Playing a deadly game with the innocent

As Armenians, we correctly, but at times naively, view the Artsakh conflict as the struggle of an oppressed people seeking what is theirs – their homes, land, culture and the right to free expression. Much of world history can be summarized in three dimensions: the overt oppressors, the oppressed and the manipulators. In our current drama, the oppressors are the same characters from history in the modern day – the Turks who have made a full time job out of attempting to destroy the original settlers of the highlands. Our brethren in Artsakh, who have survived despite the immense challenges of the past century, are the heroes of the oppressed. The manipulators are powerful nations driven by self interest. When proxy conflicts are launched or used to meet those interests, the oppressed become pawns in a chess game. Armenians often seek to demonstrate moral correctness and an emotional connection yet are frustrated by the absence of a shared morality among all the actors. This is a natural reaction, yet it ignores the larger, more powerful dynamics at play. Our political and religious leadership must have a higher comprehension. 

The conflict in Ukraine is headlined as the struggle of a victimized people against a despotic force seeking to destroy their sovereignty. The media loves to characterize the Ukraine

war in romantic, heroic and democratic terms. At one level this may be correct, but the Ukraine conflict is also a proxy battle that has ignited a new Cold War. There are many struggles for freedom that the west chooses to ignore, yet Ukraine is the buffer between western democracies and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempt to revive the Russian empire. He is on record as stating many times that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was the biggest error in our times. Every move he makes in the Caucasus, Ukraine or domestically serves that vision. The global powers are the only ones with the capability of escalation or de-escalation. We have all chosen the former by continuing to arm Ukraine. No NATO nation troops die, and it’s a great

opportunity for the west to utilize military inventory. It is very disappointing to hear U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speak only of continued war and offer little hope for a diplomatic solution. The suffering is horrific so the east and west can establish new fault lines.

We should view the conflict in Artsakh and national security issues facing Armenia in the context of geopolitical dynamics rather than morality. Most nations will express sympathy but act out of self interest. The behavior of the EU nations and the United States are clear examples. If we could use the endless number of sympathetic messages and humanitarian calls for airlifts as currency, the plight of Artsakh would be very different.

Closer to home, we should view the conflict in Artsakh and national security issues facing Armenia in the context of geopolitical dynamics rather than morality. Most nations will express sympathy but act out of self interest. The behavior of the EU nations and the United States are clear examples. If we could use the endless number of sympathetic messages and humanitarian calls for airlifts as currency, the plight of Artsakh would be very different.

Recently, the Armenian ambassador to the Russian Federation was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry. The Armenian diplomat was on the receiving end of Russian displeasure over Armenia’s criticism concerning the lack of Russian support. The Russians also said they would “analyze” Armenia’s decision to hold military training with the United States rather than with the CSTO. 

While the United States and Europe continue their bottomless barrel of statements of “concern” and “urging,” Russia has reached an agreement to send Russian aid to Artsakh through the Aghdam road, with an open-ended declaration to open the Berdzor (Lachin) Corridor to aid. In the last few weeks, the idea of sending aid through Azerbaijani territory has been accepted by both Russia and the west. The Artsakh government has no choice but to accept this channel.  This is a diplomatic loss for the Armenians. By using the Aghdam road, Russia is clearly acknowledging that Artsakh is part of Azerbaijan. 

It is difficult to not interpret this as a response to Armenia’s pro-western overtures. It also displays Russia’s advantage in its geographic proximity to the Caucasus. By utilizing the Aghdam route, Russia supports the Turkey-Azerbaijan alliance while appearing favorable as a humanitarian ally. Russia has outflanked the west by delivering aid, while attempts by France to send supplies have been blocked. Meanwhile, the west is left with more empty statements. Samantha Power, the head of the USAID, has expressed concern over the deteriorating humanitarian situation but has sent no aid. French President Emmanuel Macron has been rumored to sponsor a U.N. Security Council resolution to address the blockade, but thus far there is nothing submitted. 

Frustrated? What should we expect when everyone, except Artsakh, has accepted Azerbaijani territorial integrity over Artsakh? Possession is a powerful weapon – apparently more powerful than an International Court of Justice ruling and the “urging” of multiple nations and organizations. Foreign policy is the manifestation of a global chess game at somebody’s expense. Despite the rhetoric adopted by the west, Armenians could be considered collateral damage in a dangerous game of east/west influence in the Caucasus.

Any interest foreign powers have in Armenia and Artsakh are not based on morals, but on cold, duplicitous self interest. Armenians must mirror that thinking in order to survive. This has been the history of Armenia for centuries. The names and players have changed, but not the game. Turkey and Russia will continue to use each other for their exploits. Russia has been weakened and must compromise with the Turks. The west wants to be a player in this region but is unwilling to commit the resources to secure their position. Turkey, a NATO member, is tolerated by western countries, skillfully using their fear of Russia. Iran and India are wildcards with significant interests. Israel has aligned itself with Armenia’s enemy. 

Within this regional drama, the struggle for Artsakh has degenerated into a genocidal campaign. Azerbaijan uses criminal methods the world has promised to outlaw and prevent. Public starvation as a method of subjugation is beyond any representation of civilized human existence. The Azerbaijani-Turkish alliance has consistently committed war crimes and violated international laws. They continue their evil practices, because they know that the ramifications are zero. Meanwhile, we play by rules intended to keep countries like Armenia in their place. Our priority must be the survival of our brethren in Artsakh. Start with a hardened view that no one will care if Armenians die.

The war in the Ukraine will end when the powers are satisfied. A country will have been destroyed and thousands killed. Who will remember the orphans and destroyed families? All will be forgotten, yet the buffer between Europe and Russia will be solidified. Ukraine’s government will promote its heroic defense to earn its side on the new Iron Curtain. Remember what happened in Georgia in 2014. Georgia expressed strong western leanings, with hopes of EU and NATO membership. The west promised support for its overtures. Russia invaded South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and the support never materialized. Russia is weaker today, and Putin is unpredictable, but they have proven they are still capable of hurting Armenia. Armenia should continue on this balanced path as the best hope to avoid becoming collateral damage, but with a renewed sense of self interest to protect its future.

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 said, Stepan. You have covered all the points well. But where does our diaspora comes in this equation. Why not address the major Armenian diaspora populations to organize all their resources, get all the engineers and scientists to get together to finance and build drones and antidrone defense to arm the AR, instead of acting the loser’s role in all the negotiations with the Azeris. We need a charismatic leader (like you) to take the helm and leads us instead waiting for help from others.

  2. I guess it is useful to remind Armenians that realpolitik rules the day, that self interest takes precedence over justice and truth, that the strong dominate the weak.”մեծ ձուկն ուտում է փոքր ձուկը” But how many times do Armenians need to be reminded? Didn’t Khrimian Hayrig say as much in 1878? Didn’t the 1895-1915 genocide happen when great powers looked on, express horror but not much else? Didn’t the French withdrawal from Cilicia in 1921 leave the Armenians defenseless? Didn’t the Russian- Turkish deal making in 1920 cause great harm to the First Armenian Republic and then Russia subsequently came back to “save “ Armenia under communist rule? Didn’t the Russian – Armenian defense treaty and CSTO promise security, when in fact it was subject to Turkish -Azerbaijani veto in 2020-2022? Didn’t Russia promised to be security guarantor of Karabakh after 2020 only to find out that they are really jail wardens, willing to use starvation as a coercion tool to impose their will in collaboration with Azerbaijan on Armenia? How many more lessons do Armenians need?
    It would be more helpful to chart the path forward than dwelling on these injustices to build resilience and true independence. What does the path forward look like? Let me make a couple of suggestions. A) there are roughly 8 million Armenians living today, 3 million in Armenia and 5 million outside. There are many nations numbering 8 million in the world today and it should be possible to build a sustainable and strong nation B) But Armenians are underperforming relative to their numbers and its time to get the Armenian “engine” working again- the goal here is to build self reliance through wealth creation and intellectual/religious revival in diaspora, and economic and military strength in Armenia, C) identify sources of conflict that divide Armenians and try to build political and cultural consensus- we see what happens when political and culture wars divide countries like the US or Israel. Armenian university programs should tackle the subject of modern Armenian politics in the 20th and 21st century, try to deconstruct it and understand it, D) revive Armenian education in Diaspora so that every one has a basic working knowledge of the language- this can be reinforced by encouraging the youth to spend a few months in Armenia between high school and college, E) organize the communities along the city, state and national levels, with community members encouraged to pay dues. The goal here is to have a budget of around one billion dollars/year. I focus on the monetary aspect because “talk is cheap” and there are organizations pushing “pipe dream ideologies”. Instead lets focus on working together on big projects to create economic wealth,and unity of communities around shared cultural and religious values. It also means discarding cherished ideologies that have not born fruit. The billion dollar budget would be used to fund major projects in diaspora such as schools, universities to train next generation leaders, political lobby groups, business groups, and infrastructure projects in Armenia, F) The Armenia – diaspora conflicts will be resolved when Diaspora is seen as a real economic engine and not just philanthropies and “talking heads” .

  3. I knew nothing of the early 1900’s genocide of the Armenian Christians until seeing a “made-for-TV-movie” about the Turkey Muslims and have been on a quest to find out more ever since.

  4. Everyone is blamed except for Armenians and their violent ways dealing with their neighbors. Maybe time to look at a mirror once in a while.

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