The time has arrived to realize our answers are in the mirror

About a week ago, a friend of mine, who is not Armenian, made a comment about the Artsakh blockade and Armenia’s historical challenges with the Turks. He said these issues have been present for generations, and we should consider them “normal.” I would usually consider such a comment insensitive, but I knew he had a more substantive message. 

On September 19, Armenians in the western hemisphere woke up to the news of another barbaric and criminal invasion of Artsakh by Azerbaijan. Given Azerbaijan’s history of chronic duplicity, it should have come as no surprise that it was planning a military assault, while stating that humanitarian aid would be welcome by the International Committee of the Red Cross at Berdzor and by Russia at Aghdam. Still, one can never get used to criminal atrocities. Although the Russian Foreign Ministry denied prior knowledge of the unilateral assault, it is unlikely that Azerbaijan would have attacked without a green light from Russia, particularly with Russian “peacekeepers” in the path. While we have a warehouse full of empathetic messages, court rulings and demands to open Berdzor from the west, the Azeris ignored global civility, because it can. 

Children take refuge in a bunker in Artsakh (Photo: Siranush Sargsyan, Twitter)

Like most of you, I was rendered incapable of rational thought for a good part of the day based on utter frustration with our plight. Then I began thinking about that conversation from a week ago, and the message became clear. If Armenians continue to depend on others, then we can’t expect different results. It is not the thought that we are a small nation, but that others will save us and deliver us a secure future. This is a residual impact of our victim mentality and has clouded our culture since the Genocide. Victims who are denied justice become frustrated and cynical. We have a five thousand year old history, but we always lead with stating that we are victims of a genocide. It has taken 100 years in the diaspora for a generation to feel that their identity is understood and acknowledged by the general public. My generation grew up in a time when Armenians were not known and often confused with other ethnicities, like Albanian or Greek. We have made great progress in recognition of our identity, which has been reflected in innovative thinking to build our future. While we are more confident, our victim mentality is still deeply rooted in our psyche.

Since the emergence of the “Armenian Question” in 1878 after the Russo-Turkish War and the Congress of Berlin, Armenians have been inundated with false promises from the west. The toothless reforms advocated by Europe were reflected in Khrimian Hayrig’s “paper ladle” commentary. Sensing a lack of enforcement, the Ottoman Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid II responded with horrific massacres of the Armenians in the western highlands in what is recognized by many as the beginning of genocidal policies.

After the end of World War I, the Armenians were again deceived by the promises of the Europeans. When my grandfather joined the Armenian Legionnaires along with over 5,000 other Armenian men in the diaspora, he was told that the reward for success in defeating the Turks would be an independent Cilicia. When the war concluded and allies basked in their victory, competitive behavior over territorial influence diluted the European influence and created a vacuum that led to the resurgent nationalist Turks. When the French rapidly withdrew from Cilicia after satisfying their appetite with greater Syria, the Armenians were left vulnerable to massacres. Thousands from Cilicia, including my grandparents, were forced to leave. The Armenians of Cilicia were subjected to three atrocities: in 1909, 1915-18 and again in 1920. 

Still, we searched for a savior nation. The Republic of Armenia has relied on Russia for economic and military support. That support usually came with large ropes attached. Armenia became a vassal state, subjected to punitive measures such as Russian sales of modern weaponry to its enemies and green lights for offensive attacks. Overtures to the west have been subject to further retaliation by Russia. Russia’s inaction during the 2020 Artsakh War, and later as a “peacekeeping” force, is due in large part to Armenia’s appeals to the west. Although Russia refers to Armenia as a strategic partner, it treats it more like a whipping post. Lately, Armenia correctly refused to participate in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) military games. The CSTO is a mutual defense pact similar to NATO. Despite overt attacks by a non-CSTO nation, Azerbaijan, the Russian-led organization has not supported Armenia. In response, Armenia held joint military exercises. This infuriated Russia, and it is likely the reason it has not thwarted the Azerbaijani attack. 

For many years, the OSCE Minsk Group mediated the Artsakh conflict. Co-chairs Russia, United States and France produced volumes of meeting minutes but very few results. Azerbaijan constantly ignored confidence-building measures and agreements. Russia’s war in Ukraine effectively ended its mission and any dialogue between the three countries. Thus, Azerbaijan sensed no deterrence to its aggression. Armenia wasted decades complying with the OSCE process, while Azerbaijan ignored agreements with zero ramifications. This process has given way to three parallel and separate mediation efforts by the U.S. State Department, European Union and Russian Federation – which appears more like a race to see if they can outflank each other in the South Caucasus. 

Turkey has no intention of good faith negotiations regarding Artsakh or Armenia. Their short term intention is to vanquish Artsakh through genocide, divide Syunik with the “Zangezur” path, and take the eastern shores of Lake Sev.

Armenia has become almost completely dependent on outsiders. It has refused to respond to military incursions, as a gesture of support for peace. It is abundantly clear that no one is going to save Armenia. Only Armenians will save Armenia. Armenia can pursue help in their interests as partners, but not as subordinates. Other small nations have succeeded in this. Why not Armenia?

It is abundantly clear that no one is going to save Armenia. Only Armenians will save Armenia. Armenia can pursue help in their interests as partners, but not as subordinates. Other small nations have succeeded in this. Why not Armenia?

It is time to take a sincere look in the mirror and not resort to wanton criticism, which will only further divide our people. We are not a small nation. Armenia and Artsakh may have limited territory, but we are a global nation of over nine million people. The diaspora is wealthy, generous and successful in nearly every discipline from diplomacy to science and technology. We must find a way to utilize the global capability of the Armenian nation. The diaspora must become better organized to fully engage its resources for the homeland. The homeland, in turn, must establish legal mechanisms to embrace the members of the diaspora into its security and prosperity. The silo model in the diaspora has run its course. I hope that initiatives like “The Future Armenian” expand and become integrated with the government of Armenia for optimum impact. There is no doubt that forward thinking initiatives like these will have an impact and help shed the victim mentality, but it is difficult to foresee optimal results without a unified effort. As a  global nation, we have a long history of disunity and intra-competitive behavior. Our vision must be to see the connection between rivalries, disunity and suboptimal performance. Our survival and prosperity will need our very best, not simply our traditional approach. Armenia must be the global center of Armenian life, with a particular emphasis on defense industry, intelligence and economics. 

A policy based on self interest, with global resources committed to the homeland, does not preclude the need or acquisition of allies. It simply creates continuous value for Armenia. Allying with a country with vindictive intent is not a partnership but a subordination. The transition to a more balanced reality is a road fraught with danger, but without that journey, the future is dim. Living as a proxy in a global conflict means assuming most of the risk. Who will care if Aliyev succeeds? The growing relationship with India is intriguing. India is wary of and openly opposed to the triangle relationship of Turkey, Azerbaijan and its traditional enemy Pakistan. Armenia provides them insight into that web and economic routes into European markets. The recent agreements to purchase military equipment should be accelerated. It has the possibility of a mutually advantageous relationship without overt subordination. 

The answers we are seeking begin by looking collectively in the mirror, not to the west or the north alone, but to each other. We must create a new model to optimize the substantial capability of the Armenian nation. Today is a dark day for our brethren in Artsakh and all Armenians, but each day the darkness gives way to light. Welcome the light.

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. Artsakh is not just a failure of the current Armenian government, but it’s a failure of the Diaspora. We have been getting fat off of wealth and expensive toys out in the Diaspora. G-wagons. 150K dollar weddings. Ridiculously expensive jewelry and fashion accessories. And when it comes to Artsakh and Armenian situations we then complain or go stop a freeway and wave some flags around as if we are doing something to help. Losing NK for Azerbaijan in the 90s was a big wake up call and they did everything they could for 20+ years after to prepare to take it back. They earned it. We need to start changing our mindset about how Armenia should be managed not just internally from a failed government but also externally from a Diaspora that is extremely rich and extremely powerful and extremely large, but stuck on spending their money on personal unneeded items. Until that changes. Until we look ourselves in the mirror and realize our errors. We can’t expect a different outcome from what is happening now.

  2. I was thinking on how we can leverage the diaspora. Citizenship should be granted to diaspora. But with an inverse tea party concept. No representation without taxation.

    Azerbaijan has a defense budget of 3000 million usd per year. Armenia 800 million usd per year.

    If 20% of diasporans become citizens and pay 1700 USD per year we could match Azerbaijani expenses. The 800 million in current budget could be redirected to internal affairs.

    The Voting rights should be only for president who is to handle foreign affairs.
    A diplomatic professional corps should be formed that depends on the president.
    All domestic policies will remain with the prime minister.

    There should be Benefits for diaspora citizens apart from Voting rights. Passport. Proactively seek for this to be a golden passport with no visas. Can part of the taxes be discounted in their home country? Network and justice system for members?

  3. An axiom of international relations–the weak have no friends. The densest person could see that the first Artsakh War was just round one. Armenians did not invest the time and effort to build Armenia/Artsakh into a hardened target. Sure efforts were made but far less than possible. Many lament that the USA or France or the EU etc. have not invested the time and resources to save Armenia. It may provide some comfort to point the finger at others rather than face our own faults. Maybe if we had made the best possible effort to make Armenia a tough nut to crack then others would be more willing to invest their time, materials, and people in our defense. We all know it will not stop with Artsakh. Let’s hope Armenia and Armenians will rally to make defense the top priority as shown by actions not just words.

  4. Brothers and sisters!
    What’s with all the complaints and sadness? We won! We finally got what we wanted in 2018? Come on dear people dont, tell me you didn’t know who you were supporting back in 2018. We all knew who Nikol was back then. Remember his essays about Gharabagh and Russia going back to the early 2000s? Remember his role in trying to bring democracy to Armenia in 2008, hand in hand with our great statesman Levon Ter Petrosyan? We knew who our democratic prime minister Nikol was. We knew what our dear leader Nikol wanted. We voted for him not once but twice. Remember? So why are you all complaining now? The honest man did what he said he will do. We empowered him to do what he said he will do. We democratically elected our great and glorious leader Nikol Pashinyan not once but TWICE for two purposes – free Armenia from the 30 year old proble called Gharabagh and free Armenia from those oppressive and utterly undemocratic Russians.

    Forget that little troubled region called Gharabagh, it was just a headache. Gharabagh stopped Armenians from being happy with their wonderful neughbors. Wake up. The real problem Armenia has is Russia. We need to make friends with Turks and unite with the civilized world (i.e. freedom and democracy loving West) and defeat aggressor Russia. Anyone watching BBC and CNN to see what’s going on in the world? Russia wants to takeover the whole world and stop all people from being westernized and happy. Putler (i.e. Putin+Hitler=Putler) must be stopped – now! Armenia must be liberated from Russia – now! This is the most important thing in the universe – now!

    Our freedom loving and democratically elected leader Nikol Pashinyan started the process to free Armenia from Russian rule in 2018 with all our help, but the poor man is not done yet. So please stop the silly complaining and protests and just let our duly elected, freedom loving and enlightened Pashinyan finish his sacred work of freeing Armenia of its Gharabagh problem and start valiantly fighting the Russian Bear, side by side with our freedom and democracy loving brothers and sisters in Slava Ukraine!

    This is simply not the time to complain and protest. Besides, we won. Rememner? We won! We got what we wanted in 2018. We got what we wanted in 2020. We got what we wanted in 2021. Now, just relax and let our wonderful prime minister finish his work. There will be plenty of time afterwards to protest Armenia’s and Gharabagh’s disappearance from the world and feed and shelter Armenian refugees.

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