Enduring political empathy and struggling to move forward

USAID Administrator Samantha Power and Assistant Secretary of State Yuri Kim visit Goris, Armenia (Samantha Power, Twitter)

It is the unwanted but ever present common denominator at the moment. Whether you live in Armenia or any corner of the global diaspora, the feeling is universal – frustration, anger, a deep sadness and emptiness. When Artsakh was left to fend for itself with only a warehouse of obligatory statements of support, we knew the end was near. Witnessing the slow and painful demise of our Artsakh, the tragic repetition of the stories of our grandparents, has rendered the “Never Again” slogan to rhetoric. I have met so many of our fellow Armenians this past week who have been overwhelmed with failure and confusion. What could we have done? I can’t believe this can happen in 2023. Where do we go from here? 

With virtually all the nations in the world recognizing Artsakh as a part of Azerbaijan, combined with the reluctance of any powerful allies or political entities to practice what they preach, Artsakh was reduced to an “internal” matter within Azerbaijan. When starving Artsakh’s Armenians for over nine months through a blockade did not produce submission, Azerbaijan launched a brutal invasion against civilians, which was met by a hypocritical world with empty words of “concern” and “unacceptable.” Russia’s refusal to deliver on its commitment in the November 9, 2020 trilateral ceasefire agreement has contributed to our suffering and caused irreparable damage to the public trust with Russia. We can add these to the voluminous evidence that the Armenians must lead any effort to save Armenia. There are no bastions of democracy or benevolent powers – only self interest. We, as a global nation, are responsible to address this challenge and accept support, but not rely on anyone.

There are no bastions of democracy or benevolent powers – only self interest. We, as a global nation, are responsible to address this challenge and accept support, but not rely on anyone.

Today we must tend to our psychological wounds and do our utmost to save the lives of our brave Artsakh Armenians. We should not underestimate the damage to our psyche. Armenians have been in slow recovery from a victim mindset attributed to loss, murder and economic and cultural deprivation at the hands of Turks from the east and west. Our new generation, buoyed by the resilience of Artsakh over the last few decades, is now experiencing loss as each generation prior to them did. Our recovery starts with our sense of community. All of us need each other to process, absorb and heal. When we come together in times of crisis, it is uplifting and therapeutic. In times like this, we must rely on the rock of God’s love to see us through our recovery. It is analogous to family gatherings during times of great challenge under the loving umbrella of our Lord. 

This past week, I attended a community gathering in Boston. It began with a united prayer service hosted in a Prelacy church St. Stephen’s and sponsored by the Diocese and Prelacy. The service was attended by New England clergy with Diocesan Primate Parsamyan. Frankly, some of our people are angry about praying during times of conflict and atrocities. I have found prayer as a great way to prepare ourselves to act. Prayer and activism are quite compatible. It is our history and our reason for survival. 

Later in the evening, a community information session was held at the Armenian Center in Watertown (ACEC). I have great respect for those who took the initiative to sponsor this event, although I was disappointed by the content. It is not a criticism of the participants or their offerings. The information offered was important, but it did not align with the mood of people. The monologues should have been interactive to give people a chance to express themselves, vent and move forward. Regardless, the opportunity was valuable, because we need community during these times. After the event, many people conversed informally, which was very important. We must prepare ourselves to be productive again. Take inventory of your personal damage and engage in activities so that you are ready to move forward and take action. Community is a common remedy for a significant part of our population.

In addition to the frustration and sadness, we must also endure what I call patronizing political empathy. While the Azeris engaged in genocidal practices over the last nine months, we tolerated the endless supply of diplomatic rhetoric from the United States, European Union, nations within Europe and even the Russian Federation – empty promises to protect the “rights and security” of our people, deliver humanitarian aid, enforce court orders to end the blockade and impose sanctions against Azerbaijan. In the end, the Azeris had their way with barbaric methods. It hurts terribly, but we would be wise to apply our pain to taking direct responsibility for our future rather than relying on others to fulfill our responsibilities. With the blood barely dry from the Azeri assault on Artsakh, Armenia is being flooded with political celebrities. Since their rhetoric on Artsakh is no longer credible, it has now shifted to the “territorial integrity” of Armenia. This integrity has already been violated by Azerbaijan, with incursions on the eastern flank of Sevan and in Syunik. Listening to the rhetoric of USAID leader Samantha Powers and Acting Assistant Secretary Kim was the height of frustration for many of us. The optics were terrible, as they arrived after the assault was complete. 

Nearly 30,000 Armenians have left Artsakh for Armenia so far in what is being called a “forced exodus.” Let’s not fool ourselves with slippery diplomatic terms. It is a deportation, and it is a crime. The Artsakh Armenians have consistently stated that they will not live under Azeri rule. They would never submit to being the next Nakhichevan. The options were to be free, die trying or leave. The latter was a last resort based on a narrowing of options. They have been true to their word. Our physical presence in Artsakh was the foundation of their cause, and Azerbaijan knew this. The Young Turks were much less sophisticated in their approach, depopulating villages of their elderly, women and children through brutal deportations. The Azeris, with the complicity of the duplicitous world, simply eliminated the components of life – no food, no energy, no livelihood. Still they resisted, and it took a brutal assault to complete their genocidal plans. Now we must save these people. It is the least we can do for their incredible display of resilience and bravery. The foreign diplomats sitting in their comfortable SUVs in Syunik are getting a good view of the one-way traffic as Armenians leave Artsakh. I am sure they felt a sense of relief when they made their obligatory visit to the Genocide Memorial. Perhaps they can start a monument campaign for the preventable second genocide.

We don’t know what the future will bring. It is not clear if all Armenians will leave Artsakh, but we are in no position to judge their decision, only to offer our unconditional support. The barbaric Azeris’ appetite for Armenians will not be satisfied with Artsakh. No treaty with Azerbaijan or public statements respecting “territorial integrity” will deter the Turks. They have already publicly stated their demand for the “Zangezur” corridor which they envision as a sovereign strip of Azerbaijani territory through Armenia. It would mean the end of Armenia as a functional sovereign nation. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan calls this a red line for Armenia. Iran says it will not tolerate any border changes in the region. Russia cannot be trusted to support Armenia. The West cannot be trusted to take meaningful action. 

Every ounce of the capability of the global Armenian nation must be deployed to defend the homeland. The internal fighting within Armenia and the diaspora drains our precious capability and must end. A national unity campaign must be declared with reconciliation of all parties, including within the church. This is not naïve. It is essential if we hope to have a homeland. The moral correctness of our cause is irrelevant. We must defeat diplomatically, politically and militarily those who intend to harm Armenia. There is nothing in our global communal life greater than this objective. There will be a diplomatic solution only if Armenia is militarily strong enough to defend itself and offer deterrence. Engaging in diplomatic dialogue is necessary, but trusting Turkey as a good faith party is problematic and will result in de facto capitulation. 

We are all hurting right now. Our communities must provide the opportunity for each of us to heal enough to contribute in a meaningful way. It can be difficult to reflect, be rational and productively heal. The Turks will not stop at Artsakh. For Genocide denier Erdogan, Armenia is in the way of the fulfillment of his neo-Ottoman dream of pan-Turkic alliances. Some things don’t change, but we must. The West will only use Armenia to further its influence in the region. It is unwilling to jeopardize its energy needs, particularly with the current Russian sanctions. We must chart a path quickly that creates defensive capability. Heal, unite and prepare for the next chapter. That is our sacred mission. There are challenges, but we have faced comparable walls in our history. This is our generation’s Sardarabad. All other issues must be subordinated to what unites us.

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 Comment

  1. I have always found the “Never Again” slogan at the Armenian Genocide commemoration marches, an extremely unrealistic and annoying and embarrassing (in that, it is shortsighted) rhetoric. I even asked once or twice, to the people that wrote the slogans here, in our community, to lay off that one and not to shout it either. My reasoning was, who will stop the turks if they want to do it again. The USA? Russia? Europe? (Sanctions?). Who cares if there is another mass killing of Armenians? And people gave me strange looks when I said that…

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