Take a moment and imagine that you are peacefully living in your house—a home that has been the shelter and comfort for your family for decades. You live on the border of your town. One day, your neighbor declares that your property is theirs. Despite the lack of any legality and basic civility in their claim, they demonstrate their demand by walking into your home and disrupting your respectable life. The following week, they block the road to home preventing access for others and for you to go about your life. Their intent is increasingly intimidating and motivated by a desire to force you into leaving. Your resolve to remain is clear. This is legally your property, and they are simply thugs trying to force an abdication. When those methods fail, they start randomly shooting across your property line. The local authorities arrive, but instead of removing the criminals, they suggest “negotiations.” This is infuriating since you have assumed that the authorities would defend the rule of law and your rights. The lack of concrete action only emboldens the aggressors. Soon, your entire neighborhood is threatened by the adjacent group. The “negotiations” continue. A recent brazen incursion has resulted in several of the criminal elements occupying some of the land in your neighborhood. The response is more “negotiations.” This time, a third party group of “peacekeepers” comes in to prevent violence, but their presence has not resolved the violation and seems to give legitimacy to their presence. Now encouraged by the weak response, the criminals claim that all the properties in this neighborhood are rightfully theirs and historically always have been. They attempt to create validity through confusion by showing altered maps and revisionist history. Suddenly, not only is your life investment at risk, but any sense of justice seems to be removed. The authorities are saying all the right words, but the reality is otherwise.
We could never imagine this scenario in our lives in the western diaspora, yet this is the reality in Artsakh, Tavush, Gegharkunik, Yeraskh and Syunik. Intimidation, fear and criminal behavior are border life today. This is the humiliation of justice denied that many of our brethren are experiencing today. It is beyond the personal threat on their lives. These people are patriots and the heroes of Armenia. What is most disheartening is the tolerance of their own government. The pattern is clear. The Azeris are committing countless acts of violence, ignoring international law and basic human rights. Some are the continuation of the cowardly random gunfire across the border. At other times, they occupy small sections of Armenian territory, and most recently they block roadways preventing freedom of movement. This results in “negotiations” and frequently the presence of more Russian “peacekeepers.” Last week, we discussed the impact on sovereignty. Today, we will look at the need to end the humiliation which triggers hopelessness.
We are all familiar with “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs” which has been referenced for decades in psychological and sociological research pertaining to human motivation. In the pyramid model, the foundation is referred to as “physiological and safety needs” like food, shelter and progressing to personal safety. This is the core of common human motivation. In today’s Armenia, the borders are not secure, causing fear among those honorable citizens who reside along the border. The Azeris have instituted a policy of constant attacks on the borders to soften Armenian defenses and psychologically weaken the resolve of our people. For several years, it was common in the northeastern Tavush region. I have seen the scarred buildings from Azeri gunfire towards kindergartens and other civilian targets. The attacks on Artsakh have been commonplace for decades. Since the 2020 war, the incursions have incrementally been focused on Armenia proper in Syunik, Gegharkunik Sevan region and the southern border with Nakhichevan. Essentially, anywhere there is a common border, the Azeris have unilaterally attacked the border areas. Their intent is devious and clear. All people seek peace and prosperity to address their needs. The Azeris’ onslaught is designed to deny these Armenians the basic needs of shelter and security, eventually hoping to create a porous border. They seem to have succeeded in the short term. The Azeris operate like a criminal rogue regime. They do not respect the basic civility of international relations. They have illegally detained more than 200 POWs from the recent war and put several through insulting “trials.” Negotiations and international pressure have yielded little. Why would they? What are the implications in today’s world? They unilaterally invade a peaceful area, use illegal weapons, employ jihadist mercenaries, collude directly with another nation to destroy Armenians, and their criminal behavior is rewarded.
Let’s look a little closer in the Armenian mirror. The loss after the 44-day war was clearly devastating, but it didn’t end there. The Azeris, motivated by their blood reward and the ambivalence of the stakeholder community (silent OSCE, power-broker Russia and rhetoric from the west), continued its path to destroy Armenia with outrageous claims on Syunik and Yerevan while attacking Armenia’s eastern and southern border at will. Since the war, Armenia’s foreign policy has become completely dependent on Russia. The answer for all border issues has been more Russian mediation with troop presence. This, of course, plays right into the Russian plan of solidifying spheres of influence, but Armenia has not received security in return for this sacrifice. The intimidation tactics of the Azeris continue to weaken Armenia’s role and demoralize the citizenry. It is far past time for this to stop.
It has been noted that thus far Armenia has not challenged this humiliation. Words of disagreement are not helping those citizens impacted by these crimes. The only barometer that should count is safety and security of the residents. The military has been weakened, and the fragile peace is controlled by Russia. If Armenia is unwilling or unable to defend its border and tolerates the barbaric Azeris to not only exploit the chaos but actually legitimize the border demarcation discussion, then we need to ask ourselves, what is a nation state? What is the critical mass of sovereignty? The most important action that Armenia must take is to stop the violations at the borders. Azeri troops in Syunik must be removed. The government must take visible action to recover the confidence of their people. The government exists to provide the basic security needs of the residents. It is fundamentally the most important deliverable. These humble people don’t ask for much from their leaders. Going up the hierarchy of Maslow’s needs is a dream for many of these folks. They are trying to survive. Without security, they simply can’t. They will try longer than all of us and then simply be forced to look for alternatives. That will result in an Azeri victory.
Have we forgotten that Syunik (Zangezeur) was all but conceded by the central government during the struggle of 1918-21? It was the brilliant General Karekin Nejdeh who refused to give in and secured that region for the Armenians. Ask the people in Kapan and Goris. They know this history, and it continues to inspire them today, just as the descendants of those Azeris who Nejdeh faced stand ready across the border to fulfill their fantasy of Azerbaijan. Have we lost our sense of dignity that we allow Azeris to block roads and occupy land? Do we need a refresher course on the core meaning of sovereignty? It seems that many of our brethren seem politically paralyzed. The fact that local residents are willing but lack the support is devastating. The government seems incapable of dealing with this without Russian approval. Russia is interested in cementing its influence so it will use the Armenian issues to make trade-offs with the Azeris for their net increase of influence. That should be abundantly clear. It seems that an acceptable solution for the Russians is simply to put more Russian troops at the flashpoint. If the Armenian government has any understanding of the long-term implications of this behavior, they have a responsibility to resolve these issues. The presence of humiliation is a disease that will undermine any attempts at recovery. If the security needs of the people are not addressed, how can we expect there to be continued advances in their society?
With compounding acts of aggression and domestic politics layering each passing week, it is easy to lose sight of what is important. Nations exist to provide safety, security and the opportunity for prosperity for their citizens. This enables the culture, the contributions and the essence of the civilization to exist. There is no greater purpose for the government. If that safety and security are threatened, the government has a contractual and moral responsibility to resolve the threat. Anything less is abject failure.
This is why governments are a variable but nations are a constant. PM Pashinyan was given a chance at redemption because Armenians wanted to move forward and not return to the past. The most visible sign of progress today for the common citizens is to end the cycle of humiliation that began in late 2020 by securing the borders from the Azeri aggressors and return a very visible symbol of national dignity. It is a severe test for his administration to go from the current defensive posture to an offensive one motivated by national security and the dignity of a nation. Artsakh will require additional capability, but who will respect Armenia in those discussions if they are unable to defend their internationally recognized borders? This is a matter of urgent importance for this government.