There are essentially two approaches to problem solving: leading and following. If you choose to lead, you take responsibility for your own future and act accordingly with confidence and, when appropriate, defiance. When you follow, one is obligated to accept what others have decided as the path forward and are in a subordinated position to alter events. If one accepts being a victim, the path is usually being a follower. If the matter at hand is not of significant strategic value for those in your care, then following can be an effective method. A government is elected in a functioning democracy to protect the interests of the nation and to provide leadership in that regard. This is the essence of the contract between the citizens and their government. Prescribing to a follower mentality where one expects others to protect their interests is a path filled with danger and a loss of control. These nations run the risk of becoming de facto vassal states. Armenia is straddling that line today between sovereignty and self-imposed subordination.
As patriots and proud Armenians, it should be painful to be critical of our leadership. This should never be taken lightly, but silence or pseudo unity will not lead to solutions. The estrangement between the Republics of Armenia and Artsakh is heartbreaking. Many important years of preparation were wasted with a lack of vision, corruption and most recently since the 2020 war, a false narrative that we have no choice but to accommodate Turkish oppression. This approach has left Artsakh in an isolated state and caused a major relationship challenge between the Republic of Armenia and its diaspora. Fortunately, most Armenians in the diaspora are wise enough to separate their feelings for the government from their love of Armenia. As a result, thousands of projects continue for the betterment of Armenia and Artsakh. After the 44-day war, the government of Armenia began distancing itself from the struggle for Artsakh with a narrative that was focused on the “security and rights” of the Artsakh Armenians and backing away from the “self-determination” foundation. They even went so far as suggesting that Artsakh should negotiate its own deal with the Azerbaijani government. It was a humiliating position. Armenia, which failed to annex Artsakh or secure a legal status for the republic in over 30 years, has distanced itself from its traditional position as the “security guarantor” of Artsakh. After presiding over the loss of Hadrut, Shushi and other strategic territories, Armenia tells Artsakh to negotiate a deal with a government that neither recognizes their right to a legal status or even existence. It was beyond frustrating to hear this from any Armenian, let alone the government acting as a security partner. Just as the inaction of the democratic world to act is as good as a green light for the despot Aliyev, Armenia backing away had a similar effect. Azerbaijan behaved even more brazenly with rhetoric, harassment and eventually this current blockade of Artsakh. With Armenia operating under the false and naive assumption that compromising on Artsakh will ensure the RoA’s security, Azerbaijan attacked the recognized borders of Armenia and secured some strategic territory on the eastern border. The government was stunned by the Azeris’ utter disregard for the November 9 trilateral agreement and for the internationally recognized sovereignty of Armenia. In a series of egregious violations that make a mockery of international relations, anarchy and crimes committed by Azerbaijan were met only with statements of concern.
The Armenian government has been working overtime, particularly the Foreign Ministry and Ararat Mirzoyan, to secure “support” from western democracies, Russia and elsewhere. The attacks on sovereign Armenian soil and now the genocidal motivated blockade have been met with strong statements from several countries and governing bodies but have amounted to no deterrence. I would compare the statements to a collection of signatures in a petition. Unfortunately, signing a document or releasing a statement does not amount to any “skin in the game.” Honestly, who would not oppose a blockade intended to cause devastating harm to the innocent? Apparently, not even “Talaat” Aliyev, who publicly denies the existence of the blockade. He has become infamous for his fantasies (e.g. the incursions on Armenia soil are legitimate because the delimitation/demarcation work has not defined the border or that the November 9 agreement includes a so-called corridor through Syunik). Of course, Aliyev’s objective is to use the Lachin blockade to leverage the Syunik discussion, hoping that a defensive Pashinyan will accept the opening of Lachin for the Syunik corridor. This is a classic Turkish negotiating tactic. Create some controversy with an offensive illegal act and then use the illegal act to negotiate a settlement that advances their position. It would be similar to robbing a bank and negotiating with authorities to secure their freedom by returning some of the money. This was their strategy in Northern Syria, Iraq and the Aegean.
Armenia’s negotiating approach has been very defensive and abdicating what little leverage they possess. Armenia quickly returned every Azeri POW shortly after the conclusion of the 2020 war, yet Azerbaijan has detained the Armenian POWs under horrific conditions refusing to comply with international law. While we direct most of our anger at the Azeri criminals, why would Armenia be so quick to return POWs to a terror regime relinquishing all leverage? The current blockade was preceded by the abandonment of the original Berdzor roadway which included infrastructure vital to Artsakh. The original timelines for the transfer were significantly altered causing great hardship to the Armenian residents and leaving the alternative roadway without full infrastructure. How can they agree to an arrangement where the utilities can be manipulated, leaving the Armenian residents at the mercy of an Azeri government bent on their destruction?
One question that reverberates within our global nation is why has no one in the world of nations and defenders of human rights confronted the Azeri terror? If we are looking to other nations for the answer to our problems, the response is very simple. Why would anyone help the unrecognized Artsakh if Armenia is passive? It was difficult as an unrecognized state with Armenia as its security guarantor, and now as Artsakh is isolated it is improbable. In recent weeks, the presence of Ruben Vardanyan as State Minister of Artsakh has been a positive development. His influence, commitment and skill have provided a visible leadership for Artsakh. He has provided the citizens of Artsakh with hope. They need to feel the same from Armenia. His advocacy, strength and determination have been articulated in global interviews (the BBC “Hard Talk” interview is a must watch) and his public presence. This is the type of leadership required to guide a nation through a crisis. There are metaphorically and physically two ends to the Lachin lifeline. The strength and determination of the Artsakh end is represented by Vardanyan. We know him as a man of vision and action (Aurora Humanitarian Initiative); his move to Artsakh should inspire us to new levels. The question remains: who is on the RoA side of the corridor?
It is apparent that the civil society, NGO and opposition community must provide that leadership void. Confronting the blockade to save lives is challenging, but it’s our responsibility. We should focus our energy now on establishing the infrastructure (food, medicine, generators, etc.) to challenge the blockage with humanitarian, nonviolent surges. Even a sustained effort of a few hundred to confront the phony “eco-activists” and Russian peacekeepers will have a remarkable impact. We must turn the table on the Azeris by unblocking the blockade. We need to give the journalists and politicians a reason to provide coverage. Closed door diplomacy that produces embarrassingly passive statements while the criminals begin plans for genocide will not end the stalemate or increase it visibility. This is our generation’s Sardarabad! It is unconscionable to have a government not lead the resistance. If they cannot move off their political positions, they surely can enable the mobilization of sustained humanitarian infrastructure to the corridor. A piece of our soul will be lost if we stand by and allow the humanitarian crisis to escalate. Why are we worried about risks when the enemy has its sights set on depopulating and murdering our brethren? The government must abandon this improbable policy of aligning Armenia with the west. Armenia’s future must return to a balanced foreign policy that serves our values and the evident geopolitical realities. It is unpopular for Armenians in the west to advocate for the Iranian relationship, but Iran has been a reliable partner to Armenia. India could be the same. Attempting to swing Armenia out of the Russia orbit and into the west is fraught with uncertainty. Ask the Georgians how that worked out with Russia; they are much stronger than Armenia. Armenia is not weak; it simply has not internalized its value. When Armenia becomes focused on its own interests with tenacity, then its position will improve. No one will respect a nation that will not resist what we ask others to resolve.
Armenia and the diaspora have other institutions to support Artsakh other than the government of the Republic of Armenia. The Armenian church needs to become visibly active in resisting the humanitarian terror. Our people need to see the clergy lead and help dispel their fears. Enough press releases without a physical presence. The opposition’s resources, whether they are in parliament or not, are in the best position to confront our enemies with civil nonviolent responses. They should refocus their energy on resisting the criminal Turks and less on endless political debates that will not change the current lock the Pashinyan government has on the governing apparatus. I think about the spring of 1918. I am certain there were significant conflicts on the course of action during that spring, but with the Turkish armies approaching from the west and the north to complete the Genocide, there was no risk too great to assume. The current republic had a vision to be the center of the global Armenian nation bringing together the scattered elements of the Genocide and other historical injustices. That vision is far from fulfilled, but answering the call for Artsakh is a moral imperative. That same responsibility applies to all of the institutions that can organize resistance. There is no pacifying the genocidal intentions of Aliyev/Erdogan. Sacrificing Artsakh is not only shameful, but a political blunder that will only embolden the Turks to take Syunik and all of the homeland. Vardanyan and 120,000 brothers and sisters are calling. Who will answer?