Armenia’s survival will require unprecedented political sacrifices

The internalization of the angst over the latest criminal incursion of the rogue Azerbaijani nation creates a geopolitical reinterpretation of those fateful years of 1918-21. It’s a more lethal version of Bill Murray’s classic “Groundhog Day” where his character lives in a constant loop of the rite of spring. During the aforementioned years, the sovereignty of the Democratic Republic of Armenia (commonly referred to as the First Republic) was constantly threatened by a reviving Turkish nationalist movement in the West and territorial disputes in the East by the new Republic of Azerbaijan. formerly known as the Tartars. The Turks under Mustafa Kemal intended to finish the work of their evil predecessors and capture all that was left of Armenia. The Azeris with their newly fabricated history claimed all of Karabakh (Artsakh), Nakhichevan and Syunik (Zangezur). These national security concerns have been compounded by economic chaos, famine and disease. Although the quality of life of our brethren today has improved compared to that of their ancestors, the political parallels are daunting. Turkey still has bad intentions towards Armenia and all Armenians. The rogue dictatorship of Azerbaijan has received petrodollars to fuel its illegal and revisionist assault on the Armenian people. Erdogan and Aliyev appear determined to pursue expansionist nightmares at the expense of the Armenians. Stalin is long gone, but his legacy of division and destruction remains the initiator of the theft of Karabakh. With his nationalist policy of division and dilution, it was Stalin who “granted” Karabakh and Nakhichevan as “autonomous” oblasts under Azerbaijan. Its policies have directly created the results of decades of oppression and loss of life. The old Soviet role of manipulator has been updated for Putin. Control with selective support has been the hallmark of the relationship. In 1921, Armenia was forced to surrender to the Turks and Soviets or face continued genocide. Soviet Armenia was created as a survival alternative to Turkish annihilation.

One hundred years later, Armenia remains caught in the scissors of Turkish expansionism and Russian dependence. Many of us are quick to blame the incompetence of the Pashinyan administration, but a broader perspective would reveal that dependence and lack of influence has been a historical dilemma for centuries. Of course, the current power bears responsibility for the failures, but Armenia has rarely operated from a position of strength. Is it our fate as a small, landlocked nation or a systemic weakness in our thinking? There is nothing we can do on the land our ancestors settled on and we cannot apologize for the incredible misfortune of the Turkish migrations in the 11th century that invaded the Armenian highlands. We can, however, work to shake off the victim mentality that has permeated our thinking for decades. When you present yourself as an Armenian to others, are you leading the genocide or do you share a bit of our brilliant civilization? I would dare say that most talk about the first one first, and that reflects our insecurity. We have a responsibility for justice, but the obsession with genocide has limited our thinking and our vision in a post-genocide and post-1991 republic environment. There are examples of breaking this constraint with new approaches such as the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative and its affiliated programs as an example.

There is no doubt that Armenia and its army were weakened by the 2020 war, but it appears that the leadership has shifted from a balancing act of pro-Western thinking to a subordinate approach with Russia. This is clearly a reaction to Russia’s dissatisfaction with the Pashinyan government ahead of the 2020 war. The result, however, appears to be a reluctance to focus on visible signs of national insecurity. The humiliation suffered by the Armenians due to the Azeri incursion into the sovereign territory of Armenia cannot be explained to ordinary Armenians. These are their homes and their villages. The impact reduced the confidence of our people to have hope. Our brave soldiers in the recent fighting in Sisian have shown courage and inspiring abilities. They must be supported by constant modernization of military and border fortifications. A quick examination of the Syunik map reveals the short-term intentions of the Azeris / Turks. Aliyev says he wants a corridor through Syunik to connect the Azeri territories. A transport route with intact sovereignty is very different from a corridor with political implications. The region of Sisian is located at the “neck” of Armenia, the distance between the “new” Azeri border passing by Syunik and Nakhitchevan being less than 30 kilometers. The purpose of the attacks is to soften the area by taking a few kilometers at a time and to make the corridor a forced reality. In their distorted view of civilized behavior, this would effectively divide Armenia geographically. We can all talk about the fact that the November 9 agreement contains no language on a corridor and that Iran’s opposition is clear. But when did a regional power intervene and when did Azerbaijan honor an agreement it signed? The border incursions are a direct violation of the Trilateral Agreement and international law, yet Azeri soldiers are today on sovereign Armenian soil.

The answers are complicated, but Syunik’s “neck” needs to be protected. Aliyev and his neo-Ottoman ally have a habit of waving an olive branch with one hand and charging artillery with the other. Yes, Armenia has been weakened, but its army is the only guarantor of its sovereignty. Strengthen it and put that ability to work. It requires unity of purpose. The creation of local militias should proceed to complement the capacities. We must refer to the resources of the diaspora to help defend our rights. The catalyst for many of these actions is to experience a unity that has eluded us. I find it disgusting that while the “Huns are at the door”, we attack each other in political halls in Armenia and in the Diaspora. There is a significant difference between the critiques that are part of the democratic process and the vile attacks from all sides today. The nation’s existence is at stake, and we seem to have more energy to weaken each other. This is exactly what the Turks want, because it reduces our capabilities. They are happy with our disunity. Frankly, I think most of us are unhappy with the government, but criticism without civility and without solution is not in Armenia’s interest. This is difficult to accept because the easiest reaction with occasional participation is to denigrate the leaders. They clearly deserve criticism, but the Armenian people deserve solutions. We all need to control our emotions and be part of a response.

The nation’s existence is at stake

Now is not the time for division. Our support for Armenia and Artsakh will be tested in the coming months. Are we going to confuse this support for Armenia with support for Pashinyan, or will our patriotism and love for the motherland transcend politics? This is a serious question because I see many Armenians withdrawing from the process out of self-proclaimed ambivalence, opposition to individuals or being caught up in the emotion of the moment. Since when does our love for the homeland manifest itself through individuals? Isn’t this a 4000-year-old civilization and our responsibility as current custodians of that history? There are times when we all lose sight of what is really at stake. Calling for Pashinyan’s resignation is a right to free expression, but it is not practical. The civil unrest necessary to force a resignation would create enough instability to put Armenia’s sovereignty even more at risk than current policies. As an alternative, I would suggest the following moves. Prime Minister Pashinyan, please stop arresting and investigating the charges against those who can too easily be considered opposition. This “anti-corruption” process has run its course as our sovereignty fades. I would suggest a selective amnesty that would allow a process of national reconciliation. All factions must come to the table to freeze disagreements and work together for one goal: to save the republic. Instead of imprisoning those who stole funds, consider a financial settlement for reconciliation. End the vile civil war of mistrust. Is it naive? Not if you consider what is at stake. Great benefactors can play a role in this by using their financial philanthropy as leverage to ensure this happens. The church should publicly rally the faithful around forgiveness and unity so that our society can heal. Protesters should advocate and demand unity and not the replacement of one faction by another. Division in our nation is the fuel for the daring of our enemies. It is a tall order for the Armenian political elite, but true patriotism demands that egos be subordinated to the national interest. This is the definition of patriotic leadership. It is a national emergency that requires everyone to change their behavior, but nothing will happen until political leaders of all factions rule out the attacks, subordinate their ambition to the needs of the nation and give the example of an exemplary sacrifice.

true patriotism demands that egos be subordinated to the national interest.

It should be obvious to everyone that Armenia is not strong enough for one group to mitigate the risks to our nationality. Our division under-optimizes our collective capacities. Political unity in times of national crisis is not only appropriate, but can replace present darkness with light. The diaspora is an integral part of this alternative. Criticism without a solution is not responsible, because it contributes to the feared instability. We should all call for national unity with an intolerance of division and conflict. If we are unable to put aside our differences and overcome this crisis, then perhaps we have not yet acquired the capacity to maintain our sovereignty. It is our right as with all nations, but it is also our responsibility to protect this gift. Endless bickering, disunity, and operating in a purely partisan fashion is not the best way to protect this legacy. Our heroes have lost and our children deserve better.

Stepan grew up in the Armenian community of Indian Orchard, MA at St. Gregory Parish. A former member of the central executive of the AYF and of the Executive Council of the Eastern Prelature, he was also for many years a delegate to the Eastern Diocesan Assembly. Currently, he is a member of the board and executive committee of the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR). He also sits on the board of directors 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 with the younger generation and adults in schools, camps and churches. His interests include the Armenian Diaspora, Armenia, sports and reading.

Stepan piligian

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