On Aug. 1, President Serge Sarkisian held a meeting in the Presidential Palace, during which he responded to the take-over of a district police station in Yerevan by a group of activists or terrorists—depending on your point of view—as well as addressing a perceived misinterpretation of his position on unilateral territorial concessions with respect to solving the Nagorno-Karabagh issue.
During his lengthy presentation to the assembled group, two statements made by our President are worthy of comment. He was emphatic in stating that “problems in Armenia will not be solved through violence.” And later on, he referred to Nagorno-Karabagh to allay fears of those who believe that in a recent visit to Stepanakert, he left the impression that unilateral territorial concessions of sorts might be contemplated. His visit was cut short by the aforementioned occupation of the district police station in Yerevan. His statement with respect to the future of the Karabagh Armenians was—to say the least—most interesting and troubling. President Sarkisian knows better than most that “Nagorno-Karabagh” is not Artsakh, yet with great emphasis said “I repeat once again: There will be no unilateral concessions in the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabagh issue. Never. Nagorno-Karabagh will never be part of Azerbaijan.” However, this statement and the eschewing of violence in solving problems do require some thoughtful comment.
‘Problems in Armenia Will Not Be Solved through Violence’
Amen to that. However, when the economic ills plaguing Armenia are well known and the reasons for this long-existing economic malaise are also well know, why haven’t the peaceful, legal methods alluded to been employed to solve them? Our president is completing his second five-year term in office. There are political parties that have long sought to effect change through acceptable means, yet there has been no meeting of the minds between the leaders of these political parties and President Sarkisian to create change. To rail against violence to solve problems without providing a legitimate opportunity for citizens to effect change through constitutionally accepted processes is disingenuous.
Armenians, by and large, are law abiding and not easily aroused to engage in or support violent action. Unfortunately, violence becomes the last resort of citizens who are disillusioned or have become cynical and distrustful of their government. Just recently, the government announced that subsidies put in place a year ago, in response to demonstrations to reduce the high electric rate, will be removed. This one-year reprieve did not address the underlying cause of high electricity rates for the consumer. It was neither an honest nor a sincere response to their legitimate concerns, but a sop to pacify the people for the moment. Electricity is a basic utility that affects the quality of life. There are no small increases that can be acceptable to the elderly, pensioners, and the unemployed since they are either at the poverty level or at its margins. These Band-Aid approaches to problems only alienate the public from those who govern. Given this pervasive sense of hopelessness and betrayal, why should it be surprising if violence is the unfortunate consequence?
Armenia may be a small country in area and population, but it is rich in economic and human resources. It is our lack of entrepreneurial opportunity that limits unfettered foreign investment and job creation. There will be those, enjoying the better life, who will cite the developments that have taken place or that will or may take place. Assuming this to be so, why haven’t economic conditions for Armenians improved. Construction in Yerevan goes on almost unabated, yet affordable housing for our families—the bedrock of Armenia’s future—is pitifully lagging. Unemployment is still too high and poverty continues to increase. Families are disrupted when the wage earner leaves to work in a foreign country to support his family. And we continue to lose precious human resources when individuals and families are forced to emigrate in search of a better life. Evidently, none of these erosive conditions (as well as others) is deemed to be sufficiently egregious to warrant legislative correction.
The marketplace is warped by an oligopolistic and monopolistic structure that benefits the chosen few. A study would suggest that entering this marketplace is difficult and that costs are easily manipulated. This structure can be modified if there is a will to do so. Unfortunately, a symbiotic relationship exists between politicians and oligarchs (sometimes they are one and the same) who flaunt their ill-gotten wealth and status. It can best be compared to an incestuous relationship. This unholy alliance denies the worker from an equitable sharing of the wealth his labor creates. This wealth is all that which contributes to an improved quality of life for the worker and his family.
“I Repeat Once Again: There Will Be No Unilateral Concessions in The Resolution of the Nagorno-Karabagh Issue. Never. Nagorno-Karabagh Will Never Be Part of Azerbaijan”
This statement by President Sarkisian is troubling. He is well aware that his reference to Nagorno-Karabagh does not include the liberated territories. This was no oversight on his part. We are left to infer, contrary to his denial, that to solve the Karabagh issue, that concessions affecting the liberated territories must be considered.
If so, this has been the intent of the nations represented by the Minsk Group co-chairs who have continually stressed the importance of the Madrid Principles in guiding the negotiation process. Karabagh without the liberated territories would create a vulnerable Armenian exclave that will not survive more than a decade or two before it becomes another Nakhichevan while we lament the systematic destruction of our cultural sites by the Azeri. It will not matter what status Karabagh might be given because Azerbaijan will be awarded political jurisdiction. However, rather than dwelling on this reality that might be foisted upon us, every effort should be made to regain the small area of Artsakh seized by the Azeri during the four-day war in April. Doing so would send a powerful statement both to Azerbaijan and the countries represented by the Minsk Group co-chairs that we will not allow our lands to be taken piece by piece by anyone. It is a bold statement to make, but it is better than sitting on our haunches waiting for the “hammer to fall.”
As it is, Azerbaijan still occupies the Shahumian district north of Martakert and the border regions east of the cities of Martakert and Martuni. Yet, neither Yerevan nor Stepanakert has demanded that these areas be returned to Artsakh. It is possible that these occupied areas might be the basis for territorial concessions. However, that is for the Armenians of Artsakh to decide.
Excluding Shahumian and Kashatagh from Karabagh would be folly. Without these two districts Karabakh would be a vulnerable exclave connected to Armenia by only two tenuous roads: the Vardenis-Martakert Road in the north and the Lachin Corridor Road to the south. Both roads would pass through miles of Azeri controlled territory. Air flights would have to navigate through Azeri air space. Any agreements by Azerbaijan would not be worth the paper they were written on.
As an exclave it would be difficult to develop an integrated transport system with Armenia and it would also hinder economic integration. Both Shahumian and Kashatagh have great economic potential and are well endowed with important surface and ground water deposits. Water is a valuable resource in the south Caucasus that will only increase in importance in the years to come. These two districts, by effectively joining Karabagh to Armenia, would improve the defensive position of southern Armenia (Syunik and Vayots Dzor Districts) by limiting contact with Azerbaijan to their western borders where they have a common frontier with Nakhichevan.
Yerevan and Stepanakert must come to an agreement so both sides will be on the same page if and when this difficult phase of the settlement is ever reached. This is also the time to enlist the aid of distinguished international experts in the field to represent our cause. Our apparent nonchalance belies the fact that we are engaged in a struggle for national survival. Hanging in the balance is not only Artsakh’s future, but the future of a greater Armenia. War may be hell, but to allow Armenia to be condemned to political and economic subservience to its neighbors may well be worse than hell.