“Wanton abandon was the cause of this”

In the late 2000s, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia Vartan Oskanian held a symposium at Columbia University. The talk, organized by some local Armenian organizations, centered around Armenia, Artsakh and the struggle to carve a path for international recognition of Artsakh. At the time, Armenia (under then-President Robert Kocharian) had recently received a $5 billion IMF loan and was in the process of post-war and post-earthquake development, making some infrastructural strides with paved roads and the import of Italian construction companies.

While listening to Mr. Oskanian speak, I couldn’t help but think, “Isn’t Azerbaijan capitalizing on their Caspian oil fields while Armenia is entering into debt?”

Billions of dollars were spent by the Azerbaijani government to achieve its military objectives in Artsakh – billions of dollars usurped from their people, left impoverished in villages while their dictator and wife as vice-dictator siphoned money for their Perez International real estate empire. Caspian crude oil funneled by British Petroleum, Chevron and other international partners found its way worldwide and amassed wealth in the oligarchic hands of the Aliyev clan.

Some of that money went to Azerbaijan’s military budget to purchase Israeli and Turkish drones, to buy desperate fighters from Syria and to pay for propaganda. War isn’t simply the will to go and fight in a coordinated, well-trained and organized fashion. It’s orchestrated on multiple fronts. War is waged psychologically to bring morale down, financially to break any sense of prosperity, and through propaganda and “active measures” to manipulate the conventional thought of both the Azeri and Armenian people. It’s not simply a hard-won fight militarily in the air and on land anymore.

The billions of Azeri petrodollars collected over three decades since the military victories of the Armenian Armed Forces were exponential compared to what Armenia’s multiple regimes had spent – three to four times more. Armenia could fight valiantly all it wants. The numbers don’t add up, despite our scrappy will to survive. It’s a great sentiment, unfounded in possibility, lest we innovated for thirty years in our approach.

We needed to invest in developing inexpensive, useful and materially viable products like lenses, lasers, computer chip printing and engineering. We needed a plan for progress and prosperity in order to manifest our desired result of an Armenia and Artsakh union. What did we do?

First, it was casinos for our locals and for the Iranian tourists. When that got out of hand, investments went into exorbitant real estate projects and luxury cars. Then, when the casinos became so unsightly, lining the streets from the airport to the city center, we had a brief awakening. Having laws mattered. But, it was already too late.

Through the decades, political power shifted and abated Armenia’s economic possibilities. A plethora of dumbfounding political events took place in Armenia: the will of the people ignored in blatantly misrepresented elections; promises of EU reform reversed for EEU reform; the change of the constitution to extend the leadership terms (presidential to parliamentary rule); and most recently, unrealistic goals and jingoistic populist rhetoric used to gain public favor by an already disenfranchised society. Constant turmoil produced consistently high risk.

At the end of Mr. Oskanian’s talk, there was a brief Q & A. I asked him about Artsakh’s future under the reality of Azeri oil profits. He agreed that the money is a reality and said that “everything will be alright.”

Shushi’s many foundations, left bare after the First Artsakh War, now in the hands of the Azeri government after the Second Artsakh War (Photo: Aramazt Kalayjian)

Everything will be alright…and yet here we are—120,000 Artsakh citizens with a desire to live in a free and independent land that has birthed centuries-old monasteries as proof of our existence and faith, families who want to work, for their children to attend school and have endless possibilities, have been forced into unthinkable submission—starved, humiliated, bombed, raped and told “everything will be alright.”

As for Armenians in the old and new diaspora worldwide, this has to be the defining apex that transforms the internal dialogue we have about our homeland. Our homeland needs all of us, with or without successful careers, with or without huge amounts of foreign debt, with or without a sense of accomplishment in our hometown communities. We must have the conversation, introduce the idea of moving, investing or visiting more often and bringing creative and intelligent investments to Armenia. Wanton abandon was the cause of this. Diligent vigilance will be our only path forward.

Aramazt Kalayjian
Aramazt Kalayjian is a creative professional with a strong emphasis on interdisciplinary story-telling and visual communication. His current project is TEZETA, a film about the Armenians of Ethiopia.


  1. I don’t think the author has a grasp on the severity of the situation at hand. No matter how exponential Azeri military budget was, it was the policies of the Armenian government that pushed Russia away from honoring its obligations to Armenia. By effectively fantasizing about not being a hegemonic satellite state of Russia, Armenian clamoring for independence and freedom paved way for a Russo-Turkic alliance, whereby all parties thought of their own interests except for Armenia.

    • I hardly think that the conflict can be simplified to Armenia’s actions. Blaming the predecessor governments is fine and has validity, but to blame Armenia for an economic alliance with Russian and Turkish governments allying in military conflicts is hardly something Armenia can influence. I’ve heard of wagging the dog but this is a goldfish pushing a glacier, it’s impossible. What’s more likely is Armenia’s market for weapons purchases under Russian rule, choked its competitive advantage of being able to shop elsewhere, thwarting its defense capabilities from the onset. If Armenia decided to rescind the Russian forces from any army base, perhaps Turkey may have taken a chance at Gyumri, but unlikely. Armenia could have developed it’s own weaponry instead of relying on the old guard buying and storing private weapons with their own funds.

    • I wish I had known about your presentation with the author of TRASHLAND in advance, I would have definitely attended the event. Thank you for your comment Chris, it’s been so long.

  2. I want to emphasize the total lack of presence of the diaspora in Armenia. Many visit with the intention of snapping selfies, being seen in Yerevan’s public cafés, or even worse, remain complacently complicit sitting in a foreign country hurling either dollars or death threats, waiting for some meaningful change in our nation without any iota of interest in participating, looking into the eyes of refugees, or making an effort to be present in the lives of those who are in-country.

    Armenians respond to emotionally charged, shame-filled, violent behavior. We’ve been invited to move back to Armenia, we’ve been begged, even, by Ruben Vardanyan, Noubar Afeyan and the other über-wealthy elite who took an New York Times advertisement, to try and convince others to move back. No one listened. The 3-Day war in April happened, no one listened. The Second Artsakh War happened, no one listened. Armenians are content raising money to fund genocide recognition, but will be hard to convince to step foot in their own motherland.

    Take a look at the unity of all Jewry right now, they’re together, they’re united and fighting for their own nation’s existence, regardless of what nascent empathies you may have for the Palestinians. They united and unified, we meanwhile fought ourselves and then imploded into internal political chaos.

    We needed to get our shit together but instead just played “thumb war” on the shitter.

    • Stepan, I agree with your sentiments but shaming Armenians in the diaspora will hardly motivate families to move. “Amot” is so engrained in our psyche that one whiff of the scent of embarrassment or shame is smelled from a distance, and deters any possibility of in-migration.

      Our only hope is to emphasize the very real need of having a diaspora Armenia move there/here, and be there to make the change we wish to see. Inspriarion, positive enforcement will be required to make that move, more visits, and investments in-country happen.

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