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.”