We live in different time zones in a variety of host countries. Armenians are scattered around the globe and in the homeland, but we share a common anxiety and hope for Artsakh. It is nearly impossible to feel a sense of optimism and peace when our courageous brethren are being systematically strangled by the barbaric actions of a ruthless dictatorship. It’s 2023, not 1915, but the similarities are haunting. Instead of the Ittihads legalizing the deportation of Armenians from Western Armenia and confiscating the wealth of those murdered and deported, we have the Azerbaijanis role-playing the genocidal Turkish legacy with false narratives of “territorial integrity,” the rebellious Armenians of Artsakh and absurd pretenses of environmental violations. Just as there was no sane justification for the manner in which the Turkish Ottomans treated their Armenian citizens, the Azeri government’s approach toward the Artsakh Armenians makes a mockery of its role as an institution of service. We are witnessing the humiliation forced upon our grandparents and great grandparents. The major difference is the feeling of helplessness and anxiety in the diaspora with physical separation ironically created by the Genocide.
Our history tells us that when darkness sets in, we rise from the ashes. The miracle of 1918 provided hope in a sea of atrocities that maintained the territorial existence of an Armenian state. Who would have predicted the robust strength of a diaspora that 100 years later maintains an identity and serves as a support wing to the homeland? Certainly not the Turks. The plan of the Ittihad Turks and their successors in the current republic was to murder as many as possible, depopulate the historic land and let generational assimilation take care of the scattered remains. The same genocidal warped playbook is employed by their cousins to the east. Absorb Armenian territory, commit ethnic cleansing and destroy any physical traces of Armenian civilization. This is what happened in Nakhichevan and what they are implementing in Artsakh. They attempted to crush the Armenians in 1988-94. When that failed, they embarked on a 30-year campaign of terror and diplomatic hypocrisy. With only a “paper ladle” coming forth from the governments of the civilized world, the barbaric Aliyev is adding his name to a long list of the authors of genocide with a deliberate attempt to destroy an ethnic group through physical violence, economic deprivation, cultural discrimination and fossil fuel blackmail.
The one thing that the Turkish criminals underestimated was the resiliency and fortitude of the people of Artsakh. They have been remarkably consistent since this chapter in our history became global in 1988. They have retained their identity under incredible odds during the Soviet period of overt oppression and Azerbaijani intolerance. They demanded their right to self-determination and backed their assertion with their sacrifices. For these brave people, it has always been about their right to live on the land and exercise their God-given right to freedom. Most of the problems in this world come about when one party suppresses the rights of another either by force or intimidation. The Turks have a long legacy of intolerance for any non-Turkic group within the governance. Ask the Assyrians, Armenians, Greeks, Jews, Syrians, Arabs and now the Kurds. Azerbaijan is an artificial state held together by oil racketeering and an absolute dictatorship. They purged 350,000 Armenians from Azerbaijan proper 30 years ago without even a protest from the international community.
In a world with overcomplicated geopolitical relationships, I try to invoke some level of appropriate simplicity. As a global Armenian community, we struggle to find oneness on critical issues. When Armenia drifted in its diplomatic positions away from the sovereignty goals of Artsakh, it recreated an estrangement of sorts with the diaspora. In a sadly ironic way, I believe the descendants of those forcibly removed from their homes can relate to the beleaguered but inspiring compatriots in Artsakh. At the ground level of this struggle is the right to live on the land. For the people of Artsakh, it is not about regional political dynamics or Azeri racism. They simply will not hear of abdicating their most fundamental rights. They have endured incredible hardships to articulate that position. Given an opportunity that the Azeris, Turks and most of the world has denied them, they have built an inspiring example of a functioning democracy surrounded by the sharks of oppression. Imagine what they can do if given even a neutral opportunity to express their rights. As concerned and practicing Armenians, we have no justification not to support the rights of our brethren in Artsakh. They manifest every aspect of what we aspire for the homeland. To remain neutral in our actions or limit our support would be shameful and hypocritical. On this matter, our aloofness is part of the problem. This should be a very personal issue for a people traumatized by genocide. It should inspire action.
We need to adjust our approach immediately. This is less about political positioning and more about a humanitarian crisis of tragic proportion. While the diplomats work overtime shuttling between foreign capitals to gather support, people are lacking food, medical care is scarce and an entire population is under duress unimaginable in our “civilized” world. The western democracies have been clear in their diplomatic positions but will not sanction the criminals. Russia is not interested in a visible challenge to their “peacekeeping” authority but is mindful of disrupting relations with Turkey and by extension Azerbaijan. Since the 2020 war, Armenia has maintained a subtle policy of focusing on its security and encouraging Artsakh to address its own status with Azerbaijan. This has created obvious tension between the two Armenian states and frankly isolated Artsakh further. Were it not for the prominence and patriotism of Ruben Vardanyan (say what you will, but how can you not admire his efforts), would we even hear internationally about Artsakh? The position of Armenia would be acceptable if Artsakh had a legal status. In the absence of such, they are not able to formally petition or participate in international forums such as the OSCE, UN or other meditating bodies. There are other channels to have their voice heard but are subordinated to nations with recognized status. Armenia has to take responsibility for the current position of Artsakh. It may not have been the Pashinyan government per se, but all governments have to accept the successor responsibility especially on matters that are impacting the survival of a vulnerable population. The window for recognizing Artsakh may be closed for now, but their isolation must end. Artsakh cannot negotiate with a party that does not recognize its existence and is working actively for its destruction. That is on Armenia and the Pashinyan government. Aliyev in his sinister arrogance now claims that there is no blockade and that he has no knowledge of any government participation. As Sossie Tatikyan states in an article in EVN Report, the group of so-called eco-activists “consists mainly of members of Azerbaijani special services, military officers, beneficiaries of Aliyev’s foundation and other supporters of the state.” Armenia has been working the diplomatic channels, but much of the public discourse has taken on an anti-Russian tone. While appealing to the frustration of the Armenians, we all know what happened in 2020 when anti-Russian positions emerged and resulted in a Russian-brokered treaty that humiliated Armenia with the loss of Shushi. The so-called trilateral agreement of November 9, 2020 has been ignored by Aliyev as he claims the fantasy existence of the Syunik corridor and has disrespected the role of the Russian “peacekeepers.” Armenia is correct to be frustrated with Russia, but winning points with the west on anti-Russian rhetoric will not lead to sanctions or relief for our people in Artsakh. Aliyev is strangling Lachin to win concessions on the “Zangezur” debacle. That must continue to be a red line for Armenia but decoupled from the Artsakh crimes of Azerbaijan.
I will repeat my call for civil disobedience on the Lachin border to resist the blockade and dramatically increase the public visibility. Why aren’t there thousands of Armenians led by clergy and other leaders flooding the border on the RoA side in a dramatic display of support of their compatriots? There have been increased calls for humanitarian airlifts or air bridges for political and NGO circles in Europe particularly in the Netherlands, Germany and France. Where is Armenia on this matter? Which is the greater risk: the fear of an Azeri military response to a humanitarian airlift or the subjugation of an innocent and heroic population? Without a legal status, Artsakh has no formal external recourse except dribbles from the International Red Cross. They must rely on their brethren and friends. Armenia has been too constrained on what it is willing to do for Artsakh. This includes the church, the government and civilians. It is unconscionable that as Armenians we will not do everything humanly possible to support the lives of our Artsakh family. The blockade needs to be challenged with air bridges and ground transport. Without resistance, we are minimizing the exposure to the world of the barbaric and vile nature of the Azeri campaign. Limiting our activities to “negotiating” with a criminal only puts the crime in a purely political context. This is about saving lives now and then resolving the conflict. The more we expose the Azeri policies, the greater the argument for protecting the Artsakh Armenians from any governance with Azerbaijan. We can debate the merits of remedial secession, self-determination or remedial sovereignty, but we must make it clear that Azerbaijan is committed to a policy of ethnic cleansing—to the civilized world and to ourselves. This is not a time for any segment of the global Armenian nation to remain passive. The struggle for Artsakh has never been so compelling because an entire population’s lives are at stake. We must dispel our doubts based on past failures. Diplomatic errors and corruption cannot justify ambivalence. They remain excuses to remain uninvolved. We have entered another critical juncture in our long journey. Each of us from the diaspora, RoA and Artsakh must stand with Artsakh and resist the attempts at genocide. The people of Artsakh have inspired us for decades. It’s time to return the favor.