When will we reach our dignity threshold?

Davit Bek, Syunik region, Armenia, November 2020 (Photo: Jonathan Alpeyrie for the Armenian Weekly)

We have become all too familiar with the names Yeraskh, Goris, Kapan, Gegharkunik and Tavush within Armenia, and most recently, Martakert in Artsakh. These are but a few examples of where Azerbaijan has violated the sovereignty of Armenia and ignored the so-called “November 9” agreement. Azerbaijan has consistently violated humanitarian agreements, international law and confidence building measures from the OSCE. They have offered duplicitous rhetoric about solutions only through peaceful means while unleashing unilateral and criminal attacks on the Armenians. This is all well documented by our ombudsmen offices and is being presented to international courts. Illegal holding and torturing of POWs, occupation of sovereign territory, use of illegal weapons, importing jihadist mercenaries, attacking civilians…the list is endless for the criminal Turkish/Azeri alliance. All true, but we know painfully from recent experience that the world is at best ambivalent to justice and probably closer to complicit through geopolitical interests. Our interests are best served by looking closer in the mirror and taking some responsibility. Acting as victims may garner sympathy but little tangible support.

The Azeri assault on Armenian sovereignty and human rights is somewhat analogous to a schoolyard bully. Bullies essentially operate off the fear of their victims and the assumption that the authority structure will not act. They are cowards and display no respect for human dignity. The role of the victim in this case is the Armenians, or more specifically, the peaceful border villages and the military personnel. The bullies are the Azeris buoyed by their violent assault on Armenians and the absence of deterrents to their aggression. The “school” administration is represented by the Russian “peacekeepers,” which have superseded the Armenian authorities. This is similar to a school superintendent overriding local authority in the principal. The Azeri bullies run rampant because there are no ramifications to their belligerent behavior. Border incursions are met with endless “negotiations.” They shoot at civilians in multiple locations, and we are thankful when they stop. They murder an Armenian civilian in Martakert, and life is expected to continue. No justice. No changes. De facto anarchy. The school “administration” (Russia) meanwhile declares that they are the guarantor of stability and peace! All is well in their version of reality. This, of course, only encourages the bully because in their world of cowardly actions, the lack of repercussions is critical. The cycle continues until the day that the victim chooses to no longer behave like a subordinate with low self-esteem and little dignity. It is the hope of all victims to come to the realization that the implications of being victimized are greater than their fears. As long as the authorities are in denial or choose to do nothing, the weight of a solution lies in the hands of those victimized. The cowardly lion in the iconic Wizard of Oz was a bully until Dorothy decided to rap him on the nose. This is the nature of bullies: cowards at heart that count on fearful victims and ambivalent authorities.

Under the current circumstances, one cannot expect the strategy of Azerbaijan to change. They have never advocated for peace or been a good faith negotiator. Why not? The punishment has been insignificant. The tactics have been consistent for 30 years. Soften the defenses and morale of the Armenian border regions with unilateral violations of ceasefire agreements, and more recently, the terms of the tri-nation agreement of 2020. Emboldened by their gains in late 2020, they are operating as if there was no agreement in place. With a rogue nation such as Azerbaijan, this will continue until the “bully” is confronted. Russia’s role is a double-edged sword for Armenia. On the one hand, Russia stopped the carnage in Artsakh because it was in a unique position to negotiate with the neo-Ottoman Turks who are focused on establishing a permanent presence in the Caucasus. Russia’s assistance always comes with strings, hooks and ropes. “Mother Russia” was able to maintain a level of control in her backyard as the sole provider of “peacekeepers,” but made concessions to Turkey while outflanking her OSCE partners, France and the United States. It is clear that Russia does not intend to police justice in the border skirmishes. Its presence is a reactive role without any real deterrence in the short term to Azerbaijani violence. The continuing illegal presence of Azeri troops on Armenian soil, barbaric sniper fire, ethnic cleansing and POW captivity are clear evidence of not only their aggression but lack of respect for Russian authority. There are many analysts who predict that Azeri belligerence and taunting of Iran will backfire on them in the long term. The Azeris, of course, hope to accomplish their goals of the “Zangezur corridor” and border changes in the short term, thus rendering the longer term ramifications irrelevant. The passive player in this scenario is Armenia. It seems that Armenia has delegated its foreign policy, as it relates to Azerbaijan and Turkey, to Russia. One of the primary responsibilities of a national government is to establish and protect its borders. Russian troops guard the border in the west with Turkey (occupied highlands). This was established early in the independence period as a result of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) agreement. Currently, there are Russian troops on the border of Artsakh/Azerbaijan and Armenia/Azerbaijan (occupied Artsakh). An occasional Russian presence on the southern border with Nakhichevan leaves only the northern sectors with Georgia as purely Armenian. What definition of sovereignty is this? What are the implications of an overt subordinated role? A protector that only is concerned with their interests?

We all understand the geopolitical considerations — Armenia is in a weakened state, the army has a recovery to maintain and the government has limited options given the position of Russia and Armenia’s over-dependence on its “strategic ally.”  Despite the perception that diaspora Armenians from the west do not understand (or accept) the relationship with Russia, the reality is that most get it. Armenia does not want to become Georgia by leaning too far to the west and losing territory and regional support. Yet that is exactly what is happening as Azerbaijan treats the border as a mere formality and insists on connecting their territory with an Armenian “economic corridor.”

Lost in all the political intrigue and theater is the position of the common citizen. It is my belief that the government victory in the recent election was more a rejection of the past than an endorsement of the government’s performance. The border villages are not given enough importance in today’s thinking. Cosmopolitan Yerevan is a world away from village life in Tavush, Artsakh, the eastern shores of Sevan, Syunik or along the Nakhichevan border. The political reality with the Turk/Azeri alliance is a daily reality here. Ask the family of the Martakert farmer murdered by Azeri snipers or the wounded soldiers and civilians in Yeraskh. Perhaps spend a moment with the brave citizens along the Goris/Kapan corridor where Azeri soldiers are squatters, and harassment is a regular occurrence.

We have traveled through Yeraskh many times on our way to Paruyr Sevak. Located next to Armash, it sits on the Azeri border where apparently the criminal regime feels free to violate international and humanitarian law regularly. Our response? Press releases, strong rhetoric and presentations to a world barely listening. What about these people? Have we lost all sense of responsibility that we choose to ignore these threats, intimidation and murder? Have we institutionalized instability?

Where is our threshold of dignity? Will we ever reach it, or do we keep “moving the goalposts” to avoid confrontation? Forget the politics and diplomatic dynamics for a minute. The citizens of Armenia are being treated like serfs on their own land. Has Armenia lost its self-respect to the point where Azerbaijanis can abuse the basic freedoms of Armenian citizens and our response is to take the high road until we have the okay from Russia? If that is the state of affairs, then we should ask ourselves what is the purpose of nationhood. Don’t judge it by the nightclubs and shopping in Yerevan. That’s too easy. Life seems normal. Go to the borders, and see how we have declined. The government owes the people an actionable response. If we have lost our sense of dignity, then being reserved today for a brighter tomorrow has no value. It is time that we raise the bar on our threshold of being a dignified, self-respected state that addresses the most fundamental needs of its citizens — basic security. Armenia’s recovery starts with having enough self-esteem and confidence as a nation to defend its rights. We are not talking about longer term security in Artsakh or reparations for the Genocide. This is an issue that is impacting the lives of thousands and the dignity of a nation. No one has the right to violate these inalienable rights…unless we abdicate them. A country that ignores these attacks has spiraled into a victim state. The response is only to blame others. The core of patriotic behavior is to focus on what will help Armenia improve and not patronize the people and its government. After the disaster of the 2020 war, the road to recovery passes through restoring dignity and self-respect.

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. There will be no “corridor.” The Russians have stated that it is simply trade routes from the Soviet and Tsarist eras.
    The Azeris are attempting a kind of warfare that simply prevents any kind of real condemnation or response.
    We will have the North-South Corridor that runs through Iran, Armenia. Georgia, Russia, and the EU. So I don’t know where you get the fear of a “Zangezur Corridor” from. Georgia has received very little from leaning too far West.
    Also, the use of quotes around peacekeepers and ally is really passive aggressive. It looks unprofessional.

    • Re-read the title of this column,”When will we reach our dignity threshold?”. You say ‘Attempting’ a ‘kinda warfare’? Are you blind? They’re marching now and will continue all the way to Yerevan if we let them…hence at what point does Armenia stand up for its dignity?

      And Zangezur Corridor was not part of ceasefire agreement nor did it contain any provisions for establishing any “corridor”. For Armenia, it’s a security risk, I see it as an ongoing amputation, a dismemberment, another squeezing of Armenia’s sovereignty, and it preys on our psyche.

      You wanna critique something, critique the pathetic Armenian multi-millionaires and billionaires that never lost a dime over the war losses and looking for more ways to raise donations for Armenia as if we don’t have enough credible organizations that do that already… instead of critiquing the use of quotation marks.

    • Interesting piece, Armenia with its technology and innovation should more concentrate designing and manufacturing modern infrastructure and for that centre of excellence for new technology combating new style of wars and aggression.
      One if has the resources specially innovative and skilled researchers then concentrate to manufacture in house.
      I agree at the moment it’s frustrating how this uncivilised country is allowed to behave, unfortunately Armenia has always suffered because of its geographical situation surrounded by manly corrupt and unethical neighbors mainly Azerbaijan and Turkey. It’s a complicated situation but one would have hoped during the last two thousand years of turbulent and challenging times we come through, at least by now given that we are quite clever and hard working people , we should have been in much more stronger position in armour technology and evolving continuously on the political front and the border situation

  2. On one hand we want independence from Russians and on the other hand we want to be spoon fed by Russians. Cognitive dissonance at its worst. Think kind of political-illiteracy and self-destructive behavior got us to where we are today. 30 years ago we inherited a highly developed and technically advanced nation and in 30 years we turned it into a third world cesspool. And the traditional Diaspora played a major role in Armenia’s civilizational decline. The only rational thing to do now is to indeed go back to Mother Russia before we lose what little we have left…

  3. I am always amazed at the amount of empty arrogance Armenians portray. It reminds me of Arabs and Kurds. Whatever we have left of Armenia is because of Russia. If Russian troops left Armenia today there won’t be an Armenia tomorrow. We are where we are today because we took our eyes off the ball. We forgot that Russia is the only reason why an Armenia has existed during the last two hundred years. Our complimentary politics proved disastrous. Our western fetish proved disasterous. We need to completely forget about the West and concentrate on cooperating with Russia and also Iran. It amazes me that even today there are Armenians that do not understand this. It amazes me that even when Armenia’s existence hangs in a balance and Russians are the only reason why Turks have not overrun Armenia we have Armenians acting “tough” with Russia. Simply amazing. And this is how the largely assimilated diaspora has caused more trouble than good in Armenia.

    • Excellent point, I agree 100%, just note that it’s not only the diaspora that has turned anti-russian but a significant portion of Armenian society in Armenia as well (and many Armenians in Russia). It’s fashionable to hate Russians/Putin and raise the flag of democracy and progress, disregarding the risk to our security (if there ever was such a thing).

      Yes it’s amazing that the political instinct of the average Armenian is at this level, and even more shocking that there are organized groups/parties/NGOs that openly preach about getting rid of Russian influence, even after the results of the war and even after their worshipped Premier has made a uturn on his initial anti-russian policy.

      There is a reason Armenia is so small. Maybe we are bound to be a nation without a country, a global community-based nation with schools, churches, living with the usual dolma nights, the annual dance ensemble performance, the n-th Gomidas book launch, and posters of Saroyan’s famous words (insightful and prescient about Armenians creating a new Armenia wherever they meet, eliminating thus the need to create a real country and carrying the weight that comes with it).

      The shock/surprise you feel now is probably one felt by our ancestors many times in history: during the first republic, during hamidian era in ottoman empire, during david beg’s reign in Syunik, during Hovsep Emin’s attempt to liberate eastern Armenia from Persian rule, etc.

    • You really believe the Russian troops are in Armenia to protect the Armenians from the Turks? That’s quite naive. If that was truly the case then why would Russia allow the NATO member terrorist Turkey to have military presence in Russian’s backyard in the South Caucasus and take no action whatsoever when it was the Turkish defense minister, and not Azerbaijan’s, who was threatening the Armenians over the Tavush incident in July of 2020 prior to the September 2020 44-day war? It was also the Turkish foreign minister who kept advising and telling Aliyev not to honor any ceasefire throughout the war.

      If Russia with its military base in Armenia is the deterrent force to Turkey then what were Turkish F-16s doing flying over the Armenian territory during the war and deliberately left behind in Nakhijevan, less than 50 kilometres from the Armenian capital, at the end of Turkish-Azerbaijani joint military exercises in the summer of 2020 prior to the war and secretly transported to Ganja’s (original name Gandzak-Գանձակ in Armenian) airport to be used in the September 2020 war? Russia and Turkey together were ironing out their issues over Syria in the South Caucasus at the expense of Armenia. Is this how the so-called Russian ally you portray is supposed to behave towards Armenia by accommodating the Turks? The terrorist Turks had been absent from the South Caucasus since the defeat of the Ottoman Empire by the Allies at the end of WWI in 1918 but now and with Russian consent they have set up military bases in and around the conflict zone and to what end? Is Russia keeping the Turkish enemy out of the Armenian backyard or inviting them in and all for what? For the tens of billions of dollars in Russian S-400 sales to Turkey and other lucrative Russian projects in Turkey such as a nuclear power plant they are in the process of constructing.

      Did you know that during the 44-day war the Russians deliberately delayed the delivery of certain key military assets to the Armenians for the defense of the Artsakh airspace? And when they did deliver half of them were not in working condition? How about selling a multiple two hundred million dollars’ worth of Russian SU-30 fighter aircrafts to Armenia without any firing capability and never used in the war? How about the Iskender ballistic missile fiasco which was supposed to put the fear of God in the enemy? How about Armenia being one of the very few backing Russia on the Russian ownership of the Crimean Peninsula WHILE Vladimir Putin claiming Artsakh as Azerbaijani territory? How about Russia, along with CIS states including Armenia sadly to say, sending troops to the Tajik-Afghan border and flexing its muscles to crush and keep the Taliban out WHILE sitting back doing nothing and watching its Armenian ally be attacked jointly by NATO member terrorist Turkey and Azerbaijan, along with Syrian ISIS paid-mercenaries transplanted there, and using all kinds of deadly weapons acquired from terrorist Pakistan, despotic Belarus and hypocritical and morally-bankrupt state of Israel? And the list goes on.

      Stop fooling yourselves. At best, Russia is neither Armenia’s friend nor its enemy. Russia is for Russian interests only and will sacrifice anyone, including its allies, in pursuing Russian interests in the region and around the world. I have no doubt it is all the same for Russia if a million Armenians or Turks died as long as Russia gets what Russia wants. Wake up already. A hundred years ago the Soviets (Lenin) sold us out to the genocidal Turks (Ataturk) and last year history repeated itself. Nothing will change so long as we accept as allies wolves in sheep’s clothing and as long as our incompetent Armenian leaders act like a bunch of servants serving the interests of foreign powers instead of serving the Armenian nation.

  4. A bully will continue, until hit back. While the ROA Army and proud defenders are wounded, I simply do not understand why our troops are not stationed at all our borders, especially where our enemy, simply taunts us. Inch by inch, hectare by hectare, they are taking our Armenian land. Granted, we lost many brave soldiers and defenders. But if you do not hit the aggressor back, and at the very least expel his continued aggression into your homeland, then they will be at the doorsteps of Yerevan one day. Trust me- if you stand up for yourself- it may very well for once wake up those international players when they see, wow-they actually are not taking this without an effort, and hitting back. Wake up my Haiastansti brothers and sisters. Your current PM has betrayed us all, and will continue to trade Armenian land and souls with his traitor acts with his “buddies Aliyev and Erdogan. Its time to re-group, and defend.

  5. The Apparatchiks strike again.

    Hilarious how every one of the four scoundrels placed in charge of Armenia have been decidedly ANTI-DIASPORA and PRO-RUSSIA… yet, the “diaspora has destroyed Armenia” – all when not a SINGLE diaspora Armenian was involved in one single aspect of Armenia’s government and direction since the so-called “independence”. Talk about PROJECTION.

    Whatever “diaspora” member has gotten supposedly “involved” it has been superficial and for propaganda purposes and deception. This “Nikol is a Sorosakan” mantra is another Russian Psyop on us whose minions show up here spreading bullcrap to make us think that “this is what happens when we betray Russia”.

    Oh Russia’s entire policy in the South Caucasus and and betrayal of Armenia starting in 1994 was based on a SINGLE IDIOT in 2020?

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