Mensoian: ‘Il Bacio della Morte’: President Sarkisian’s Reward for Restraint and Subservience

Have we given up? Or a more alarming thought is that the timidity of our leadership is indicative of a flaw in our national character. Have we become so accustomed to being subservient to foreign interests and alien cultural environments that our actions are forever restrained and our legitimate demands muted? Whether we realize it or not, we are in a game of diplomatic hardball for the future of Armenia. Either our leadership decides what needs to be done to create a strong Armenia for the 21st century and makes a genuine effort to follow through, or by default Armenia remains forever less than its Georgian and Azerbaijani neighbors.

I am tired of hearing the constant lament that Armenia is landlocked, that we are a few against enemies who are stronger and greater in numbers, or that Armenia can never prosper without an open border with Turkey. If there is anything to lament, it is the lack of leadership and their inability to develop a political and economic system based on social justice and equal opportunity.

During a one-week period from June 19-26, three events took place which illustrate the leadership vacuum presently facing the Armenian nation. On the 19th, an Azeri reconnaissance unit (its strength was not revealed) was evidently able to breach the perimeter of a Karabagh defensive position. (As an aside, the ability of the Azeri unit to invade Karabagh apparently undetected is in itself a worrisome development.) This flagrant provocation resulted in the death of four Karabagh Defense Force personnel and the wounding of four others.

Yerevan’s less than impressive response came from Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian who denounced the incursion as a planned provocation to disrupt the Karabagh negotiations. Was Karabagh incapable of countering with an elite rapid response unit against predetermined objectives, or was this restraint calculated to strengthen Armenia’s position with the Minsk Group? If the latter, then an event days later would indicate that it completely missed its objective…

Several days later at UNESCO’s General Assembly meeting in Paris, Azerbaijan was elected to a four-year term (2010-2014) on the 24-member Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Heritage, under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This is a prestigious body responsible for “protecting” an ethnic group’s culturally significant artifacts. Armenia was also a candidate. The fact that Armenia was not able to gain sufficient votes to win a seat on this committee indicates that something is drastically wrong either with Yerevan’s ability to protect Armenia’s interests in the international arena or, perhaps worse, in projecting Armenia’s image to the world. It’s a sham for a country like Azerbaijan—that has (a) carried out the wanton and well-documented destruction of hundreds of centuries-old khatchkars [Armenian cross-stones] in the Julfa Cemetery in historic Armenian Nakhitchevan and (b) desecrated the final resting place of our ancestors—to be elected to a committee whose responsibility it is to protect cultural artifacts. Azerbaijan has admitted to lobbying intensively and extensively for this coveted position. Is Yerevan able to make a similar claim?

This is an example of not getting our priorities right. We got our collective noses out of joint with respect to the Woodrow Wilson Center’s decision to honor Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. However, the candidacy of a government that only recently refused a United Nations investigative team to enter Nakhitchevan to evaluate the destruction at Julfa raised no widespread public denunciation by our leadership, either in or outside of government. Evidently the honor proffered to Davutoglu rankled our leadership more than Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev’s ability to obliterate Julfa at no cost to his corrupt regime.

Then on June 26, the “Minsk godfathers”—Presidents Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy of France, and Dmitry Medvedev of Russia—gave President Sarkisian il bacio della morte (the kiss of death) during a break in their meetings in Canada. Blithely ignoring the recent military transgressions of Azerbaijan, the godfathers reaffirmed their support of the Helsinki/Madrid Principles as the basis for a negotiated settlement of Karabagh’s status.

When is it to be realized that absolutely none of these principles speak to the inalienable right of oppressed ethnic minorities to seek independence? In point of fact, these principles clearly support Azerbaijan’s claim of territorial integrity. Conveniently overlooked by the godfathers is the fact that the Karabagh War for Independence was brought on by the intransigence of the Azerbaijani government in refusing to accept the will of the Karabagh Armenians, who were unanimous in their desire to be independent.

A brief analysis of the principles that the Minsk Group continues to propose as the basis for a negotiated settlement yields one simple fact: They foreclose any possibility for Karabagh’s ultimate de jure independence.

1) The return of the occupied territories surrounding Karabagh. These territories are part of historic Artsakh and were liberated by some 7,000 martyred azadamartiks (freedom fighters) who gave Karabagh its independence. These territories are absolutely vital to the military security of Karabagh and indispensible to the future economic and political viability of Armenia.

2) The right of all internally displaced persons and refugees to return to their former homes. This principle favors the Azeri population. Few if any Armenians would opt to return to Azerbaijan. However this principle may be nuanced during negotiations, its purpose serves to negate the value of any future plebiscite to determine the status of Karabagh.

 3) Withdrawal of the Karabagh Defense Forces from the occupied territories with Karabagh’s security dependent on a United Nations peacekeeping force. Wherever these peacekeeping forces have been deployed, they have never been given either the military capability or the mission to intervene if the peace—which they are to maintain—is threatened. At the very best, they are no better than useless observers. They would have absolutely no value in preventing any Azeri attack on a Karabagh that would have been required to abandon its defensive positions in the security zone.

4) A corridor connecting Karabagh with Armenia. Without the fortified security zone, the Lachin Corridor is militarily untenable. As an aside, who would be entrusted to guarantee its operational status? Certainly not an international peacekeeping force. Should Azerbaijan decide to occupy the area, which would not be difficult to accomplish, who could force them to leave? No one.

5) Final status of Karabagh to be determined by a legally binding vote. When will this vote take place? Once Azerbaijan has resettled a sufficient number of Azeris—enough to out-vote the Armenian population—the vote will be taken. Whenever the plebiscite occurs, Karabagh, having been shorn of its security zone and with an Armenian population reduced to minority status, may be granted semiautonomous status within Azerbaijan.

One has to question what it will take for our leadership to lead. What is most disquieting is the apparent lack of urgency exhibited in confronting the situation that has been developing. Does Yerevan believe that by playing diplomatic “nicey nicey” and by showing restraint vis-a-vis Azerbaijan’s constant military threats and Line of Contact (LoC) incursions, that Armenia’s cause will prevail? Hasn’t the past taught us the foolishness of this incomprehensible mindset—of entrusting Armenia’s interests to other nations?

Between 1915 and 1918, the government of Ottoman Turkey decimated the Armenian population of our historic western provinces. This genocide of a nation was overlooked by the victorious western democracies when the defeated Ottoman Turks were actually rewarded by the Treaty of Lausanne, and a free and independent Armenia promised in the Treaty of Sevres was forgotten.

Now let’s fast forward to the present. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s trip to Armenia (and Azerbaijan) ostensibly was to stress the importance of U.S.-Armenia relations and to impress on Armenia the need to settle the Karabagh issue. She emphatically stated the U.S. position against the use of force as an alternative to negotiating (without condemning Azerbaijan for its recent incursion or its constant threats of military action). However, her visit’s purpose was to remind Sarkisian of il bacio della morte the godfathers had given him a few days earlier. The subtext of her message was the United States’ expectation that Armenia-Karabagh would evacuate the security zone and in return the Karabagh Armenians could gain a degree of local autonomy within Azerbaijan sometime in the future (after the Armenian population had been reduced to minority status).

Without any shame in forcing Armenia to submit to its Turkic persecutors, the United States supports a corrupt, autocratic, anti-Armenian regime in Azerbaijan. As if this was not a sufficient affront to Armenia, the United States anoints Georgia as the font of democracy in the south Caucasus, knowing that Tbilisi implements a blatant policy of political, economic, and cultural repression against its Armenian minority in Javakhk. And presumably playing the part of an honest broker, the United States further seeks to emasculate Armenia politically and economically by encouraging rapprochement on Turkey’s terms. Yet we are expected to be beholden because Washington gives Armenia a paltry few million dollars of economic and military aid. So much for placing our trust in other nations.

Our leadership in Yerevan and in the diaspora has yet to accept the fact that Artsakh is a significant piece of real estate not only in the struggle for control of the south Caucasus and the energy resources of central Asia, but for the political and economic viability of a future Armenia. The reversion of Artsakh to Azerbaijan will have a positive impact on Turkey’s goal of expanding its influence in the south Caucasus and across the Caspian Sea into Central Asia, and enhancing its influence in the Middle East. Whether or not Turkey becomes a member of the European Union is inconsequential. If Ankara is allowed by Russia and Iran to achieve its objective in the south Caucasus and become a key player in the Middle East and Central Asia (Turkey will not need the United States should that happen), it will be Europe that will come calling on Turkey and it will be Europe that will rush to build the German Kaiser’s legendary “Berlin to Baghdad Railroad” connection rather than the Turks. Turkey would become a conduit by way of the Middle East and Central Asia to India and China (a region with some 3 billion of the world’s 6-plus billion people). While these events are being played out, we continue to depend on the internal problems of Turkey causing that country’s implosion for Armenia’s benefit. Let’s concentrate on developing Armenia and properly prioritizing our objectives in order to create a stronger country and a stronger diasporan nation.

The relationships that exist between countries are carried at two levels: those that are played out in the public arena and those not exposed to the light of day. Again we have an example of more wishful thinking by hoping that the Israeli-Turkish friction will benefit Armenia. However the breakdown might appear, it is more cosmetic than substantive. The two countries have far too many political and economic interests to allow the incident concerning the blockade running vessel “Mavi Marmara” to be more than a temporary distraction. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s denouncement of the Israeli action serves his purpose both at home and in the wider context of his Middle East gambit. Israel understands that. Immediately, reports began circulating that Jewish organizations may not lobby against passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution in the United States Congress. It’s an idle Israeli threat to remind the prime minister to tone down his rhetoric.

Yerevan should understand that Armenia-Karabagh occupies a key position in the south Caucasus. Neither Russia nor Iran wants an ascendant Turkey supported by the United States in control. The loss of Karabagh would be a singular victory for the United States, Azerbaijan, and, above all, Turkey. The longer Yerevan waits to effectively and repeatedly articulate its position with respect to Artsakh (Karabagh and the liberated territories), the more the demand by the godfathers for a negotiated settlement will force Yerevan into a losing position. The loss of Artsakh would be a political catastrophe. How could that loss ever encourage Turkey to engage in a meaningful dialogue on genocide recognition? If Artsakh can’t be saved, what can be said for Hai Tahd? Sarkisian has received il bacio della morte. Hopefully he will not wait for Armenia to receive its death blow.

Michael Mensoian

Michael Mensoian

Michael Mensoian, J.D./Ph.D, is professor emeritus in Middle East and political geography at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and a retired major in the U.S. army. He writes regularly for the Armenian Weekly.


  1. A point of reference:
    On March 16, 1921 in Moscow, the Treaty on “Friendship and Brotherhood” between Soviet Russia and Kemalist Turkey was signed, defining the Armenian sector of the Soviet-Turkish border.  The territory of Soviet Armenia included Nagorno Karabakh and Nakhichevan. After “sovietisation” of Armenia Pravda (Truth) newspaper (issue No 273) published a letter by Joseph Stalin, then People’s Commissar of Nationalities, starting with a greeting “Long Live Soviet Armenia!”:  “On December 1, Soviet Azerbaijan, of its own free will, gave up the debated provinces and declared the transfer of Zangezur, Nakhichevan, and Nagorno Karabakh to Soviet Armenia.”
    The Moscow Treaty was signed only 4 months after recognizing Nagorno Karabakh and Nakhichevan as parts of Soviet Armenia. However, due to Turkey’s insistence that issue was reconsidered by the very same Moscow treaty, and, as a result, two Armenian lands were handed over to Soviet Azerbaijan by Bolsheviks.
    In December 1973, according to Soviet-Turkish agreement, authorized representatives of three Transcaucasian countries had to sign a point “on invariability of borders””.

    Gurgen Nalbandyan represented Armenia in Turkey. On behalf of Soviet Armenia he refused to sign that provision “on invariability of borders” despite the Soviet leadership’s pressure.

  2. A point of comparison:
    Golan Heights: Israel’s security buffer zone – Strategic importance and territory claims –
    The Golan Heights are of great strategic importance in the region, and were governed with the rest of Syria under successive regimes until the Six-Day War, when they were captured by Israel on 9–10 June 1967. Israeli sources and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants reported that much of the local population of 100,000 fled as a result of the war, whereas the Syrian government stated that a large proportion of it was expelled.
    Israel asserts its right to retain the area under the text of United Nations Security Council Resolution which passed November 22, 1967 and called for “secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force” for every state, as well as the “withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the Six Day War.” The area has remained under Israeli control since 1967, first under martial law, and from 1981 under civilian administration.

  3. When we talk about how our leaders are disappointing us, we should distinguish between those in America, and those in the Armenian government. 

    There appears to be little we here in the US can do to influence Armenia’s leaders.  The latter are usually corrupt and march to the tune of Russian and EU policy.  It is up to Armenians in Armenia to straighten out their government.  We can speak up and we can help but only to a limited extent.

  4. Very good article by M. Mensoian. It is not surprising that in a corrupt system of governance those who occupy high offices are rarely the ones who merit the posts but rather who is the most loyal to the person assigning him to the post. And when a government comes to power by cheating you can bet that loyalty in this case does not only refer to being true to the policies of the government but establishing a network that will insure the corrupt leadership to stay in power. Those are the perimeters that successive Armenian governments have operated since independence. All we can expect from such a system is an ability to just manage problems. When confronted with professional Western and Turkish pressures we look like fools internationally because we cannot afford to try anything daring and decisive.
    We can still hear the anti-Khrimian Hayrig attitude of FM Nalbandian in his post-Protocols press conference, who defended his actions by saying “This is the will of the International Powers how would we look if we went against their will”
    This leadership will have to go away, the sooner the better, and if what follows repeats the same mistakes than nothing short of a revolution will be needed.

  5. Until Armenia gets rid of all its Soviet era leaders, it will not get anywhere. Armenia could have emulated Israel who invited every Jew everywhere to come home. The present Armenian leadership does not want any diaspora immigration. Yeah, they want peasants to work the land. But most diaspora Armenians are middle class merchants, functionaries etc., but not peasants. Even the Agro- business owned by Armenians around Fresno, none of them , employ Armenians or Americans, but Mexican migrants. An immigration wave of Armenians  to the homeland would bring an influx of Businessmen and professionals, which would easily displace those inexperienced, uneducated, Communist indoctrinated leaders. To put it in a simple but insulting way, for which I apologize; While the majority of diaspora survivors were mostly the educated, the rich, the achica patz. The population of Armenia was not decimated by Turkish Horrors, the Red Genocide, the Soviet Armenian population suffered a White genocide. Most middle class, intellectuals, professionals, etc were  murdered or sent somewhere to a slow death,  Most of them by the hand of those in charge today.The remaining population, deprived of leadership, docile and afraid, prime for ideological brainwashing. How do you build anything with that. These people running Armenia today, would rather keep the population poor and stay in power, than to let us help and perhaps take over. WE need another revolution. The first one was for independence from a colonial power, Russia, The second one should be to depose the inept existing communist leadership.

  6. I find it interesting to see how US officials are now vying to win the hearts and minds of the citizens of the RA. Hilary’s visit to our martyrs memorial is a recent example. She knew very well that the majority of us in Diaspora wouldn’t think much of her “private” PR stunt. But we in America weren’t the primary ‘targets’ of that hollow show of remorse. It was purposefully orchestrated to brand America, her policies and Clinton’s influence in a different light to Yerevantzis.
    The SD seems to have calculated a better likelihood that their defeatist policies will be embraced by our people in the RA if they reach out themselves.
    Are they making serious inroads? Is this the beginning of a more robust attempt at the Georgi-fication of Armenia?

  7. Meritocracy rarely exist in any government; individuals who  qualify with proper credentials and experience rarely make it to the top.  Replacing a government wholesale is not a guarantee for fixing all the problems at once.  Improvements in governments and proper governing comes in small degrees and in fairly rapid frequencies.  Some Armenians think that if it is not 100% then it is not a victory. That is plain wrong.  There are improvements in all facets of life in Armenia; however, they are not as fast as some would like.  So, perhaps a change in some parts of the government (say, resignation of Pillsbury Dough Boy, PDB Nalbandian) would certainly be a welcome change.   Working with key individuals (educating in a non-stop, nagging, nudging manner) would yield faster results than a chaotic revolution.    As much as the current government is undesirable, a whole sale revolution does not guarantee improvements (i think worse).

  8. Ed is a perfect example of how too many in the Diaspora have no clue about Armenia.  The fact that he sees nothing wrong with a revolution in Armenia is beyond idiotic.

    Article was ok, but the author fails to substantiate his claim that Serj was given a kiss of death.  In fact he goes against it towards the end when he (rightly) claims that Iran and Russia are against the increase of turkish power in Caucasus and the wider region.  Medveedev was one of the three leaders who, according to the author, gave Serj the kiss of death.  It doesn’t add up, if Russia had wanted Artsakh to go back to azeribaijan it would have already been done.  And please stop presenting the u.s. as if it is still a major player in the Caucasus, it was until August of 2008.  Moscow has made a comeback in the region and they are head and shoulders above any other power in regards to influence and power over the Caucasus region.

  9. our strategists must set the scenario for the immediate declaration of Artsakh independence  –  otherwise the well-wishers will cheat us yet again.

  10. A very well written article and unfortunately true.  If we look at the picture from a distance and forget our feelings the writing on the wall is clear.  The western powers have already promised the Armenian lands (all of it) to Turks and Azeris.  Armenia and Artsakh are in a very difficult situation.  It will take an extraordinary effort and courage from everyone of us to stop the deterioration.  The Armenian government in Armenia is wittingly or unwittingly an accomplice.  One wonders sometimes about their patriotism.  If they were patriotic they would beg borrow and steal to help Armenia.  As it is they are milking the scawney cow until she dies.

  11. Lack of leadership?  Not while Raffi Hovannessian is still around.  Rather, its the fascist mafia in power that successfully represses both capitalism/income as well as democracy.  If it wasn’t for their barbarianism, we’d have a thriving economy and outrage in the streets (protests).

  12. Armanen is a perfect example of the typical RA apologist that is incapable of accepting legitimate criticism of Sarkisians defeatist policies. The fact that Armanen continues to advocate turning a blind eye to the inept policies and naive posturing of morally bankrupt Yerevan officials speaks for itself and can only be interpreted as beyond idiotic.

  13. A devastating but true appraisal, despite some minor and insignificant inconsistencies and contradictions as Armenen has rightly pointed out.
    Armenia is very near the 11th hour. In fact it is 11:59:59 for Armenia’s survival and yet the Yerevan “government” is conspicuous by its absence. What we have in Armenia is truly a case of LIONS LED BY DONKEYS. Despite the sacrifices of our people and so many martyrs who gave their lives to liberate a small part of our patrimony which had been gifted to Azerbaijan by Stalin and Kemalist Turkey and to bring victory in the battlefield Yerevan’s “diplomacy” has been to make concession after concession and to keep its head down not only before the terrorist genocidal state in Ankara but also the latter DEFEATED little brother, the utterly corrupt Sultanate of Baku.
    One wonders what is the point of having a state if it’s going to behave like a fictitious one to the degree that our interests in the international arena has to be defended not by Yerevan and its diplomacy but by the lucky and fortunate coincidence of our interests with the interests of other states, in this case Russia and Iran!!!
    Yes thanks God for this lucky coincidence but what if it doesn’t last? Say they sell us out under pressure or they make a deal over our heads? It was Khrimiyan Hayrik who realised, at the Berlin Congress of 1878, that Armenia’s ladle was only a paper one – i.e. Armenia, at that time, had no statehood or arms/army to defend its interests on the international diplomatic scene.
    However the Republic of Armenia leadership despite the enormous sacrifices, heroism, patriotism and the consequent victories of our people in the homeland despite all the odds (Edward Demian please note), and the enormous potential of our Diaspora (financial, intellectual, informational, lobbying, etc.) might as well had not existed as far as its foreign ministry and “policy” is concerned.
    Their ineptitude is beyond belief! They don’t seem to get this simple truth into their heads that Armenia is not in Scandinavia or the middle of liberal Europe and Turkey and Azerbaijan are not exactly Germany and France! That the Republic of Armenia cannot possibly survive or even be viable and secure in its Soviet Armenian borders which following the collapse of the USSR and the victories in Artsakh  no longer exist anyway. Amazingly almost 20 years after the magnificent victories of our people in Artsakh the Yerevan “government” have not even managed to get the map right to show the de facto borders of Armenia. One still comes across maps printed in Armenia today which still show the Soviet Armenian borders and either no Artsakh at all or the non-existent “NKAO” (“Nagorno-Karabagh Autonomous Oblast”) i.e. the artificial entity that was created by Stalin-Kemal inside the then but no longer existing Soviet Azerbaijan!!!!!
    How delusional and fictitious can a state be to be so far off the mark in the most important aspect of its existence? Not to appreciate its own strategic and long term interests FOR SURVIVAL in the face of such hostile, dangerous and genocidal neighbours who are constantly plotting its destruction and disintegration??!!??
    The mind boggles… .

  14. my fellow armenians…stop bickering, and unite to save what little we have left, the internal disunity is what the foreign powers are relying on, set aside your differences, stop airing your dirty laundry to the world and unite against the common enemies, and only when our borders are secure and we are capable of defending the mother land without help from the outside, then and only then.  direct your focus on who is a thief, who is a traitor and who is mafia and who is a fascist…and by the way show me one government in the whole world that is not run by the organized criminal syndicate

    Armenia’s leaders are silent yet again. The latest news is alarming as well. Georgia is selling the pipeline that carries Russian gas through Georgia to Armenia. Guess who’s applying to buy it, none other than Azerbaijan, and or maybe Russia. Armenia’s infrastructure is owned by Russia and now the pipelines feeding it with Russian natural gas are about to be owned (even a mere 10-15% of it) by its enemy?

  16. No one going to help us we should be prepare for a war last one if needed people forgeting who we are Armenians we will win.
    Be prepare to comeback  to Armenia

  17. Armenia needs to buy that pipeline@!  Anybody know anybody who might be able to pull this deal together?

  18. Carol, yes our leadership in Haiastan is, sadly, ill prepared for what our fledgling nation is coping… Serge and Edward would serve our Haiastan best by resigning and bring to government dedicated and patriotic men and women, as we have had over the centuries in our history.  Yet, we must consider that Armenians, worldwide,  all have had to rise and recover from the horrors of the Turkish Genocide of the Armenian nation – too, the republic of Armenia had to choose between the Turks – the Russsian communists – and finally, after seventy (70) years of USSR ‘indoctrinations’ learned to survive within the communists’ lifestyle… leaders of Haiastan come from that mentality – and most are not prepared to be as selfless as those of our history of patriots… Sadly, such leaders are taking from the citizens of Armenia instead of giving of themselves, patriotically, to advance our Haiastan.  Hence, Serge/Edward would actually serve our Haiastan by leaving the governance of our Haiastan to those hopefully, well prepared, morally and politically, to lead Haiastan to the heights this newborn nation can aspire to, can share our advances in all fields of endeavors, to join with the civilized nations of the world – for our Armenians, all the world over do offer and enjoin with peoples who, too, seek to advance humanity rather than destroy humanity… Armenia is worthy of recognition for its talents – despite the warring and Genocidal countries which abound it geographically, nations whose bullying seek only to advance themselves – all they offer to the world is much that is negative – and none of their ‘foreign policies’ bring nations together – just warring, threats, alliances on again/off again… and their lies, ongoing, unending lies.    Manooshag

  19. Both Serge and Edward are said to be officers of the Russian military intelligence. What “independent” course and “patriotic” love for the country can we expect from such thugs?

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