‘Not an inch of land’: Vanetsyan’s statement a welcome sign for Artsakh

For those who missed it, Friday brought some remarkable news. In Artsakh, President Bako Sahakyan and Armenia’s National Security Director Artur Vanetsyan held a joint press conference, following a visit to the southern border where they inspected military personnel and the current situation in the area. Vanetsyan explained that during the trip, he learned about resettlement efforts underway in southern Hadrut near the Arax River. He gave special mention to Araxavan, a new village currently in the planning stages. Designed for up to 150 homes with adjacent land and working conditions, the village would help bolster Artsakh’s civilian presence in a strategic area adjoining both Azerbaijan and Iran.

Vanetsyan assessed this program as an important guarantee of national security, concluding as follows: “The program that we call a resettlement program, in my and everyone’s assessment, will be the main guarantee of our country’s security. Because there are those speeches, those expressions, and those people who always manipulate this subject as if lands will be returned, will be negotiated, conceded, etc. As a result of that program, we will send a clear message to all our people and the world that we have no intention to give an inch of land; on the contrary, our compatriots must settle on those lands and build our country.”

Such a pronouncement—its context, its setting, and above all, its content—is frankly unprecedented. Indeed, it is the first such statement—by far, the most serious—made by a high-ranking Yerevan official, about not yielding the liberated lands. In 25 years since the Artsakh War, no one from official Armenia—not Levon Ter-Petrosyan, not Robert Kocharyan, not Serzh Sargsyan, nor any of their aides—has commented so openly, so directly, so unequivocally on this matter.

The timing of the announcement is also worth examining. Here is a new regime, its leader, Nikol Pashinyan, widely popular but still untested as a statesman. To boot, Pashinyan has a background of past collaboration with Ter-Petrosyan, well-known for his conciliatory posture regarding Artsakh. Given all of this, some critics have been closely watching his every move, especially as Yerevan and Baku prepare for a new round of talks billed as “preparing for peace.” For such critics, who sometimes hint at a possible Pashinyan ‘sell-out,’ Vanetsyan’s statement likely brings a welcome sigh of relief (or bitter disappointment, depending on how cynical the critic is).

Until now, such phrases have been used mostly as slogans or rallying cries among the populace, but never in official discourse.

‘Not an inch of land,’ to paraphrase Vanetsyan. Until now, such phrases have been used mostly as slogans or rallying cries among the populace, but never in official discourse.

Except in Artsakh. There, from top to bottom, the stance has been the same for years – certainly since 2007, when Sahakyan assumed the reins of power. Since that time, Artsakh’s authorities have made explicit reference to territorial matters, shunning the term “occupied territories” for those borderlands lying outside the old Soviet-imposed borders. Instead these territories have been incorporated into Artsakh’s constitution, which deems them an inalienable part of the Republic. Meanwhile, words are increasingly matched with deeds, as the Republic, officially and unabashedly, promotes an active borderland resettlement program, in conjunction with a few non-governmental actors.

During these years, Armenia has stood by quietly. True, it has amply assisted Karabakh in maintaining the facts on the ground, but in the diplomatic arena, Yerevan has often been reticent, even timid. And when faced with Western-led formulas, like the OSCE “Madrid Principles,” calling for return of territories as a precondition for peace, Yerevan has behaved reactively, often signaling tacit consent to such concessions.

Now, apparently, things are changing. Upon assuming power last May, Pashinyan publicly called for Artsakh’s return to the negotiating table (its seat having been taken by Kocharyan, who claimed the right to speak for both Yerevan and Stepanakert). More recently, Pashinyan told OSCE mediators that before asking Yerevan if it’s ready for concessions, they should first address their inquiry to Baku. And now, we have Vanetsyan’s pronouncement against land concessions. While nothing is certain, it would seem that Armenia’s diplomacy has already become sharper, more agile and proactive, as it seeks to navigate this difficult terrain.

And what of the media reaction? In Azerbaijan, they are already in a rage. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Leyla Abdullayeva promptly demanded condemnation by the OSCE co-chairs, claiming that Baku will raise the issue of “illegal settlements” in international forums. Leading commentators there have followed suit. Meanwhile in Armenia, the coverage – while considerable – has been rather tame. It seems, then, that Yerevan’s recent approach has succeeded in pushing some buttons among adversaries abroad. Whether it will succeed in quelling hawkish critics at home remains to be seen.

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Antranig Kasbarian

Antranig Kasbarian is a member of the ARF Central Committee, Eastern United States. Over the past 20 years, he has been a lecturer, activist, and community leader; he has also worked regularly as a journalist, activist, and researcher in Nagorno-Karabagh. He is a former editor of the Armenian Weekly, and holds a Ph.D. in geography from Rutgers University. He joined the Tufenkian Foundation in 2003, launching its program in Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh), and served as its executive director until 2015. He is currently the Director of Development of the Tufenkian Foundation, pursuing a range of charitable/strategic projects in Armenia and Artsakh.

12 Comments

  1. Unger A. Kasbarian,
    Thank you for highlighting this critically important development for Artsakh.
    Hopefully this will assuage some of the concerns expressed in some circles.
    I would add that Pashinian has been consistent in his demand that Artsakh’s representatives should participate in the OSCE-Minsk group discussions/negotiations.
    He also recently stated that that ” we can’t even discuss land for peace formula”.
    Indeed this is a difficult terrain in view of the different players involved.
    We need total unity.
    Vart Adjemian
    Vart Adjemian

  2. There should be nothing to discuss Azerbaijan through the first stone they lost to the victor goes the spoils if you want it back come and get it that should be the position nonnegotiable. Your crimes against the Armenian people in that area boardered on genocide. And now you want these people to come to the bargaining table and give you back what you stole from them what was given to you by Stalin.You have a better chance of finding a snowball in hell they getting back that property

  3. This is a very important shift and a very pro-active approach by the Pashinian government. Much better than the dormant years of foreign minister Nalbandian.

  4. Most of this land is not fit for habitation so will become no-mans land ultimately.Taking a hard line is a good opening position for a negotiated peace settlement but some flexibility must be shown. PM N Pashinyan’s comment about the Karabagh peoples role in determining their own future is very important and must not be sidelined by Yerevan or others. The goal of Peace must be obtained for the sake of our future generations who need a strong economy and work opportunities.The diaspora can help more by establishing businesses and investing in Hyastan.

    • Dear Professor,
      One wonder if you give one inch of your land to Turkic herds, then what will happen next?? Armenia is not in the heart of civilized European nations, like Switzerland! Remember we have lost Armenian Highlands to Christian enemies, due to our own Christian believes with “love your neighbor” syndrome!

  5. GB,

    Exactly what sort of Christian “love your neighbor” policy are you talking about? Just take a look back in history at all those barbaric wars that the Christian “civilized European nations” waged against one another (such as World War 1 and 2). They certainly weren’t showing love towards one another, nor were they being civilized.

    What about the United States of America, which actually used to be a Christian country many years ago. America, certainly did not show love towards its neighbor, Mexico, by stealing away so much of its land. The present-day states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Nevada, are all Mexican lands that were stolen by the United States.

    And exactly what does your firm attachment to the “love your neighbor” policy have to do with the Ottoman Turkish Empire’s genocide against its Armenian population, in which all six Western Armenian provinces were completely emptied of its entire Armenian population?

    As for the “professor,” he certainly does not know anything in regard to the Artsakh Republic by foolishly saying that “Most of this land is not fit for habitation.” On the contrary, most of this land is very fit for habitation; this explains the reason why many of our Armenian brothers and sisters from Syria have chosen to come and live in Artsakh.

  6. PM Pashinian is in Artsakh where he is to chair a meeting of Armenia’s Security Council planned for tomorrow.
    This is the first time the Council’s meeting is being held in Artsakh.
    This is a highly critical and important meeting which should give clarity on Armenia’s position on the upcoming discussions to be held with the OSCE-Minsk co-chairs.
    Hopefully Armenia’s position will be unwavering and we’ll have a “United” front.

    Vart Adjemian

  7. As a supporter of the Armenian cause I have to say this is a troubling development. The Artsakh authorities should not be doing this, because they have no historical high-ground.
    According to the 1823 Russian survey of the Karabakh Khanate, the lands of the five Meliks (the mountainous Karabakh) was about 93 percent Armenian. However, the Karabakh Khanate as a whole was 75 percent Muslim (all kinds combined).
    This survey was recently translated into English by the Armenian historian George Bournoutian.
    Armenians absolutely have a right to inhabit the territory of the former NK Republic because historically it has been theirs. They even have a moral right to occupy the surrounding heights so that Azeris cannot shell them.
    But they do NOT have a right to start building settlements on those surrounding areas. Not only will this seriously anger the Azerbaijanis, but it will also make the Artsakhis lose all of the real moral high-ground they once had. This will give the Azeris a genuine excuse to simply label you all as illegal occupiers, rather than the legitimate defenders of your homeland.
    Armenians, I implore you. Don’t debase yourself like this!

  8. In 1823, the “Karabakh Khanate” was completely dissolved. By 1880, Artsakh’s population was 53 percent Armenian. And by the time that Soviet Russia illegally gave away Artsakh to the Azerbaijanis (back in 1921), the population of that province was over 90 percent Armenian.

    You are really debasing yourself by criticizing the high morals of the Artsakh authorities. Instead, you should be criticizing the horrible morals of the Azerbaijani authorities, who wish to commit an all-out genocide against the Artsakh Armenians.

    The Artsakh authorities, have every right to build settlements on those “surrounding areas” (which are a part of the historic province of Artsakh), which they are currently doing. And, if all of this seriously angers your Azerbaijani friends, then that’s even better! Furthermore, the Armenians still have additional Armenian lands to liberate from the Azerbaijani illegal occupiers.

    • “In 1823, the “Karabakh Khanate” was completely dissolved.”
      I fail to see the relevance. The Khanate was an administration, but the people living there didn’t suddenly disappear too. If they did, can you give me a source?
      “By 1880, Artsakh’s population was 53 percent Armenian.”
      I’d like a source for this too, but before you give me one, I also want a definition of Artsakh. The 5 Melikdoms? (which roughly corresponds to the old NKR) Or more than that? Is your definition of Artsakh the same as your source’s definition?

    • When did I ever say that the people living in the “Karabakh Khanate” suddenly disappeared? As I had correctly stated, “In 1823, the Karabakh Khanate was completely dissolved.” After that, the dissolved “Karabakh Khanate” became part of the former Russian Empire’s Elizavetpol gubernia (governorate).

      In terms of the meaning of the word, “Artsakh”, the “tsakh” means “woods” in old Armenian (grabar); as for the “Ar”, it obviously refers to the Armenian people. The historical name of this particular province is “Artsakh” (and that’s the name used by the natives of this particular land), which corresponds to the whole entire territory of today’s Artsakh Republic; in addition to that, there are also two more territories of Artsakh which are currently occupied by the Azerbaijani illegal occupiers.

      In terms of sources, all of these facts about Artsakh I’ve gathered from Armenian history books as well as from the natives of Artsakh. And if you don’t want to accept these facts, then that’s your problem.

  9. Yerevanian,
    Read the Bible you will get the message! I don’t care about fake “Europeans Christian believes” This is what our naive Western Armenians natives let Turkic herds settled in our holy Christian lands, where Muslims Turks outnumbered Armenians. And I am sure you know what happened next! I admire Artsakh Armenians!

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