Posted on April. 3. 2024

BY STEPAN PILIGIAN | The Armenian Weekly

A modern democratic state is the result of advances in our global civilization. Since the 18th century, led by the western world, democracies have evolved in many geographies. As monarchies either ended or became formalities, democracy has become a manifestation of our love of personal freedom. When the free world was threatened in the 1930s by fascism, modern democracies rallied with great sacrifice to save what we cherish. Armenia, with its long and resilient history, is a natural ambassador of this form of governance. On a per capita basis, no nation has sacrificed more and defended itself against greater odds for the values that have been at the center of the Armenian people for centuries. In a nation state, sovereignty is cherished, as it reflects the right of a people to self determine their fate. The Armenians have been a relatively peaceful nation who have valued cordial relations with neighbors and have defended only what has been theirs for centuries. They have never been considered an aggressor nation in the last thousand years. 

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol 

Despite Armenia’s contributions to world civilization as a cultured society, it has had the misfortune of neighbors, particularly from the west and east, that seek Armenia’s complete demise. The core of the problem can be defined in relatively simple terms. Although latecomers to the neighborhood, the leaders of the Turkic people, represented by the Ottoman Empire, Republic of Turkey and now Azerbaijan, have sought to destroy the existence of the indigenous Armenians in order to further their racist pan-Turkic alliances. The players and political dynamics have changed, but the same fundamental intent has existed for over 150 years. Whether it was Cilicia, the western highlands, Nakhichevan or Artsakh, Armenians have been forced into a smaller footprint by massacres, deportation and genocide. The current attacks on the Republic of Armenia must be viewed in this context of the greater goal of the Turkish alliance, which has displayed a lack of satisfaction with the considerable concessions made by Armenia. Its appetite for Armenian lives, and concessions seems insatiable until the nation is vanquished. If it was up to the Turks, the Armenians would be comparable to the Kurds, Assyrians and Palestinians as a stateless people. 

Armenia is engaged in two diplomatic campaigns concurrently with Azerbaijan and Turkey. The quest for peace has been plagued by a disingenuous effort by Azerbaijan, despite Armenia operating in good faith. Azerbaijan has refused to recognize the territorial integrity of Armenia, in contradiction to the agreement on borders in 1991 at Alma-Ata. Armenia even conceded Artsakh in a very painful and internally divisive decision. Unfortunately, Azerbaijan has not become a more reliable and reasonable negotiating partner as a result. It has responded to Armenian gestures with demands for a sovereign road that would split Armenia and relegate lower Syunik to an island. Azerbaijan has also made absurd demands regarding Armenian territory and new border delineations. It has further demonstrated its disrespect for international law by illegally imprisoning Armenians as hostages, including eight government officials of the Artsakh Republic. One can only conclude that these “new” demands are part of a larger scheme to delay negotiations and wait for an opportune time for a renewed military escalation based on the geo-political environment. If discussions with the Republic of Turkey on “normalization” went any slower, they would be in reverse. The mutual goal of opening the border has been limited to rhetoric with no real progress. Turkey, with its NATO power and political leverage, is an authority on duplicity. While Turkey speaks of hopes for normalization with Armenia to other audiences such as the United States, EU and even Russia, we know that it is just a matter of time before the next Turkish “precondition” arrives. It wasn’t that long ago that the Turks stated that they would engage with Armenia in good faith negotiations “without pre-condition.” Shortly thereafter, they announced that the “Karabakh issue” must be resolved in Azerbaijan’s favor before normalization. Despite the painful and genocidal loss of Artsakh, Turkey has simply moved on to either more delays or new pre-conditions. 

Both Azerbaijan and Turkey have had the audacity to demand changes to the Armenian Constitution to eliminate references to Artsakh and western Armenia. How can a diplomatic process proceed when one party chooses at will to interfere in the internal affairs of the other and demands to reduce the sovereignty of the nation? Turkey’s behavior is a diplomatic charade for western nations. They have no real intention of “normalizing” anything with Armenia. Turkey is direct in its disdain for the Armenian diaspora and works actively to create divisions between the homeland and the diaspora. This is a dangerous risk for Armenians, given the Turks’ long term goals. Compromise is usually reserved among civilized and good faith negotiating parties. The next agreement the Turks and Azeris honor will be their first. 

Given the enormity of the challenges facing the Armenians, this is a time for unprecedented intra-national cooperation. We can all contribute to national unity. The diaspora should focus its energy on becoming more effective. Our priority must be to defend the Republic. The diaspora needs to be more disciplined with its commentary. In a democracy, criticism must be civil and solution oriented. Where is the opposition, or are we simply satisfied with complaining? Many of the comments from the diaspora have been emotional and easy to make from a distance. There is no doubt that the loss of Artsakh is painful, and the current security challenges are frustrating, but we are either a functioning democracy or we are not. Our Achilles heel has always been our disunity. When our views do not prevail, we seek to weaken the alternative. Those of us in the diaspora should understand our limitations. Most of us are not citizens of the Republic of Armenia and fewer live there full time. There are times when the diaspora feels that its relationship with Armenia is one way. The truth is that, without citizenry and physical residence, our relationship will always be different. Our role is to support the unifying purpose of a democratic and sovereign Armenia, with no strings attached. It is a difficult role, but wanton criticism without solutions will not help. How can we lobby for Armenia in the diaspora without a close working relationship with the government? In a sense, all diaspora advocacy works for Armenia. If we believe in democracy, then we must persevere. Truthfully, the most damaging outcome from the diaspora has been growing ambivalence. There will always be a strong core of diaspora patriots, but many others seemed bored or overly disappointed. Supporting the homeland is a marathon without a finish line. 

The most significant external political dynamic taking place in Armenia is the complex migration towards western democracies. The direction is clear, but the path is a minefield. The western diaspora communities should be pleased with Armenia’s evolving relationships with the United States, Europe and even NATO. We all tend to advocate based on where we reside and have become integrated. Armenia’s relationship with Russia has always been a subordinated serfdom, sometimes through overt and punitive measures. The western democracies use different tactics but can be equally duplicitous. Ask the Kurds of Syria after their courageous efforts completing the bulk of ground attacks to purge ISIS. Ask the Georgians, who moved quickly to the west and lost South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2014 despite western assurances. In our own recent experiences, western rhetoric on holding Azerbaijan accountable before, during and after the genocide in Artsakh is nauseating. There have always been concerns regarding the commitment of the west in this region. 

Instead, Armenia needs security guarantees from the West to prevent attacks from Azerbaijan. Sanctions and other economic and political options are a possibility but have never been agreed to, despite the criminal record of the Azeris, and may not serve as deterrents for dictators like Aliyev, who rely on bold, offensive moves to keep their domestic popularity intact. Even as Armenia advances its relationships with the United States and France, Azerbaijan holds Armenian territory and hostages and threatens the sovereignty of the nation. More advanced weapons and a physical presence of western militaries could halt Azeri aggression, but western reluctance is predictable. A one way street could be deadly. The western orientation advocated by Armenia is the best long term survival plan, but serious interim measures are lacking. 

The most evident roadblock is that the Caucasus is still the backyard of regional powers Russia, Iran and Turkey. Iran enjoys good relations with Armenia and a common important border. They have been clear about their opposition to the so-called “Zangezur Corridor” and their intolerance of such a change. Would Iran 

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