Azerbaijan is defaming our identity. Take it seriously.

October 2020, Faneuil Hall, Boston, Mass. (Photo: Knar Bedian)

Last week, we reviewed a major threat to our identity. Many of us consider the Azeri arguments so absurd that we find it difficult to take them seriously. It may annoy us or even anger us for a moment, but it has not rallied a critical mass to move beyond emotion. This would be a serious error on our part. We have recently learned that the price for being on the short end of the public opinion is devastating. Azerbaijan, complete with their shallow history and criminal behavior, succeeded in having all critical parties advocating their position of the Armenians “returning” the seven territories of Artsakh that were liberated from 1991 to 1994. We invested in infrastructure, settled families and built up those lands. Azerbaijan, in contrast during the post-liberation period, has been the author of thousands of ceasefire violations, advocating lies on their claims to “territorial integrity” and ignoring every agreement they made from de-escalation on the border to diplomatic initiatives. When they unilaterally attacked Tavush in the Republic of Armenia, the CSTO failed to respond and both sides were urged to resist violence. The attacks in 2016 and earlier in 2020 were met with the same weak response. Azerbaijan would attack, and the world would urge both sides to remain calm. In a world filled with deceit, the absence of a moral compass and little regard for justice, Armenia became dangerously isolated. We must never again underestimate the criminal intent and extent to which the Azerbaijani will go to pursue their nefarious objectives. In a bizarre irony of justice, the criminal was rewarded, and the Armenians once again received empathy. If empathy had a tangible value, then perhaps we could improve our position. Unfortunately, it has little value. It usually represents the guilty conscience of those who abandoned us or the voices of justice too weak to prevail. We can collect all the speeches and proclamations for Armenia. Azerbaijan has Hadrut and Shushi.

The volumes written on our civilization are filled with peaks and valleys. Armenia was once a stateless nation for 543 years (1375-1918) surviving under Ottoman Turkish domination in the west and Persian/Russian control in the east. This chapter on Artsakh has been completed. It did not end well, but another chapter will be written in our quest for justice. That much is clear. In the short term, the political crisis in Armenia must be resolved in order to restore hope for a recovery. While we soothe our wounds, the Azeris have opened a new front. They have the resources that can buy lies and influence a fragile, ignorant and selfish world. That resource is abundant to fund their campaign of defamation. All things considered, the truth should always prevail in an adversarial match, but only if the defenders of the truth take the battle seriously and optimize their assets. What’s missing today is the Armenian nation having the same passion for this new front as if the Azeris were attacking a physical border. We have painfully been reminded of the power of influence as we witnessed our brave soldiers murdered by the criminal regime and the world watched and issued statements.

This current evil campaign to uproot the foundations of our identity, our church, our history, our art and our territory has the ability to sway negotiations, influence financial assistance and upset the geopolitical alignments. We may be small in territory, but the Armenian nation has significant capability in terms of advocacy and scholarly work. What we are not utilizing to our full capability is the integration and efficiency of these assets. For a nation with limited capability, this cannot be tolerated without consequence. We have been placed on the defensive with their outrageous claims. Azerbaijan is driving the propaganda and public relations battle that the truth must lead. In order to lead this campaign, we either have to move faster than the train or we need to confront them with such precision that they fall on the defense. For example, are we targeting our scholarly research on subjects that address the Azeri campaign? Are we spending too much of our resources on the genocide and not on the current challenge? While we devote a large portion of our time advocating for genocide recognition (many of which are non-binding and do not influence foreign policy), Armenian identity is under attack. In many ways the Azeri campaign fully backed by the Republic of Turkey is more dangerous than Turkish denial of the genocide. We have not adjusted with our genocide centric activism and scholarship.

Our communities in the diaspora are a reflection of proud institutions and organizations. Since we exercise our identity through these groups, they are a great source of investment and loyalty. This is admirable but has limitations. Our organizational alignments are an example of “vertical” excellence (stand-alone organizations); however some of our challenges, such as the Azeri/Turkish defamation campaign, require cross disciplinary or cross organization collaboration. These types of “horizontal” strategies enable solutions that contain the best of our capabilities. When a horizontal and vertical pattern are stitched together, the fabric becomes strong, reliable and thorough. At times the brilliant dedication of our vertical organizations is rewarded based on a mission whose breadth is within the vertical scope. When the mission requires a broad, cross-discipline approach and our solutions are a series of vertical efforts with limited integration, we tend to fall short. Our response to the expanding Azeri/Turkish campaign is an example of the latter. This is not a time for us to be parochial or defensive. All of our organizations are dedicated and add value. This is not a criticism of the present but rather an opportunity for the future.

The environment has changed, and with it so must we. Our activities are designed for the traditional challenges we have faced. We now face a well-financed campaign to discredit or destroy many of the pillars of how we identify with our civilization. Azerbaijan is a rogue dictatorship with only 100 years of statehood, yet they have managed to disrupt our 4,000-plus year nation with criminal theft and challenges to our very identity. If someone threatens the integrity of your home or your family, I am certain that you would respond. Consider this essentially the same. Our tenacity should be no different. Do you love the Armenian church? They consider it a lie. When we celebrate the nearly 3,000 years of Yerevan, they consider it Azerbaijani territory. When we study the heroics of Njdeh to liberate Zangezur and maintain it as an integral part of Armenia, they merely consider Armenians as thieves. Our history was founded by the great Movses of Khoren, yet he is represented by Azeris as a myth. While they continue to deceive their own citizens about the truth of Khojaly, they also influence other governments and institutions by accusing the Armenians of murder and destruction. Such incredible irony! That is your good name as an Armenian that they are defaming! This is not an isolated threat or an abstract remote issue. The Azeris are feeling confident and fresh from their latest crime spree, and brazen actions should be expected.

Later this month, NAASR will sponsor a panel discussion of scholars and activists to examine this issue. This interactive Zoom event will be an initial foray into the definition of the challenge and an exploration of solutions. It is also intended to raise awareness within our communities and gauge public perspectives. Regardless of the diversity of opinions, the biggest mistake we can make is to underestimate the impact of Azerbaijani resolve. This defamation campaign is another element of a mission to keep us on the defensive while they work to whittle away at our foundation.

We must be careful not to add incremental work to a community already operating at incredible bandwidth. This is “horizontal” collaboration that will prevent redundancy and focus our resources in the most critical areas. “Open looped” activity by well-intentioned and credible groups that operate independently is logically less effective than efforts that integrate all the required resources. Of course, you may ask, how can such a process happen when we have no real hierarchy in the diaspora? Great question. Perhaps it is time to look for practical solutions. The only authority structure is driven by the influence of major organizations. At the end of the day, we are very dependent on major power broker groups and individuals to collaborate. I appeal, therefore, to those resources to open their thinking to further collaboration to bring our efforts to a new and unprecedented level as we confront this unrivaled assault on our identity. I urge everyone to educate themselves on this matter by reviewing the vast array of material for public consumption (Google would be a good start). Use this knowledge to formulate your views, and join the efforts to ensure the integrity of our civilization. When you read this material, look in the mirror, and remember it is being propagated to defame and destroy who we are.   

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. Great article. I have also been wondering how we can counter the massive and frightening propaganda campaign coming from Azerbaijan and Turkey. Has anyone noticed that Azerbaijanis have brainwashed other ethnicities into laughing and making satire of the word “ancient” when referring to Armenians?

    For example, when they laugh at Armenians and sarcastically claim that Napoleon, Alexander the Great, and Tsar Nicholas II were not Armenians, even though we have NEVER claimed them to be?

    They also make jokes like: If you Armenians become the majority in Glendale will you then vote to become independent? Sometimes they substitute Glendale for Marseilles or some other place that has a high concentration of Armenians.

    What their goal is ultimately is to pathologize Armenians and present to the rest of the world an image of us as a crazy people who claim everything to be theirs, rather than simply negotiating in good faith with us over Artsakh, a land we have inhabited continuously for thousands of years.

  2. A well thought out intelectual article worthy of praise and setting a guide line to follow. The Azeris have bought not only modern weapons but also modern day propaganda machine from outside their boundaries. Armenia at present can not match these activities because of lack of resources and internal disfunction. It remains to the diaspora to take this on. Our many political organisations need to come together on this nationally critical struggle, setting differences aside and working together. Need to devote our limited resources to what is critical now and would be in the future. If we take care of the present and the future, the past can be taken care of later. Meanwhile our leaders in Armenia need to get their act tigether to get the country back on its feet. Rebuild, rearm and retake what is rightfully ours. We can not depend on others to fight our battles just because our cause is just. Russia will defend our land but will not fight for us against their national interest. Neither will any other nation. This is no longer Mousa Dagh.

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