Another Way or the Highway

Late last month, a traumatized global Armenian nation was treated to the latest in a set of perverted images that should finally cause us to collectively wake up, throw up and stand up.

It featured the presidents of genocidal Turkey and Azerbaijan, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ilham Aliyev, laying the foundations of a highway in occupied Artsakh that they declared would breach the borders of the Republic of Armenia.

Presidents Erdogan and Aliyev lay the foundation stone for the so-called Zangezur Corridor, October 26, 2021 (Photo: Official website of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan)

As reported in Turan, Erdogan asked chairman of the state highway agency of Azerbaijan Saleh Mammadov, “You are going to the Armenian border, aren’t you? Will you go further?” Mammadov responded, “Yes, we will move to the other side. With God’s help, we will go all the way to Istanbul, to Europe.”

The highway is part of the greater “Zangezur Corridor” that Aliyev threatens will “unite the entire Turkic world,” sparking unavoidable comparisons to the pan-Turanism (or pan-Turkism) ideology that led the Young Turks to commit the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek genocides in 1915.

Sadly, Armenians have become accustomed to this sort of expansionist rhetoric since 1915, when much of historic Armenia was occupied by the Ottomans. We were reminded again last year, when Azerbaijan attacked Artsakh with the help of big brother Turkey, and subsequently walked away with most of Nagorno Karabakh after ethnically cleansing tens of thousands in the process.

What Turkey and Azerbaijan do is not in the control of Armenians. However, Armenians can mount a defense against such an offensive. Unfortunately, Armenia seems to be a global nation that is on a losing streak, a rut that we cannot snap out of.

Arguably the biggest loser of this regrettable series of defeats is Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, especially accounting for his impressive yet populist rise to power rallying against corruption less than four years ago.

In another recent softball interview given on state television, the man who violently threatens his political opposition continued his comparatively weak-as-wet-lettuce approach to his murderous external enemy.

Pashinyan affirmed that all roadways are being considered by the Armenian government, including the one that Erdogan and Aliyev celebrated above. Additionally, he danced around every opportunity criticize Azerbaijan, respectfully asking them to stop border skirmishes in order for demarcation and delimitation of borders to start.

He also said that the process to redraw these borders has nothing to do with the status of the Republic of Artsakh, which would be decided under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group. Restoring economic ties with Armenia’s aggressive neighbors would also be treated as a separate case, sensationally stating that Ankara’s suggested 3+3 framework was acceptable for future cooperation with the genocide-denying dictatorship.

Further, Pashinyan never referred to the Republic of Artsakh by name and said he had a mandate from the Armenian people to sign any document that would establish peace.

While there have been many contributors to the biggest capitulation in Armenian history signed one year ago, the “biggest loser” title is based on a series of irrefutable facts:

  • Despite his bellicose rhetoric in the lead-up, Pashinyan was ultimately unprepared for the war on the 27th of September 2020;
  • He pulled back the professional Armenian army from participation in Artsakh barely 10 days into said war, leading observers to believe this was the first of many concessions;
  • He repeatedly lied that he was winning the war in almost daily social media appearances;
  • He lost the war in an utter capitulation on November 9, 2020, a day after declaring that “the battle for Shushi continues,” even conceding territories that Azerbaijan’s army still had not reached and were never up for bargaining in pre-war negotiations;
  • He released all Azerbaijani prisoners of war but did not receive the same in return. Then, to secure the release of a few dozen of the hundreds estimated to be in Baku’s captivity, Pashinyan conceded strategic maps which accelerate Azerbaijan’s ability to settle on the occupied Armenian territories;
  • He responded without force when Azerbaijan encroached on the territories of Armenia proper, allowing the offending army to make permanent camp in what were villages and towns inhabited by Armenians for millennia;
  • He has continued to pull back troops to avoid confrontation, even calling Armenian towns by their made-up Azerbaijani names and declaring himself ready for border demarcations using extinct Soviet maps as a guide.

In listing these failures (and many that have no doubt been forgotten), it is apparent that the only victory Pashinyan has managed since the start of the war over a year ago was in the country’s 2021 parliamentary elections, where his party won a reduced majority to govern for five more years.

While acknowledging that a win is a win, the reduction in support for Pashinyan is not something to be sneezed at. A drop from 70.4 percent in 2018 to 53.95 percent in 2021 is an unprecedented slide in popularity for an Armenian leader.

Considering that since these 2021 polls, Armenia has witnessed the further encroachment of Azerbaijani forces onto Armenian lands, an exodus of citizens for pastures abroad, and another wave of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations (arising from Pashinyan’s mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic in an unvaccinated nation), it would be safe to assume that his support has decreased.

Indeed, this was a win against opponents led by forces backed by Armenia’s previous two heads of state – Robert Kocharyan’s Armenia Alliance and Serzh Sargsyan’s I Have Honor Alliance – which together managed to conjure only 26.33 percent of the vote, despite well-resourced campaigns in an election that only managed to attract the participation of 49.37 percent of eligible voters.

Sadly, when objectively analyzing the electorate since the polls, it would be difficult to make the case that this opposition has capitalized on Pashinyan’s continued slide to consolidate their place as a serious alternative leadership for the Armenian people.

This is an opposition frustrated by their characterization as the “formers” of the country’s corrupt past, but this is a label that has fairly or unfairly stuck. The opposition is similarly frustrated that years of propaganda – from Soviet times to today – has portrayed them as unelectable. The opposition also feels that elections should be about ideas and ideals rather than individuals, but Armenia’s history – as well as the geopolitical trends in the region – favors identity politics focused around individuals.

Despite the challenges facing the opposition, a paradigm shift is a necessity. Armenia needs another way or it will be a highway that represents hell for the country’s security and sovereignty.

“Another way” could mean that the current opposition finds its course to deliver the mass outcry needed to unseat Pashinyan. There have also been some murmurs in Armenia that lend weight to a third way. Ruben Vardanyan, Arman Tatoyan, Abraham Gasparyan and others all have supporters backing them towards greater political ambition.

Whether or not these people, the current opposition or others are the ticket to extended freedom for Armenia remains to be seen. Any alternative leadership should not overlook that populism and individualism will play an integral part to collate the masses. It has only been individuals – Levon, Raffi, Nikol – who have managed to mobilize the masses towards movements that have threatened to shift the status quo.

If, as Putin confirmed, Shushi and Hadrut were never up for bargaining in negotiations before this war, then the sovereign territories of Armenia were most certainly not either. As Azerbaijan and Turkey are openly threatening to build a road within Armenia’s internationally recognized borders, surely a new leadership – one that was not part of the defeats and surrenders of 2020 – will give Armenia the best chance at reaching a more amicable outcome through negotiations. Surely a new leadership will have a better chance at bringing Armenians together to accept that amicable outcome.

This is needed now more than ever. A pro-Armenia, pro-Artsakh, pro-Diaspora, unifying populism. Another way or the highway.

Haig Kayserian

Haig Kayserian

Haig Kayserian is the Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of Australia, with a Bachelors in Media & Cultural Studies (Macquarie University) and is currently completing his Masters in Politics & Policy (Deakin University). He is a director at several technology companies based in the US and Australia and is an advisory board member at Armenia’s first technology venture capital firm.
Haig Kayserian

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1 Comment

  1. Armenia and Armenians behaved irresponsibly during the past 30 years and now they are paying the price. Our leaders and people were too indulgent of corrupt oligarchs, incompetence and a casual attitude to state building ( over reliance on Russia which has its own larger agenda, underestimating the growing power of Azerbaijan etc), when they knew full well that were surrounded by murderous enemies. The Diaspora was no less irresponsible, busy with petty squables, assimiliation and accumulating personal wealth but not community wealth, instead of creating vibrant, organized communities. Armenians were not able to produce visionary leaders to rally Armenia and the Diaspora. I am not defending Pashinian but unfortunately he is fairly typical. He is one of us.
    I thought that after 1915, Armenians collectively would take a long, hard look as to where they want to be in 2015 and act accordingly. The last 30 years since independence was a particularly important period which was squandered. Now we need serious people to think about where Armenians want to be in 2115, and start acting accordingly. This has to be a multi generational effort to revive Armenia and its communities.

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