Security of the Nation, Political Sovereignty/Independence
Author’s Note: Part 1 of this series focused on fundamental national issues that have brought us to this point. The key message is that Armenia and Artsakh are not to be treated and viewed as a mental exercise in far off lands. The Armenian nation consists of Armenia, Artsakh and the Diaspora. This is essential to remember, as our enemies have understood and internalized this for quite some time. Turkish propaganda started on this campaign long before the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide to sow seeds of division among us. This was aided by the divisive policies of the first President and the dichotomous black and white view of the current regime. A national cleansing of our collective souls and minds is in order, one that will be implemented through education and cohesion and embracing of personal and societal responsibilities.
The events of the last two years have considerably undermined the territorial integrity and political sovereignty / independence of both Armenia and Artsakh. Rectification of this problem must be the most urgent task of the government. This requires fundamental reimagination and reinvigoration of Armenia’s and Artsakh’s armed forces. The actions of the current government have skewed in the opposite direction, leaving the Armed forces leaderless, propagate the flight of experienced officers, and erosion of the legacy, standing and importance of the institution both internally and in the society. These steps are aimed at further capitulation and removal of any semblance of a national doctrine from the public discourse. Armenia considered itself as a guarantor of Artsakh’s safety and security. However, the recent decisions and actions of the current Armenian government not only did not fulfill this obligation but also significantly weakened Armenia’s own safety and security. Repeating the innumerable misdeeds and treachery of the current government requires a separate treatment, but none of them are unknown to the citizenry, regardless of their inability or indifference to accept/digest them.
Much has been made of the lack of military preparedness of the Armed Forces and placing the blame on either the previous regimes or the current one. Again, this is an irrelevant discussion, as the blame belongs to us all. However, as the fog of war is slowly settling, and details are emerging, specific patterns are becoming evident. According to corroborated reports, Artsakh lost a significant portion of its air defense and artillery within the first day or two of the battle to a degree that Armenia’s Chief of the General Staff informed the Prime Minister that the war could not be won by the fourth day of the conflict. The ability of the enemy to do so requires detailed evaluation of the systemic failures to avoid such scenarios in future. This significant piece of information was not made public, nor were any of the peace offers made during the subsequent ceasefire regimes, where Armenia could stop the war with significantly less loss of life and concessions than the November 10 capitulation. These previous deals were agreed upon by the Azeri side, making this catastrophic failure in leadership and decision making all the more perplexing. Those familiar with the Pentagon Papers appreciate the gravity of this failure, even in the case of a superpower fighting a far-off war, where the safety and security of a superpower nation was never in jeopardy.
Sun Tzu once stated, “The highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy’s plans, the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy’s forces, the next in order is to attack the enemy’s army in the field, and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities.” It is clear how we fared on this scale.
The decision to exert maximal damage and loss of life on Armenia and Artsakh coupled with other information, such as official Armenian declarations that key economic assets of the enemy were not to be attacked at the thick of the war (one could make the decision but why announce it publicly in the middle of a war); the complete lack of transparency during the war and all out public deceit campaign (how can we forget Artsrun Hovhannisyan’s presentations and reports); simply referring to our sworn enemy as an opponent, as if we are playing a basketball game; and addressing railway connections and economic opportunities, instead of dealing with POW issues and other significantly more urgent problems in the January 2021 trilateral meeting in Moscow; point less and less toward incompetence and inexperience and significantly more toward willful actions, on the part of the government. These are significant issues that must be dealt with transparently and with irrefutable evidence, in order for us to move forward.
If we are to address these two main failures, we must hold this government fully accountable. It is not sufficient for them to simply resign or go away. The prime minister and all senior civilian and military officials must face court martial and be punished accordingly.
Unfortunately for the Armenian people, the Velvet Revolution wasn’t much of a revolution. The powers behind the “revolution” had identified a suitable candidate, one with the requisite low moral standing and high corruptibility index, surrounded by an equally despicable cadre of collaborators. A yellow journalist, as rightfully identified in leaked US Embassy communications with direct ties to his ideological father, the first president of the nation, was the perfect candidate. This was a deceptive and coordinated effort that will further corrode the trust of the Armenian people in the ruling class and its ability to govern itself. These should be our first steps toward building an accountable nation. Those involved cannot simply disappear when they are no longer needed and live out the rest of their days in Toronto, Moscow, Vienna, Rome or Los Angeles. These will be the first steps toward reestablishing territorial integrity and political sovereignty/independence of Armenia and Artsakh and regaining the trust of the Armenian people.
During the past many years, we have had ample opportunities to impose Armenian sovereignty but have failed to do so. These exercises would have solidified the resolve of the Armenian state in the eyes of Armenians and our enemies alike. Case in point would have been the extraction of Ramil Safarov from Azerbaijan, at whatever cost, to serve out his sentence in Armenia or to neutralize him. Armenia’s toothless response to such a brazen act by Azerbaijan only strengthened their resolve.
We have worn the victim garment for far too long and have complained of our misfortunes for far too long. The time is nigh that we rise up and rid our minds and souls from this meek and ողորմելի mindset and take charge of our destiny. Our leaders have led us down the path of a death by a thousand papercuts with their cumulative inaction, chronic missteps and, in the case of the current leadership, complete abdication of their oath to protect Armenia and Artsakh. They collectively have the blood of the martyrs and the injured on their hands by not developing the partnerships, friendships and requisite leverages over the past 30 years to make Armenia an engaged, relevant and contributing partner and not a low value pawn to be sacrificed cheaply in geopolitical chess games.
There are many people who are ready to sell Artsakh to make a few dollars. Those who subscribe to the political policies of the first president and his advisors, that giving up lands and making peace with Azerbaijan, are requisites for Armenia’s future prosperity. They conveniently ignore the fact that Azerbaijan and its protector are not merely interested in the lands of Artsakh. They are interested in those lands without any Armenian inhabitants. They are also interested in Armenia proper. Aliyev might not be many things, but unclear he is not. He has unambiguously stated and maintained his zero-sum approach toward Artsakh, in which he partially succeeded in the short term by humiliating Armenia and occupying a significant chunk of our lands. However, he must contend with Russian peacekeepers on lands he covets and considers an eternal part of nascent Azerbaijan (a state younger than Coca Cola, yet a mythical “nation” in Aliyev’s head), by default giving these lands a status other than being part of Azerbaijan proper. He also must contend with Turkey’s takeover of his military and support for his wife to replace him, with their effects on their marital bliss notwithstanding. He has made his claims on Armenian lands as an integral part of the mythical state of Azerbaijan quite clearly, both now and in the past. To think that giving up Artsakh will solve Armenia’s problems is naïve at best and treasonous at worst. If you’re still not convinced, please refer to the following figures:
Figure 2 is from October 20, 2020 during a meeting in Baku between the Azerbaijani MFA and Speaker of the Turkish Parliament. Take a close look at the map on the wall, specifically the eastern borders of Azerbaijan with Armenia (top). The lower figure presents the map on the wall, superimposed on the du jour map of the region. The mismatch is quite telling.
Figure 3 is a 2006 picture of the then-Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and BP CEO John Browne. They are shown laying the last piece of a symbolic pipeline at the Ceyhan crude oil terminal near Turkey’s southern coastal city of Adana. Note the presentation of Armenia’s southern border in the map.
Figure 4 is from January 2021 and depicts the proposed railway from the trilateral meeting in Moscow to bring “peace” to the region.
Figure 2 does not point to a peaceful solution for Armenia, unless peace refers to significant loss of land and sovereignty for Armenia. It clearly incorporates Syunik province into Azerbaijan. Figures 3 and 4 curiously demonstrate similar depictions of Armenia’s southern border, equating peace with energy transport and trade routes. Declaring that Armenia would not target the enemy’s key economic asset in the middle of our new Sardarabad, as declared then by Prime Minister Pashinyan, certainly takes on a new dimension in light of this information.
Many have argued that Armenia could have been a beneficiary of oil transport lines through its territory had it agreed to “peace” with Azerbaijan in the 1990s. Georgia’s case points to a far less lucrative deal with transport revenues in tens of millions of dollars per year, hardly a meaningful sum. In return, Georgia’s airports are operated by Turkish outfits with the Batumi airport considered a domestic flight for Turkish Airlines and Turkish businesses holding significant assets and lands in Georgia. Ultimately, Georgians are to decide their future, but for Armenia it is clear that the land for peace arguments are not backed by evidence, and those still continuing to peddle such arguments are either naïve, deceptive or both. Similarly, the same pundits have pointed to opening railways links with Azerbaijan to boost Armenia’s economy, yet they have failed to mention that the Kars-Tiflis-Azerbaijan railway is only supplying one-percent of the “predicted” 15 million tons of transport in the region. Significant attention has been given to the notion of opening business with our neighbors for the benefit of Armenia’s economy; however, a review of the economies of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Eastern Turkey and Armenia reveals strikingly similar trends and standards of living across these borders, hardly the proposed mythical source of cash inflow into Armenia.
Aliyev is a corrupt and despicable dictator (refer to Azeri Laundromat for further reading). At the core, he has understood and played the long geopolitical game by leveraging his petro-dollars to extend tentacles of influence, be it at the European Commission, wholesale buying of Israeli hired guns to spew out Armeno-phobic articles on a weekly basis, buy the support of US Congressmen through extravagant caviar trips, building statues of his father in Mexico City and elsewhere, and most importantly, through energy pipelines to a point that his bellicose Armeno-phobic rhetoric, plain aggression and targeted destruction of civilians and use of banned weapons generated no meaningful international opposition, outcry or action. The leader of a made-up nation of Tatar tribes, who according to his own father weren’t sure what they were to be called, be it mountain Turks, Turks, Azeris…only to have an identity created for them by the efforts of the Young Turks and the Musavat party, has outplayed the Armenian leadership, inheritors of a historical nation with millennia-old recorded history to a point of allowing these neophytes to make claims on Armenian territories, let alone their delusions of claiming Persian kingdoms and lands as their own as well.
It is also abundantly clear that NATO gave Turkey the green light to actively participate in the Artsakh War in 2020 with Secretary Stoltenberg’s meeting with Erdogan on October 5, heaping praise on Erdogan and Turkey. This was further evidenced by Secretary Pompeo’s callous remarks, reducing Artsakh’s right to exist to a mere fight “over some real estate.” More recently, Secretary Blinken’s “peace” initiative coincided with the brutal crackdown of the opposition movement in Armenia by the use of brute police force. It was a missed opportunity for Secretary Blinken to reflect on these human rights violations in Armenia in his initiative to bring peace to the region. Not long after the end of the war was the announcement of Europe receiving its first shipment of commercial natural gas from Azerbaijan via the final leg of the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC), the Trans-Adriatic Gas Pipeline (TAP). Predictably, gas started to flow to the countries that oppose a tougher EU stance against Turkey’s adventurism in the Mediterranean Sea and Syria. As a reference, Russia exports 238 bcm of natural gas, Iran’s refineries process 270 bcm of natural gas and Azerbaijan exports 18.9 bcm of natural gas.
Militarily, mistakes appear too numerous to count, from the former Defense Minister David Tonoyan’s now infamous evaluation of drone technology and its incorporation into Armenia’s warfighting capabilities; the sad conditions of Artsakh’s first, second and third lines of defense over the past 30 years that did not provide adequate shelter for our soldiers; the fact that 30 years on, we have failed to equip every single soldier with state-of-the-art body armor and helmets (not WWII Russian helmets); questionable military procurements (mudslinging of the involved parties notwithstanding); inexplicable engaging of third parties to procure weaponry instead of direct inter-governmental procurements; not heeding the lessons from the 2016 Four Day War to invest in anti-drone technology, offensive drone capabilities and sophisticated intelligence gathering; sourcing effective defensive and offensive weapons systems; and countless other missteps, bring us to our current dilemma. But on the bright side, our soldiers were getting strawberries as part of their upgraded meals before the war. A thorough, detailed and impartial evaluation of all mistakes must be made to address these shortcomings. This work must be conducted with the future safety and security of Armenia and Artsakh as its guiding light. Individuals whose negligence and/or criminal behavior are established must be punished to the fullest extent of the law, regardless of old or new, in order to establish accountability and stop politicization of failures. The fault lies with all of us.
A thoughtful evaluation of the failures of the Armed Forces must focus on development of the requisite human capital capable of engaging in fifth-generation warfighting with diverse training in Russian, Greek, French, Indian and other military doctrines of friendly nations with subsequent amalgamation of an Armenian military doctrine based on our threats, capabilities and opportunities. This must be followed by appropriate military procurements from diverse sources to address national security and military doctrine needs, and most importantly, fostering an environment of innovation to address military threats with homegrown capabilities. All of a sudden, we have a spike in military drone-making capabilities in Armenia. While a welcome measure, why are these efforts discussed in the public domain? Also, why are we focusing on drones alone? A thorough analysis of our threats and opportunities must dictate the best course of action, in terms of developing indigenous defensive and offensive capabilities. As welcome as drone design and manufacturing efforts are, we must take the big picture into account and not fall into the trap of the last shiny object that we saw.
Based on Figure 2, this was not our last war. Just as the Azeris licked their wounds from their losses in the 90s and prepared for this war, we will and must do the same with greater fervor and deterrence capabilities. A modernized military force with the right doctrine must work on strategies to bring Azerbaijan to its knees in a matter of days with utmost pain on military and civilian infrastructures and making lands around Armenia and Artsakh completely uninhabitable for generations as a barrier. Similarly, we must be ready to inflict disproportionate pain and suffering on Turkey and its citizens, should they choose to participate on the side of their bloodthirsty brethren. This is what we need to plan for in order to live in peace. Israel’s national security doctrine is a shining example of preparation to live in peace in a difficult neighborhood. More than 100 years of history have borne witness to continuous Armenian blood on Turkish and Azeri hands. Ignoring this and believing that our mortal enemies will change their ways will bring us more devastation and bloodshed, which we will be most deserving of.
The military doctrine must be accompanied by a strong foreign policy component, also learning from the mistakes of the recent war. Armenians worldwide felt alone during the war. These feelings (justified or not) aside, the Armenian foreign policy has been particularly ineffective since Armenia’s independence. We have been unable to make Armenia relevant to potential partners. The service has been hampered by political appointees, regardless of diplomatic capabilities and the pursuit of ambiguous foreign policies.
The incessant claims among Armenians who feel betrayed by Russia, Iran, France, the US or any other party reflects their uninquisitive mindset and their lack of appreciation for the need to build reciprocal alliances based on mutual interests and gains and/or neutralization of gains for enemies. This is the only currency of relevance in this space. To expect a nation to come to our aid, regardless of how friendly they are, when we don’t help ourselves, is childish and delusional, and points to another example of us shirking personal and societal responsibilities. Other nations come to your help when they have a relationship with you and have interests that are served by their help. Case in point: Aliyev’s charm offensive accomplished this by currying favor in many corners of the world, who rewarded him by turning a blind eye to his aggression.
In response, we need to cultivate a corps of highly competent foreign service staff, trained in different parts of the world for diversity of thought and familiarity with viewpoints from major power breakers. With all due respect, a six-month stint at Tufts University does not a diplomat make, though it is a good start. We need to build strong coalitions with Russia, China, India, France, Iran, Georgia, Greece, Cyprus, Serbia, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and many other nations, based on meaningful contributions from both sides over time. We have ample opportunities to engage in regional affairs from the Talish, Kurds, Lezgins, Arabs, to crypto Armenians and many other spaces. These efforts will provide us with leverage and the ability to affect change and negotiate based on our interests. These require thoughtful assessment of interests, needs and reciprocal gains with partners, to be implemented with competence and diligence. Photo-ops and signing of toothless memoranda of understanding with no follow-up or hard work do not serve the needs of the nation. We must understand that relationship building is not an overnight affair; continuous bilateral engagement with a clear agenda is what will get us results.