given the racist attitude of Aliyev and what he has drilled into the minds of his people for decades, the physical presence of a multinational force chartered with the security of the Armenian population is one of the few viable solutions. Anything less will leave our people exposed to ethnic cleansing and genocide. The diaspora understands this. It is built into the mindset of our thinking. Each family has its own unique history of horror. The murder and dispossession is part of who we are. We cannot afford the diaspora and the homeland to have further distance with each other. Prior to the Genocide, marauding Turks and Kurds attacked Armenians regularly in a display of subordination, discrimination and disrespect. Many of us draw the parallel of the constant attacks on the peaceful people of Artsakh by Azeris who maintain an overt policy of racism. The Turks made it illegal for Armenians to own weapons, and the Azeris are insisting on the dissolution of the Artsakh Defense Army. The comparisons are numerous. We can see where this is going. It is a horrible feeling to know that. We can prevent this! We must prevent this! Do we have the collective will?