Negotiate for self-interest and prepare for the worst

In the endless journey for peace in the region of our homeland, it was another week of hope and concern. It has been our bittersweet fortune to live in the shadow of biblical Ararat, yet forced to endure the barbarity of the Turkic oppressors. From the era of the Ittihad pashas to the ruthless Kemal and now the racist opportunistic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey has been a thorn in the side of a peaceful Christian people. The Turks were the last to arrive in the ancient lands of Anatolia and Asia Minor, invading the Armenian Highlands in the 11th century. After expanding their domain through a militaristic culture, they authorized institutionalized discrimination through the policies of the Ottoman Empire. While the veneer of the millet system was hailed by some historians as “benevolent” and “unprecedented,” it created the foundation for centuries of minority bigotry that degenerated into genocide as the empire deteriorated. The Turks left a trail of ethnic kin along the path from Central Asia to Asia Minor. The presence of this Turkic population became the core of the dream of uniting all Turkish peoples into one nation. It was this illusion held by the Ittihads that made the Armenians expendable victims of the lowest form of human aggression…genocide. 

This same racist obsession has been resurrected by the despot Erdogan, as he seeks to return Turkey to the status of a regional power via ethnic unification. His partner and subordinate, Azerbaijan, has been the nemesis of Armenia since its shallow national founding in 1918. Prior to 1918, the Azeris were generally known as Tartars and had been the antagonists of ethnic clashes with the Armenians for the previous 20 years in eastern Armenia. While subjugated to Turkish rulers and their Kurdish mercenaries in the west, the eastern portions of historical Armenia were attacked by the forerunners of the Azerbaijanis. The independence of Armenia in 1918 along with the newly created Azerbaijan did little to bring stability and peace. Historic areas of Armenia such as Artsakh, Syunik and Nakhichevan were threatened by the Azeris throughout the duration of the First Republic. Artsakh and Nakhichevan were awarded by Stalin as “autonomous oblasts” to Azerbaijan. This was done to pacify the resurgent Turks under Kemal and to dilute Armenian nationalism with territorial transfers. A similar strategy was employed in the Baltic states of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. For the Azeri Turks, it was a green light to purge Nakhichevan of its indigenous Armenian population. Turkey was a co-conspirator in the Nakhichevan oppression when it later agreed to territorial transfers with Iran to create a small common border with Nakhichevan. The brave people of Artsakh remained steadfast, refused to assimilate and waited for a legal opportunity, which emerged when the Soviet Union crumbled from 1989-91.

In 2024, Armenia finds itself still searching for an elusive peace with its Turkic neighbors to the south, east and west. The Turks today have replaced their traditional attire with western suits and legitimize their activities as members of NATO and the United Nations. It is the perfect civilized facade to hide their intentions—regional hegemony in the traditions of pan-Turkic dominance. Azerbaijan, a dictatorship run by the Aliyev family for most of its post-Soviet independence, is a playground for the corrupt extended family. While there are many corrupt dictators in our wounded world today, unfortunately, this dictatorship has focused its fossil fuel wealth on destroying Armenia. While ravaging Nakhichevan and Artsakh prior to 1991, Azerbaijan has continued a policy of unconstrained aggression against Armenia, with 30 years of unilateral attacks on the eastern borders of Tavush, Syunik and southern Ararat provinces. Despite recognizing the shared border in 1991 and agreeing to U.N. principles, Azerbaijan has launched continuous, horrific attacks. Azerbaijan has a record of international anarchy, as it has consistently ignored ceasefires, violated the territorial integrity of Armenia, utilized illegal weapons according to international law and ignored the final rulings of the International Court of Justice. It has made a mockery of civility, human rights and international relations. Azerbaijan’s abhorrent behavior has been tolerated simply because of our collective addiction to gas and oil. It is a sad commentary on the duplicitous nature of world diplomacy.

Aliyev and Erdogan want to see Armenia weakened or eliminated. This is why Armenia must pursue a parallel path of diplomatic optimization and strengthening Armenia’s military capability.

Despite the setbacks in Artsakh and the vile behavior of the Turkic parties, we find ourselves in a peace process. Armenia has played the good guy throughout this experience. Whether the OSCE Minsk group (remember them), U.S. State Department, EU or Russia has served as the third-party mediator, Armenia has consistently projected itself as a team player willing to compromise in the interests of long-term peace. It has conducted a parallel dialogue with Turkey concerning normalization of diplomatic relations, border openings and trade agreements. Turkey has demanded that the recognition of the Armenian Genocide not be a precondition for normalization and the resolution of the Artsakh matter (in favor of Azerbaijan). Obviously these two issues are not an obstacle, yet Turkey operates with little urgency. Why? In large part because it has little to gain. Turkey will continue the charade and continue to add new preconditions. Everything is done in the context of weakening Armenia. 

Recently, it was reported that both Turkey and Azerbaijan (one nation, two states) are constructing the roadway in their territory for the so-called “Zangezur Corridor,” which would be an extraterritorial corridor through Armenia’s Syunik province. This is tantamount to cutting off the southern region of Armenia from the nation. Demanding Armenia’s sovereign territory is an overt act of war. The Turks refer to the now discredited November 9, 2020 trilateral agreement as containing wording for this corridor. The official text contains no such wording, as confirmed by Russia and Armenia. In addition, both Russia and Azerbaijan have violated the entire agreement through security inaction and overt military aggression followed by the genocidal blockade. Yet the Turks continue to press for this corridor, and Aliyev threatens to take it by force. Iran has repeatedly stated that it will not tolerate any change in the borders or the territorial integrity of Armenia. The U.S. and EU have offered similar statements on the status quo of territory. Azerbaijan represents the height of political hypocrisy by insisting on mutual territorial integrity (its argument for Artsakh) while demanding sovereign land through Syunik. Armenia has consistently rejected this demand and is working overtime to build diplomatic support. In addition, Azerbaijan continues its irresponsible behavior, referring to Armenia as “western Azerbaijan” that it will liberate. While Erdogan speaks of a pan-Turkic alliance or refers to Azerbaijan as “one nation,” Azerbaijan employs its version of the same strategy with insulting references to “western Azerbaijan.”

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan described Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s comments this week as a “direct blow” to the peace process. Alen Simonyan, speaker of the Parliament, stated that Armenia “will defend itself to the end” if attacked. Aliyev has never been an advocate for peace. He utilizes the diplomatic process as a pretense for military aggression. He operates like a child who has a tantrum when he doesn’t get his way. This is a dangerous way to operate international relations. Aliyev and Erdogan want to see Armenia weakened or eliminated. This is why Armenia must pursue a parallel path of diplomatic optimization and strengthening Armenia’s military capability. The arms deals with France and India are encouraging but must be expanded. Reforms in the military must continue with urgency. We hear a great deal of rationalization of American aid to Israel and Ukraine based on the presumption that they must be able to defend themselves. Israel is not capable of sustaining its assault without U.S. support. As the public opposition to Israeli policy grows, it seems the leverage advantage is with the United States. The same logic must be applied to Armenia. If the United States and the EU wish for Armenia to cross the dangerous divide from Russia, they must enable Armenia to defend itself from the policies of Azerbaijan. If Armenia migrating westward is in the interests of the western alliance, then NATO and/or the United States should issue an order to Turkey to desist from supplying personnel and technology to the Azeris. In a similar vein, the shameful relationship between Israel and Azerbaijan can be adjusted with U.S. intervention. This strategy is in the long-term interests of the west. The Turks have many friends in Washington, but here is an opportunity to bring stability to the region. Armenia has displayed sufficient will to receive support, a term we constantly hear from the third party mediators. Peace treaties take a minimum of two parties. In this case, the two parties are on opposite sides of civility. Mediators are usually reluctant to publicly criticize even overt negativity from one party in order to preserve the long-term opportunity. Publicly expressed disappointment with Azerbaijan from the west reveals that the private frustration is significant. For this reason, Armenia must protect its interests by increasing its military capability, particularly in air defense and drone technology. 

I applaud the work of Armenia to secure strong statements of support from a diverse audience of nations. In addition, arms deals with two important nations are encouraging. Will it be enough if the peace process falters and Aliyev decides to attack? Are the statements of the EU and Iran enough to deter Aliyev and limit his behavior to only rhetoric? Will they intercede in the event of an attack to open a corridor in Syunik? The EU only has unarmed observers in Armenia, but Iran has a presence on the border near the flash points. What will Turkey do if the Azeris attack and Iran backs up its words? The stakes are very high for regional escalation. None of the major players want additional violence, given the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East. It would be far more effective for the west to use its ample supply of diplomatic capital to muzzle Azerbaijan from creating instability. If Azerbaijan remains uncooperative, then arm Armenia and implement long overdue sanctions. That would certainly gain Azerbaijan and Turkey’s attention. If peace is the priority, Armenia must protect itself, and the mediators must keep all parties motivated.

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.

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