Mr. Prime Minister, please don’t sign away our dignity

I never thought the day would come that I would witness the ceding of historic Armenian land (the ancient province of Artsakh) to a barbaric oppressor. My generation has debated the loss of Western Armenia, Cilicia, Kars, Ardahan, Nakhichevan and initially Artsakh from a “call for justice” perspective. We weren’t there when these travesties of justice occurred. I can only imagine the anguish of our ancestors in 1920 when they were literally forced to sign the Treaty of Kars, reducing Armenia to its current size and trading a loss of sovereignty to prevent continued Turkish genocide. The logic was Soviet oppression and a better alternative than annihilation under the advancing Turkish nationalists (Kemal) and a new state of Tartars called Azerbaijan. One hundred years later, Armenia is still under duress and finding few allies; the logic is the same. Let’s sacrifice Artsakh so the 29.8 square kilometers survives in the current Republic. 

We have experienced manic extremes of joy and depression in the last 35 years. The miracle of liberating Artsakh inspired Armenians everywhere as the first instance of reclaiming lost land in a century. We were long on brave military resources and short on governing capability. For all our enthusiasm and rhetoric, Armenia never recognized Artsakh, and the population remained relatively flat. Millions in investment were supplied by the diaspora and Armenia, but we fell behind the curve militarily and diplomatically. We allowed the false narrative of Azeri “territorial integrity” to prevail over the “self-determination” of the Armenians. With a duplicitous and vile neighbor in Azerbaijan violating ceasefires and engaging in territorial incursions, we failed to build up our military to defend our borders. This is the number one priority of a sovereign nation. With the criminal behavior tolerated by a self-indulgent world, we absorbed the crushing blow in the war of 2020. Following that defeat, we descended into a defeatist nation of victims. Losing a war should be viewed as a chapter in the book, but never the last chapter. We pushed for the recognition of Artsakh but refused to recognize it ourselves. We avoided the recognition to prevent war, but war was constant. We played by the rules set down by Russia and the OSCE, but Azeri aggression was never identified as the responsible source. We were allocated equal blame. Finally, we have arrived at the “peace agenda” era but have offered up major concessions, such as recognizing Azeri territorial integrity without reciprocation. This is not a negotiation. It is a waiting game by the Azeris until they receive unconditional surrender. Proponents of the peace agenda have stated that the position of recognizing Azeri territorial integrity for the “rights and security” of the Artsakh Armenians and peace for the Republic of Armenia is the practical and correct approach. Perhaps, but who will guarantee the “rights and security” of Artsakh? Without any definition, it is comparable to no legal status for Artsakh for 35 years of dialogue. It became an enabler for Azeri aggression. The genocidal intent of the Azeris is clear. The Russians have violated their own brokered trilateral agreement of November 2020 by failing to enforce peace in Artsakh. The Europeans and United States? They will never commit the resources needed to keep the fox out of the henhouse. Ask the Georgians about the support in 2014 from the West; Georgia is much more important to the West than Armenia. 

The summation of the current “negotiation” is clear; Armenia is offering major concessions, and Azerbaijan has offered nothing. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has repeated his offer of recognizing the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan several times with slightly altered detail. His latest statement this week explicitly states Artsakh in the Azeri territorial recognition plan, almost as if repeating it will finally bring force to a reciprocal statement from Azerbaijan. No such luck. The Armenian strategy is a reasonable one if dealing with a good faith negotiating partner. Azerbaijan is the polar opposite. Their objective is to “integrate” the Armenians into Azerbaijan. This is diplomatic language for cultural deprivation, forced migration and ethnic cleansing. The UN Charter calls it genocide. The other mistaken assumption is that ceding Artsakh will bring peace to Armenia. This is based on satisfying Aliyev’s demands and that the West will back any territorial attacks on Armenia proper. Aliyev has an insatiable appetite for oppressing Armenians. He has established a racist narrative to build support at home. It should sound familiar. The Ottoman Turks used the same approach to fire the Turkish and Kurdish commoners and divert attention from their woeful policies. Aliyev has publicly stated many times that Syunik (Zangezur) and all of Armenia are “western Azerbaijan.” The West will only offer words of protest, and we know where that has taken us. There are no surprises here. The enemy is predictable. Our resolve is not. Tragically, the people of Artsakh disagree with how they are being represented. Armenia’s approach will leave little for Artsakh and Baku to discuss.

The enemy is predictable. Our resolve is not.

We still have to sign an agreement. With all positioning rhetoric aside, any agreement signed by the prime minister has to be reviewed by the Constitutional Court and the Parliament. In the 1980s, drug problems were raging in America. Solutions were short, and lives were being destroyed. The First Lady at the time, Nancy Reagan, sponsored a major national anti-drug campaign called “Just Say No.” Many people thought it was an oversimplification of a complex problem. There was one message, however, that did take hold. We are responsible for our lives, and the decision to engage in drugs is usually one that we make for ourselves. Her message was to seize control of your life through education, career development and sustaining interpersonal relations in order to develop the armor needed to resist the temptations of drugs. Armenia is still the party that has to agree. They may be pressured, coerced and deceived, but it is their decision. Once Armenia signs and ratifies an agreement with Azerbaijan, it will be nearly impossible to abrogate. Most agreements are broken through overt military action. It is doubtful that Armenia would engage in unilateral aggression. The Europeans and the United States are anxious for Armenia to sign and pat themselves on the back for diplomatic victories. Justice has little to do with any of these discussions. Self-interest is in control. Armenia needs to seriously think about an agreement that in practice serves its self interests. Today’s framework does not in my view.

I have heard a great deal about Armenia’s lack of leverage due to their loss in 2020. Losing never deterred Aliyev, and he has yet to be punished for thousands of violations and ignoring the International Court of Justice ruling demanding the opening of the corridor. Some of the leverage we lack has to do with our confidence and defending “red lines.” We are a defeated nation only if we believe that to be true. When you publicly cede Artsakh, the argument against aggressive negotiations loses credibility. Just what are Armenia’s “red lines”? It sounds like “security and rights” for Artsakh and recognition of Armenia’s 29,800 square kilometers are the two major ones. If that is true, Armenia cannot continue to show more of its cards (concessions) until Azerbaijan acknowledges these two “red lines.” Anything less puts Armenia in a spiral. Just how does the Armenian government define “rights and security”? Empty promises from Azerbaijan? If Armenia does not negotiate with the “red lines” as “must happens,” then they will be viewed as temporary positions. Armenia seems to be relying on Azerbaijan either recognizing Armenia’s territory or by default publicly denying their commitment to peace. The assumption would be that the West would then pressure Azerbaijan. The West is very interested in an agreement but has shown no interest in enforcement. Over the last 30 years, every time Azerbaijan made outrageous threats or violated agreements, the third party mediator tolerated their behavior to draw them back to the negotiating table. Mediators realize it takes two parties for an agreement. Why can’t Armenia leverage their role as one of the two parties to secure concessions that are necessary and reasonable?

Why is Armenia so anxious to publicly repeat their concessions on territorial integrity? Pashinyan has specifically stated that Armenia will recognize the territory of Azerbaijan as the 86.6 thousand square kilometers, which includes Artsakh, agreed to at the Alma-Ata Declaration of 1991. This document was the basis for establishing post-Soviet borders and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) after the fall of the Soviet Union. It is incorrect to state that Alma-Ata included Artsakh since Artsakh had legally sought reunification with Armenia, and the status was contested at that time. At worst from the Armenian perspective, it is still unresolved. During the immediate time of the Alma-Ata Declaration, Artsakh defended itself from the Azeri military response, and sovereignty was established. Artsakh did not transfer to Azerbaijan when the Soviet Union dissolved. The inclusion of Artsakh in Azerbaijan is based on an entirely false premise. That being said, legality and morality do not seem to be the criteria of this process. It is driven by power, leverage and self-interest. What can practically be done at this point? Armenia must continue to articulate its “red lines” of “rights and security” for Artsakh. They must be specifically outlined and enforced with a defined guarantee. The Artsakh Defense Army will be a point of contention, but Armenia has no right to insist on disarming the population. This must be included in the definition of “rights and security.” This will be challenging given Aliyev’s appetite for total capitulation, but nevertheless is a must. Armenia needs to convince the mediating parties that without this guarantee, the Armenians will be subjected to genocide. The second redline is the recognition of Armenia’s borders on the Soviet-era maps of 29.8 thousand square kilometers. This cannot be based on mutual respect, since there is none. Third party multinational peacekeepers must be stationed for a number of years. Without these fundamental objectives delivered, the Armenians will lose more than Artsakh and Armenia. Our dignity, the foundation of our motivation and will as a nation will be damaged. This is the wall that we must defend. Please do not sign this away.

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. Well face the future with realisim, there have been other failed causes such the Tamil state in Sri Lanka and the Biafran state in Nigeria both failed because the support they received wasn’t sufficient and the same applies to Arktash. With this gracefully bade farewell to Arktash and to Russia for failing one and having a policy reliant on the issue not being resolved, and courting Azerbaijan despite Armenia being it’s ally and Azerbaijan not. Recognise the loss but admonish Russia for assigning Armenian lands to the Turks. Romania recognised Ukrainian sovereignity over its former possession of snake island briefly held by Russia in 2022 but issued a statement of admonition to Russia for assigning it to Ukraine. Armenia must do the same. The maximalist position assumed after 1994 was a catastrophic case of insular thinking,hubris and self belief. Most nations who have endured such a defeat especially if left to their plight by an ally foresake them as one would to friend who abandons one when attacked usually becomes a former friend. Accept the reality that Armenia military advantage had gone long before Pashinyan took office and regardless of ones views of him and Russia this fact must be acknowledged otherwise will continue to blunder blindly into disaster. The argument the west won’t support Azerbaijan like it has supported Ukraine can be answered with Russia isn’t going to make the same efforts for Armenia that it is for itself in Ukraine. Enough lies face facts and one will be stronger for that .

  2. Dignity. Is that the deserted and squalid towns and villages across Armenia? Or the fact that there is almost no middle class and most of the population is poor? Or is dignity perhaps the fact that Armenians are fine using Turkish names for so many of their traditional dishes, Turkish words and expressions in their daily speech or that they prefer to use the Turkish/Azeri names of their towns?
    Dignity might also be the fact that everyone thinks that ordinary Armenians are mafiosos, ghetto and uneducated, vulgar and low-cultured? I think it’s also very dignified that there’s only 2,9 million people living in the Republic of Armenia, that not all Armenians feel free and safe in their own country and that we have a 1950-1980 mindset.

    Anything that we can do to get rid of our number one enemy: Russia, is in the interest of Armenia and its people.

  3. Unfortunately, it is not THIS prime minister that is signing away Artsakh to Azerbaijan, it is our stupid leadership for the past 30 years that has guarantied the outcome or the eventuality of this pathetic story. Personal enrichment, highest levels of corruption, KGB infiltration in every aspect of life in Armenia, where serving Russian interests was put at equal levels with serving Armenian interests… Add to it our complete disregard to national history/values…which in principle should include learning from the past… and here we are. Never mind Artsakh, will we be able to keep Armenia proper?…already Robert Kocharian has “toyed” with the idea of union with Russia believe it or not! So let’s sing….with glass in hand…miyayn zenkov ga Hayots pergoutiun…then let’s go and steal from our neighbor/father/sister/son.

  4. His entire life, Nikol dreamed of abandoning Artsakh, forgetting about the Armenian Genocide, unconditionally opening Armenia’s borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey and, last but not least, bring Armenia out of Russia’s orbit his entire life. Western and Turkish interests therefore placed Nikol into power in 2018 exactly for this purpose. To it’s utter disgrace, the Armenian world, both native and diasporan, preferred to keep Nikol in power not once but twice. That’s when Russia pulled its protective hand away just slightly. The rest is history, as they say. All in all, the last 5 years in Armenia was the by product of so-called democracy and the self-destructive efforts of Armenians to use the West as a hedge against Russia. Armenians have no right to complain today, as they were the main authors of the country’s latest tragedy…

  5. Nikols a weak leader it take 2 seconds to by tons of drones and sefisticated weapons ti defined Armenia whats taking stupid nikol so long hes weak pathetic bought of trader.

    They should exile nikol and his whole family from Armenia.

    Ask erdogan ti give back all the lands thr stole to Armenia half of turkey almost all belongs to Armenia tell them to recognize it as Armenia and give it back and have Armenian citizenship.

    Nikol is a loser weak lazy leader.

    Zelensky got the world to give Ukraine free weapons and money to fight Russia Armenia should to and has the sane rights.

    Nikol is a loser and spit on all the soldiers that fought for Armenia including monet

  6. Dear Mr Piligian,

    May I remind of some historical facts.
    On July 5, 1921, Stalin decided to give the region of Mountainous Karabakh, which includes Artsakh, Kashatagh, Lachin and east Zangezur, to Azerbaijan.
    In Almaty Levon Ter Petrosian accepted the borders of Azerbaijan, which included Karabakh.
    In Madrid Mr Kocharian accepted that Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan.
    In 2016 Serge Sarkisian accepted the borders of Azerbaijan.
    Notwithstanding its geographical location being inside Azerbaijan, in 1991 the people of Artsakh with a referendum resolved to be independent, which lasted until 2020 attack of Azerbaijan-Turkey-mercenaries and NATO arms.
    Armenia or its Prime-Minister do not possess Artsakh and therefore are not even empowered to give it away. Artsakh is the property of its own people and Armenia cannot give it away. We can only do our best to help or compatriots, but cannot make a decision for them and/or on their behalf.

  7. In the entire article, while it states conditions are unacceptable, not one mention of the elephant in the room- that Pashinyan must go, or be removed. I know the reply, that the people voted 2x for his election. That us in the diaspora are not the ones losing our sons. They unfortunately are a numb, un-aware of the realities, population.
    If you want a country, the reality is you need to fight for it. Signing a paperless tiger treaty or acceptance will not guarantee the survival of a nation. Only the will of the people, with a competent leader, will it have a chance, however small, to continue to live on our ancient nation of lands.

  8. How far have we fallen, when our government thinks sacrificing Artsakh for Armenia to survive!
    The Azeris are playing from the same play book that Turkey has since the end of WWI.
    Negotiate insincerely while grabbing more and more land.
    This strategy is what killed the Treaty of Sevres and led to the disastrous, in amount of land loss, Treaty of Kars.
    Expecting the West to insure anything is fantasy, again look to the end of WWI to confirm that lesson or more recently their “backing” of Georgia.
    Pashinyan’s continuous concessions seems to stump all and shows that he is unable to negotiate successfully.
    Inadequate diplomacy and under supplying the military were our downfall.
    Not formulating a plan to negotiate besides continuing to concede is not a strategy and depressing for worldwide Armenians to see.
    Azeri attacks and nibbling away at border positions should be the light bulb that that confirms that negotiating with a despot fixated on obliterating Armenia/Armenians
    is impossible and can only be slowed or stopped by standing one’s ground.

    I can only hope that the diplomatic slow walking, over the past two years, is a strategy to bide time while Armenia is rearming its military with modern and advanced weaponry!!

    If this means that third party multinational peacekeepers must be stationed, then they must do better than the current Russian ones. The Lachin corridor must be opened!

    But Armenia must be able to defend itself at some point and the sooner the better.

  9. Rather than blame Turks and Azeris, Armenia made a choice at the end of Soviet Unions collapse to seek security arrangement with Russia instead of Nato. Diaspora was also so occupied with Armenian Genocide recognition and the initial military success around this disputed area blinded them. Now with oil revenues and strategic military assistance from Israel, there is little chance for Armenia to do anything militarily. It would have been better to sit down with Turkiye and Azeris 30 years ago and demand protection for all minorities who live in Azeri territories in exchange for postponing diasporas other goals. It would have worked out better for the people of this region. Truth is Erdogan outplayed the US Armenian diaspora. And at that time Hillary Clinton was seen by Turks and Azeris as independent. Now there is no room for USA to play in putting any pressure on Turkiye. USA will not be seen as unbiased.

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