Once again, I feel compelled to write about the dearth of meaningful dialogue regarding the recent developments in Armenia and Artsakh. Worse, the existing discussion continues to miss the mark and perpetuates and reinforces ill-conceived messaging. One cannot help but conclude that such an unproductive approach is desired to distract the Armenian people from some very uncomfortable facts.
Let us start with the relinquishing of Berdzor and Aghavno to Azerbaijan. When I was in Aghavno in December 2020, the Armenian government was doing everything in its power, not with a carrot but with a stick, to force the Armenians living there to leave. They had turned off the water and power to the village and sent officials to remove the people. We must accept that they knew this day was coming and wanted to avoid the embarrassment that transpired this month.
But there are much more far-reaching implications for what has occurred. First, we must make special note of Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan’s recent comments regarding the Russian peacekeeping forces in Artsakh. His criticisms harken back to similar antagonism of Russia in the days leading up to the 2020 war. One must ask now, as back then, what objectives are hoped to be achieved by such actions.
There are complex global power politics in play, and Armenia has suffered the fate of similar focal points in the past, particularly during the Cold War.
US policy toward Russia has not really changed in 75 years, so nothing done in that regard should come as a surprise or be unanticipated. Constraining Russia and its influence is of primary importance to the US, and when Armenia is viewed from that lens, it is clear that, first, lessening Russia’s influence in Armenia and, ultimately, its military presence in Armenia and Artsakh is a strategic objective of the US. Pashinyan’s rise to power and actions since taking office must be seen within this light.
The US actions prior to, during and after the 2020 war must also be understood through this perspective. This does not mean that the US objective was necessarily a defeat and removal of Armenians from Artsakh. That was just a by-product of their fundamental objective stated above. If we understand these interests, then we also must understand that Artsakh’s current status is extremely precarious. Artsakh is as much at risk as Aghavno and Berdzor, and for similar reasons.
Whether Pashinyan is naïve enough to truly believe that once all aspects of the November 9 agreement are fulfilled, there will be peace with Azerbaijan, or whether his sole objective at this point is self-preservation, I cannot say. But Azerbaijan and Turkey will continue to be encouraged to press on Artsakh until the Russian peacekeepers are gone and then, like Aghavno and Berdzor today, there will no longer be Armenians in Artsakh. Maybe the loss of control of gas and electricity to Artsakh is truly symbolic of the commonality. Also, don’t be surprised if the same people criticizing the Russian peacekeeping force today say that there is no longer any need for them to be there in the future.
The arch of Armenia’s independence can be seen as balanced on a seesaw with east and west alternately pulling one way then the other. The view of Armenians is often guided by these competing global power structures, instead of the best interests for Armenia and the Armenian people. That is the discussion that should be taking place today. The discussion should be grounded on understanding Armenia’s diplomatic capabilities and opportunities, if they still exist.
Appearance and messaging matter, and currently the Armenian people’s messaging is that we are defeated and unwilling to fight to defend our nation. The government has thrown up its hands in defeat and relinquished all responsibility for the security of the Republic to Russia. One should be asking what objectives are being served by such a policy of the current administration. While the Armenian people may be ignoring the signs, rest assured that outside interests are not so blind, and when they react, we should not be surprised.
The interests of Azerbaijan and Turkey are very clear. It is equally clear that any Armenian unfortunate enough to find that they now live within either of these two countries must either leave, assimilate or be killed and that the international community recognizes this as normal and acceptable. These are diplomatic levers that Armenia seems incapable, or unwilling, to make use of. Regardless, as we play out the various potential scenarios in the decision tree, these realities cannot be ignored.
One should not be mistaken; the Pashinyan regime has already made its decision, and its actions indicate the side it has chosen. But a decision of such magnitude and far-reaching implications should be vetted by the Armenian people. If the current regime is deemed to be on the right path, so be it; but the decision should not be made from the perspective of a defeatist mentality—that nothing more can be done than what is being done—for the Armenian nation still has some agency in shaping its own fate even if it does not appear so today.
I often see comments online that go something like this:
- Only the citizens of Armenia have the right to decide the fate of the country.
- Diasporan Armenians should have done more since independence. It is our collective fault for what has transpired.
These views are typically espoused by the same people without any shame at their hypocrisy and with an aim of stifling discussion or, more specifically, criticism. Yes, of course, it is the citizens of Armenia who will decide the fate of the Republic, but all Armenians have a right to weigh in and contribute to the best of their abilities. For it is not simply the fate of the Republic at stake, but the entire Armenian nation is at a critical juncture. Instead of trying to limit dialogue through such pigeonholing, let us foster dialogue and critical thinking and challenge pervading views, so that in the end, we can choose the actions in the best interests of the Armenian people. The Armenian people are best served by a vibrant Diaspora and a secure, sustainable, democratic and independent Armenia. These qualities should not be viewed as mutually exclusive and neither should be viewed as a mute resource to be exploited by the other.