I never thought the day would come that I would witness the ceding of historic Armenian land (the ancient province of Artsakh) to a barbaric oppressor.
My generation has debated the loss of Western Armenia, Cilicia, Kars, Ardahan, Nakhichevan and initially Artsakh from a “call for justice” perspective. We weren’t there when these travesties of justice occurred. I can only imagine the anguish of our ancestors in 1920 when they were literally forced to sign the Treaty of Kars, reducing Armenia to its current size and trading a loss of sovereignty to prevent continued Turkish genocide. The logic was Soviet oppression and a better alternative than annihilation under the advancing Turkish nationalists (Kemal) and a new state of Tartars called Azerbaijan. One hundred years later, Armenia is still under duress and finding few allies; the logic is the same. Let’s sacrifice Artsakh so the 29.8 square kilometers survives in the current Republic.
We have experienced manic extremes of joy and depression in the last 35 years. The miracle of liberating Artsakh inspired Armenians everywhere as the first instance of reclaiming lost land in a century. We were long on brave military resources and short on governing capability. For all our enthusiasm and rhetoric, Armenia never recognized Artsakh, and the population remained relatively flat. Millions in investment were supplied by the diaspora and Armenia, but we fell behind the curve militarily and diplomatically. We allowed the false narrative of Azeri “territorial integrity” to prevail over the “self-determination” of the Armenians. With a duplicitous and vile neighbor in Azerbaijan violating ceasefires and engaging in territorial incursions, we failed to build up our military to defend our borders. This is the number one priority of a sovereign nation. With the criminal behavior tolerated by a self-indulgent world, we absorbed the crushing blow in the war of 2020. Following that defeat, we descended into a defeatist nation of victims. Losing a war should be viewed as a chapter in the book, but never the last chapter. We pushed for the recognition of Artsakh but refused to recognize it ourselves. We avoided the recognition to prevent war, but war was constant. We played by the rules set down by Russia and the OSCE, but Azeri aggression was never identified as the responsible source. We were allocated equal blame. Finally, we have arrived at the “peace agenda” era but have offered up major concessions, such as recognizing Azeri territorial integrity without reciprocation. This is not a negotiation. It is a waiting game by the Azeris until they receive unconditional surrender. Proponents of the peace agenda have stated that the position of recognizing Azeri territorial integrity for the “rights and security” of the Artsakh Armenians and peace for the Republic of Armenia is the practical and correct approach. Perhaps, but who will guarantee the “rights and security” of Artsakh? Without any definition, it is comparable to no legal status for Artsakh for 35 years of dialogue. It became an enabler for Azeri aggression. The genocidal intent of the Azeris is clear. The Russians have violated their own brokered trilateral agreement of November 2020 by failing to enforce peace in Artsakh. The Europeans and United States? They will never commit the resources needed to keep the fox out of the henhouse. Ask the Georgians about the support in 2014 from the West; Georgia is much more important to the West than Armenia.
The summation of the current “negotiation” is clear; Armenia is offering major concessions, and Azerbaijan has offered nothing. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has repeated his offer of recognizing the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan several times with slightly altered detail. His latest statement this week explicitly states Artsakh in the Azeri territorial recognition plan, almost as if repeating it will finally bring force to a reciprocal statement from Azerbaijan. No such luck. The Armenian strategy is a reasonable one if dealing with a good faith negotiating partner. Azerbaijan is the polar opposite. Their objective is to “integrate” the Armenians into Azerbaijan. This is diplomatic language for cultural deprivation, forced migration and ethnic cleansing. The UN Charter calls it genocide. The other mistaken assumption is that ceding Artsakh will bring peace to Armenia. This is based on satisfying Aliyev’s demands and that the West will back any territorial attacks on Armenia proper. Aliyev has an insatiable appetite for oppressing Armenians. He has established a racist narrative to build support at home. It should sound familiar. The Ottoman Turks used the same approach to fire the Turkish and Kurdish commoners and divert attention from their woeful policies. Aliyev has publicly stated many times that Syunik (Zangezur) and all of Armenia are “western Azerbaijan.” The West will only offer words of protest, and we know where that has taken us. There are no surprises here. The enemy is predictable. Our resolve is not. Tragically, the people of Artsakh disagree with how they are being represented. Armenia’s approach will leave little for Artsakh and Baku to discuss.
The enemy is predictable. Our resolve is not.
We still have to sign an agreement. With all positioning rhetoric aside, any agreement signed by the prime minister has to be reviewed by the Constitutional Court and the Parliament. In the 1980s, drug problems were raging in America. Solutions were short, and lives were being destroyed. The First Lady at the time, Nancy Reagan, sponsored a major national anti-drug campaign called “Just Say No.” Many people thought it was an oversimplification of a complex problem. There was one message, however, that did take hold. We are responsible for our lives, and the decision to engage in drugs is usually one that we make for ourselves. Her message was to seize control of your life through education, career development and sustaining interpersonal relations in order to develop the armor needed to resist the temptations of drugs. Armenia is still the party that has to agree. They may be pressured, coerced and deceived, but it is their decision. Once Armenia signs and ratifies an agreement with Azerbaijan, it will be nearly impossible to abrogate. Most agreements are broken through overt military action. It is doubtful that Armenia would engage in unilateral aggression. The Europeans and the United States are anxious for Armenia to sign and pat themselves on the back for diplomatic victories. Justice has little to do with any of these discussions. Self-interest is in control. Armenia needs to seriously think about an agreement that in practice serves its self interests. Today’s framework does not in my view.
I have heard a great deal about Armenia’s lack of leverage due to their loss in 2020. Losing never deterred Aliyev, and he has yet to be punished for thousands of violations and ignoring the International Court of Justice ruling demanding the opening of the corridor. Some of the leverage we lack has to do with our confidence and defending “red lines.” We are a defeated nation only if we believe that to be true. When you publicly cede Artsakh, the argument against aggressive negotiations loses credibility. Just what are Armenia’s “red lines”? It sounds like “security and rights” for Artsakh and recognition of Armenia’s 29,800 square kilometers are the two major ones. If that is true, Armenia cannot continue to show more of its cards (concessions) until Azerbaijan acknowledges these two “red lines.” Anything less puts Armenia in a spiral. Just how does the Armenian government define “rights and security?” Empty promises from Azerbaijan? If Armenia does not negotiate with the “red lines” as “must happens,” then they will be viewed as temporary positions. Armenia seems to be relying on Azerbaijan either recognizing Armenia’s territory or by default publicly denying their commitment to peace. The assumption would be that the West would then pressure Azerbaijan. The West is very interested in an agreement but has shown no interest in enforcement. Over the last 30 years, every time Azerbaijan made outrageous threats or violated agreements, the third party mediator tolerated their behavior to draw them back to the negotiating table. Mediators realize it takes two parties for an agreement. Why can’t Armenia leverage their role as one of the two parties to secure concessions that are necessary and reasonable?
Why is Armenia so anxious to publicly repeat their concessions on territorial integrity? Pashinyan has specifically stated that Armenia will recognize the territory of Azerbaijan as the 86.6 thousand square kilometers, which includes Artsakh, agreed to at the Alma-Ata Declaration of 1991. This document was the basis for establishing post-Soviet borders and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) after the fall of the Soviet Union. It is incorrect to state that Alma-Ata included Artsakh since Artsakh had legally sought reunification with Armenia, and the status was contested at that time. At worst from the Armenian perspective, it is still unresolved. During the immediate time of the Alma-Ata Declaration, Artsakh defended itself from the Azeri military response, and sovereignty was established. Artsakh did not transfer to Azerbaijan when the Soviet Union dissolved. The inclusion of Artsakh in Azerbaijan is based on an entirely false premise. That being said, legality and morality do not seem to be the criteria of this process. It is driven by power, leverage and self-interest. What can practically be done at this point? Armenia must continue to articulate its “redlines” of “rights and security” for Artsakh. They must be specifically outlined and enforced with a defined guarantee. The Artsakh Defense Army will be a point of contention, but Armenia has no right to insist on disarming the population. This must be included in the definition of “rights and security.” This will be challenging given Aliyev’s appetite for total capitulation, but nevertheless is a must. Armenia needs to convince the mediating parties that without this guarantee, the Armenians will be subjected to genocide. The second redline is the recognition of Armenia’s borders on the Soviet-era maps of 29.8 thousand square kilometers. This cannot be based on mutual respect, since there is none. Third party multinational peacekeepers must be stationed for a number of years. Without these fundamental objectives delivered, the Armenians will lose more than Artsakh and Armenia. Our dignity, the foundation of our motivation and will as a nation will be damaged. This is the wall that we must defend. Please do not sign this away.
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.