‘Tzur Nstink, Shitak Khosink’: Talking Straight About Artsakh



Special for the Armenian Weekly

It has been more than two decades since the ceasefire created the de facto state of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh Republic). During this same time-frame we have been forced to depend upon Russia as our principal proponent and supplier of military hardware.  With Armenia securely under its control, Moscow’s relationship with Ankara and Baku ignores the basic fact that both countries are sworn enemies of Armenia and Armenian culture. For them, the genocide in one form or another has never ended.

The Jdrduz canyon in Shushi, NKR (Photo: Rupen Janbazian)

A counterweight to this situation is the abundance of good will that is extended to Armenia and the Armenian people by many foreign governments. This has been responsible for many of these same governments and their lesser political entities to officially recognize the murderous enterprise that took the lives of some 1.5 million innocent Armenian men, women, and children as a genocide. Yet, given this reservoir of good will and with the genocide an established historic fact, we have been unable to convert this empathy into the required critical political support necessary for Artsakh’s de jure recognition.

Given this obvious dichotomy we still seem unable or perhaps unwilling to accept the distinction between recognizing the genocide and providing political support. Recognition is important, but it is an emotional victory that serves to assuage the hurt that has become part of our psyche. However, recognition requires no commitment. How many of these sovereign entities that have recognized the genocide support our claim to reparations from Turkey; have condemned Azerbaijan for breaching the norms of international behavior against Artsakh and Armenia; or have voted to recognized Artsakh as an independent state?

It is time we follow an appropriate Armenian proverb: “Tzur nstink, shitak khosink” (“Let’s sit crooked, but talk straight”).

While we have adhered to both the letter and the spirit of all provisions agreed to, Azerbaijan has never shown the same inclination. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev is actively supported by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who still retains significant influence.  In addition, Aliyev seems to be insulated from repercussions for his constant violations. Given the history of Azerbaijan’s violations along the Line of Contact (LoC) it is evident that President Aliyev feels politically comfortable to set his own course with respect to Artsakh as well as Armenia. The very best response the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group co-chairs have been able to offer is to admonish both sides to display restraint.

Azerbaijan’s policy of provoking incidents along the LoC has evolved into a war of attrition against both Artsakh and Armenia. The LoC as well as the villages located in the border regions have become an active war zone. Innocent civilians routinely come under fire. A report released by Razm.info located in Armenia lists 165 Armenian soldiers (including patriotic volunteers) who were killed during 2016 as a result of constant violations by Azerbaijan.  During the Four-Day War alone in April 2016, 91 Armenian soldiers died repelling these Azerbaijani attacks in the northern and southern sectors of the LoC.  This full-scale offensive was the most egregious of Azerbaijan’s many egregious violations against Artsakh and Armenia. These deaths are occurring along a border where a ceasefire agreement is supposedly in effect. An agreement that is being willfully ignored by the Azerbaijani military. Just recently, three more Armenian soldiers were killed defending their positions against an Azerbaijani probing action in the Tavush region in northeastern Armenia, which is separated from Azerbaijan by an internationally recognized border. Not even the proven atrocities committed by the Azerbaijani military against our soldiers and innocent border villagers has warranted a condemnation against Azerbaijan from the Minsk Group countries through their representatives.

It is time for Armenian President Serge Sarkisian to stipulate that negotiations cannot be held or future meetings scheduled if Azerbaijan does not honor all agreements as well as conforming to the accepted norms of international behavior. Negotiation that may be in progress will be abruptly cancelled for the same reason. This policy should be announced in a major policy address. Not only must it be stated unequivocally, but no doubt should remain that it will be enforced. We may not have sufficient leverage to make demands, but neither should we hesitate to protect our national interests. Even with its problems, Armenia’s existence stabilizes the situation in the south Caucasus. It does not need to be said, but Moscow understands that its southern flank stretching from the Black Sea eastward into central Asia to China’s western border is anchored by Armenia. Russia runs the risk that selling Armenia short could very well unlock a Pandora’s Box of unexpected consequences.

‘Unless we take a more aggressive stance, this hallowed ground that is Artsakh will be lost forever.’ (Photo: Dizapait Mountain in the Hadrut region, NKR – Araz Chiloyan/The Armenian Weekly)

It demeans our cause, that the Minsk Group countries support provisions that are openly partial to Azerbaijan’s interests. To require Artsakh to evacuate the liberated territories as a pre-condition, which if agreed to, would leave the remainder of Artsakh absolutely unable to defend against an Azerbaijani attack even with Armenian assistance. To also require that it should essentially relinquish its existing independence for some promised vote in the future to determine its status is beyond belief.  Once that disastrous condition is met, there will be no guarantee as to the if, when, or how that vote will take place. Also, there has never been any indication or intention by the Minsk Group countries that Nagorno-Karabagh’s status (not Artsakh) would ever involve de jure recognition. Under the very best conditions conceivable, Nagorno-Karabagh would be reestablished as a dual ethnic exclave under Azerbaijani jurisdiction with a degree of cultural autonomy for the Armenians. Treaties, agreements, or third-power guarantees notwithstanding, within 10 years Azerbaijan would change the demographics and enforce policies that would transform Nagorno-Karabagh into another Nakhichevan devoid of Armenians and Armenian cultural artifacts.

From the beginning, Artsakh has not been a party to the negotiations.  The obvious reason is that its declaration of independence has never been accepted by the mediating countries. The obvious question to be asked is why not?  Simply because Azerbaijan has been steadfast in claiming that Armenia illegally invaded and continues to occupy its territory. This is the basis for its demand that its territorial integrity must be upheld. In the meantime, Armenia has done very little to effectively refute this mischaracterization by Azerbaijan.

It is absolutely necessary that Yerevan effectively refute Azerbaijan’s right to invoke the principle of territorial integrity. Armenia intervened to protect its people in Artsakh from a developing genocide. It was both a humanitarian response to the ongoing danger and a moral decision to invoke the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle. The R2P principle lays the responsibility on the government to protect its minorities from harm (genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, etc.) within its territory.

With respect to the Armenian minority in Azerbaijan the harm (pogroms and atrocities) were incited by the government itself, thus preventing the protection the R2P principle should have provided. There was little time for Armenia to seek international assistance in the rapidly developing situation that not only threatened the lives of the Armenian minority, but had already caused numerous and horrific deaths. Azerbaijan has purposely framed Armenia’s moral and humanitarian based intervention as an invasion. Armenia’s intervention does not rise to the level of an irredentist issue. Allowing Azerbaijan to frame the dispute this way elevates territorial integrity as the central issue to be resolved rather than the real issue which is Artsakh’s right to independence under the principle of self-determination. This is a situation that we still fail to understand or worse, to acknowledge.

‘Achieving victory in Artsakh transcends ideology and the petty differences that fracture our loyalty.’ (Photo: The ‘We Are Our Mountains’ monument in Stepanakert, NKR – Araz Chiloyan/The Armenian Weekly)

Given the sacrifices that our people have made; the blood that continues to be shed; and the hopes that will never materialize, should inspire us to accept the challenge that we currently face. Unless we take a more aggressive stance, this hallowed ground that is Artsakh will be lost forever. We can no longer remain stoic with respect to what may happen. Armenians must be energized to hold rallies, peaceful demonstrations, lectures, and well-programed major fund-raisers throughout the world for Artsakh’s independence. The subtext of these activities is that our support will continue should Azerbaijan initiate hostilities again. This is the most critical item on our national agenda.

Achieving victory in Artsakh transcends ideology and the petty differences that fracture our loyalty. Our brothers and sisters in Artsakh need and deserve our support. Their future and the future of a greater Armenia depends on success being achieved.  What more is left to be said?


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. Congrats to Mensoian and the Armenian Weekly for another fine article.

    I agree that Artsakh and Armenia must be far more firm in their policies.

    A question: Why do we see so little of the NKR representative based in Washington, DC?

    Should this man not be out and about among Armenian Americans explaining what is going on, and getting feedback?

    Is the US State Department preventing him from doing this?
    If so, we need to complain.

    Does anyone else feel the way I do about this?

  2. We should use the example of Kosovo to convince the international community that Artsakh deserves recognition as an independent state. Kosovo’s Albanian majority declared independence from Serbia — and gained immediate international recognition as an independent state — despite the fact that the territory was historically Serbian and merely underwent a demographic shift until it became majority-Albanian.

    Artsakh not only claims an overwhelmingly Armenian population, but its territory was an integral part of Armenia dating back at least 2,500 years. Why the international double standard that recognizes Kosovo’s sovereignty but not Artsakh’s?

    • because all the big criminal states are profiting/benefiting form the artsakh conflict? so this will go on and on and on, may be until a messiah is sent to save gods chosen people…what a world and what foul humanity.

  3. When you have no more patriotism in a government that only thinks about feeling up their pockets and you have no more nationalism in an army which its officers are rotten to the core of bribery and corruption , what do you expect.The Armenian army is weakening.

    • stop blaming the Armenian government, if they don’t play the game set by the big boys they will be crushed almost immediately… todays governments don’t operate on patriotism, they are gofers of the global monetary mafia…and we all know who they are, and if you don’t, then continue with the nostalgic father-land fantasy

  4. Thank you Mr. Mensoian for the excellent analysis of political situation in Arsakh. As a retired major in US army I would like to hear about the military defensive means to be used against Azerbaijani agression.
    What is your opinion about Russian political attitude vis-a-vis the Artsakh’s conflict.
    Why Russia is not recognizing Artsakh’s indépendances?

  5. The simplest answer to all this is to be equally aggressive towards Azerbaijan
    militarily and dictate the terms as we hold the trump card. If Israel can annex Jerusalem as her capital after two millenia against all UN resolutions , Russia can annex Crimea despite the West’s displeasure and protestations, sure there is only one alternative to ANNEX and UNITE Artsakh as Armenia’s
    historical region over three millenia. Soon or later we have to bite the bullet or else neither Artsakh nor Armenia will remain on the World map….

  6. This is not the time to make a stand. The world is in a very unstable situation and Azerbajian is looking for provocation which could lead to war again. It is easy for us in the West to state that Armenia should make a stand we are not in danger. The leaders of Armenia are playing their cards very carefully and we should support them. The present status quo should prevail certainly at the present.

  7. Let us have no doubt that the Governments of Armenia and Artsakh are well aware of the life and death situation facing our soldiers on the front line, especially after the catastrophic military situation this past April.

    “Tzur nstink, shidak khosin”, we in the Diaspora need to do what we have thus far failed to do in ways that we can do, and that is financially assist the people in Armenia and in Artsakh, not from our left over but by sharing in ways that inconveniences us financially so that the peoples of Armenia and Artsakh can continue on coping with their day to day realities and stay put in Armenia and Artsakh instead of emigrating elsewhere.

    It is up the Governments of Armenia and Artsakh to find a resolution to this conflict which is a matter of heated contention in this upcoming parliamentary system election.

  8. If ARF is so critical about the current Armenian Government policies, it should voice this also in Armenia and Armenian govt who happens its collaborator. Secondly, when azeris attack the Armenian Republic’s borders in Tavush and kills Arm. citizens and soldiers, the whole of govt and community is so passive that azeris are encouraged to attack.
    We have been very complacent to the deaths of Armenian soldiers.
    Why didnt the Arm. govt take the initiative to counter-attack during the Aprilian war. Why was this war called a prearranged war by some within Armenia ?
    Unfortunately what we perceive in diaspora and what is actually happening in Armenia are quite world aparts.

  9. Armenia must acquire nuclear weapon by all means. It is the only deterrent against Azerbaijan and Turkey . It will guarantee the survival of Armenia.

  10. Prof. Mensoian, It’s constructive article. We have to be aggressive too, otherwise the enemy takes advantage.
    I hope the authorities are going to listen.

  11. I would love for Sargysyan to make a stand and cease negotiations until the Azeri’s stop the ceasefire violations and also make the requirement that the Artsakh government be brought to the table. These are very logical and needed steps for the interest of Armenians. But i’m afraid there are bigger powers at play here; Russia and maybe even Turkey, who want things to remain as they are until a ‘twisted’ settlement is reached.

    Twisted meaning not really in Armenia’s favor.

  12. Great article yes, but I did not glean a solution. I don’t have one either, but I’ll share some thoughts: The Law is very well respected in the west. An international court decision goes a long way. Perhaps that’s the Influence we are looking for. Faced with multiple favorable court decitions, international bodies will have to adhere. Since we don’t have a champion, let the Law be our champion.

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