Armenia: What’s Next, Not Who

This is an attempt to analyze what happened over the last two years which led to our loss in the recent Artsakh War. If your first thought is “well, we actually lost it over the last 25 years,” then you’re exactly the audience I’d like to reach.

Please note that I do not support the previous administrations, nor do I support the current one or the current opposition. My argument is based on the assumption that Nikol Pashinyan inherited a crippled military and only had two years to make changes, but even so he and his administration made numerous mistakes which cost the lives of thousands of Armenians and most of Artsakh.

This is not to create an argument or to get mired in trivialities. It is an attempt to unify, by showing that Pashinyan is unfit to be Prime Minister, that likely Vazgen Manukyan is also unfit to be an interim leader, and that instead of continuing this pro-Nikol, anti-Nikol banter which is getting us nowhere, we need to actually unify and find an acceptable, government-wide solution. Without a solution, efforts to defend Armenia and revitalize it will be for nothing.

Please also note this was written before the trilateral meeting held on January 11th in Moscow.

Mistakes of the Pashinyan administration (from the standpoint of an external observer):

Among numerous miscalculations and/or plain administrative, political and diplomatic mistakes, I would like to point out the following:

Pre-War Diplomacy (Russia)

I’ll tackle the biggest issue first, Russia. There was an expectation that Putin would have done more to support Armenia, so we can examine why (it seems) he didn’t. While Pashinyan’s outward message was that he would maintain strong ties with Russia and Iran, his actions tell a different story:

First, the elephant in the room: George Soros and the Open Society Foundation (OSF). No, I’m not an alt-right conservative making a boogey-man out of Soros or claiming he’s the mastermind behind all of the world’s issues. I’m mentioning him because the OSF has been banned in Russia as it has been deemed a ‘state security threat’ and because OSF Yerevan is very actively anti-Putin and pro-Soros. Therefore, appointing OSF affiliates/organizers to your administration is an objective affront to Putin and his perceived hold over the region.

Meanwhile, in Azerbaijan, Aliyev froze OSF’s local bank account, seized its computers and jailed several of its members.

Whether or not you subscribe to the Soros conspiracy is irrelevant; you just have to look at the incentives of the primary actors in the region. Prior to Pashinyan, Putin exercised a large degree of control in the region, particularly relative to Turkey. As painful as the arms sales to Azerbaijan were for Armenia, they were a way to keep Erdogan out of Azerbaijan and likely part of Putin’s plan to coax Azerbaijan back into the post-Soviet fold and into the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). It was working, and in 2016 Azerbaijan, lacking Turkish support, was unable to accomplish anything significant in Artsakh.

When Pashinyan came to power, this represented a threat to Putin’s hold as it was a parallel to Putin’s loss of power in Georgia due to the Soros-funded Rose Revolution (again, I am not passing judgement, but rather assessing what I believe to be Putin’s reaction). As far as incentives go, it should be evident that Putin would have preferred to settle the regional issue in favor of Azerbaijan, with the hope that Azerbaijan would continue to gravitate towards Russia rather than Turkey, and that following a loss in a war Pashinyan’s OSF-influenced government would be replaced.

To be clear, I am not sharing an opinion about whether Putin is good or bad. I’m just suggesting a possible explanation as to why Armenia didn’t receive the help it would have expected to receive from Russia during the war. I’m also not saying that as individuals we should support Russia arming Azerbaijan, but Armenia’s government should not be composed of individuals who have been particularly vocal in their anti-Russian sentiment and their OSF affiliations, as that incentivizes Putin to not support us in war.

“But Putin said he supports Pashinyan!” Of course he did. He’s not going to suggest the coup d’etat of another country’s leader, especially when it has become clear that Azerbaijan has no intention of gravitating towards Russia (and is purportedly in the process of installing three Turkish bases).

So what did Pashinyan do? He:

  • Instated Babken Ter-Grigoryan as Deputy Minister of the Diaspora. Ter-Grigoryan participated in anti-Russia protests in Yerevan. He was the coordinator of Soros’ Open Society Foundation in Yerevan from 2012 to 2014 and a consultant for Transparency International (which received a $57,000 grant from the OSF to discuss the “under-discussed negative implications of the EEU on Armenia’s democratic development and geopolitical security.”) 
  • Assigned Armen Grigoryan as Head of the National Security Council. Grigoryan was the Election Program Coordinator of Transparency International.
  • Appointed David Sanasaryan as Head of the State Audit Service. In 2016, Sanasaryan threw eggs at the Russian Embassy and demanded the withdrawal of the Russian military base from Armenia. This incident stands out as an example of complete cognitive dissonance. Demanding that Russia withdraw its base from Armenia would have meant he was confident that Armenia’s armed forces were strong enough to defend against Turkey and Azerbaijan, and yet simultaneously Armenia’s army was supposedly crippled and weakened because of the corruption of the prior years.
  • Appointed Mane Tandilyan as Minister of Labor and Social Affairs. She wanted Armenia to leave the EAEU, and while I’m not judging whether or not Armenia should be part of it, I’m mentioning this because leaving or threatening to leave that union is an affront to Putin.
  • Assigned Daniel Ioanissyan to work on the Election Code of Armenia. Ionaissyan is coordinator for the Union of Informed Citizens NGO, which is funded by the OSF.
  • Instated Arayik Harutyunyan as the Minister of ESCS, who has been very openly anti-Russia.

These are just a few key examples. Again, I’m not scapegoating OSF/Soros. I’m pointing out that it’s a major issue for Putin, whether or not you believe it should be or if you subscribe to the Soros theories. If there were just one or two people who were loosely related to OSF, it would be discounted as random, but it can’t be a coincidence that so many OSF affiliates, especially ones with organizational responsibilities, were a part of Pashinyan’s administration.

Furthermore, I recognize that the motive for some of these protests was Russia’s sale of arms to Azerbaijan, arms that were used to kill Armenians, but in a geopolitical theater it is extremely important who a Prime Minister chooses to add to their administration, and in Pashinyan’s case his selections served to alienate Putin. 

Additionally:

  • Pashinyan opened an embassy in a country that has extremely unfavorable relations with Iran and complicated ones with Russia.
  • He recalled and prosecuted Yuri Khatchaturov, the Armenian CSTO Secretary-General and former Chief of the General Staff of the Armenian Armed Forces. Nothing came of this arrest so far, suggesting the charges were bogus and there were ulterior motives.

Pre-War Diplomacy (General)

  • Pashinyan made bold claims such as “Artsakh is Armenia” all the while being the person with the most intimate knowledge of the condition of his military’s disadvantage. And no, this isn’t about the feelings of Aliyev or Erdogan being hurt; it’s about taking the Artsakh issue out of the self-determination framework and converting it into a territorial issue, giving an excuse to Aliyev and Erdogan to start aggression under the pretense of protecting “territorial integrity” and a tool to appease their populations.
  • In May of 2018, he outlined his views on the Karabakh conflict in a tactful way and said all the right things (please read it), but then in August of 2019 at the opening of the Pan-Armenian Summer Games in Stepanakert, he said “I wish to recall the slogan that used to be voiced in this square in 1988: ‘Reunification!’” and “…you may wonder that I said nothing about Artsakh. The answer is very simple: Artsakh is Armenia.”
  • Simultaneously, he was making kind remarks about Aliyev, while Anna Hakobyan was inviting his wife for tea and mugham. Peace and peace-building are important, but only when you’re on equal footing with your adversary and can negotiate that peace.
  • He made statements that any resolution to the Artsakh War must be agreeable for the people of Armenia, Artsakh and Azerbaijan. This may be good for the negotiating table, but Aliyev would never make such concessions or conciliatory statements. Your country’s prime minister shouldn’t be advocating for the country that intends to wipe you off the map. 

Pre-War Internal

  • Pashinyan removed the Ministry of the Diaspora instead of expanding it and working with diasporan organizations more closely (who would do immense amounts of volunteer work). Replacing a ministry, especially one that oversees one of Armenia’s largest resources, with a High Commissioner’s Office (headed by an individual of questionable qualification), is not an appropriate substitute.
  • He converged four ministries into one (Education, Science, Sport, Culture) in the interest of streamlining. Streamlining is good, but this is an absurdly mismatched group of ministries to coalesce given how important each is on its own. Arayik Harutyunyan, who has almost no educational, science, culture, or sport administrative experience, was assigned as the minister of the ESCS ministry.
  • He closed a number of birthing hospitals for villages with the expectation that people would come to a larger town with better-funded facilities. Pashinyan said, “We have to approach this strategically — it is no different to drive from a village to Maralik than to Artik, which is better equipped. We should improve emergency services so people can be delivered safely to the hospital.” This is incredibly ignorant. What are pregnant women supposed to do while emergency services are being improved? You’re supposed to improve the emergency services and then close down the hospitals, not the other way around. 
  • He secretly increased salaries for parliament members and provided additional bonuses for them. This money could have been used to improve the rural maternity hospitals and/or improve the emergency services.
  • He had two years to arrest his purported oligarchs and return the “stolen” money (which was one of his primary populisic promises) but he made no significant progress in doing so. This suggests that those promises were purely populist rhetoric. People say that all the courts were stacked against him — yet if he really has the backing of the will of the people and is so incredibly popular, then it shouldn’t have been possible for every court to reject him.

Pre-War Preparation

  • Under Pashinyan’s administration, there was a complete intel failure in assessing Turkey’s involvement with Azerbaijan.
  • Four different NSS directors were appointed in two years, which is a massive liability for our internal security: Major General Arthur Vanetsyan (2018–2019), Colonel Eduard Martirosyan (2019–2020), Colonel Argishti Kyaramyan (June 2020–October 2020) and Colonel Armen Abazyan (November 2020- ). Colonel Kyaramyan was relieved of the post in October of this year after just four months, and yet now he is the vice president of the investigative committee. What is that supposed to mean?
  • Furthermore, Kyaramyan was fired just after rumors began to circulate after a Stepanakert resident claimed on October 8th, “Nikol sold the land, this is in fact an agreed-upon war, they brought you here to this slaughter house to kill you off, in order to conceal the agreement, it makes no sense to hold the positions.” (which Pashinyan quickly addressed and dismissed in a Facebook post). As an external observer I cannot make any substantiated claims, but eventually, enough coincidences begin to imply a correlation.
  • The government’s role is to expect the best and prepare for the worst. Certainly Turkey hadn’t supported Azerbaijan this boldly before, but the Armenian government should have been on extremely high alert, if not from 2018, then at least from July following the brief skirmishes and Azerbaijan’s subsequent war games with Turkey. Instead, My Step MP Lilit Makunts said, “By clearly assessing the incapability of their armed forces, the Azerbaijani authorities do the utmost for Turkey to be engaged in this conflict. I think Turkey will not do that and will not act as a side in any way. When the talk is about Azerbaijan’s aggression on Armenia, Turkey’s becoming a side will be viewed by the world in the context of the Genocide.” She couldn’t be a psychic, but it was gravely naive and incompetent of her to say something this dangerous. The point is, our enemies were grossly underestimated, and it’s clear that either something in our intelligence gathering was wrong or Armenia was betrayed.
  • The Commission on the April War was a complete disaster and exposed state secrets to numerous individuals who shouldn’t have been involved. Why was a commission set up following a war that Armenia won, and there isn’t one now examining the war that was lost?
  • Pashinyan gets credited for increasing the defense budget, but in reality the rise from 2017 to 2018 was decided by the previous administration: As a percentage of GDP, it rose from 3.85 percent to 4.897 percent (a 27.2-percent increase) then to 4.946 percent in 2019 (0.99-percent increase); in absolute terms, it rose from $455M USD to $609M USD 2017–2018 (33-percent increase), then to $658 M USD in 2019 (8-percent increase), then $674 M USD in 2020 (2.2-percent increase). In 2021, the defense spending did not change. 
  • The Chinese Wing Loong II (TB2 equivalent) is sold for $1 million per unit. Just for context, Nigeria purchased two of them this year. Why did Pashinyan’s MoD purchase four SU-30’s (even assuming they had missiles, which is questionable) for about $30 million each, when the cost of just one of those jets would have bought 30 drones? Let’s say operating costs and training would bring the cost to $5 million per drone. That’s still six drones for the cost of one plane. Armenia could have had between 24 to 120 TB2s at its disposal, not to mention the smaller Harop/Harpy type which costs $72,500. Again, one can push that number to $100,000 or say $250,000 per drone. That would have been a game changer. 
  • With the time he did have to prepare (when he became PM, he should have treated each day expecting an attack from Azerbaijan and Turkey), he prepared poorly. At the very least, we’d expect him to admit that his administration underutilized its resources. Even with very scarce resources, he would have had two and a half months to dig far more trenches than there were, fortify bunkers from above with concrete and conceal them with dirt, build tunnels and set traps (these are the very least which could have been done with very little financial investment). This could have been done by volunteers from the diaspora. (I and many others like myself were ready to go).

War

Naturally, I don’t exactly know what did or didn’t happen during the war, but I can make educated guesses based on cause and effect analysis and offer suggestions based on publicly available data.

  • An argument against using SU-30s is that Azerbaijan had Turkish F-16s to counter them. In this case why wasn’t Ganja airport bombed to stop their F-16s? Pashinyan’s MoD claimed that Ganja was bombed, so if it was, then why weren’t fighters used to counter the drones? They saw no flight time, and since they were already purchased, they might as well have been used. I also hear the argument that Pashinyan was “pressured” into buying those SUs, so then I have to ask why are we supporting a PM who can be pressured into wasting hundreds of millions of dollars?
  • Why was the oil pipeline never targeted? The counterargument is that they’d bomb our power plant, but an attack on the plant would devastate the entire region including Azerbaijan, and I don’t believe this is a risk they’d take. However, let’s say that was too big of a risk. Why would a member of parliament, Arman Babajanyan, very publicly and openly state “we are declaring to the whole world that we will never hit our enemy’s oil pipelines?” This just gave them the green-light to not have to contend with that possibility, when it should have been an ace up the MoD’s sleeve (even if it was never intended to be played). I recognize that this isn’t Pashinyan’s fault, but I point this out as a fundamental issue with the parliament since I pointed out Lilit Makunts’ dangerous statement earlier — why is an MP, especially one who dodged his mandatory service, allowed to make such dangerous statements?
  • The lack of total commitment to the defense of Artsakh seems to be a recurring theme, considering how volunteer groups were requested to fight in late October when Armenia still had a standing army. Did Armenia use all resources available?
  • This is a great spot to point out a logical fallacy I’ve been seeing: people praise Pashinyan for ending the war and saving the lives of our remaining soldiers (and to be absolutely clear here, I have no training as a soldier and have never served, and therefore am explicitly distinguishing my opinion from those who say Armenia shouldn’t have ended the war), but if saving lives was the goal why didn’t he end the war sooner? Armenia and Azerbaijan signed two (albeit brief) ceasefires before, which of course were violated by Azerbaijan, but by the second ceasefire Armenia and Artsakh had already lost innumerable soldiers. Why not make the concessions then? It seems he could have. Did Pashinyan think the war was still winnable? Judging by the repeated false statements from our MoD on November 8 and 9, it would seem that way. So if he did think it was winnable, why weren’t all of Armenia’s resources utilized? Why was Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan asking for volunteers to come defend? Why was Pashinyan calling the defense of Shushi our Stalingrad only to capitulate a few days later?
  • Why weren’t any low-tech, low-cost solutions against drones deployed? Spoof tanks and trucks were used even back in WWII (the Ghost Army) to make the enemy split their forces (a tactic known as “defeat in detail”) or waste time. Couldn’t something like this in bulk have been employed in this war? A couple of months would have been plenty of time to summon the diaspora’s help and prepare these sorts of defenses (engineers, artists, hell…even theater prop designers). Or how about fog or cloud machines, which can be produced with just a jet engine, water and diesel? Why wasn’t the sky flooded with clouds in regions with the heaviest open fighting and where it was clear drone strikes were an issue?
  • Total misinformation was disseminated throughout the war. Some amount of misinformation is required for the sake of misdirection of the enemy, but we were led to believe that the defenders of Artsakh were doing well and were going to win until suddenly they weren’t. On November 8, Armenia’s MoD tweeted, “Shushi remains the unattainable pipe dream for Azerbaijan. Despite heavy destruction, the fortress city withstands the blows of the adversary.” Similar assurances were made on November 9, announcing ongoing battles and the capture of enemy soldiers.
    Regardless, what the diaspora learned isn’t of utmost importance. What is important is that Pashinyan and his advisors would have known the real losses and deaths and should have signed a more favorable agreement far sooner.

Post-War

  • There is a total lack of accountability and transparency within Armenia Fund at a time when people don’t trust it and those donations are needed most.
  • There has been no post-war commission to investigate and identify what went wrong and what faults are to be found, while, as I mentioned above, a similar commission was set up after a war that we won.
  • The 15-step plan produced by Pashinyan’s administration was poorly drafted and underwhelming.
  • Soldiers defending current mountain posts are still wearing green camo which is not appropriate for snow.
  • The ceasefire agreement included no guarantees for POWs, as evidenced by the delayed return process, and afforded very little time for people to move out of their homes (while Pashinyan didn’t have the power to negotiate on these points on November 9th, he should have had the diplomatic tact to negotiate better terms earlier on).
  • Pashinyan constantly blames the “naxkinner,” but somehow never includes one of the people who began the corruption initially, Levon Ter-Petrossian, for whom he worked.
  • Law enforcement has been stifling peaceful protests on a wide scale and arresting protesters and opposition leaders. Some of those protesters were violent initially (beating of National Assembly president Ararat Mirzoyan), but the vast number of arrests were of people who were peaceful.
  • The arrest of the Mayor of Goris prior to Pashinyan’s attempted visit, which you might claim is related to other charges from a few years ago, was found to be unconstitutional by the General Jurisdiction Court of Yerevan.
  • Pashinyan has been constantly sowing and deepening divisions through the non-stop blaming of his predecessors while refusing to admit his own faults and mistakes. He has refused to take true responsibility for his actions, and no, stating, “I am the main person responsible, but not the main culprit,” does not mean taking responsibility.
  • Pashinyan continues to insist that the borders are secure, that “not a millimeter of land will be ceded,” while continuing to give away land such as Shournukh and Vorotan (in Syunik) for which he plans to “offer compensation.” Villagers were asking for support and said they were actively losing homes in Armenia proper, but were called liars. If you try to defend this by saying, “but it’s in the internationally recognized borders of Azerbaijan,” you’re missing the point: those borders are actively being demarcated by highly suspect methods. Some claims are with the Soviet maps, some are with a purported 2010 agreement and some are with Google Maps. We should not accept this lack of clarity, nor should any Armenian argue on behalf of the Turks in giving Armenian villages to Azerbaijan. A proper negotiator would ensure the avoidance of such a one-sided deal by at least guaranteeing the freedom and immediate return of Armenian POWs, or establishing a clear methodology for determining the borders, or an appropriate timeline for villagers to move out of those lands if we must concede them (not the Azeris showing up to the village and giving them three days to leave, and in some places even hours).
  • Possibly the most important point, which you can consider separately, is that Pashinyan no longer has agency at a negotiating table with any country, let alone Azerbaijan and Turkey. Short of anything else, losing a war eliminates your credibility or ability to create strong alliances with other countries. (Why would I, as Greece, or Iran, or any other country, want to support Armenia if their leader is the same person who was in charge while his country faced a massive defeat?) 

Why Vazgen Manukyan is not a solution

Vazgen Manukyan is a member of the same group that involved Armenia in the corrupt mess it’s been in since the 90s. He was in the same group as Levon Ter-Petrosyan and will only further the same division Pashinyan has created. While he might be objectively qualified, it is doubtful that he’s the leader that Armenia needs.

Manukyan was the first prime minister of the post-Soviet independent Armenian Republic and had every opportunity to shape the country in a corruption-free way, but apparently the opposite happened. The President during his administration was Levon Ter-Petrosyan. The point is, Manukyan is too embedded in the old politics which Pashinyan loves to speak about, and just as Pashinyan doesn’t deserve another chance, neither does Manukyan.

Ok, so what is the solution?

If your answer is “there’s nobody better than Pashinyan, he represents democracy and we don’t want to bring the corruption back,” I think you’re wrong and are complicit in losing Armenian land.

If your answer is “anyone but Pashinyan, I don’t care as long as it’s not him,” I think you’re also wrong as you aren’t ensuring a more effective immediate and long-term solution.

The point is, we’re completely polarized and the pointless calls to “stand united” I see all over social media are useless rhetoric — being united means that one group has to give up and join the other. Seeing how entrenched both sides are in their convictions, this seems impossible, and if Pashinyan actually cares for the future of Armenia, then his most important act at this crucial period of history will be to step down and ensure a smooth transition to the next government. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem he does.

There are several options at this point.

  1. Pashinyan doesn’t step down; Armenia continues capitulating and remains divided and in due time loses its sovereignty.
  2. Pashinyan steps down, early elections are held, Manukyan is elected, the country continues to remain divided and in due time loses its sovereignty.
  3. Pashinyan steps down, the parliament is cleared, a transitional government is formed from people with actual political and administrative expertise (Manukyan could be a part of it, but not as a polarizing leader), early elections are arranged, and as Armenians we unify again the way we did during wartime. 

From there, the real work begins:

  • Constitutional reform to avoid both populism and corruption. This may take the form of a complete change in the government’s structure, perhaps to a mixed technocracy where a number of experts from various backgrounds (engineering, economics, law, etc.) work together with representatives from different areas (regions of Armenia, major diasporan hubs, etc.) to form policies. I don’t study law or politics so I can’t detail further, but I mention this as a jumping off point to consider alternate forms of government.
  • Tools for government accountability. I had built a website for this purpose when Pashinyan first came to power. The concept is a platform available to Armenian citizens to publicly file issues that the government needs to address (such as potholes in the road, licensing issues, school supply needs, and whatever else the government is responsible for). For those in villages without internet, a phone number can be called that would transcribe their request and add it to the site. The representatives responsible for each region would be able to readily see what the problems are. If a problem can’t be solved, the people won’t have to demonstrate for weeks; they can appeal to the diaspora for aid. I made this website available for Pashinyan’s government gratis. It was presented and ultimately rejected by his administration.
  • Defense tech overhaul. It is doubtful that Armenia can catch up to Turkey’s military industrial complex, so trying to build or buy drones to match them might be futile. For now, it might be a prudent course of action to diplomatically work with Russia to keep receiving support while Armenians work on developing next-generation defense tech. The theory for a lot of these advanced weapons exists (non-kinetic AA, advanced armor, nanotech, etc.) but they’re limited largely by manufacturing costs or power supply/generation. A lot of investment can be made into such defense technology, but a breakthrough in batteries or power generation would also be a massive step forward (and will help kill the oil economy, a huge blow to Azerbaijan and Turkey), so a lot of investment can be made here.
  • Military strategy overhaul. This requires an investigative commission to identify the shortcomings, successes and mistakes from the war. It is necessary to rethink how war with drones is fought. This could mean smaller squads of soldiers to avoid devastating drone strikes, better communication tools to ensure effectiveness against Azeri and Turkish ground troops, logistics/supply chain changes, etc. 
  • Individual contributions. I’ve compiled a large list for this purpose detailing what we all can do, and which organizations are working towards this goal.
  • Mandatory service for everyone, both men and women, including diasporans, in the way the Koreans and the Israelis do it. Service doesn’t have to mean physical service for those who can’t. It can also be engineering/tech work, manufacturing, drone training, cartography/strategy, etc. Perhaps this can be extended to give a vote only to those who have completed their military service, but this brings up the question of people who spend years advancing their education (eg, PhD aspirants) so this is a more radical idea which would require a lot more thought.

TLDR: This isn’t for argument. Ultimately, there are a large number of people who are against Pashinyan and a large number of people who support him. It seems both sides are unwilling to compromise, and as long as that’s the case, Armenia is done for as a country. The sign of a good leader is recognizing the division, and rather than expecting one side to concede and continuing to exacerbate the division, that leader steps down and organizes the necessary steps to find competent people who represent both sides fairly.

Weeks have been wasted. Land continues to be conceded while we continue infighting. We need to join forces and search for alternative candidates unrelated to the old or the new.

FAQ

What should Pashinyan have done instead against Turkey, which is the second largest army in NATO? Winning in the war outright with the tools available on September 27th (logistics, equipment, financing) was near impossible. The point is that (1) this was a massive intelligence failure when it came to understanding Turkey’s involvement and Azerbaijan’s purchases, (2) a number of horrible military purchases were made (the SU’s, antiquated AA, etc.) and (3) Pashinyan, being totally aware of the actual losses and relative weakness should have signed a more favorable deal sooner.

The previous administrations destroyed the economy and military. Two years wasn’t enough time to fix this. No, it wasn’t enough time, and the military was crippled because of corruption. Who should be the most well-informed about the military’s condition? The Prime Minister. And whose responsibility is it to prepare for the worst, but expect the best? Also the Prime Minister. Yet this isn’t what happened. He didn’t stay low to the ground, didn’t make smart military investments and didn’t appropriately foster existing alliances.

Instead, Pashinyan made bold claims such as “Artsakh is Armenia” all the while being the person with the most intimate knowledge of the condition of his military’s disadvantage. And no, this isn’t about hurting the feelings of Aliyev or Erdogan; it’s about taking the Artsakh issue out of the self-determination framework and converting it into a territorial issue, giving an excuse to Aliyev and Erdogan to start aggression under the pretense of protecting “territorial integrity,” and giving them a tool to appease their populations. Look at Aliyev’s popularity before and after the war, and how they all say “Nouldu Pashinyan.” That comes directly from his people actively supporting and applying pressure for a war to happen, as they took it personally and Aliyev capitalized on an opportunity to improve his public approval. When you have a giant mob of people storming your parliament chanting demands for war with Armenia, are you really going to consider diplomatic solutions at that point?

Instead, Pashinyan purchased four jets when he could have purchased dozens of Chinese drones for the same price. He didn’t build up the defenses in Artsakh, such as fortified bunkers, tunnels, and trenches that would have taken a few months at most for minimal cost. He could have called on the diaspora to come pour concrete or dig trenches; I would have freely volunteered to do so.

Instead, he opened an embassy to irritate Iran and Russia and didn’t do his utmost to strengthen ties with Greece, Iran and Russia.

Our commanders did the best they could. The aforementioned problems fall largely on the heads of Pashinyan’s advisors. Why didn’t they warn against those purchases? Why didn’t they conduct a better analysis and surveillance of Azerbaijan after the war games with Turkey? There are numerous reports about desertion, selling land and giving up Shushi. Instead of letting these float around, why isn’t an investigative commission being conducted the way they happily did last year to investigate and reveal military secrets from the 2016 war?

What, you want to go back to war and just lose more of our soldiers? No, of course not. The point is that he could have signed a ceasefire sooner which would have been more favorable (such as the Lavrov plan in October, which most definitely would have been painful, but it would have been better than this and saved far more lives), and it’s not okay that he signed it unilaterally. If you say “oh, well we were winning earlier” then you’re delusional. Most of the losses came within the first few weeks of the war.

This was all pre-planned. Serj/Robert already sold the land years ago then made Pashinyan the Prime Minister as a scapegoat. If so, why wasn’t it handed over in 2016? Why was Pashinyan not up in arms about it, making it known, doing everything to stop it (like I mentioned earlier, treating every day as if war is coming and preparing for it)? Why did Pashinyan claim Shushi was “dzhbaght yev dzhguyn, um er petq?” Why did he send so many young people to die if it was “already sold”?

We need to avoid political arguments and stay united. We need unity, which only comes when you recognize that both sides will refuse to concede. That means the only unity comes from finding a government on which everyone agrees. The pro-Nikol and anti-Nikol groups need to come together, reject both old and new, and work to quickly find parliament members who are less divisive and a government that is ready to lead everyone. Preferably it will be someone educated, with a military background who can lead us as a wartime economy with emphasis on massive economic growth and a huge military production increase.

We need to give Pashinyan a chance. He had his chance; he messed up. He is not a child, nor is he an intern on his first day at the job. His mistakes cost the lives of thousands of Armenians and most of Artsakh, and that isn’t forgivable. He refuses to admit fault and continues to blame his predecessors. It’s time for someone who is less divisive to take the wheel, and no, I don’t mean Manukyan or Edmon Marukyan; they’re both just as divisive.

Pashinyan increased the military budget in 2018. No, he didn’t. It was Sargysan’s administration that had made these changes; Pashinyan inherited them when he came into office.

Why haven’t you moved to Armenia? I intend to. I’m finishing my college studies and will be working a well-paying job while I bring my startup to life. Once I have a couple years of experience under my belt, I’ll move our office to Armenia (but will have hired Armenian developers long before then).

Giving Artsakh to them will bring peace and prosperity for Armenia. This doesn’t deserve a response. What is next? Maybe giving Yerevan will bring more peace? All depends on Erdogan/Aliyev’s appetite.

Without Pashinyan we lose democracy and return to corruption. Approaching this conversation with this mindset, that somehow it’s either Pashinyan or a cesspool of corruption, ignores the hundreds of possible candidates we could find who don’t represent the old or the new. If somehow one person solely represents democracy, then by nature and by definition that isn’t democracy. It is an affront to all Armenians to insist that the best we have are either Pashinyan or his predecessors. And speaking of corruption, the head of Armenia’s anti-corruption agency was charged by the NSS with corruption last April.

Pashinyan made the best deal he could. Yes, on November 9th there wasn’t much of a choice. It comes down to making better decisions beforehand.

The war was inevitable. Yes, it was, which is why it shouldn’t have surprised anyone, especially Pashinyan. Given this, why weren’t we digging trenches, tunnels and reinforcing bunkers for two years?

This isn’t over. It’s only a ceasefire. Correct. At worst, Syunik may either be given or fought over in January/February, and at best it’s fought over in four to five years.

You’re a diasporan, what do you know? Again this is “sev yev spitak” nonsense. Why is there a need to divide ourselves? Certainly, I haven’t experienced life under any of these administrations, but anyone can do a cause and effect analysis of current conditions. One can also prioritize security, and also see how deeply divided Armenian society is and how important it is to unify. If unification truly is the goal, a PM needs to be elected who no longer divides the population. “Ok then who?” That’s the question we’re not thinking about. We’re so caught up in being pro- or anti-Nikol that we’re not actually doing the work to identify the next PM.

Right now isn’t the time for politics; it’s time to regroup, strategize and move forward. It is time to move forward, yes! But a ship cannot reach its destination with a bad captain. And we can’t regroup and strategize while we remain disconnected from the government and Pashinyan continues to keep us disconnected from one another. The longer he is in office, the longer we remain divided and an easy target for the Turks to continue seizing our land.

Levon Brunson

Levon Brunson

Levon Brunson is an Armenian, Black American living in Newton, Massachusetts. He studies Computer Science at Brown University.
Levon Brunson

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14 Comments

  1. From your lips to God’s ears.

    The second or so excellent article I’ve seen here from someone this young. Truly inspiring.

  2. Nice Article!

    There is a pretty strong evidence that the war was just the military implementation of Lavrov’s plan which kind of got out of hand (Putin’s constant remarks on being friends with both countries, and that the 7 regions have to be returned, NYT claims that Putin told Aliyev Shushi is the last thing he is allowed to get).

    i would not be surprised that Putin actually asked Erdogan to help Azeris, but there were some reports saying that Azeris sidelined all people who had Russia connection, so perhaps this take is false.

    There is also evidence that the war was coming unless lands were returned, like for example there is a 2017 interview with Petrosyan where he claims that Artsakh problem would be solved in 2 or so years, and also there is evidence that Serj didn’t want to give the lands back without the status (like the leaked tape).

    it could be that Pashinyan was allowed to come only because Serj didn’t want to be in his position, give lands back or start a war. Pashinyan coming to power is the single most confusing moment in Armenian history, nothing of this sort was allowed prior to him. it could also be that Russia saw in him someone they could manage more than Serj, who was actually the true westernizer.

    i disagree with one of your points, if Pashinyan steps down tomorrow there will be chaos in the country. this needs to happen a bit slowly, he has to go, but not so fast. unfortunately, Putin-Aliyev know that he has to go and they are implementing the agreement at an astonishing speed.

    i often say lets stop fighting, and what i mean by that is that we should stop fighting for this or that politician at this very moment, instead we need to voice what we want not through the politicians but like you are doing, by writing this here, expressing your opinion on what needs to be done. the situation is so fragile, that if the intellectuals amongst us fight meaninglessly an opportunist might seize the power. now is the time for generating ideas, and staying with Pashinyan for a few more months.

    he will step down, he cannot stay on.

    • I agree with some of what you said, but not the war part. I do not believe Putin wanted Turkey to intervene, but saw that it was inevitable. I think he hoped that it would be over in just a few days and that Pashinyan would then come to him and ask for help. He then would have convinced him to implement the Lavrov plan.

      Pashinyan wasted time going to the EU and NATO, who both reaffirmed their commitment to Turkey’s security and participation on the international scene.

      As for Pashinyan, I don’t believe that the Russians ever brought him on, but he is a weak willed and incompetent man that Putin can clearly use now to implement the deal since the opposition seems rabid and disorganized.

    • Dear K,

      my point is exactly that i don’t know what happened, and i don’t think anyone knows except those who were actually involved, Putin, Erdogan, Alyiev, Pashinyan and etc. it seems there is too much analysis of the situation, and that is not good because we are moving towards a society where the one with the most popular theory of what happened will become our next leader, we cannot let this happen.
      we just simply have to stop discussing what happened until a trustworthy person figures it out.

      our next leader must have the best ideas for solving the number of issues we have at hand, not the best and the most beautiful theory. we simply cannot let that happen.

  3. I remember massive Russian/Armenian military drills implemented right after the Turkish/Azeri drills. Yet during the war “ally” Russia did nothing and left Armenia to dangle. It was Russia’s interest all along to capitulate these lands to Azerbaijan and have Russian boots on the ground as peace keepers with the final status in limbo as this scenario creates conflict. That was the Russian plan promoted by Lavrov all along who claimed Armenia would have gained more with less lives lost with his plan.. Russia doesn’t want a strong and independent Armenia. Lets make that clear. They all knew the war was coming. As for Pahinyan he is incompetent at best or a traitor at worst. He is neither militarily or politically savvy. Either scenario isn’t good for Armenia. He is secretively ceding more Armenian lands as we speak while arresting and crushing any domestic decent. He is a danger to our future. There is only once reason why a war investigation hasn’t been implemented as it would shed light on either his gross incompetence or possibly a treasonous actor. The best leaders surround themselves with the best people for their designated jobs. Armenia lacks this trait. The past Joint Chief of Staff of the ROA claimed Pashinyan rid him in 2018 and installed the least knowledgeable generals. And that the loss was due to incompetence and ignorance of the art of war. Pashinyan immediately rid the foreign minister and the minister of defense right after the war. I followed the war daily and noticed lies of “crushing the enemy” while losing territory that were never ever mentioned. I knew something was wrong when the President of Arstakh was pleading for help to defend Shushi while Pashinyan was claiming decisive victories all the while asking for old and women volunteers to go help fight. It almost seemed like the ROA military was non existent and Artsakh was left to defend itself. I remember the Artsakh president made mention of Armenian Special Ops refusing to fight early on. Why would he say this if not true? I also remember drones used during the 4 day war in 2016. The only time I saw Armenian drones used during this war was at the end. The war seemed purposely lost to me supporting a treasonous actor scenario, but I hope Im wrong. That was my take. Regardless at this point TRUTH and UNITY is the only answer and a must. Pashinyan needs to be rid immediately as any starting point for Armenia’s future. An accurate war assessment needs to be made. Otherwise necessary useful corrections will never made with important unity being impossible..

    • Look Joe, I am also skeptical of Russia sometimes.

      Pashinyan could have agreed to the cease fire on October 19th and ended this with Artsakh, including Shushi, intact. Instead, he and Armen Sarkissian continued to beg NATO for help, when they were celebrating Mevlut Cavusoglu’s birthday and Turkish “independence day”.

      Russia provided weapons and tried to stop this earlier, but we have a society that has not been compromising at all.

      I never see you criticizing Western nations for this. How come the last 2.5 years of outreach to the west was for nothing. At least Russia stepped in before we totally lost. The West now whines about how Russia “monopolizes” the deal. France and the USA betrayed us completely, while Russia simply did a less than decent job at striking a deal.

  4. Levon, you state that you do not support the psst Armenian Administrations; you do not support the current Armenian Administration; and, you do not support the Opposition. Can you please tell your readers what exactly you support & why? Thank you!

  5. I’m not ready to purify the creeps from the previous 27 years! Lest we forget the 2 million Armenians exiting the country (did we forget Kerkorian transferring over $200 million to UCLA because he had enough of the thieves)! I read some Armenian history to know this fiasco has played out throughout our long history countless times! At the end of the day, if we had decent people ruling us, Ani would have never fallen and we could have saved many nations from Turkish subjugation when Gagik II had the Seljuks on the run, need I tell you how he ended? If we had true patriots who loved the country and scorn those who think government is the way to line your pockets Armenia (militarily) would have been the N. Korea of the Caucuses, and then Trump would come on the Turkish Armenian border shaking hands with the Armenian president or Prime minister.
    PS It works like this when you don’t have to rely on Russia and instead you’re the N. Korea of the Caucuses, should Azerbaijan and Turkey get tough, a broadcast in Turkish will air on Azeri and Turkish TV, “all none Turkish individuals dwelling in Ankara and Baku, you have 8 hrs to evacuate those cities at which time they’ll be subjected to a nuclear strike”…You’ll get the attention of many and put those to petty dictators in training of how to behave!

    • Do you realize that North Korea exists because of dependence on China? They are by no means independent.

      Pashinyan did not rely on Russia, in fact all he did was beg NATO and the EU. Both of them reaffirmed Turkey’s importance to their respective alliances. Had Pashinyan gone to the Russians earlier, we would have still had the Lavrov plan and kept Shushi with a few Azerbaijani refugees “returning”.

      Instead, you Russophobes decided to act passive aggressive and cynical, pretending Putin was the boogeyman out to destroy our lives. He managed to get Aliyev to stop on October 19th, but Pashinyan rejected it, because our society is so uncompromising.

      Oh, and Trump did nothing for Armenians, your fantasy of him is deluded.

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