by K.M. Greg Sarkissian
Original publication – Statehood: A Unifying Force Based on Facts
I write this letter with the hope that it will reach out to each and every citizen of Armenia and implore them to see Armenia from a perspective that takes into account the realities of the situation today. I hope it will encourage us all to remember that there are current issues of statehood which are of greater priority than placing blame and seeking revenge. If chaos ensues and the country’s rule of law is jeopardized, another loser in this process would be the people of Armenia and The Republic of Artsakh.
Before I begin assessing the facts and realities of Armenia’s position today, I want to acknowledge that many of the points I will raise may have been made at various times, by well-regarded members of the Armenian community, people like Eric Hacopian, Jirair Libaridian, Ruben Vardanyan, Noubar Afeyan, Daron Acemoglu, and others. My contribution to this important conversation will focus on not only what has happened, but on how Armenia can refocus itself on advancing the country. I should say, I do not pretend to have the answers or solutions to advancing the country. I would rather like to highlight the importance of transcending the current ethos of individualism for collectivism.
As a state, Armenia must decipher how it can best operate in the geopolitical system: at the heart of this, the attributes of statehood must be upheld. One thing is crystal clear to us all – without a realistic detached approach by experienced professionals on the current state of the nation, no leadership can hope to sustain Armenia’s statehood. Statehood does not have to mean a democratic, independent entity as some would like to consider Armenia, but rather, statehood is formed by a number of attributes that a country must actively uphold. To this end, Armenia must resist blind nationalism and the urge to point fingers, to place blame, and to spread needless hatred. We cannot keep looking over our shoulders for the knife in our backs. We must reorient ourselves to consider the unstable reality that Armenia currently faces.
Much has been said about the facts and realities Armenia is facing. Still, I present some of them here again as they are vital and therefore must form the basis of any conversation or analysis.
- Armenia lost the war in Artsakh against the invasion of Azerbaijani forces who were supported by NATO member Turkey, equipped with imported Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTFs) and armed with advanced Israeli weaponry, including drones, which played a major role in destroying Artsakh’s defenses. Anyone who anticipated an outcome other than a loss against this large offensive was not carrying out an honest assessment of the factors at play.
- Armenia has lost some of its youngest and brightest. The country has suffered the loss of thousands of civilians as victims of this war. People have lost their homes, schools, livelihoods, and the pillars of their communities.
- The Republic of Artsakh has, within a month and a half, lost seven districts, held supposedly as a protective buffer zone and some of their own territory, in exchange for a forced ceasefire without a peace treaty for a future relationship with Azerbaijan.
- Turkey has become a tremendous powerhouse due to its strategic location, with numerous pipelines directly passing through its territory: Caspian Pipeline, Baku-Novorossiysk, Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan Pipeline, Baku–Tbilisi–Erzurum Pipeline, BlueStream Gas Pipeline, Trans Anatolian Pipeline, and Nabucco West pipeline, to name a few. Moreover, with this war, Turkey has solidified its place in the South Caucasus, an area it has long aspired to influence: to the detriment of Russia.
- Azerbaijan has had its territories and more returned, and as such, it does not mind if this conflict freezes in this fashion for the foreseeable future.
- Overall, this war quickly became a regional game of chess between Russia and Turkey, with stakes in this region between these two powers already high, given their conflicts in Syria, Libya, and the Eastern Mediterranean and now in the Caucasus. In essence, The Republic of Artsakh became another pawn in this regional, geopolitical game of chess. Depending on the ensuing actions of these powers, Armenia’s statehood and sovereignty may be threatened.
- For Israel, whose relationship with Azerbaijan is largely transactional (through arms and oil), this war has solidified the utility of the relationship between these nations. With its military abilities heightened thanks to Israel’s weaponry and drones, Azerbaijan gained the upper hand against Armenia, in the process securing for Israel key strategic footholds. This relationship continues beyond the battlefield, Israel-Azerbaijan cooperation will enable each nation to expedite its respective agenda, further risking Armenia’s security. Thus, Iran has also been dealt a blow to its security due to this war: with Israel now having a base in Azerbaijan towards Iran’s northern border, it will place the entirety of Iran within range of Israeli offensives.
- If the situation were to escalate to a war between Iran and the US-Israel alliance, Azerbaijan’s relationship provides important military strongholds for Israel, which they can operate in a broader area.
- It is in this context that we must recognize the many fault lines where Armenia finds itself. These being at the heart of the Christian and Muslim world, the Shia and Sunni world, the East and West, EU and EEU Russia and NATO member (Turkey). A quick look at the maps below will demonstrate the many demographic considerations between Turkey and Russia, where at least 12 million Turkic speaking people live:
- Armenia has lost a significant element of its sovereignty. Russian forces now control the South, East, and West borders of the country. One can only imagine what will happen if Russia withdraws from these borders. Notwithstanding the above, Armenia is a key strategic foothold for Russia in the Caucasus.
Keeping the above realities in mind, an honest assessment must be undertaken. One must analyze the importance of the ceasefire for Artsakh, and consider if there was any feasible alternative but to sign such an agreement, irrespective the governmental body in power. There should also be a candid analysis of the country’s military preparedness for defense and security over the last 30 years. It is vital to remember that a ceasefire is not a peace treaty or a final agreement; much is still subject to change at the will and whim of those involved. The ceasefire, if upheld, offers five years for Armenia to position itself in such a way that the negotiated peace can provide defended borders and security, and repair and rebuild the infrastructure it needs to secure a sustainable statehood. In any assessment of how Armenia should conduct negotiations for peace, the current realities must be considered. Collective unity of major parties towards sustaining Armenian statehood is the only viable mechanism to finding a solution to the precarious spot in which the country finds itself.
It is natural to expect that when an organization has failed, the head of the entity will resign. It is similarly natural that the anger of the people, exposed to the complacency of the state over the last thirty years, will be directed at the face of the current government, Prime Minister Pashinyan. With this said, it is not an issue about individuals. One person alone will not solve this crisis as one person alone has not caused it. Nevertheless, if there is a change to be made in government, it must be done by way of the constitutional processes, or through a vote of confidence or no confidence process in the Parliament.
The outcome, and arguably the likelihood, of this war, should not have been a shock to those in power in Armenia had they carefully considered the changing geopolitical climate around the Republic of Artsakh. So much of the geopolitics have changed in the last ten years, especially relating to the US and Israel versus Iran conflict. Additionally, rapid changes in technology within the region continues to change in ways that have hinted at the threat to Armenia’s borders for some time. Those leading Armenia now and in the future must not shy away from these realities. To protect its statehood, Armenia must adapt with them.
The current government’s representatives, together with the opposition, have a choice: either they play politics and promote hate speech towards one another, weakening the state from within and therefore allowing the country to descend into chaos. Or, they allow an independent body to analyze the current situation and act as a facilitator for communication between these rival parties. This would create a plausible next step that is critical to sustaining statehood and bringing peace to the streets.
There is a profound hunger for true leadership in Armenia. There are tangible problems that must be dealt with: security, humanitarian needs of refugees and IDPs affected by the destruction and death of war, the rampant COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring the foundations of statehood and sovereignty are upheld, and the rule of law protected in this tremendously fragile and emotional time. These issues cannot be dealt with by tribal parties congregated around one person. More than ever, populism should make way for the serious considerations of statehood. No more fanning public sentiments and anger. The impending negotiations and conversations cannot be politicized; they must be earnestly focused on the future of Armenia while upholding statehood as the top priority.
Writing this plea as one of the founders of Zoryan Institute, I am urging the powers inside and outside the government of Armenia to consider this suggestion: bring together prominent representatives from the various factions of society into a committee for discussion. This committee will include government representatives from the past four administrations of the Republic of Armenia, including Levon Ter Petrosian, Robert Kocharyan, Serzh Sargsyan, and Nikol Pashinyan, each selecting a representative to join this committee on their behalf. For example, Levon Ter Petrosian may select Jirair Libaridian as a historian and former special envoy, whose experience and involvement in negotiations with various sides of this conflict on behalf of Armenia would be invaluable. I also suggest that this committee should include former and current presidents of Artsakh and their own selected representatives.
Further, I would suggest the inclusion of other professionals from across the diaspora. Possible names that come mind are Ruben Vardanyan (for the Russian-Armenian diaspora, one of the founders of Aurora Prize), Dr. Noubar Afeyan (as head of Moderna, bringing his immense scientific knowledge, specifically vaccination and pandemic expertise), Daron Acemoglu (renowned international economist whose input would be critical to the rebuilding of the economy of the state), and a long time career diplomat and representative of Armenia, His Excellency Amb. Armen Yeganian, whose knowledge would be a valuable contribution to bridging the gaps between Armenia and the nations where he served as an Ambassador. This committee will bring other experts as they see fit to aid in their analysis in search for solutions. This group can then transmit their findings to the government and recommendations to their network worldwide, engaging the diaspora and mobilizing the support that Armenia desperately needs.
I urge the current government of the Republic of Armenia and all opposition parties not to waste any more time in forming such committees as described above. The country must assess the forces and factors that have shaped its current reality and create a plan to move forward. The sooner this can occur, the sooner Armenia can act on a plausible solution for statehood, bringing peace and stability for all Armenians.