Artsakh is Sardarabad

When Self-Determination Becomes Survival

‘We Are Our Mountains’ monument in Stepanakert (Photo: Araz Chiloyan)

I was enjoying a beautiful early fall day on our patio this past Sunday the 27th of September. This is where I love to read, entertain and enjoy the abundance of nature. It was very early and the peaceful silence was broken with the chime of a new text message from my son. Azerbaijan had launched a massive unilateral attack on Artsakh. Border incursions have unfortunately become a part of life in Artsakh and other eastern border areas in Armenia. This was different. The focus of the offensive was the entire eastern border of Artsakh, and the military equipment being utilized included drones, helicopter gunships, airplanes, tanks, armored vehicles and missiles. There were early reports of casualties and fierce fighting. The other differentiator was the overt participation of Turkey. Long a cheerleader for its ethnic cousins, Turkey was now doing little to hide the transport of advisors, equipment and importing terrorists from its Syrian adventure. Armenia responded with superb organization and valor to repel yet another vile assault by the racist Azerbaijani regime. The governments of Armenia and Artsakh immediately declared martial law and full mobilization. I spoke to friends in Armenia, and they described scenes in every town of men and women volunteering to help in military service or auxiliary roles. The mood of the population was spirited with a mix of pride, anger and determination. Calls for blood donations were overwhelmingly answered and quickly expanded to donation staging of food and supplies. Average citizens volunteered to transport supplies to Artsakh. It seemed like the nation was united and prepared for its survival.

When I heard words like “mobilization,” “survival” and “defend our land,” I immediately thought of Sardarabad. The comparisons are chilling. Turks attacking with murderous intentions and usurping our motherland. Citizens everywhere rallying to answer the call to defend our very existence—yet another final stand against those who carry the stain of genocide and human rights atrocities. Is there any doubt that the evil intentions of the Azeris is to destroy our Artsakh and Armenia? Aliyev has incited racist motivations in his people with absurd claims for Artsakh and Armenia. Hatred and anger are fueling their obsessions. The names have changed over the decades, but the barbaric destruction has not.

I was also reminded of another aspect of Artsakh’s quest for freedom. Several years ago, I attended a lecture by our late Ambassador Rouben Shougarian. I have always admired him for adding remarkable clarity to seemingly complex matters. As a diplomat and scholar, he spoke of a legal phase called “remedial secession.” The conflict in Artsakh from a diplomatic standpoint has been a struggle between the forces of “self-determination” and “territorial integrity.” Essentially, those advocating the former carry the weight of being oppressed and the latter wishes to maintain the status quo. Artsakh remains “unrecognized” not because of the moral correctness of their position, but because most nations see the potential of more “Artsakhs” perhaps in their own backyard. It’s a precedent they don’t want to address. What I found enlightening about Amb. Shougarian’s talk was the introduction of “remedial secession” which essentially stated that territorial integrity can be overcome by self-determination if the government does not possess the ability to represent all the people of the territory. “Secession” becomes the only alternative to ending oppression and surviving. It suggests that the very existence of the oppressed people is at risk, thus justifying self-determination through remedial secession.

Despite the rhetoric of Azerbaijan and Turkey, the current reality of Artsakh is an excellent example of endless oppression. It is tolerated in a world paralyzed by geopolitical self-interests. Would anyone, other than Turkey with its pan-Turkic ambition, support the racist and unjust aggression of Azerbaijan were it not for oil and gas? A territory that was “gifted”  to Azerbaijan created an unnatural state and became a mirror against the principles of human dignity. The peaceful and legal petitioning to alter this crime was a responsible act by the Armenians. The Azeri response with war was barbaric and completely unnecessary. The constant violations of ceasefires and refusal to negotiate in good faith have shown Azerbaijan to be an artificial nation. They have displayed zero commitment to peace and refuse to honor agreements that have been signed. This latest display of unilateral violence eliminates what little credibility they retained. If this was a simple matter of right versus wrong, there would be no deaths and destruction. Unfortunately, it is not.

There are some interesting dynamics in Azerbaijan’s current disaster. Aliyev is a classic dictator who survives on his ability to win friends or their silence with petro dollars. His authoritative regime requires constant distractions from the realities of his corrupt presence. Targeting Armenians as rebels and disloyal landgrabbers keeps the population focused on a false narrative. Does this sound familiar? Almost the same verbiage was used more than 100 years ago by the Ittihad Turk murderers who are admired by Erdogan with his taunting of Greeks and Armenians today. Azerbaijan has spent billions “upgrading” its armed forces with equipment purchased from Russia, Israel and Turkey. Their behavior the last 30 years has proven their intent to destroy and create general instability. It is the responsibility of the major powers to stop the insanity. With their power comes influence. Checks and balances prevent world chaos. Most nations understand that dynamic. With the absence of an effective deterrence on rogue Azerbaijan and ambitious Turkey, Armenia and Artsakh have no choice but to defend themselves and they have done so with honor.

History has proven that giving violent aggressors a pass with ambivalence or geo-political self interests only encourages the violators to continue. The victims are always the peaceful and righteous. Azerbaijan has violated the ceasefire they asked for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times in the last 26 years. There have been countless incursions of the border and duplicitous diplomatic performance. What are the implications of this behavior? Nothing…except to encourage more of it.

Meanwhile, Turkey is running wild in the region with offensive and international law violations in several areas. At last count, there have been attacks in northern Iraq, the horrific destruction in northern Syria, threats to Greece in the Aegean, occupation of northern Cyprus, meddling in Lebanon and troops in Libya. This does not include its denial and coverup of three genocides. Now we see Turkey and its pan-Turkic intentions working to help destroy Armenia. Yet they still are courted by some European nations, hold a NATO membership and have the audacity to demand a seat at the diplomatic table pertaining to Artsakh. Turkey’s alleged shooting down of an Armenian jet on Tuesday in Armenian airspace crosses a major red line. Importing thousands of mercenaries is also a horrific act. The west and Russia must lead by example to send a strong message to those who bring instability to the region. Where is NATO when Turkey attacks one of its cooperating partner nations? Turkey should be heavily sanctioned, removed from NATO and its EU membership should be a closed matter.

It is clear that Armenia and Artsakh will defend themselves and that Artsakh will continue to be Armenian territory.

One final point on the adversaries…if Azerbaijan’s military is so powerful, why do they need to import thousands of mercenaries? The answer lies in their collective will. Just what are common Azeris fighting for? The threats of the government if they choose not to fight? There are several oppressed minorities in Azerbaijan that do not identify with Aliyev’s obsession, especially if their lives are at stake. What about the so-called Azeri refugees called out in the Madrid Principles? It has been 30 years and a generation removed. Many of these families have a history of being part of the demographic shift that Azerbaijan implemented for decades. They were successful in Nakhichevan, but the line was drawn in Artsakh. Any reasonably educated Azeri can comprehend that Armenian presence in Artsakh goes back to over 1,000 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. Aliyev’s answer is to promote ignorance through propaganda, false history and racism. This will continue to be a major difference between the Armenians and the Azeris. Who is fighting for what, and is that motivation sustainable?

The next few weeks in this conflict will have major international implications. How many nations can Turkey offend before they are stopped? Azerbaijan has destroyed its credibility with the diplomatic community with its utter disregard for the OSCE Minsk Group and other parties. How long will Russia tolerate Turkey’s meddling in their backyard? Our hearts are breaking with each loss of life. Reading the list of casualties with birthdates in 2000, 2001 or 2002 is so sad, but with each sacrifice the resolve grows stronger. It is clear that Armenia and Artsakh will defend themselves and that Artsakh will continue to be Armenian territory. This is their home. It’s that simple.

This is a time for unequivocal unity among Armenians. What does that mean? All Armenians both in the homeland and diaspora must rally behind the government and its leaders. This is no time for petty political squabbles to distract or reduce our effectiveness. Our national survival is on the table. Armenia has proven to be a peaceful and responsible nation. Its people contribute to the civilization of mankind and only seek to live in peace. Unfortunately, our neighborhood has always been filled with those who seek what is not theirs. Justice for peaceful people through a community of nations is the best approach. That is why Armenia has been so ardently committed to the OSCE despite having to absorb the insults of Azerbaijan and the “spread the blame” approach of diplomacy. When the people of Artsakh defended their rights in 1988-94, it was called “self-determination,” but to them it was always about survival with an adversary bent on their annihilation. Our grandparents taught us that lesson through Sardarabad. That spirit is a part of who we are.

Stepan Piligian

Stepan Piligian

Stepan was raised in the Armenian community of Indian Orchard, MA at the St. Gregory Parish. A former member of the AYF Central Executive and the Eastern Prelacy Executive Council, he also served many years as a delegate to the Eastern Diocesan Assembly. Currently , he serves as a member of the board and executive committee of the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR). He also serves on the board of the Armenian Heritage Foundation. Stepan is a retired executive in the computer storage industry and resides in the Boston area with his wife Susan. He has spent many years as a volunteer teacher of Armenian history and contemporary issues to the young generation and adults at schools, camps and churches. His interests include the Armenian diaspora, Armenia, sports and reading.

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