The citizens of Artsakh are like most people in this world. They want a good life for their children, a chance to make a decent living and to prepare for a prosperous future. They dream about their aspirations. They don’t dream about murder, oppression, betrayal and capitulation. Those are the nightmares that disrupt the dreams of good people in this world like the Artsakhtsis. This is a common thread that runs between Armenians living in Artsakh and anywhere in the diaspora. The major difference between us is that we have a tendency to lapse into taking our freedom for granted while they wake up every morning praying for that gift. While our college-age youth enjoy the privilege of advanced education, many of our Artsakh youth serve the nation on the front. They grow up far too fast, and far too many never see the joy of an extended life. Our brave brethren have been living on the edge every day as lawless border attacks continue despite a clear indication of the identity of the aggressor (that would be Azerbaijan) and the presence of peacekeepers (that would be Russia). In addition to the outrageous ambivalence of the world powers to the abuse these people have endured for decades, they have to listen to humiliating comments from the Armenian government, such as the international community expects us to “lower the bar” on the status of Artsakh, and “for us, the Nagorno-Karabakh issue has never been about territory but rather rights.” In the vernacular of this country, this would be referred to as being thrown under the bus.
We are all incredibly frustrated and confused by these comments. I will not, however, resort to personal insults or negative generalizations. There is plenty of that to go around, and the vast majority of it adds no value. It only builds walls. It is ironic, however, that in only four short years Prime Minister Pashinyan has become the 2022 version of Serzh Sargsyan. The latter lost credibility in 2018 when despite assurances, he chose to stay in power as prime minister under the constitutional revision. Many considered this as a power retention move. The pressure built through a street revolution, and Sargsyan eventually resigned. Say what you will about the third president of Armenia, but at a critical juncture, he chose to resign rather than preside over civil strife. Doubters will say he had no choice, but I believe he understood the reality and deep down some patriotic vein was struck. If he had resisted, think of what the outcome would have been on the ground. March 1 would have looked like a day in the park. Four years later and the current prime minister finds himself on the defensive. It is interesting to note that in both cases the leader’s party carried the majority of the National Assembly and maintained political control. The Republican party of Sargsyan had a majority control of the NA for several years either outright or through coalitions. Pashinyan’s party has control today despite a few defections, and in addition has had the opportunity to influence the replacement of former President Armen Sarkissian, who resigned suddenly under questionable circumstances. Political control has not been in question in 2018 or 2022. The Velvet Revolution forced the resignation of Sargsyan, and the constitutional process led to the rise of Pashinyan. The opposition and public outcry have grown stronger in recent weeks against Pashinyan, but it remains to be seen whether this will be a replay of 2018.
Pashinyan’s public comments to the press and the National Assembly on lowering the bar on Artsakh expectations were both curious and controversial. They have bolstered the perception that the territorial and sovereignty campaign for Artsakh will be abandoned in the ongoing negotiations and replaced with human and cultural rights advocacy. The prime minister was careful not to attribute this statement to his own view but rather the pressure of the “international community.” What do we owe the international community after they watched the carnage unfold in 2020 as if they had purchased box seats? This is the same group that rewarded a serial oppressor with genocidal instincts by never assigning accountability to their countless infractions. Assuming we take this at face value, comments like this are dangerous because they can be interpreted in a variety of ways, and many will simply apply it to their preconceived notions. Those who do not support the prime minister and are seeking his resignation believe that this is evidence of his plan to capitulate on sovereignty by deferring to what will be supported by the international community. Is this the view of the OSCE Minsk Group that still has the responsibility for the final status but has little to show for its diplomacy? Has Russia revealed to Pashinyan that sovereignty or an alignment with Armenia is out? Has Aliyev declared that he will attack again if Armenia does not sign a peace treaty that equates to a surrender? The Armenian people, especially those in Artsakh, are left to apply speculation and interpretation to these comments, which only raises anxiety. Can you imagine living in Artsakh with such a sacrifice and being represented in this manner? Pashinyan has sought to clarify with wording that is more focused on Artsakh as an entity, but the first salvo always has the lasting impact. Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan made an even bolder statement when he stated that for the government of Armenia, the Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) issue has not been about territory, but rights. Simply incredible! Is this Armenia’s way of saying we relinquish any territorial rights to Artsakh? After all, they have already said they accept the premise of mutual territorial integrity. After almost 35 years of the struggle, we have not once heard the hallmark phrase of “self-determination” from the government in these negotiations. What are you negotiating if the core principle of 35 years has been abandoned? It is obvious that there is tension and outright disagreement between the government of Artsakh, President Harutyunyan and Armenia. Although the leaders of Artsakh are careful to support the Russian peacekeeping process and Russia’s role, they have been clear about their objective of sovereignty and a solution free of any governance relation with Azerbaijan. Artsakh Foreign Minister David Babayan recently stated, “Any attempt to incorporate Artsakh into Azerbaijan would lead to bloodshed and the destruction of Artsakh…and eventually Armenia.” Babayan has always been a clear thinking and effective communicator in his years of service to the Artsakh government. Recently, the notion of proposing a referendum to join the Russian Federation has gained some visibility. Advocates view it as an alternative to annihilation especially in light of the signals from Armenia. To the people of Artsakh, one matter is clear: any relationship under the control of Azerbaijan is unacceptable.
There is no compliance process that will ensure the lives of the Armenians.
Armenia should be listening to the people of Artsakh if they are going to represent them in these negotiations. The lines of communication have been strained, and this is particularly dangerous when speaking for those not present. Any solution advocated by the Armenian side must recognize the reality that Artsakh Armenians living under any Azerbaijani administration is tantamount to the destruction of Armenians from this historic region and cultural genocide. There is no compliance process that will ensure the lives of the Armenians. There is no need for further evidence. Look at what is going on today in Hadrut or any of the “seven territories” today: ethnic cleansing and cultural destruction. It is Kosovo in the Caucasus. The former was granted sovereignty as an unrecognized enclave when the lives of the population were endangered. Artsakh is an even clearer example given the centuries of indigenous presence, density of the population and the demonstrated ability to create a democratic entity with a market economy. Ceding territorial responsibility to Azerbaijan will end this chapter with atrocities. Discrimination, murder, exodus, deprivation and destruction will be the legacy of those who sign such a “treaty.” It is Nakhichevan, Baku and Sumgait again! Azerbaijan will follow none of the terms outlined to ensure the “rights” of the Armenians. Can we identify one agreement that rogue Azerbaijan has honored? The next one will be their first. Their mentor and older brother Turkey violates the rights of its own citizens on a daily basis and ignores the rights of minorities. The paper it will be written on is worthless to these barbarians whose only purpose is to steal the land and rid themselves of the non-Turkic inhabitants.
There is no lowering of the bar when you reside on the ground floor of the pyramid of life. The ink won’t be dry on the “peace treaty,” and Azerbaijan will begin the economic, cultural and physical assault on the Armenians of Artsakh. Soon we will hear about “Zangezur,” not the absurd “corridor,” but now energized with fresh atrocities, it will be all of Syunik and Sevan. There comes a point when you take a stand. The people of Artsakh understand this and its implications. They do not fear risk; they abhor humiliation. This is the message of those in opposition. Perhaps some of it is about power, but increasingly the message is about survival and preventing atrocities. There is no solution with any governance relationship with Azerbaijan. That will close this chapter with a legacy of abandonment. With survival on the table, odds become less relevant. With Armenians suffering from disunity in 451 AD and an ominous Persian presence, the odds weren’t that good for Vartan. A genocide-ravaged people in 1918 rallied against ridiculous odds to rise from the ashes. An oppressed group in Artsakh without a full military and limited infrastructure prevented a genocide and won their freedom. Now we are afraid to utter the words “self-determination” to criminal oppressors. Are we the same people? The real loss from the 2020 war is not the territory. In our long history, we have lost, and we have won. This is but one chapter of many volumes. What is unacceptable is how “preparing the people for peace” has degraded to a loss of our national dignity. With the thousands who sacrificed and fought for the land, the government can simply state, it was never about the territory. This cannot be who we are.