Twenty-four days since the attempted Azerbaijani invasion of Artsakh was launched, Artsakh remains defiant. Despite a collective $15 billion in military spending over a decade, the aid of high-tech Israeli Kamikaze drones, Turkish unmanned combat aircraft and some two thousand Syrian Jihadis, the Azerbaijanis have just barely made it into the flatlands along the Arax river, reluctant to take on the mountain fortress which is Artsakh.
But the cost has been heavy for Armenia as well. At the time of this writing, some 772 servicemen and women from Artsakh, Armenia and the Diaspora have given their lives in defense of their homeland—the blow is made even harder by the fact that many of them, aged 19 or 20, are part of our ‘Independence Generation’—and as Azerbaijan continues to violate ceasefire after ceasefire, that number will likely increase. But the cost is also being felt in terms of infrastructure, civilian casualties and lives destroyed by this conflict.
Still, despite the odds, despite the suffering, no one in Armenia has questioned the cost of protecting our families and the little bit of this planet which we still call home. In Yerevan both men and women lament not being allowed to join their compatriots on the front lines. Members of the country’s tech community are hard at work fighting the information war against Azerbaijani trolls and also contributing to the real war in ways which I am not at liberty to discuss. Others busy themselves with all sorts of projects designed to help sustain the war effort. My friend Haik, a repatriate from Canada, volunteered for the army on the day fighting broke out—along with about 10-thousand others—but was rejected for lack of prior service. Instead, he raised some $20,000 on his own which he used to personally purchase and deliver emergency food and medical supplies to over 100 families displaced due to the fighting in Artsakh. And he’s not the only one. Yesterday, another friend convinced me to give up my sleeping bag (conveniently of an army-green color) which he delivered to the front this morning.
Yet from the first days of this war, so many friends in the Diaspora—many of whom I never thought would be so concerned with Armenian issues—have been reaching out to me, asking how they could help. A similar refrain is heard: people feel helpless about not being able to assist in the defense of our homeland. Some have expressed a desire to come to Armenia and offer their professional skill sets. Many already have: doctors, nurses and specialists from across the Diaspora are currently staffing hospitals in Stepanakert. Repatriates also man trenches along the Artsakh frontier (leading to rather humorously pathetic attempts by the Azerbaijani authorities to paint them with the same brush as the countless Syrian mercenaries in their own employ). Planeloads arrive in Yerevan everyday hoping to fight. Often, they’re told to wait or sent for training.
But to most, I always answer in the same, if seemingly-disappointing manner. There are two ways in which every Armenian can have a decisive impact on our victory:
- DONATE: Yes, I know, donating isn’t as romantic a proposition as fighting for our homes and land, but it’s pretty damn effective. Think of it like getting money from Grandma for Christmas instead of a hand knitted sweater. Sure the sweater is more meaningful, but with the money, Armenia can purchase the material that it needs more efficiently. Unlike the 2016 April War though, this time around, fundraising efforts are much more streamlined, centralized and transparent. I highly suggest that you contribute to either the Armenia Fund or the Wounded Heroes Fund.
- ADVOCATE: when punching credit card numbers into a website isn’t enough, you can always fight for our cause back home. Call your elected officials, MP, MNA (or if you live in the Gulf, your local Emir?) and ensure that they either condemn Azerbaijan’s aggression or recognize Artsakh.
You should know that your actions abroad do work. Those of you who blocked a friggin interstate in Los Angeles: we saw that. Those of you who protested every major news outlet across Canada: we saw that too. Did you know that there is an Armenian community in Yellowknife? I didn’t, until last week. In a world where we Armenians know that we can rely on no one else but each other, I can tell you that for the people here in Armenia and Artsakh, your vocal protests, your social media activism, your advocacy…it all works. Just look at how Canada’s Armenian community succeeded in blocking the sale of Canadian-made optical targeting systems to Turkey, which (we can now confirm beyond any doubt) have been used to attack civilian targets in Artsakh. I can’t name all the examples, but there are many. Not least of all, your voice reminds us that we’re not alone in this fight. Whatever you do, don’t stop.
But despite the herculean efforts of a global Armenian community which today stands more united than ever before in its 3,000(+) year history, the Diaspora’s most important role in this struggle is yet to come.
your voice reminds us that we’re not alone in this fight. Whatever you do, don’t stop.
When we do win this war (and yes, I say when, not if) there will be much to do in order to consolidate our democratic, demographic and economic gains. Just as the armchair military analysts who expected, a week ago, that Armenia would be forced to seek peace in the face of superior drone technology, economists who would argue against investing in “a war zone” will discover that they do not know Armenians. Rational actors may shy away from investing in risky locations: but Armenians are anything but rational. Our continued existence defies all reason as well as the attempts of a succession of empires.
Your collective contributions to the Armenia Fund have already raised a million dollars for every man, woman and child living in Artsakh. Do not despair at the sight of destruction across this land. Those are just buildings; they can be rebuilt. Artsakh was always about the people there. That’s what the Azeris wish to destroy. Your investments to rebuild will jump-start the kind of economic revival that John Maynard Keynes could only dream of. Reconstruction will create jobs, the capital injections will generate disposable income for a new middle class to spend, and your trips in to help with these efforts will revive the tourism industry. Your continued advocacy for Artsakh will help raise the awareness that will keep that land safe from further Azerbaijani adventurism.
As the Turkish Lira continues to plummet in value, Azerbaijan’s heavily-oil-dependent economy continues to suffer from the lowest fossil-fuel prices in a generation, compounded by the negative effects of a corrupt dictatorial class. When less than a decade ago, Azerbaijani leaders seriously offered the pretense that the people of Artsakh would benefit from Azerbaijan’s prosperity, today, the people of Stepanakert enjoy higher standards of living than their counterparts in Ganja or Baku on top of the benefits of freedom. This war, unleashed by the Aliyev regime, is in effect a last desperate attempt to hold onto power as Armenia continues its meteoric rise in democratization, economic liberalization and prosperity.
While Armenia’s Armed Forces win the war, it will be up to the Diaspora to win the peace.
Ultimately, those of us who decide to come to—and stay in—Armenia and Artsakh to rebuild, establish businesses and grow families will contribute much more than anything you’d wish to achieve with a Kalashnikov in hand. To quote the famous Irish MP and political prisoner Bobby Sands: our revenge will be the laughter of our children.