Have we internalized the meaning of “Never Again”?

As the genocidal motivated trauma continues in Artsakh, Armenians around the world are experiencing sleepless nights, subdued holidays and chronic anxiety. The feeling of helplessness has occupied a great deal of the dialogue as our community struggles with how to overcome the horrific oppression of the Turkish alliance, reminiscent of the last decades of the Ottoman Empire. With the exception of the advocacy organizations such as the ANCA and Assembly, our nation has been limited to collecting sympathetic, but thus far ineffective public commentary from primarily global democracies. As the dark cloud of ethnic cleansing gathers over Artsakh with the suffocating blockade, we must ask: where are the scholars who have written volumes on genocide? 

The diplomatic community has failed to sanction Azerbaijan despite its escalating barbarism. Even the United States refuses to enforce Section 907 and cut off military aid to Azerbaijan. When the criminal uses illegal acts to extract ransom (Syunik), and Armenia’s ally dismisses their commitment to force to compromise its sovereignty, it is natural to feel overwhelmed. This is our reality, but addressing solutions must avoid the endless “blame game” and “self victimization” that prevent us from meaningful self-assessment. 

One of the saddest ironies of this current crisis is that the vast majority of the Armenians in Armenia, Artsakh and the diaspora feel powerless. This is a tragic opportunity lost. Our efforts to date are focused on advocacy (diaspora), diplomatic and defensive military action (this has become insignificant because of a fear of escalation). There are other options that are nonviolent, which would engage the civilian community and raise the global visibility of this catastrophe. As Armenians, we always play by the rules regardless of whether others reciprocate. In this case, diplomatic efforts are actually minimizing the global visibility of criminal behavior because of their “play by the rules” requirement. In the absence of sanctions, there must be a way to resist and engage the international media. The latter seemingly only responds to drama and high profile events. It’s hypocrisy at its worst, but at the end of the day, this is on our shoulders.

Rally for Justice, Chicago, April 24, 2021 (Photo: Alek Surenian)

Since the dawn of the post-genocide activist era in the late 1960s, one of the themes we have vociferously reiterated has been “Never Again” to genocide. We all vividly recall seeing this slogan prominently expressed at demonstrations, rallies and articulated by countless prominent speakers. Those words are indelibly etched in our memory. The word “never” has little room for interpretation. It is absolute—“at no time in the present or future.” I don’t think that it was intended to mean “perhaps again.” Never means never. For decades, the Armenian Genocide recognition campaign has included the explanation that a genocide forgotten or unpunished is a genocide that can happen again. How cruelly ironic that this reference could mean another attempt at genocide— not in Western Armenia, but in Artsakh? How insane is our world today that this possibly even exists? It may be 2023, but self-interest rules and small democracies can be sacrificed for an oil/gas addiction. The Armenians of Artsakh understand its meaning. It is the reason they resisted in 1988 and have continued the struggle. Have we done everything to prevent “again” from ever reoccurring?

Never means never.

Our response thus far has been rather tepid. The diaspora has been limited to closed doors, lower profile advocacy. Even here in the US, we have many friends in Congress, but the State Department manages foreign policy. Congressional intervention is possible, but rare. Advocacy is important, but our cause remains invisible to a world that can prevent atrocities. How many of us in the diaspora have ardently responded to the call from our advocacy groups? Is it possible that we are suffering fatigue from the continual bad news from the homeland? Is it the holidays or the winter as some have suggested? Excuse me, but while we enjoy our well-earned but comfortable lives, 120,000 of our brethren are being denied freedom of movement, food and medical supplies. Azerbaijan is applying a chokehold until we raise the white flag or resist! Has our spirit of resistance also been lost with the plethora of issues we are faced with as an Armenian nation? Is it easier for us to simply blame Pashinyan as many have articulated and thereby ease our conscience? Rational minds have stated that this crisis is of our own making due to shallow diplomatic history and lack of military capability. Perhaps there is some truth to that perspective, but does that justify dormant patriotism? A “Never Again” mentality picks itself up off the ground, learns from its mistakes and immediately applies solutions. Some traces of this are evident outside of Artsakh, but not with the vigor to prevent genocide. A “Never Again” mentality does not waste precious time with internal conflict but instead focuses on subordinating differences to the survival of the nation. How can we expect to attain justice for past crimes if we cannot come together to prevent new ones? What will it take for us to spend at least an equal amount of time on our own capabilities instead of rationalizing our failures by blaming others?

A “Never Again” mentality picks itself up off the ground, learns from its mistakes and immediately applies solutions.

There is a path that would open the possibility of global visibility and engage citizens in a nonviolent campaign. Civil disobedience has a long and honorable history as a means for the disempowered citizens to fight oppression. From the Boston Tea Party to Gandhi’s campaign for freedom in India and our own Civil Rights movement in America, nonviolent protests have increased the public profile, inspired those who feel helpless and worn down the oppressors. In our own Armenian experience, the Velvet Revolution began as an expression of the powerless with nonviolent protest. Who can forget the images of Armenian mothers blocking the roadways with their children in carriages. Civil disobedience is not anarchy since the participants knowingly accept the consequences of their actions. They simply refuse to comply with unjust authority (either laws or structure) in a peaceful manner. Although popularized by American philosopher and author Henry David Thoreau, it has been a hallmark of fighting oppression and advancing democracy in our modern world. Perhaps the greatest example of civil disobedience was the ministry of Our Lord Jesus Christ who completely upended the values and direction of mankind through peaceful and loving behavior. He was the greatest change agent the world has ever seen and inspired the world to embrace new laws and values. Peaceful and nonviolent movements can result in remarkable change but require sustained commitment and superb discipline.

How can this help our cause in Artsakh? Our main message to the world is the impact of the barbaric and illegal blockade of the Lachin Corridor on Artsakh. Our theme of one people with two states and our solidarity with our Artsakh brethren could be served with a massive and sustained peace march from both ends of the corridor to challenge the blockade and re-unite our people. It should be populated by ordinary citizens from the RoA on the western end and with counterparts from Artsakh with the goal of resisting the blockade and connecting what has been illegally disconnected. It must be nonviolent with no weapons of any kind to promote the peaceful resistance objective. Logistics and supplies should be managed by “behind the lines” infrastructure to ensure food and personal needs are accounted for. Given the time of the year, the weather will be a hardship, but the potential impact will be much greater. Imagine the visual impact of thousands of Armenians flooding the Lachin area to peacefully protest the horrific acts of the Azerbaijanis and the irresponsibility of the Russians. There were some signs of peaceful protest this week with a demonstration in Gyumri against the Russian military. In my view, that is the right idea, but the wrong target. A focused anti-Russian effort will distract attention and resources from the main issue: the suffocating blockade of the legal connection between Artsakh and the RoA.

We need to give the media dramatic visuals to report beyond the empty statements of urging the opening of the corridor. Confronting the Azeris will expose them for the thuggish criminals they are and may impact the Russians to play a more balanced role. At a minimum, it will provide a new perspective to the international community and give our population a role in their future. The governments of both states should coordinate support. One question remains: who should lead? My suggestion is the clergy. Who better to lead peaceful resistance and provide a barrier of peace that even the Azeris would be reluctant to confront? This is an opportunity for the church to provide much-needed leadership and increase their own credibility. Our God given right to freedom is at the core of our fabric. The cynics will say that this church administration will not be directly involved in politics with this government. Let me state emphatically, this is not political; it is about survival. It’s time for everyone to stand up and be counted. Financial support and resources can be provided by the diaspora in an unprecedented show of solidarity. We must put all petty political squabbles and power plays aside in the interest of saving Armenian lives and dignity. Resisting tyranny is symbolic of hope. We must give our beleaguered people reasons for hope. Not resisting their isolation would be a disgrace.

In order for short-term survival to be established, a humanitarian airlift is a requirement. The justification is beyond clear. Concerns over Azeri military responses to air flights to Stepanakert must be considered but managed through diplomatic channels. If the United Nations, Europeans and Americans will not sanction, then use their substantial influence to enable humanitarian flights. It is doubtful with international eyes on the region that even rogue Azerbaijan would attack a lifegiving flight. Of course, the best guarantee for that approach would be for members of the “friendly” nations to directly participate with supplies and logistics. Failing that, our people must take on the direct role. It is a calculated risk, but given the circumstances of the genocidal intent, it is a reasonable risk to assume. The International Red Cross transit work will not sustain the people of Artsakh. That is our collective responsibility. Specifically, the RoA must take on that initiative without reservation. No one else is in that position currently. The Catholicos must utilize his unique position to move our people forward. Shame on us if one person dies because of a lack of nutrition or medical prevention. We have options. Do we have the will?

Here in the diaspora, we have a critical support role that we are accustomed to with political advocacy, fundraising and media visibility. Our public protests and rallies have been strangely absent. There are many peaceful mechanisms that sustain media interest and the morale of our communities. Are we frozen by the constant barrage of oppression? If we are and have drifted to other aspects of our lives, then we should pause and think of our cold, hungry and isolated compatriots in Artsakh. The current situation is binary; either we care and employ our fullest capabilities or we don’t and we must accept the outcome and live with remorse. There is very little middle ground. Where are you?

Stepan Piligian

Stepan Piligian

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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  1. The short answer to your question “ Have we internalized the meaning of “Never again” “is NO. It pains me to say that Armenia and Diaspora have significantly underperformed during the past 30 years, and we are now seeing the consequences of that neglect. This is an insult to the memory of the martyrs. If Armenians get through this crisis ( the worst since 1989, 1920 and 1915) then they have to rethink how to organize the State and worldwide Diaspora. The key goals are LEADERSHIP, MOBILIZATION and ORGANIZATION. As an example, a reasonable goal for the diaspora is to collect one billion dollars each year to fund infrastructure in Armenia and in Diaspora. This will require us to rethink how communities are organized, and what are proper benchmarks and standards. Economic power translates into political power which is sorely lacking today. However this analysis does not help the immediate situation in Artsakh. Your suggestion of non violent resistance led by the church and NGOs is a good one. The second suggestion is to have European or US based charities to organize humanitarian flights from Yerevan to Stepanakert. Ironically, Azerbaijan is inadvertently making a very good case for the remedial secession of Artsakh, similar to Kosovo. This has to become the main political goal and benefit from this situation.

  2. Excellent commentary. I believe many of us were expecting that the blockade would end, but the end doesn’t seem to be near. Realizing this and trying to break that strange silence in the Diaspora we NY/NJ residents organized a protest in front of the AZ UN mission in New York. However, attendance was rather low. We don’t understand why the LA Armenian community hasn’t been staging huge protests. They certainly have the numbers. Don’t they have the will?

    What to expect from our clergy when Vehapar received a medal from Putin just a few days ago. The Russians didn’t even consider paying a visit to Echmiadzin and handing the medal to Vehapar over there as would be the appropriate diplomatic protocol and honoring the Armenian Church. They preferred to summon the Vehapar to the Russian embassy in Yerevan. Rather humiliating. He shouldn’t have accepted any medal from Putin, especially in the manner it was given and especially given the siege in Artsakh that Putin refuses to do anything about.

    • We have amazing diaspora in ny/nj but arabs albanians bosniaks supported turks against us they always make business with each other while armenians suffer in arab states and turkey they show full hatred against armenians with joint work

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