Our future requires significant change

The last few weeks have consumed every emotion in our human portfolio. In a tragic sense, we are feeling a new bond with our ancestors who experienced the horrors of atrocities, dispossession and the frustration of defeat. Yet if we follow their path, we must also try to emulate their courageous efforts to recover. The Armenian nation lives the reality of a majority diaspora and a minority homeland population as a result of several historical catastrophes. While this reality is both unique and challenging, it also represents a great opportunity. The same core instincts of entrepreneurialism and work ethnic that guided Armenians in the Highlands for centuries remain an integral part of the incredible success of Armenians in the general diaspora.

Since 1991, progress has been made in connecting the homeland and diaspora into a “nation.” We use this term frequently to describe our imagined unity, but the reality is that it has taken years for the corruption and trust factors to improve enough to build this oneness. Certainly great strides have been made with civil society, NGOs, education and economics, but our measure of success must be guided by what is required and not simply in terms of progress. In order for the dream of an integrated global Armenian nation centered around the homeland with the unwavering support of the diaspora to be realized, we must change our thinking— and perhaps our vision. Armenia must become a place where all Armenians are welcome, regardless of their citizenship status or place of origin. This means that the diaspora must not view Armenia as a heritage vacationland but as a place whose future we are vested in building. We have literally tens of thousands of successful Armenian businesspeople in all regions of the world. Why don’t we have hundreds of factories, startups and diverse means of employment in Armenia? What are the barriers to bringing that success to Armenia? We can all point to the progress that has been made, yet that is the wrong barometer.

National security requires that we develop critical technologies in Armenia that will safeguard the country and employ the population. This development cannot be limited to IT just because we have the required skills. We need to invest in additional skills necessary for success. If Armenia currently can only afford second rate military technology, then it needs to embark on a parallel path of development and procurement. We need to be honest and ask ourselves: with a pro-Western push by Pashinyan that carried no security guarantees from the west, why would Russia give us any more than enough to survive? Why would they not take advantage of Armenians to bring them back “in line”? There is a significant difference between bringing western values of economics, education and social affairs into Armenia (an important improvement) and moving the geopolitical alignment to the west while the west does not provide  Armenia with any real security. This is one of the challenges facing the diaspora. It is natural for us to advocate for the political alignment between Armenia and our host countries, but it may be not in Armenia’s interest if the support is limited. It is difficult to accept, but we may have become another in the examples of Georgia and the Ukraine that lost territory because of attempted geopolitical realignment.

There is nothing more painful than losing territory. We have experienced this but apparently did not politically internalize it. Artsakh was the first territorial liberation after losing it earlier along with Nakhichevan, Ardahan, Kars, Javakhli and the western highlands. We must work within our geographic neighborhood and view our self-interests in that context. All wars with Russia are proxy in nature. Their interests drive their actions. We thought we were fighting for Artsakh, while Turkey and Russia were playing regional geopolitics with Armenians. For us, the war was fought to defend our homes. For them, it was an opportunity to connect the dots of Artsakh with northeastern Syria. Russia was willing to sacrifice us to teach Armenia a lesson not to stray far from the nest and to secure its position in Syria with Turkish tradeoffs. Nothing is local in this world when regional forces are in play. We must never be mistaken on this matter again.

Our political thinking must be measured relative to geopolitical considerations both in the west as well as in Turkey, Iran and Russia. We should continue to encourage western influence when it is in Armenia’s interest without repeating the same mistakes. These dynamics require careful monitoring since they change. For example, a softening of the US/Iran relationship under a Biden administration could open windows currently not available. Patriotic rhetoric is admirable to motivate and inspire but can be dangerously naïve if it drives policy. Perhaps the most important aspect of the nine-point agreement concerns the transportation corridor through southern Armenia. This point has dangerous implications if it becomes imposed and one-sided. However, if the construction of the corridor is carried out in the context of respecting Armenia’s sovereignty and international law, it may have economic advantages. Effective negotiations are critical to secure Armenian interests. A wholesale rejection of the accord will probably not be tolerated by Russia and would eliminate the selective leverage we may still have. We need to pick our battles and push for change where we have the ability to impact and an opportunity to improve our position.

Armenia, as result of the material and psychological aspects of our defeat, is undergoing the stress of a political crisis. Many are asking whether Pashinyan will politically survive. I believe the more important question is whether our system of governance will survive. It is vitally important that the progress made in free market economics, anti-corruption, rule of law and other democratic institutions be maintained and strengthened. Armenia has a constitution and a commitment to rule of law. Even the Velvet Revolution operated with the Constitution as events were triggered by popular legal and peaceful protests followed by the resignation of Serzh Sargsyan. We must not forget the arduous but stable process that led to Pashinyan legally taking office with new parliamentary elections. If Armenia is to recover and thrive, then PM Pashinyan must search his soul as to whether his continued governance is in Armenia’s best interest.

There are few constitutional options: a vote of no confidence (unlikely unless the My Step parliamentary alliance collapses) or resignation. President Sarkissian has suggested a type of interim unity coalition until new elections can be held. It may be viewed as self-serving but still would constitutionally require the majority party to act or motivate a resignation. The call to resign from opponents must be constitutional and legal. Street riots and illegal tampering will wound the democratic institutions. We cannot return to the past. Instability increases that possibility.

The next month will be a critical test for Armenia. Pashinyan has announced that he intends to replace most of his ministers. If the directive from the top is the same, it will change nothing. Armenia needs dramatic change in its diplomatic strategies, international economic investments, relations with its diaspora, in addition to the immediate ability to manage the humanitarian and resettlement crisis with our brethren in Artsakh. If he is unwilling or unable to lead this type of change, then he should call upon his patriotic foundation and enable a change in leadership. This decision must be completed in the short term. Criticizing protesters and rationalizing defeat will not open the next chapter. Everyone must respect our democratic institutions. Otherwise what is the point of nation building?

This trauma should remind us in the diaspora that our psyche and material commitments to Armenia are not risk free. We should never immerse in the homeland seeking a guarantee. It is appropriate to do your homework but seeking a guarantee only leads to trust issues. Currently many of us are experiencing trust issues because of the failure of the outcome. It isn’t clear to me that a structure of a High Commissioner office communicating with a culturally and geographically diverse diaspora is anywhere near optimizing the potential of the relationship. It still feels like an organizational free for all. A loosely confederated umbrella structure will increase efficiency, improve decision-making and direct resources where they are most needed. We must “invest” in Armenia like a marriage…for better or worse. Who are we to back away…even if ever so slightly…because we are upset with Pashinyan, etc. We cannot abandon the people of Artsakh and Armenia. This is how democracy works. There should be protests but within the rule of law. We should not back away if the outcome is disappointing. With a love for Armenia, it should increase our resolve. The government and the diaspora need to expand the vision of “oneness” with a direct vested interest in the prosperity of Armenia without the fear from Armenia that the diaspora will have too much remote influence. The door should be wide open in a new model of the global Armenia nation.

In the interim, we have noticed how the All Haiastan/Armenia Fund has slowed in its receipts. This must change, and we will have a very visible opportunity during the Thanksgiving telethon this week. Other organizations such as the AGBU and the Armenian Relief Society (ARS) are moving quickly on refugee resettlement sponsorships, while the Armenian government announced a cash payment to all refugees of 300,000 AMD (over $600 US) from the All Haiastan Fund. It is important to mourn and reflect. Part of the healing process is to participate. There are endless short term, intermediate and long term options. Our resiliency as a nation is historic, but we must display the ability to learn from our mistakes. By driving necessary change, we are focusing on what we can control. Rationalizing our current situation as victims will only limit the strategic opportunities we must embrace to build a better future.

(Photo: Diaspora High Commissioner’s Office, October 9, 2020)
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.


  1. Allow me to start by declaring that I’m a Turk living in US, so my opinion may immediately be dismissed as worthless, but I am also a historian and follow the news quite frequently, so I’d like to think I’m a little more objective when it comes to assessing the situation in the Caucasus.

    First of all, we must begin by acknowledging the the greater political environment of the region. This war wasn’t a direct consequence of Pashinyan or Armenia’s shortcomings, emphasis on the word direct. Yes, there are great many things that Pashinyan’s government failed to do during the war and the ceasefire that was signed was practically a death sentence for Armenia. But let’s put that aside for now. This particular war was a premeditated attack by Aliyev and Erdogan. The latter is engaged in a great struggle to revive the Ottoman Empire, or a new form of Turkish Empire, by following a Neo-Ottoman foreign policy, proposed by ex-Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. The idea is to nurture good relations with former territories of the Ottoman Empire and reestablish Turkey as a broker, a kingmaker, a protector. Unfortunately, Armenia was just a pawn to be sacrificed in the namesake of this ideology. Russia sees and understands this better than anyone and that’s why both countries are engaged in proxy conflicts in Caucasus, Libya, Syria, and the Aegean Sea. Armenia could have followed a pro-Turkey and Azerbaijan policy for a century and it wouldn’t have made a difference. Turkey is bent on reasserting itself as an Empire. So no, I don’t find any Turk or Azeri credible when they declare that Armenia was a hostile country towards them. It would have made no difference.

    Secondly, as an outsider, I believe Pashinyan’s pro-Western policy was a right choice, though it should have been done much more incrementally and quietly. Russia is a waning power globally and the moves it made in Crimea and Georgia and the subsequent economic sanctions it endured greatly reduced the country’s hold in its periphery. Russia is still playing the game as though the Cold War is ongoing, when the world long moved on. The country took a beating with the sanctions and the sharp decline in oil demand further depleted its foreign reserves. Add an aging and declining population to the mix and we know have a country that’s playing with weapons from a bygone era and suffering from illusions of grandeur. Oh don’t get me wrong, Turkey is in the same boat too, but for different reasons. But that’s a topic for another day. Let’s assess Armenia’s current situation now.

    Armenia is a landlocked country, surrounded by hostile and opportunistic neighbors. We already discussed Turkey and Azerbaijan. No matter how nice Armenia plays with these two countries, they’ll still get treated like dirt because they don’t want peace. It’s as simple as that. Even if Armenia dropped its demands of apology from Turkey for the 1915 Genocide, Turkey will treat Armenia as just another colony. Same goes for Azerbaijan. So I see any efforts to mend relationships with these countries as a waste of time. Until both are ready to treat Armenia as an equal trading partner and a sovereign nation, there is just no point in engaging them. Georgia has their own Russian separatists to deal with so they naturally see Azerbaijan and Turkey as counterweights to encroaching Russia. It makes sense for them to be pro-Turkey and Azerbaijan. Besides, TANAP, the oil pipeline that runs from Azerbaijan to Turkey, via Georgia, gives them economic reasons to stay in Turkey’s camp. Well, whatever, I can’t fault them for doing whatever they can do survive. Iran, on the other hand, was a major loser in this agreement. It played no part in the conflict at all and through the last point of the ceasefire agreement, lost an uninterrupted access to Armenia. That was a big blow, since Armenia was the only country (if I’m not mistaken) in the region who continued to trade with Iran during US sanctions. The fact that Iran couldn’t or wouldn’t play a broker role in this conflict says probably more about Iran than Armenia, but either way, this valuable trade partnership is now in jeopardy.

    As far as Armenia’s internal ailments are concerned, I have several things I’d like to say. First of all, upholding the rule of law, eradicating corruption, establishing transparency and accountability in government are all good reforms to implement, no matter where you’re located or who your neighbors are. Pashinyan tried to do these things, to various success. Now, did it make sense politically to tie these reforms as some sort of vindication against pro-Russian elements within Armenia’s previous ruling class? Probably not. These efforts could have been done incrementally, without rocking the boat, and most importantly, quietly, to prevent a hostile reaction from Russia. The fact that some Armenians to this day still view Russia as a savior, especially after how this conflict panned out, is mind-boggling to me. Russia, like Turkey, has always been an opportunistic and imperialistic society. They’ll throw friend and foe alike under the bus if it benefits them. That’s a fair warning to my Armenian friends.

    Now, what can Armenia do to alleviate its current predicament and build a prosperous Armenia? I’ll save that assessment for my next post.

    • Very good analysis. I’m curious though… given that you are a Turk what is your motivation for such analysis? Do you see this as a benefit to Turkey? Please do continue your analysis in your next post.

    • Excellent comment, Mr. Saltik. It’s heart-warming to see Turkish intellectuals who have an objective position toward their country and its neighbors. Be well.

    • @Robert Deranian @Armen K.

      Thank you for the encouraging responses! I felt compelled to make an analysis of the situation mainly because I’m a humanitarian and do not want to see any conflict, let alone one in my backyard. Turks, Azeris, and Armenians are neighbors, no matter how much they may wish otherwise! We will either all prosper together or die together.

      We must stay objective so that we’re not swayed by sentimental notions like nationalism. We should always question the motives and actions of our governments, no matter how unpleasant they may be. Most of us are instinctively tribalistic and we can’t build a better world if we can’t engage in self-reflection and criticism. So yes, I will criticize Turkey any day of the week, especially if they keep this ridiculous notions about bringing back the Empire. It’d be hilarious if it wasn’t so dangerous.

      Now let me expand on what I was saying earlier regarding Armenia’s current predicament and the steps to move forward. As you all know, Armenia is a landlocked country with hostile neighbors and with the geopolitical environment of the region, it can’t establish itself as a transit hub like UAE. The country is also low on natural resources and raw materials, so that’s out the window too. So what CAN Armenia do to build a prosperous country? Well, first of all, it can start by implementing education reforms and raising its literacy rate. By this, I don’t mean basic literacy. I’m saying the country should focus heavily on accessibility to higher and quality education for its citizens. Educated minds make educated decisions, or in theory at least. These literate minds will inevitably want more out of life. They’ll want better lives for themselves and if they can’t find it in Armenia, they’ll go abroad, leading to brain drainage. So the second step would be to create an environment, politically, economically, socially, in which they feel satisfied and fulfilled. Nepotism, corruption, bribery, etc. all has to go. People want to see the fruits of their labor. If they see that so-on-so’s son lands a cushiony job because their father is so-and-so, then they’ll rightfully feel cheated and go elsewhere. The government must invest heavily in R&D, grant research opportunities to curious minds, extend loans to those who wish to start small businesses, and dial down the societal pressures. If a citizen feels like they’re in full control of their own destiny, that they have an internal locus of control, then they’ll be productive members of society. That atmosphere of freedom will lead your citizens to be creative, active, and productive. These may seem like hot air, but from the general impression I have of Armenian people at the moment, they are desperately lacking in these departments.

      There are so many things Armenia could do to be a prosperous country. It can establish itself as a major high-tech hub like Israel, a touristic spot like Croatia, or a tax-friendly nation like Ireland. They all have their pros and cons, but hey, you gotta start somewhere! Some concrete and immediate steps could be to invest heavily in the country’s infrastructure by building highways, roads, bridges, etc., modernize its bureaucracy by making government agencies lean, and reduce red tape for an ease of business.

    • Good analysis and highly appreciated . Pashinyan’s days as PM are numbered. What Armenia needs is more direct external support from the 10 million strong diaspora. 3 Million in Armenia proper vs 90 million Turks and 10 million Azeri’s is no match. Lets be clear; if it wasn’t for Turkey’s direct military involvement, Armenia would have beaten Azerbaijan. The Azeri militarily, though more invested, has poor moral and no one likes the Aliyev regime. Also the Aliyev regime is more worried about maintaining control then stealing back Karabakh. So Armenia was basically fighting Turkey alone, who as you stated is in an Ottoman expansionist mode, with paid expendable mercenaries, and a proxy war via Israel, all doomed the Armenian historic lands to be stolen yet once again.. Russia is Armenia screw light. It is no friend to any Armenian. It is the very reason that historic Armenian lands were given to a made up gas station nation of Azerbaijan in the first place. It contributed nothing to it’s supposed ally in this war and will use all opportunity for its own gain. It doesn’t want to lose Armenia for the sole reason that it doesn’t want its under belly to be entirely surrounded by Turks. And that’s about all. I hope one day the Armenians regroup correctly, build a more potent military and start another war to justly liberate its historic lands including the 7 eastern districts that are under Turkish control all stolen via the genocide… Nothing less.

    • @Joe

      I agree with your assessment and sadly, Turkey will not abandon its Neo-Ottoman policy anytime soon. Turkey has countless bases in Northern Iraq, has de facto control of various lands in Northern Syria, and is funding terrorist organizations like Al Nusra and even ISIS in the Middle East. I’m anticipating a major conflict with Greece soon too. Ultra-nationalist MHP Party leader Devlet Bahceli has been making public statements about how the Greek islands must be invaded.

      Unfortunately, Armenia is a small nation with little to no natural resources. The country is already poor, compared to Turkey and Azerbaijan, and vastly outnumbered. I’m not quite sure if there is a magical formula here. The only move I see would be for Armenia to tie itself to Russia but the cost of that policy may be far greater than its benefits. Russia seems willing to sacrifice even its allies to maintain a status quo with Turkey, no doubt due to the economic ties the two countries have. Turkey is the closest NATO nation to Russia, both geographically and in policy, so Russia will probably continue to turn a blind eye to Turkey’s adventures abroad so long as it doesn’t threaten them directly.

      See, Turkey and Russia, both countries with large lands and populations, simply can’t understand Armenians. They’ve never faced an existential threat. They don’t know what it feels like to feel cornered, to have nowhere else to go. They can always tap into their vast resources and populations, so they can’t understand Armenians who want to hold on to a sheer piece of land that they’ve lived in for centuries. I have many Armenian friends who are so hopeless about the whole situation that they tell me how they feel as though Armenia will cease to exist in the next decade or two. What a terrible feeling that must be! We Turks can’t even come close to understanding that desperation and hopelessness. It’s truly tragic!

      I pray that Turkey abandons this toxic policy and seeks a friendly relationship with Armenia moving forward, but I’m afraid that’s asking too much out of a warlike population. Those who live by the sword die by the sword. Perhaps they’ll finally understand once they’re devastated in a major war themselves. I don’t know what else to say.

  2. Thanks for this great article. I have not heard anyone else tackle the trust and corruption angle, other than maybe once. I hate to see these Armenian children growing up learning not to trust adults. Russia promises to rebuild Gyumri in 2 years, then the Mayor of Gyumri promises the same. We are in the same housing turmoil, and these excellent people are suffering for the shortness of people that keep the resources for themselves. I will be praying for a bright future for Armenia old and young, with nothing but good to look forward to. God bless you for caring about them!

  3. The sad truth is that Armenia needs to invest heavily in Nuclear warfare capability, specifically the ability to hit Istanbul, Ankara, and Baku. Without this deterrent the homeland will eventually be overwhelmed.

    • You expect a poor country like Armenia to invest in Nuclear technology? When we couldn’t even invest in drones!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.