Last night, I had more than eight hours of sleep for the first time in 45 days. For 45 days, I went to the front, then behind the front, then the home front. I held meetings and worked with people in every level of government, with volunteers making camouflage nets, social workers helping refugees and wounded soldiers, to fighters training for war and techies working on algorithms to knock out drones. I helped coordinate with friends in the Diaspora the purchase of high-tech rifle scopes, body armor, humanitarian aid and medical equipment.
Throughout these 45 days, I witnessed a global Armenian nation united in a single goal: to preserve itself. What I didn’t see in that time were traitors, defeatists or “sellouts.” Yet over the last two days, everyone else seems to be looking for them.
Right now, many people are probably penning their own views of why what happened…happened, or what we need to do next. Some were quick to point the finger at a man whose wife and son are currently manning positions in the mountains of Artsakh for “selling out” the country. Others will instead blame 25 years of corruption, authoritarianism and wishful thinking. More still will call out the Diaspora for treating Armenia and Artsakh like vacation spots rather than a real place in need of serious engagement. There is truth to all of these, and also lies. The reality is that there is enough blame to go around.
Those who engage in finger pointing are just acting out on their grief, as are the rest of us. You have a right to be angry, surprised, vexed, humiliated and depressed. We just suffered one of the largest calamities to befall our nation in a century. At a later time, smarter men and women than me will look over the causes and brainstorm what could have been done better. But now is not the time for that. Grieving people do not make rational decisions.
Now that we’ve had a couple of days to digest our new reality (the armchair generals and keyboard analysts having already made their case), let me summarize my experiences and observations over the last 45 days to help you, fellow Armenians, find your path. First by answering the most obvious question:
How did this happen?
For many of us who went to bed knowing that the battle for Shushi was ongoing, waking up to news of this humiliating ceasefire was quite a shock. For weeks we had been told that we were holding our own. As the war went on, many of us began to internalize the hope that we could actually win this. So what happened? Did Nikol lie to us? Maybe, but in that case, so did Artsrun, Shushan, Armen, Davit, Arayik and all the soldiers who called home and shared news about the brilliant defense they were engaging in.
You see…they were not lying. Just as the Fedayi who successfully defended Van and Musa Dagh in 1915 only to see their homes eventually absorbed by Turkey, or those who stopped the Turkish advances in Sardarapat and Kara Kelissa in 1918 only to see the rest of Armenia swallowed by the nascent Bolshevist state discovered: it is possible to win every battle and still lose a war.
The truth is, we were not beaten by better enemy soldiers commanded by more brilliant officers and strategists. The war we fought could not have been won with just a little more martial spirit, patriotism or elan. Our greatest enemy was much more mundane: attrition. The Armenian army shot down almost 300 UAVs in 45 days—the largest number in the world by a wide margin. For every Armenian soldier who fell in battle they took with them five or six Azeris. But for every drone we shot down, they would simply fly another. For every enemy soldier killed, another imported Syrian mercenary was thrown into the meat grinder to take his place.
For every member of the old generation lost to the pandemic, we lost a member of the young one to the war. Each day of fighting cost Armenia over $30 million. For context, the total amount of funds raised by the global Armenian community over the course of the war would have paid for about six days of fighting.
This deal was signed when the war simply became unsustainable for a tiny country of three million which was fighting not just the bottomless pockets of an oil-rich Caspian dictatorship, but one with the backing of a NATO-member dictatorship, access to the latest in Israeli hardware, and endless hordes of desperate mercenaries, all while fighting a deadly global pandemic under the passive eyes of the world community. The fact that we held out against the worst dictatorships in this part of the world for 45 days is nothing short of gallantry. As both the Armenian Defense Minister and the President of Artsakh pointed out: no matter how brave our men, or as well commanded the army, or competent our leadership, ultimately Armenia was caught within a great game played by regional powers yet again.
Those of you who think that this deal was a sellout or somehow the result of being out-negotiated are missing a point. This deal was made by a man with a gun to his head, probably by someone speaking Russian, who told him the alternative for his nation would be worse. Our government made a painful but necessary concession to preserve Armenia to fight again another day.
No amount of awareness raising, savvy diplomacy or miraculous intervention by a foreign player could have changed this situation, because, as you’re now coming to realize, the other truth we’ve learned from this is:
There is no justice, and that’s OK
For years, I, like you, campaigned for the powers that be in this world to recognize the Armenian Genocide in the hopes that doing so would bring justice to the suffering of my grandfather and prevent this from repeating itself. Still, the symbolic gestures of 32 countries remained just that: symbolic. Aside from words of pity, none made any tangible effort to stop this again. We know what will happen to the ancient monuments on the land lost because our grandparents have told us what happened to those in Western Armenia. They will be destroyed or their histories transformed to delete us from them by a bloodthirsty enemy. But no matter how priceless, those were just buildings and that was just land. Armenia lives with Armenians.
Ultimately, the only reason why there aren’t 150,000 extra dead Armenians scattered across Artsakh right now is the valiant 45-day long defense of the Armenian Army against extraordinarily insurmountable odds, and the bowing of our leadership to the new geopolitical reality encompassing our region. Because world opinion only cares about two things:
Power and Influence
Why does the Arab-Israeli conflict always make front page news, while the ethnic cleansing of Artsakh barely gets a mention on page six? Power and influence. Whether you agree with it or not, the state of Israel didn’t survive in a hostile neighborhood by leveraging its hope on the world’s commitment to historical justice. It did it by building a powerful modern army backed by one of the planet’s most technologically evolved and dynamic economies. They did it by investing in their own technological innovation whose output benefited the world. As a friend put it: “You want to wipe Israel off the map? Fine, but no lifesaving cancer research for you.”
See, the point is, in 1994, we made a collective decision not to compromise as victors. However, we then progressively ignored the real responsibilities that come with defending this homeland. We took comfort in the thought that military might, bravado and a hope that the international community was invested in historical justice would be enough to maintain the status quo.
But the truth is the world doesn’t care enough about Komitas’ brilliant compositions or the timeless beauty of our churches to lift a finger to protect this unique contribution to global culture. It cares about power and influence.
Now that we have come to terms with the reality that there is no justice, it’s time to take the steps to ensure our survival. Here’s how:
Forward: Repatriation and Democracy
How does Armenia foster power and influence? Powerful militaries only exist when they are backed by robust economies. Economic growth, as many political economists have routinely pointed out, is directly dependent on the establishment of stable democratic gains. The worst thing that we can do to ourselves now is to encourage more regime change, instability, confusion and infighting.
Despite lackluster development over the past 30 years, the pace of achievements in democratic and economic consolidation has quickened recently. This is what needs to be encouraged at all costs. While the world may not but be just and democratic, doesn’t mean Armenia should follow suit.
This is where you come in. If you care about the survival of the Armenian nation, it’s time to dedicate yourself to the development of Armenia. This means visiting, contributing your knowledge and expertise, investing here, moving here and being a part of this community. In the coming days, you will be needed in Armenia more than ever before. Wounded soldiers will need your care, and refugees will need your assistance. Armenia will need to rebuild investor confidence and who better to start with than its own Diaspora? That unprecedented level of unity that we’ve built over 45 days to win a war must now be maintained to win the peace.
If right now, you’re asking yourself what the sacrifice of all these young men was for, or what was the point of all your activism, donations, struggling and so on, remember this: since the beginning, we’ve framed this war as one for our existence. Despite the harsh terms, there is still an Artsakh, and there is still a Republic of Armenia in which Armenian people live safely, in which the Armenian culture continues to evolve and language continues to be spoken. This is now all that matters. Armenia was wounded, but not beaten. This is what those soldiers gave their lives to preserve—and at least in this way, this was a victory. We have outlived empires. We continue to exist. We continue to survive.
But the lasting victory is for Armenia to thrive.
Grieve now, but tomorrow, we get to work.