Once again we find ourselves at a fork in the road. This is where we either remain whole and move forward or we splinter into pieces sacrificing our future. When something as traumatic as the “peace” agreement (commonly referred to by many as the “surrender”) happens—before we can rationally analyze and take corrective action—we tend to look for someone or something to blame. Of course, we are appalled and shaken to the core at the barbaric actions of the Azerbaijani/Turkish alliance. The violations of international law are lengthy, and prospects of Turks on our land are nightmares revisited. Nothing can exonerate the criminal intent of those bent on the murder and expulsion of an indigenous people. All of this was ignored. We all worked diligently to advocate for justice within a democratic nation-building process and champion the cause for recognition. We expanded the border of the original Nagorno Karabakh oblast to recover more of lost Artsakh and create a necessary buffer zone. We believed that our cause was just and honorable. We heard the rhetoric of sympathy but were ignored.
Pashinyan came to power on a strong patriotic theme of “Artsakh is Armenia”—no compromise unless reciprocated by the Azeris. He promoted Western alliances by carefully challenging the traditional Russian relationship. We cheered him on with unwavering enthusiasm and reveled in our new self-confidence to defy traditional power arrangements. When Nikol Pashinyan came to power in 2018, we were thrilled because he gave the beleaguered Armenian people hope and spelled the end of the oligarch corruption era. What we loved in the street power of the movement also brought in the disadvantage of governing inexperience and a lack of diplomatic capital. The military capability did not match the hard line on diplomacy. Still a vast majority of us said we will figure this out together…at least it’s an honest government.
If we are going to be transparent in our post-November 10 dialogue, then we all need to take some responsibility for being complicit in our apparent naivety. I don’t recall any of us demanding that Pashinyan return any or all of the seven territories during the last 18 months, yet it has become painfully clear that the common denominator between the criminal Azeris/Turks, the OSCE co-chairs and even Iran, was for the Armenians to return various combinations of the liberated seven territories. Some advocated a few, others five and still others all seven, but everyone supported this provision of the dreaded Madrid Principles. Responsible self-criticism is necessary if we are to eliminate our mistakes.
We all marched to a dangerous position of isolation. Why then were we all shocked and dismayed by the loneliness we felt for those 44 days? Did the government mislead us on the status of the war and our fundamental capabilities? These are questions that will have answers as the days ahead unfold. Our problem was rooted in our belief that we be supported on moral grounds on the premise of good and justice. This simply does not exist in our world today. Perhaps we should have asked the people of Darfur, or the Kurds or the Palestinians. The world is composed more of hard core realists like the Israelis who are the benchmark of self-interest versus those promoting idealism as a justification.
At a time when the Turks are running rampant for issues far more visible than Artsakh (Aegean, NATO, Syria, Iraq, Cyprus and Libya), we chose to call their bluff of supporting Azerbaijan with their NATO-trained massive military might. With the “diplomatic” community firmly entrenched with the Madrid Principles, Azerbaijan attacked knowing that no one would intervene. Russia played a cruel game of punishment with its “ally” Armenia by tolerating the criminal destruction long enough for the loss of Shushi and a military fait accompli. With blood on their hands and under the guise of humanitarianism, they brokered a deal with Turkey and handed it unconditionally to Azerbaijan. There has been and will continue to be much to analyze about our military readiness, but the courage and valor of our young men and women must never be questioned. What should be questioned is why we sacrificed them in a war we could not win.
It is painful to witness the shocking diplomatic misalignment between the negotiation process (or lack thereof) and the increasing signs of open warfare. We certainly know that returning territories would not have prevented Azeri aggression, but it may have convinced some of the stakeholders to take a stronger position to throttle Turkey. Despite these diplomatic failures, the military confrontation with Azerbaijan would have been a “fair fight,” but with the direct participation of Turkey, it was a war of attrition. I believe Armenia knew that but was counting on third party intervention before the balance changed. The miscalculation was underestimating how committed they all were to seeing territories returned as a way to break the peace impasse. Sadly, they were all weary of the “frozen conflict.” Certainly, the war crimes of Azerbaijan and Turkey should be addressed, but given our lack of leverage, it will probably end with a patronizing reprimand.
The OSCE process is broken. The West is disengaged, and Turkey adds to the lists of dangerous incursions that have escaped the checks and balances of the world stage. These parties need to take responsibility for their failures, but Armenians must be careful not to convince ourselves that the problem is with someone else. Playing victim prevents much needed self-examination and relies too heavily on changes in the geopolitical environment. We would be wise to analyze and change what we can control, whether those are internal or external factors. One question that many have raised is why Armenia fought a purely defensive war. While I am not privy to the inner workings of the military strategy, the Azeri pipelines were untouched during this war, although the offensive capability seems to exist. One possibility is the fear of offensive action against the Metsamor Nuclear Plant. In other words, if Armenia struck strategic targets in Azerbaijan (the pipelines), then a desperate and criminal Azerbaijan may attempt to attack the nuclear facility. Strategically going forward, Armenia should work to eliminate this risk by engaging in a phased decommissioning of Medsamor and replacing it over time with continued hydropower investment and renewable energy sources. A long-range plan outlining the reduced dependency should be developed.
So how do we re-energize the diaspora out of depression and paralysis? The nine-point peace plan has several “undefined” areas such as the dangerous transit route through southern Armenia, the resettlement plans, restoration and the final status of Artsakh (omitted from the nine-point plan). There is an abundance of uncertainty, but Armenia will not be in a position to have any impact with an unstable government. Emotionally many Armenians want Pashinyan and his government gone. There is an abundance of suitors of power in the seventeen parties calling for his resignation. Can Armenia afford the instability from the “revenge reaction?” The Pashinyan government is wounded and suffering forced attrition in an attempt to stabilize. Will or should it survive? We don’t have the time for a six-month period of upheaval with a new government emerging eventually. This is not 2018. There are enemies at the gates waiting to take advantage of a further weakened Armenia. That risk may not take the form of invasion, but certainly continued diplomatic losses are probable. This is no time for reactionary squabbling. The expression of will must reflect the democratic institutions that the citizens of Armenia have fought for. So what is the answer? A stable functioning government is a must. The options should be examined with that as an absolute. The state of emergency should be lifted to encourage responsible behavior and to prevent the perception of authoritarian actions. Pashinyan must seriously consider whether he can still be effective. The critical short-term needs are at stake. One option is to consider a caretaker unity government, perhaps led by President Armen Sarkissian to stabilize the government and proceed with the critical humanitarian and diplomatic activity until elections can be held.
The diaspora must not fall back into mistrust with the homeland. There are still massive humanitarian needs, and there is still a rebuilding process that awaits us. Those are in the short term. A new relationship between Armenia and the diaspora has to be designed. We are still tragically underutilizing the skills of the diaspora. Factories need to be built; businessmen in the Diaspora can do that. Barriers to investment must be removed. Armenia must develop its own military technology so we are no longer dependent on Russian drone technology. Think about the lives saved had a drone defense system been deployed. This is as much a mindset change as it is a physical and financial challenge. Armenia needs new partners. This is difficult for American Armenians to admit, but those partners are not in the West. The self-interests of the West are insufficient for Armenia to further risk the ire of Russia. Ukraine tried and lost the Crimea with no real response from the West. Georgia stood up and lost South Ossetia despite US assurances. If Armenia is to look for new economic partners, they must be players that do not threaten the geopolitical position of Russia. This is not an ideological position. It is a simple political reality. Perhaps ”unaligned” India, who has displayed a concern for Islamic expansionism is an opportunity, since relations have matured a bit. The answers lie in establishing a strategic direction that prevents the diplomatic isolation of our current reality yet utilizes the incredible power of the diaspora for self-reliance.
This war has taught all of us that Armenia is not a vacationland. It is the “Hairenik,” and it requires our innovative commitment to survive. It’s true. We are angry. We are frustrated, and we have lost trust. But those are primarily in officials and some institutions. People come and go. The constant is the land we call Armenia. The mission is experiencing our culture through nationhood and developing a mindset that we will do whatever it takes to protect it. We cannot abandon the people of Armenia and Artsakh with reluctance or anger. We have just learned a difficult and horrible lesson. It is time to pick ourselves up, dust off the pain and address the challenges before us. That’s how our history will continue to be written.