Political isolation of Artsakh is not in Armenia’s interest

Stepanakert, December 25, 2022 (Photo: Vahagn Khachatrian)

The global Armenian nation is a simple phrase for an otherwise complicated and diverse community. Bonded by an ancient history and rich culture, we naturally feel an affinity for other Armenians. Who else would search out other Armenians or community infrastructure when visiting another locale? These intangibles are the ingredients of survival. Our diversity, however, can be a double-edged sword. We have the opportunity to learn from a wide array of cultures and strengthen our nation. Likewise, in the diaspora, we have adapted to our host nations, which has impacted our opinions and values. For example, a large portion of the diaspora has existed in western-style democracies that have influenced our views on nation building in the homeland. A significant portion of our people in the homeland and Russia (largest diaspora group) have not enjoyed that experience, and democratic values are either new or still anticipated. In many oligarchic or autocratic societies, what we may view as corruption is an accepted practice of doing business. This is Armenia’s past. As more modern values are integrated in their society, the rejection of corruption has continued. Those of us living in America have been graced with living in a free and powerful nation where its foreign policies are generally decided by its own interests. That has not been the case in Armenia, as it has evolved from total dependency in Soviet times and worked to essentially build a new society based on democratic principles and a free market structure. Our different experiences and impatience have strained our relations on certain issues and created challenges for global integration.

One could speculate that most of the Armenians in the diaspora, particularly in the West and Middle East, are puzzled by the evolving aloofness of Armenia toward Artsakh since the 2020 war. There has been a plethora of political commentary on the geo-political rationale for this dynamic. Perhaps viewing this from the perspective of rank-and-file Armenians will offer us important insight. Of equal importance to managing the political agenda of Armenia is how these decisions or policies may impact the long-term “interests” of the homeland. With the exception of the recent diplomatic barrage by Armenia on the Lachin blockade, Armenia has behaved since 2020 as a defeated nation. Instead of making significant changes in military capabilities and developing new partners, it seems that Armenia is still relying primarily on others to protect its interests. The lesson of the 2020 war is that Armenians must first and foremost rely on their own capabilities and build alliances as a supplement. When the reverse takes place, there are very few, if any, partners who will make that commitment. The Armenian government makes constant reference to the trilateral agreement of November 9, 2020 as the basis for its decisions. While in theory that is correct, Armenia seems to be the only party that adheres to that commitment. Russia, as the new “guarantor” of peace and security of Artsakh (a position relinquished by Armenia after 26 years), has failed to guarantee anything except continuous harassment and violations by the Azeris. Russia has tolerated the terror with reactive, not preventative positions. Russia’s responsibility is clearly outlined (and brokered by them), and Armenians in Artsakh are suffering as a result. 

The infamous blockade is approaching three months. This past week, three Artsakh policemen were murdered by Azeri ambushers. Russia has replaced Armenia as a security player for Artsakh with objectives to serve its self-interest of control. Instability in Artsakh is in Russia’s interest because it creates a pretense of manipulation. Despite consistent failures, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov continues to insist that the Russian mediation is the best solution. After outmaneuvering the OSCE Minsk Group, Russia has been the sole direct mediation player. Azerbaijan, for its part, has never abided by any agreements. Shortly after the 1994 ceasefire that they pleaded for, the Azeris began their almost 30-year reign of terror. Although Armenians are rightfully appalled by the barbaric nature of Azerbaijan, we should keep in mind that although defeated in 1994, they have never behaved like a defeated nation throughout this period. They have continued aggressive diplomacy and military investments. Azerbaijan has never been punished for its constant lack of good faith and criminal behavior (violating borders, illegally holding POWs and murdering at will). Given the values of this rogue dictatorship, why would they not continue this behavior? Even the decision of the highest court on this planet, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that ordered Azerbaijan to open the Lachin Corridor, has been ignored. The UN Security Council has the enforcement responsibility of ICJ rulings, subject to permanent member vetoes. Clearly, Azerbaijan is testing the enforcement will of the United Nations. In order to create another distraction, members of the Azerbaijani government and Artsakh met this past week to discuss the Lachin blockage under the sponsorship of Russian “peacekeepers.” In a sign of arrogance and disrespect, the head of the Azeri delegation made opening comments that the meeting should focus on the “reintegration of the Karabakh Armenians” into Azerbaijan. Such brazen behavior has been enabled by the inaction of others.

The current situation has produced no surprises. The Armenian case at the ICJ was strong and principled, but the Azeris feel no need to change their approach given the meek responses from global authorities. The Russians are focused on their sphere of influence and care little about the lives of Artsakh Armenians. This isolation is what upsets Armenians in the western diaspora. The Armenian government claims it had no real choice in the aftermath of defeat in 2020. While they were in a challenging position, leaving the Artsakh Armenians to singularly address the dynamics described earlier is ominous. As Armenians, we live with the value of defending other Armenians. The irony of this unfortunate matter is that in the long history of the Artsakh negotiations, it began with both Artsakh and Armenia as participants. During previous administrations, it changed to Armenia only, but we must keep in mind that the President was a native of Artsakh. After the 2020 war, the current dynamic was put in place, but Azerbaijan has chosen to ignore the rights of the duly elected Artsakh government. Armenia’s active diplomatic work is essential for a humanitarian crisis created by the blockade. It is not intended to be a political solutions process. In fact, key members of the Pashinyan government, such as National Assembly president Alen Simonyan and Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan, have repeatedly stated that Armenia supports Artsakh’s direct negotiations with Azerbaijan. In the absence of a legal status, Artsakh is at a significant disadvantage. We must remember that no outside nation came to the assistance of Artsakh when it was brutally attacked by NATO Turkey and Azerbaijan. While there are many nations now demanding the re-opening of the Lachin Corridor, it is primarily based on humanitarian concerns, not political settlements. The OSCE Minsk Group, the EU and the United States are hampered by the diplomatic freeze with Russia over the war in Ukraine. The resulting parallel processes with the West have angered Russia and put Armenia and Artsakh in an even more precarious position. Does anyone expect the “normalization” talks with Turkey to proceed unless Armenia agrees to pre-conditions? What are those conditions? Backing away from Artsakh or removing genocide recognition/reparation? What is the price of an open border?

If we don’t collectively stand with Artsakh, then why should anyone else?

Armenia must reject this naïve notion that with the decoupling of the political settlement of Artsakh and Armenia (two separate processes), Armenia will find peace. In a recent public commentary, President Ilham Aliyev stated that “Western Azerbaijan (their term for Armenia) is our historical land, and the primary objective is our return. Now the Great Return…for Karabakh is being implemented…there will be a time for a Second Great Return…” There are clear messages to draw from this statement. Artsakh will be emptied of Armenians if Aliyev is successful, and he will attack Armenia not for the “Zangezur Corridor” but for the destruction of the nation we call our homeland. We have heard reactive statements from Yerevan that we should not interpret this current reality as an abandonment of Artsakh. I welcome these comments, but how can Artsakh succeed when we separate our paths and leave Artsakh to negotiate without good faith partners? If Artsakh is lost because we, as a nation, do not fully extend our collective resources, then what impact will the aftermath have on the relations between the diaspora and Armenia? How can Armenia be the center of the global Armenian nation if pieces of that nation are at a distance? If all we worry about are the short-term reactive moves, then our vision is blurred.

I would encourage the Armenian government to utilize its resources and influence with the renewed level of international visibility to ensure a safe landing for Artsakh’s rights. The Turkic nations in the east and the west are bent on our destruction. The world is witnessing the dangerous behavior of the aggressors. Our collective legal teams secured excellent results at the ICJ. That work must continue, but the legal, humanitarian and political paths must be connected. Our enemies and our potential partners are looking at our conviction and commitment. If we don’t collectively stand with Artsakh, then why should anyone else? What would stop Aliyev from overrunning Armenia? The CSTO? EU resolutions? “Expressions of outrage?” The time is now, and Armenia must be a player. We must prevent the depopulation of Artsakh. No one wants to see refugees settle in Armenia and establish a “Nor Artsakh” neighborhood. We already have names such as “Nor Sepastia” and “Nor Malatia” that remind us of our tragic past. The fact that one is a disputed region and the other is a sovereign state is of no concern to Aliyev. We must internalize that idea. It matters little what we think but rather anticipating what he and his band of criminals are thinking. These are difficult but essential concepts for our communities to digest and act upon. I am reminded of something a great patriot who I deeply respect once told me, “In democratic society, we can have different views and still love the same nation.”

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 intangibles of belonging to a nation are a nice-to-have but wont protect our borders or affirm our collective identity. My heart no longer races that much when I see a furniture store in a distant city with an Armenian surname. Although it is true that we’ve been raised under different political systems and that western versus eastern upbringing can be a reason for division, to see petty ongoing rivalries in the west (as if it’s a monolithic entity) can have no explanation or justification along national lines. Tashnag and Hunchag rivalry in the 21st century? Eastern versus Western diocese? Are you kidding me? We lament political isolation when it comes to expectation from others, but we ourselves cant even be in the same room together. One thing should be painfully obvious by now: The diaspora with all of its imaginary might wont be able to affect regime change in Armenia – a fundamental step. When Ruben Vardanyan – an insider but also a hero by any definition – is forced out, you know that there is no hope for any outsider. The diaspora needs to fix its own problems to indirectly bring about positive change in Armenia. How? I say learn from the Jews. Don’t just be a passenger; be the driver and the changemaker. As an indicator of our pitiful influence in the U.S. I learned recently that there are only a couple of dozen Armenians working in the vast U.S. State Department. Where is the commitment from the hundreds of thousands of individual Armenian families to affect change? Take the bull by the horns. We need to be active and make our voices heard from within in any state, any constituency, any nation. If you need motivation, look no further than Garo Paylan is doing for Armenia – and in the hornet’s nest! Likewise look at Peter Koutoujian in Massachusetts and his exemplary and forceful leadership. Put Armenians everywhere in the political system. Even with politicians who support us today, we’re being supported because they need us. In Massachusetts again do you think that our Armenian interest cannot be better served with an Armenian American Senator instead of Elizabeth Warren? With all due respect Armenians dont need more jewelers in Boston or taxi drivers in LA or rug salesmen wherever. At the individual family level and with the concerted encouragement of all of our institutions we need a major reorientation in our priorities and to work toward achievable goals. One such goal might be to place 1000 young Armenian-Americans in the State Department in the next 4 years. There are probably 10 others that could make us much more influential within a reasonable timeframe. Shake off the malaise. Business-as-usual is stripping us of our nationhood.

  2. The support of the Republic of Artsakh by the Republic of Armenia should be diplomatic enough and in such a way as not to create official opposition. From the reaction of the 44 day war one should understand that the support from the majority of foreign countries did not meet the wishful desire by the absolute majority of the Armenians globally to be sympathized with the result. Strategy in defence should match the capabilities of the warmonger enemies. It was missed big time.

  3. I am dismayed.
    First the article, second the comments.
    The article – The writer is well intentioned but lacks an understanding of the hidden dynamics at play. he says, Armenia should stand up and defend Artsakh. But ignores that Russia has been meddling in weakening the very capabilities that Armenia needs to defend its interests.
    The primary lack of understanding is that Armenia is itself at stake, Artsakh second. The overall aim of the Russians was to reduce Armenia to a rump state akin to Chechnya and thus control it after the 2020 war. They have deliberately prevented the re-arming of Armenia, and had a major hand in ensuring the defeat in 2020.
    The course of action that the current government has taken is 100% correct including its stance vis-a-vis Artsakh. The diplomatic maneuvering has outflanked Azerbaijan’s influence as an energy supplier at a time of crisis for Europe and the steps taken have mitigated the military threat. The outcome of the war put Artsakh under Russian protection. The war was Russia’s doing, and Armenia is rightfully holding Russia accountable.
    As for the comments, I have repeatedly heard the refrain “Let’s learn from the Jews”. Let’s put people in the state department. This again belies a fundamental lack of understanding of how states operate. First, there is nothing to learn from the Jews. They have their own problems. A very precarious state that has been bankrupting morally, with its long-term viability in question. Second, even if you elect an Armenian origin US president, nothing will change. The state’s interests are paramount. You have Lavrov, an ethnic Armenian as the foreign minister of Russia, and yet he has been a hostile player for Armenia. Byzantine emperors of Armenian origin did similarly. They put the Byzantine empire’s interests ahead of the country of their parents, trampling Armenia under foot on numerous occasions.
    Diasporans can be a hugely constructive force by being engaged positively. The real problem is the apathy of a majority of the diaspora.

    • Spoken like a progressive woke. This is Pashinyan for you in a nutshell: Be stupid enough to instigate a war; capitulate unilaterally without seeking advice from anyone; blame your own soldiers at the end and continue to arrest them (to this day) on numerous pretenses; give up your few remaining guns and dismantle the army in the belief that if you cant defend yourself Azeri brutality will cease; having run out of bargaining chips forget about the POWs; cut off the diaspora; leave a trail of chronic and bewildering lies; lose the PR war; give up Artsakh so that the enemy can grab Yerevan next… Oh, yeah, “100% correct”! But the point is that if we want a stronger diaspora, the diaspora needs to take ownership. To be a “hugely constructive force,” if you have a better role model than the Jews we’re all ears.

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