I had thought and hoped that I would never have to write another article under this moniker again, but, unsurprisingly, the events of the past month and a half have necessitated this outpouring of anguish.
We live in an age where a slogan is accepted as encapsulating an issue so thoroughly as to be deeply meaningful and profound. These slogans always contain slivers of truth, which is why they get repeated so often as to be viewed as inherently true. A deeper and more nuanced analysis will often leave quite a different impression. While in the current crisis there are many such slogans bandied about that infuriate me, the one that is particularly egregious is that given the current circumstances, what else could be done. It is an uncomfortable revelation to learn that just maybe you have been led down a path, purposefully or through ineptitude, that would lead to the feeling of no other option existing.
While there is enough blame to go around for the treacherous agreement the Prime Minister has negotiated in complete secrecy and now signed, it appears he is unwilling or incapable of accepting any of it. Yet, he was in the position to have the greatest impact on the actions over the last two and a half years that got us to this disastrous place. We look to the past to better prepare for the future; but, it should not be an effort in futility. Unfortunately, it seems we have not learned and continue to remain ignorant of our past to the detriment of our future.
The current horror can be traced to the 1994 ceasefire agreement. In those heady days of success on the battlefield, the sole strategic benefit of the ceasefire for Armenians was that Artsakh was a party to the agreement. Too much importance was placed on this and not enough on formal recognition of Artsakh by Azerbaijan. We still may have gotten here, but at least there would have been greater diplomatic tools available to a formally recognized Republic of Artsakh. Some will argue that Russia would not allow it at the time, which may or may not be true, yet it remains that today under similar circumstances the one with the military momentum pressed on, ignoring ceasefire after ceasefire.
As has been seen in this latest round of fighting, you do not win wars by stopping before the enemy capitulates and Armenia did just that in 1994. The warning signs were immediately apparent for all to see. Azerbaijan’s position hardened in negotiation and we still did not initiate a military response. In addition, Azerbaijan was working out the oil deals that would lead to the money used to fund the current war, and this could not have happened without a cessation of the hostilities of the first war. Thus, the foundation was laid, and a solid foundation it was: build wealth, strengthen the military, agree to nothing, prolong negotiations, etc. And we removed our strongest weapon, the military advantage we had on the ground. Unsurprisingly given the above, domestically, by the end of that year, the President of Armenia outlawed all Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) activity in Armenia.
Perhaps understanding the fatal flaw in the 1994 agreement, by 1997, the position had changed so much that President Ter Petrosian openly talked about the need for Armenians to compromise and that neither Artsakh independence nor unification with Armenia were realistic. A year later he would be forced to resign. Yet there was no turning back the clock. Over the next 20 years, while the negotiating strength of Armenia was reduced, at least one aspect remained: close ties were maintained with Russian leadership. The price for the military security guaranteed by those relations was steep, an autocratic and corrupt local regime. Nonetheless, Artsakh’s security was maintained, albeit with its international status still undefined. Armenians comforted themselves in the growing silent acknowledgement of Artsakh being Armenian and the growth of the Republic of Artsakh as an independent and democratic state.
Prior regimes, as well as the current regime, share the blame for not preparing militarily for the day when the status quo was no longer sustainable. Those that criminally removed our manufacturing capability and ignored our intellectual assets should be held responsible. Armenia’s precarious situation surrounded by enemies makes the first priority of any government the security of our borders. Over at least the last five years, this was not done. Neither was action taken as the enemy amassed troops and equipment on our border. Other countries in similar situations do not wait to be attacked by the enemy on their terms; they preemptively take the necessary action. Again, this was not done.
The timing of this war was perfectly orchestrated by Turkey and Azerbaijan. It placed Russia and Iran in the uncomfortable position of having to take sides, something neither desired to do. In addition, a distracted and disinterested US was unwilling to take the necessary actions to curtail Turkish aggression, if the US even has that ability anymore. In the end, as it was 100 years ago, it was today; the only military guarantor of Armenia is Russia.
Pashinyan came to power in 2018 with the promise of democratic reform and the end of corruption in Armenia, both worthwhile and seemingly lofty goals at the time. While some would view him as successful in these efforts, others might look beyond the superficial to identify some cracks. First, the criminal cases brought against prior political leaders under the premise of fighting corruption were not made universally. Instead, one can view the targets as being dictated by political consolidation and a personal vendetta by Pashinyan and not a search for justice. Political leadership that Pashinyan had a previous relationship with seemed immune from such corruption probes. The waffling between claims that no more oligarchs exist, and then they do, only served to highlight the political nature of these efforts and not the judicial righteousness that would have been necessary to instill confidence in all citizens.
Worse, these efforts served to alienate Russia, something Pashinyan should have been more cautious about given his track record of rhetoric which only served to heighten Russia’s concern. Pashinyan was against signing on to the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union and openly stated the structure of Russian-Armenian relations as being problematic in the context of Armenian sovereignty. While after coming to power, he quickly shifted positions on these issues, nonetheless the damage was done. To be fair, not all Russian angst with Pashinyan was of his doing; some of it was attributable to coming to power under a popular movement ushering in greater democracy. Russia views neither in a favorable light.
We must meet this challenge today and prepare for the inevitable future as well.
What we have seen in the last few days is that deals were brokered by Turkey and Russia before this war was even begun. The full extent of these deals most likely will never be known nor all the causes which led Russia down this path of selling out Armenia and Artsakh. While history may have taught us that in times of crisis Armenians will be left to their own fate, it also should have taught us to prolong diplomatically that day as long as possible to allow for preparation. Pashinyan, from the very beginning of his term, identified a lack of military preparedness to defend the borders of Armenia and Artsakh, though it is not clear what meaningful steps were taken to rectify that situation over the last two plus years. However, understanding this should have made diplomacy even more important to forestall the day of reckoning. Is this not what Azerbaijan did for the last 25 years?
So, now the Armenian people are being presented with a fait accompli, without any say or role in those decisions. The scenario of futility, hopelessness and overwhelming superior adversaries is meant to demoralize us into accepting a result certain parties in Armenia have been willing to accept since day one. It is hard to believe though that even they could have envisioned how bad the terms would be for the great economic promise always held before us as the bait. If this comes to pass, Armenia will be weakened significantly with barriers making it even harder to recover from and equality even more unachievable.
Pashinyan still does not see options, or maybe he is unwilling to accept the options that do remain. To his credit, under similar circumstances, Ter Petrosyan stepped down for the sake of the Armenian nation and now it is time for Pashinyan to do so as well, for the future of the Armenian people. Letting this agreement stand will set us back decades, maybe irreparably. History has shown that Azerbaijan and Turkey will not be satisfied with this agreement. Quite the contrary; it will embolden them for even harsher future demands. We must meet this challenge today and prepare for the inevitable future as well.
Today, as is typical, there is the drumbeat of unity. When people speak of unity, what they really mean is for everyone to be united around their views. That is not how unity works. You do not unite behind a failed policy for the sake of unity. For over a month, the Armenian people worldwide have been united behind a common just cause. It is not simply enough today to sloganeer unity; it must be built on a truly unifying policy, not on defeatism or futility. If we are to unite, it should be against this agreement. The very future of our people demands it.