Beware of the Vultures

Vultures don’t add a great deal of value to our society. I suppose you can make an argument about their ominous “clean up” presence, but I prefer to say that they simply take advantage of others’ misfortunes. They are not very likable, and they generally represent death or destruction. To the Armenian people, Azerbaijan has become a recent representation of this species, along with the standard bearer of successive Turkish governments. This is a time of hope for the Armenian nation. Hope is usually what remains after debilitating losses. Our faith provides us hope as we seek to bring light into our lives. We mourn the loss of Artsakh while embracing hope to move forward with justice and dignity. We understand this process far too well. At times, we seem to be more comfortable expressing disagreements within our Armenian community than unifying our resources against those seeking our destruction. We are currently negotiating with an enemy whose rhetoric and actions have manifested in criminal behavior and unpunished atrocities against the Armenian people. It is certainly responsible to engage in peace dialogue while withholding our trust. Azerbaijan is a criminal nation that seeks the elimination of what remains of Armenia. This is not speculation but a representation of their policy of territorial aggression and genocide.

There is a school of thought that suggests that Azerbaijan has overextended itself in its criminal behavior and no longer has the support of the western democracies. The regional peace initiatives are driven by self-interest, which is the hallmark of any nation’s foreign policy. When the interests of two or more nations intersect, there is the possibility of an alliance or collaboration. Despite rhetoric from the West supporting Armenia’s territorial integrity and democracy, the intersection here is more a reflection of the East/West divide. Armenians should never be under the impression that support from the West is driven by “shared values” or “democracy.” That would be both dangerous and naive. Armenia is seeking to “balance” its foreign policy with rapprochement toward the United States and European Union. This represents an opportunity for the West to weaken Russia with a foothold in its Caucasian backyard. The still fragile but improving support from the West is directly related to Armenia’s movement away from Russian dependency. Russia’s inability to support Armenia through its military bloc the CSTO over the last few years has been a watershed event in the continuous efforts of the Pashinyan administration to diversify Armenia’s dependence. 

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev at an informal meeting of CIS heads of state in St. Petersburg, Dec. 26, 2023 (Photo: Office of the President of Azerbaijan)

The new Cold War, initiated by the Ukraine/Russia conflict, is the context for any support of Armenia. The West sees an opportunity to further weaken Russian hegemony in the region, and Armenia could become the beneficiary of such activity. Georgia is clearly in the western camp, particularly since the Russian absorption of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Armenia is engaged in a complex transition from its traditional Russian dependency while clearly attempting a western political migration. This is still a controversial topic within our community. Many Armenians in the western diaspora advocate for a western orientation, given the freedom and prosperity associated with these regions. Another school of thought does not trust the commitment from western democracies to provide the military and economic support required to move away from Russia. Armenia seeks to normalize its relationship with Russia with respectful parity and not necessarily a full break. The lack of support guaranteed by defense pacts like the CSTO and the ambivalence from other nations in the Commonwealth of Independent States has at times isolated Armenia in a subordinate relationship with Russia and resulted in a lack of respect from other nations in the Eurasian orbit. 

The diaspora spends a great deal of time criticizing the Pashinyan administration in relation to its foreign policy. In a free society, criticism is an important check and balance to ensure prosperity and stability, but we should also applaud results when warranted. We should acknowledge the work of the Armenian government to loosen or remove the shackles on its collar from the Russian Federation. This is a courageous but difficult transition. A weakened Russia still has incredible economic influence in Armenia with significant import activity and a large market for Armenian exports. In addition, Russia maintains a large military presence in Armenia, particularly the base near Gyumri. For this reason, the Pashinyan government is methodically redefining its relationship to bring balance into play. Russia will not allow Armenia to become an independent prosperous state. The European Union has increased its engagement with Armenia through its partnership program, which is focused on social and economic development. The presence of European observers on Armenia’s eastern “border” with Azerbaijan has expanded the work into the political/security domain. Many EU nations individually, and the EU infrastructure itself, have supported Armenia and Artsakh in their struggle against Azeri tyranny, but the recent sale of arms from France and physical presence of observers have increased confidence among Armenians. As the Georgians learned in 2014, the rhetoric of western support is no match for the territorial adjacency of Russia. Words of support did not prevent the loss of Georgian territory. Court orders from the International Court of Justice and hundreds of public statements of support did not prevent Azerbaijan from starving the people of Artsakh and invading in acts of genocidal proportions. This is the challenge for Armenia. It can proceed only as quickly as tangible western support materializes.

Direct negotiations require trust, and there is no reason to trust the Azeris. They have done nothing to earn trust from the Armenians with their criminal assault of the last 30 years with genocidal intent.

This leaves rogue Azerbaijan as the remaining player in the Caucasus. The good news for Armenia is that the criminal acts of Azerbaijan have not gone completely unnoticed. Azerbaijan wants to behave like Turkey by playing Russia and the West against each other. The United States is not willing to participate in this charade and has essentially told Azerbaijan to choose its side. We should always remember that the U.S. looks at this entire region and its subplots in the context of West versus East. The United States expects its substantial tolerance of Azerbaijan to translate into a western orientation. Azerbaijan has not complied, (remember Turkey’s influence) with recent complaints about the “one-sided” positions of France and the United States. Aliyev is paying a price for choosing to boycott western-sponsored mediation, such as the recent meeting with Secretary Blinken. As it relates to the peace treaty negotiations with Azerbaijan, Armenia has wisely declared its preference for third party mediation, while Azerbaijan advocates direct negotiations. Even the temporary political isolation of Azerbaijan is an advantage for Armenia.

Armenia has been conducting a parallel process with Azerbaijan in pursuit of a peace treaty. Each country has “exchanged” proposals as part of the process. Public comments have been limited relative to content, but the Armenian Foreign Ministry recently stated that little progress has been made on the key issues. The border delimitation and demarcation dialogue has mostly addressed procedural issues so far, with the defining substance to come. Armenia remains positive and committed in public comments, despite Azerbaijan’s disruptive behavior. Aliyev seems content with continuing the process while offering nothing in terms of substance or compromise. Buying time seems to be his ploy, as he waits for the next opportunity to damage Armenia. Direct negotiations require trust, and there is no reason to trust the Azeris. They have done nothing to earn trust from the Armenians with their criminal assault of the last 30 years with genocidal intent. They have not honored any agreement, from ceasefires to confidence-building measures such as removing snipers. They have displayed no respect for international laws, from using illegal weapons and jihadist mercenaries to ignoring international court orders regarding Artsakh. Aliyev will continue the “negotiations” at a snail’s pace while he looks for openings in his nefarious objectives. He will speak of territorial integrity but has the audacity to demand a sovereign corridor through Armenia. He is not to be trusted as long as his intent is to destroy Armenia. The negotiations must continue. That is in Armenia’s interest, but trust must be earned. The lack of trust is the main reason for third party mediation; however, Armenia must be wary of hastiness by third party mediators to reach an agreement. They may wish for any agreement that provides “peace,” while Armenia needs substance and security guarantees.

80 Armenians are reportedly held prisoner in Azerbaijan, including Artsakh Armenians who are illegally held as political prisoners, including former presidents and ministers. Any agreement must include their immediate release. The border issues are more complicated, and for that reason Armenia has agreed to a parallel process of sorts that allows a peace treaty to be signed while the final border work is completed. Azerbaijan will seek to take advantage of Armenia’s goodwill gestures. For this reason, the peace treaty must include enough clarification of the border to prevent exploitation. The reference maps must be defined and areas of contention clearly marked.

Aliyev has proven consistently that he honors nothing and has zero integrity. He is a ruthless dictator negotiating with a democratic republic. As long as he dares to speak of “western Azerbaijan” or “Zangezur,” Armenia must protect itself from this rogue nation and its evil intent. Turkey continues to stir the pot with background comments about “Zangezur,” while Iran has consistently stated that opening transportation links must be consistent with territorial sovereignty. Azerbaijan is the vulture hovering over the indigenous peoples of the region. It is an artificial nation built on the investment of others that takes advantage of misfortune and, in many instances, is the cause of the misfortune. In the community of humanity, Azerbaijan has not earned the respect and trust that bring civility to this earth. Armenia must negotiate, but only with the awareness of the danger to the east. It has painfully earned the respect it is enjoying from the West. Perhaps the West’s tolerance of criminals has finally reached its limit, or maybe our self interests have become partially aligned. Our resolve must match our interests, but never trust the vulture.

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.

1 Comment

  1. It is in the best interest of Armenia to join the European union with Georgia .Russia has done nothing for Armenia and if we stay with Russia we shall remain a backward nation like a banana republic.The Georgians are beeing much smarter then the Armenians..

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