War adversely affects combatants and non-combatants alike, both physically and psychologically. Death, disability, illness and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) are common consequences of wars, the horrors of which disrupt not just the life of the people but also the economy and state institutions. Often, the defeated side develops a sense of victimhood, and it takes more time to overcome the catastrophic situation. History tells us that sometimes, some nations coped and overcame destruction and crises, while others sank deep and even lost their nationhood and state.
This article highlights the positive side of history with an analysis based on Jared Diamond’s book, “Upheaval: How Nations Cope with Crisis and Change,” which came to mind as Armenians are experiencing national trauma and crisis. Armenians have passed through various traumas, from the loss of statehood to Genocide and occupation. Given the existence of our historical trauma, it sometimes helps to learn how other nations overcame their crises and traumas. Diamond reveals how successful nations recover from crises while adopting selective changes — a coping mechanism more commonly associated with individuals recovering from personal crises. The author compares how six countries have survived upheavals — ranging from the forced opening of Japan by US Commodore Perry’s fleet and the Soviet Union’s attack on Finland to a murderous coup or counter coup in Chile and Indonesia and the transformations of Germany and Austria after World War II.
According to Diamond, these nations coped, to varying degrees, through mechanisms such as acknowledgment of responsibility, painfully honest self-appraisal and learning from the models of other nations. Looking to the future, what can Armenians learn from the lessons of the past, both from our defeats and successes? Adding a psychological dimension to in-depth history, geography, military and anthropology, Diamond highlights twelve factors related to the outcome of national crises. But most interestingly, these nations were led by a transitional national unity government that had a coherent vision for the future and regained public trust. I will summarize Diamond’s points into three major factors, relate them to the current Armenian crisis and raise questions for which we as a nation must address and find solutions.
The consensus of crisis and accepting the responsibility to act: As Armenians do we acknowledge the fact that our nation is facing an existential crisis? Is there a national consensus on that? Is there any vision or path that shows us how to overcome this crisis and restore our national dignity and sovereignty? Whose responsibility is the crisis? PM Nikol Pashinyan’s government which failed to manage a war? The “old regime” who failed to provide our army with modern weaponry? Or the army leadership that fed us with fake news? Well, let us assume all. We all lived in fairy tales that the status quo would not change. We underestimated the enemy and believed that with poor equipment our army was invincible. Irrespective of who is to be held responsible, a crucial question emerges: are we planning to do something? As a nation, we must accept our responsibility in this defeat and not blame others, practice self-pity and assume the role of victim. We must act now and implement a vision for a developed and militarily resilient Armenia. A new war is on our doorsteps for which we must be ready.
National identity, national values and national flexibility: What are the factors that construct our national identity? Religion? Language? Traditions? The memory of the Genocide? Or the Armenian cause? What values are we fighting for? Is there a consensus on our core national values? Is the self-determination of Artsakh part of these values? Then why hasn’t Armenia recognized it so far? Dealing with national failure is not an easy task. As Armenians we are cycling in a continuous trauma. We had become a traumatized nation, where the moment we saw a light in the cave we would get lost and make irrational emotion-based decisions. This was what happened to us in 2018 with the “Velvet Revolution.” We thought everything would be okay. We thought that the “Civilized and Liberal/Peace-teaching West” would help us withstand any Azerbaijani aggression. We were naïve and felt “betrayed.” But why have we felt “betrayed” if no one had promised us salvation? We were betrayed simply because we prioritized global values over our national values. For this, we have to develop a “national flexibility”—a balance between national and global values. We must build a state-centric nationalist ideology with a modernized industry and army.
By nationalism, I don’t mean the “Western” narrative of nationalism where Western scholars accuse us of “fascism” and try to implement their theories on us. The Armenian nationalism is inclusive and protective and not expansionist or aggressive. It is our right to preserve ourselves, as a small nation, from regional threats and set up foreign policy priorities. For this, we need a coherent state ideology that identifies our vision (unity, a strong economy, security…) and threats (Pan-Turkism). Policies of national security and interest must be the outcome of this state ideology, and to have a state ideology we must define/redefine our national identity and values. National flexibility plays an important role in balancing between idealism and realism. Thus, taking into consideration our current military, economic, demographic and institutional limitations we must come up with realistic policies under a strong leadership that can guide us to overcome our selfishness and blindness.
Looking forward and being innovative, what can we learn from different experiences?: Germans use the term “Vergangenheitsbewältigung,” that is “struggle to overcome the (negatives of the) past.” Although this term was related to denazification, it can also be related to a transition from catastrophe to reconstruction and renovation. For Germany, the road to prosperity began with trust. To come out from destruction and partition, German society had to face and recognize what had just happened. According to Hanns Maull, one of Germany’s leading academic foreign policy analysts and an adjunct professor of strategic studies at SAIS Europe, what people see today as Germany’s success in coping with its past was the result of the public transformation that occurred during the 1950s and 1960s. It was thanks to these transformations and reforms (mainly economic and political) that Germany became today one of the leading industrial hubs not just in Europe but the whole world.
The Japanese also took a similar path. After WWII, Japan invested in its industry and experienced a record period of economic growth. The devastated Japanese economy rose quickly from the ashes of World War II. By 1956, real per capita GDP had overtaken the pre-war 1940 level. During this boom, one of the chief factors was the acceleration in the reallocation of resources, especially labor, from the relatively low-productivity agricultural sector to the non-agricultural sector. Interestingly, after the war, the Japanese did not stop modernizing their army and political system.These two countries looked forward through innovative means. Well, Armenia has limited resources, but it has a Diaspora with vast networks and capital that can invest in Armenia’s health, science, military, IT, agriculture and light or even heavy industry. For this, Armenia must include the Diaspora in decision making both in the legislative and executive branches. We should open employment doors for Diasporan experts in the foreign, defense and economic ministries. On its behalf, the Diaspora must reform and build new institutions such as pan-Armenian business, economic or scientific councils, and research centers that can direct their investments toward Armenia and Artsakh. Such an initiative can be coordinated by the Ministry of Diaspora which was dissolved during PM Nikol Pashinyan’s era.
The future is innovation and the recent war in Artsakh has shown that traditional warfare cannot match modern warfare designed by drones and robotics. But to be prepared for future scenarios, Armenia must get out from the dungeon that it fell into after the war. To do so we must assess our work and accomplishments for the past 30 years. The war showed that what we had done was negligible compared to what Azerbaijan had achieved during the same period. It’s time to prioritize our policies and adopt state-centric national and tech-oriented agendas for both our domestic and foreign policies. In the coming war, Armenia should not be ready for drones but robots. It’s time to think a step ahead.