Will our future be a replay of 1921 or 1991?

Once again, the global Armenian nation finds itself at a strategic crossroad. Armenia, Artsakh and the diaspora are sitting in the intersection deciding which path to take, each of which will have a significant impact on its collective future. Those who sit in the decision making seat carry the burden for today and for generations to come. The crossroads are, of course, the “normalization” dialogue with Turkey and the “peace” negotiations with Azerbaijan. Peace with entities that have overtly sought your destruction is a challenge. There is no doubt that everyone benefits from peace. First and foremost, it will be the end of the loss of human life due to conflict. The challenge always lies within the definition of peace. 

A study in contrast would be two significant dates in modern Armenian history. After suffering the utter humiliation of genocide, exile and dispossession, the Armenian spirit rose from the literal ashes to create the First Republic. There are those who have said that it was an “accidental” republic created by the void of the defeat of the Ottoman Turks and the Russian civil war. It is true that all great events are the beneficiaries of some favorable geopolitical current, but the men and women who defended the Armenian nation against incredible odds in May of 1918 knew it was no mere accident. I would prefer to call it a miracle based on the spirit of remarkable determination and courage against incredible odds.

Late 1920 and 1921 was a particularly difficult time with Azerisa now Bolshevik Russia seeking expansionand the emerging Kemalist Turks in the West seeking to complete the genocide in the East. Some things don’t change. Despite heroic resistance, the infant republic was faced with a decision to lose freedom but survive under the Bolsheviks or simply be subjected to further atrocities under the Turks. They chose survival, but the cost was significant. Many of the hard fought territorial gains with the blood of Armenians was “gifted” back to Turkey. Eternal Ararat, Kars, Ardahan and areas of Western Armenia were reoccupied by the Turkish nationalists. Stalin later awarded Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) and Nakhichevan as autonomous regions within Azerbaijan. Still other border regions were given to Georgia. The treaty between the parties was signed by the Kemalists, who were not the recognized government of Turkey at the time, by the Bolshevik authorities who had not yet consolidated their power as a recognized government and Armenian puppet representatives. Despite the limited options, the Treaty of Kars in 1921 was a humiliating defeat for the Armenians, who lost territory, their freedom and their dignity. The Soviet era began, and the diaspora went about building its permanent infrastructure. With the Azeris salivating for the destruction of Artsakh and Armenia, will 2022 become our new 1921? Turkey, with its olive branch and “no preconditions,” is again eager to serve its expansionist vision with its “one nation-two states” partner. Russia is ever present in Armenia’s future. What is the price for Russian support? In 1921, it was freedom and territory to prevent Turkish massacres. Russia believes that it saved Artsakh from further Azeri destruction in 2020. The price was Hadrut, Shushi and the liberated areas. What is their price for peace in 2022? Is this a replay of the 1921 humiliation?

In contrast to the dark days of 1921, there was a more recent time that should inspire hope and patriotism. The time of 1991 was filled with uncertainty and opportunity. The unthinkable was happening with the crumbling of the Soviet empire. The people of Armenia and particularly Artsakh had wisely anticipated change. The Karabakh Committee, petitions, demonstrations and legal requests were all linked to a common theme: a yearning to be free. The people of Artsakh knew what had happened to their brethren in Nakhichevan, Baku and Sumgait organized by the evil intentions of the Azerbaijani government. Murder, expulsions and ethic cleansing were common practices. I will never forget the words of a young Tavitian scholar from Artsakh at the Fletcher School at Tufts University who stated at a public symposium on Nagorno-Karabakh attended by many Turks and Azeris that the defense of Artsakh was intended to prevent “another genocide.” They tried living peacefully within the structure of the Azerbaijani rule and witnessed the oppression and decline of the Armenian identity. They attempted to work through the legal and established process outlined in the Soviet Constitution only to be rebuffed by the central government and attacked by the artificial Azeri government.

A Yerevan protest calling for Artsakh’s reunification with Armenia, 1988 (Photo: Berge Ara Zobian/The Armenian Weekly)

The years of 1991-1994 when Artsakh declared its independence after pursuing every legal and peaceful path were inspiring to all patriotic Armenians. Outgunned and with little infrastructure to support a prolonged conflict, they prevailed because they were defending their homes and their God-given right to be free. We must separate those years from the diplomatic and political failures that we are currently focused on. It should always remain a time of inspiration. It should be studied and ingrained in our thinking. It was a time when the Armenians stood up and said proudly, “ENOUGH.” Is that word even in our vocabulary today? We seem to be internalizing the press clipping that Armenia is weak, that it is defeated and that it is capitulating and abandoning Artsakh. The Armenians of Artsakh didn’t believe any of this defeatist thinking in 1991. They were focused on not allowing the flame to be extinguished on a 4,000 year presence. They demonstrated the advantage that those defending their homes always have in military conflict. They had everything and nothing to lose. Do we believe that today when we agree to the vague Azeri “five points” that the Azeris advocate to destroy Artsakh? Armenia and Artsakh are more advanced societies in many ways than 1991, but we need to reach down deep into our soul, as they did in 1991 and understand what is at stake and act with courage accordingly. Our nation has a long history of beating the odds. Our existence as a civilization in 2022 is ample evidence. By the grace of God and the courageous leaders throughout our history, we have prevailed when simple logic would have suggested otherwise.

Courage with leaders is not usually about risking their life. It is about their ability to wisely use the authority you have been granted to secure a prosperous future for your people. Our geopolitical engagements exist to pursue our patriotic self interests. Accepting the Azeri “five points” is a dangerous game. Pashinyan is operating from a defensive posture. Azeris make demands, and he responds. What is preventing him from reversing that process? Despite the perception, it seems self-imposed. The Azeris lost the first war yet stayed on the diplomatic and military offensive in the aftermath. Courage comes from standing up to their thinly disguised pre-conditions, such as accepting Artsakh as part of the “territorial integrity” definition. It is and must be an integral part of “self-determination,” and, because of Azeri crimes, is now “remedial secession.” Armenia cannot effectively speak for Artsakh when it does not effectively protect its borders, respond to border incursions that violate international law and allow the continued disgraceful imprisonment of Armenian POWs. Courage is about maintaining a level of dignity so that you are respected by your citizens and your enemies. When the criminal Aliyev commits unilateral violence at the border of Artsakh, Armenia needs to respond and protect its people. An Armenian response may motivate the Russian peacekeepers to become more active in their role to prevent escalation. Why are the Armenians reluctant to respond to the barbarians who have used unprovoked attacks without any repercussions? Initiate a response, and perhaps the negotiations with the descendants of Talaat will be more balanced. The people of Artsakh understand this, and I believe the citizens of Armenia do also. Does the Pashinyan government understand, and what is their vision of Armenia and Artsakh post-negotiations? Will it be 1921 when all neighboring parties divided up what was left of our homeland including sacred Ararat and Ani? Will Armenia continue its policy of placating like a defeated nation? We are a defeated nation only if we choose to be. The 2020 war was devastating, and the loss of life was horrific. But it was another moment in our struggle. It can be the final chapter if we choose that path, or we behave like 1991 and it can be another rebirth. We must rebuild our defense and intelligence capabilities during this critical time. We have to send a message to the Turks and Azeris that we will not accept terms that will lead to our destruction. We will respond to their attempts to intimidate and show our global nation that we lost a 44-day war but not our dignity and our future.

The geopolitical waters are currently dangerous. Russia is distracted. The West has been boxed out of the ineffective OSCE Minsk Group. Turkey is playing both sides predictably, and Azerbaijan senses a final victory. We have added to their perceived confidence with our feeble responses. We may view this as unprecedented, but it’s today’s version of Avarayr and Sardarabad where courage inspired decisions that enabled what we have today. It is my view that the Armenian people, be they in the diaspora, Armenia and especially Artsakh, will not tolerate capitulation to those who have deployed the same methods to seek our destruction. The current government is the gatekeeper of this chapter in our homeland’s history. Pashinyan has the responsibility to represent the vision of the Armenian people. His electoral mandate does not include a de facto surrender. It is an eternal responsibility handed through the centuries from monarchies to vassal states to our modern sovereign state. It is time for 1991 to re-emerge in our leadership. In this week leading up to the glorious resurrection of Our Lord, let us pray for the wisdom and courage of Armenia.

Stepan Piligian

Stepan Piligian

Columnist
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.
Stepan Piligian

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4 Comments

  1. Sad that Armenia and the diaspora forgot the lessons of 1915-21. Neither built competent institutions to cope with our existential threats. Let’s hope it’s not too late.

  2. Armenian institutions were prepared to fight off their political opponents but not to deal with existential threats. Now we will all face the consequences of our lack of unity and vision.

  3. The laments and the complaints are too little, too late.

    Let no one say they did not know this about Nikol and his team. Nikol was one of the top ring leaders during the 2008 Western funded Color Revolution attempt in Armenia. Nikol’s anti-Artsakh and anti-Russia sentiments were well known going back to the early 2000s. Most of Nikol’s “officials” were on the payroll of Western and/or Turkish interests. Yet, he is the most beloved leader post-Soviet Armenia has had both in the homeland and the Diaspora. Armenians “elected” Nikol not once but twice, the second time coming after the historic humiliation and defeat in Artsakh. All Armenians worldwide should therefore “rejoice” in Armenia’s “people’s choice”. In a nutshell, Nikol is the by-product of 30 years of “independence”, “democracy”, “westernization” and the resulting societal and cultural decay.

    Some of us were warning against all this for many years. We were met by scorn and ridicule. Now enjoy the fruits of your “progress”!

    At this point in history, the only hope real Armenians have regarding Artsakh is its absorption into the Russian Federation. And I also hope to see President Putin and the valiant Russian army eventually do to all of the south Caucasus what they are currently doing to Ukraine.

  4. History repeats itself. A century ago the pseudo-Russian Bolshevik criminals, aka the White Turks, helped the defeated genocidal Turks with gold and ammunition to stand up on their feet to push the Western Powers, the adversaries of the pseudo-Russian REDs post WWI, out of the region in return for and at the expense of dividing our terrorized and martyred homeland between the two. Armed with Bolshevik supplied weapons, the genocidal Turks invaded what was left of Armenia and the Bolshevik devils disguised as “saviors” moved in and absorbed what was left of Armenia turning it into Armenia-SSR and holding it hostage for seventy years.

    A similar thing happened in the 2020 terroristic war imposed on the Armenians by half dozen terrorist states, led by terrorist Turkey, with full knowledge of Russia and the arming of the enemy to the teeth by the very same Russia. This time Russia turning a blind eye on the Turkish terrorists planning and conducting the war on behalf of the incompetent and defeated artificial Azerbaijan. Just like a century ago, the Russians did nothing and moved in and “saved” what little was left of the liberated territories and transplanting their troops there to occupy the region under the disguise of peacekeepers after thirty years of absence. A preplanned and coordinated attack on the Armenians to put them in their place for daring to want to establish an independent, democratic and popular homeland for the Armenians in the Russian backyard. A major Liability for Russia that had to be interrupted as they did a century ago. Some may say that Russia had no obligation towards the liberated territories to interfere on the Armenian side and prevent the war but that is a lame excuse to absolve Russia of its secret schemes. Ask yourselves, why would Russia invade and practically destroy Ukraine for wanting to join NATO while not only not having any problem with NATO member terrorist Turkey to move into the South Caucasus but to allow and remain indifferent about terrorist Turkey planning, provoking and conducting the 2020 war on terrorist Azerbaijan’s behalf? Terrorist NATO member Turkey had not dared to set foot there in seven decades! As before, to solve the Turkish-Russian issues in the region at the expense of the Armenians.

    The artificial Azerbaijani terrorist cesspool with all its wealth and resources had been incapable of doing anything significant against the Armenians for thirty years. We were witnesses to their incompetence and brave and dedicated Armenian resistance in defense of their liberated enemy-occupied homeland. Most recently in the so-called 4-Day April war of 2016 fought with Armenian selfless heroism and with massive losses and humiliation inflicted on the enemy. The enemy was practically armed with the same deadly weapons then as it was armed with in 2020 but the difference then was that this terrorist artificial state, more or less, had to fight its own fight in 2016 while the 2020 war was the terrorist Turkish proxy war on the Armenians using terrorist Azerbaijani armed forces, in collaboration with half dozen other terrorist states and entities. Our short-sighted leaders learned nothing from our tragic past and our nation was yet again betrayed by foes as well as friends.

    Once again, history repeated itself. This is no longer a conflict between Armenia and artificial Azerbaijan for if that were the case the result would be the same as in the past. The selfish interests of the superpowers are involved in this conflict and Armenia, due to its important geopolitics, has become a victim of their selfish and dangerous games!

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