Self-determination, one of the founding principles of the United Nations—and I would argue a fundamental human right—is more often honored by not being implemented than truly being respected and put into effect. We’re bearing witness to this farce in Kurdistan and Catalonia.
But there are many more places that are in the same situation. Artsakh is obviously the most salient example for Armenians, but there are countless others. Some, other than Kurds in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, are very close to home. The Lezghis, Talyshes, and Tats in Azerbaijan; the Abkhaz, Ajars, and Ossets in Georgia; countless groups in Russia; even Turkey is far from being homogeneously “Turkish.” Then we get to Europe, where other than the Catalans there are the Basques in France and Spain; Lapps or Sami in the Scandinavian countries; the Irish, Scots, and Welsh in Great Britain; and various other nationalities that have ended up inside adjacent countries because of ridiculously drawn borders. In the Americas, countless indigenous peoples are repressed, oppressed, or outright exploited, and are certainly far from being self-determined. This list is far from complete, and its lack of comprehensiveness merely betrays the extent of my ignorance.
So what should or can we do? It certainly is in our interest, now for Artsakh, and later for more of our lands and people (think Turkey’s “crypto-Armenians”: Hamshentsis, Javakhktsis) to have the principle of self-determination become ever more thoroughly and broadly implemented and enshrined in the political mindset of all humanity, and especially the planet’s leadership.
But because the self-determination of one group implies the loss of authority, power, and/or territory for an existing country, the matter becomes very delicate. If we advocate the rights of Catalans, then Spain, where numerous cities have been recognizing the Armenian Genocide, might become less supportive of our issues. Kurds? Think Iran and Syria, with which we have very good and important relationships. Native Americans? Think of the reaction we would get from the U.S., Argentine, or Canadian governments.
On the other hand, in the post-Soviet era, Bosnia was created, along with Abkhazia and South Sudan. I chose these because they represent the machinations of two opposing poles of power, along with one case where most everyone was in agreement (Sudan). This is the reality we have to navigate. But we must act. Somehow, we must find a way to say what has to be said, advocate what is just, and still defend our interests. For example, while the Republic of Armenia has been silent on the Kurdish and Catalan referenda, Artsakh has been supportive. Everyone can understand why this happens. It’s obvious the latter is in the same boat. It’s the kind deft politics we must play.
Over 15 years ago, I read an article in Foreign Policy magazine in which the notion presented was that countries will continue to be created and ever-smaller groups will achieve independence. We are living though a time of resurgent local/national identity. Those who rule over others that have a different concept of their group belonging would do well to learn from the past. Demands for various types and levels of home rule/autonomy/independence never go away. They reappear periodically unless resolved. Central governments would do well and best if they made some concessions, avoiding tension and averting bloodshed. Doing so might simply delay the inevitable, but it might also become a permanent solution. Those seeking freedom could claim some gains and “live to fight another day”—though that “day” may not come for a generation or more later.
But just to confuse things, we have, courtesy of Turkey, the situation of Northern Cyprus, where the demography has been artificially shifted and skewed through migration of “Turks” from Turkey.
What should we do to create more enabling legal infrastructure to achieve Armenian self-determination goals? Please suggest ideas and approaches.