What better time than May 8 to remind ourselves that the liberation of historic Armenian Artsakh is not yet a done deal. May 8, 1992 marked the capture of the ancient Armenian fortress city of Shushi in a daring maneuver that caught the Azeris by surprise. It was a bold strategy that led to an improbable victory that can be compared in its effect to the victory at Sardarabad in 1918. It may well be time for the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) to reassume that bold strategy to lay the groundwork for Artsakh’s de jureindependence. If the ARF is not willing, who can the Armenians of Artsakh look to?
Since the ceasefire two years later in 1994, Artsakh (Karabakh and the liberated territories) has not only survived under the most difficult of conditions, but our brothers and sisters have transformed a war-ravaged region into a functioning democratic society. Unfortunately, we have done far less than is necessary or within our capabilities in assisting Artsakh’s economic development and its quest for independence.
The ARF through its Central Committees and their ad hoc committees and lobbying entities throughout the diaspora are engaged in a wide range of activities that seek to address the injustices that the Armenian nation has endured since the Ottoman-Turkish government began its genocide of the Armenian nation on April 24, 1915. During the 70 years that Armenia was a captive republic under Moscow’s control, the ARF was the principal institution in the diaspora confronting the Turkish government’s official policy of denial and historical revisionism with respect to the Armenian Genocide. During this same period, the ARF was the principal institutional force that literally saved the traumatized survivors of the genocide from losing their Armenian identity and nurtured the belief in the eternal nature of Hai Tahd (Armenian Cause).
With the unforeseen implosion of the Soviet Union, three events occurred that dramatically changed the political landscape. First, Armenia declared its independence from the Soviet Union (Russia). Second, the Armenians of historic Armenian Karabagh declared their independence. In the war for liberation forced upon them by Azerbaijan, the Karabaghtsis not only prevailed but liberated adjacent areas of historic Armenian Artsakh. Today, the historic Armenian Shahumian district still remains occupied by Azeri military forces, its population having been terrorized, murdered, or forced to flee their ancestral homes. The eastern border areas of Martakert and Martuni also remain under Azeri military occupation. And the third significant event that occurred was the return of the ARF to an independent Armenia.
In a relatively short span of time, perhaps too quickly, the field of engagement and the mission of the ARF had expanded to the Armenian Homeland (Armenia, Artsakh, and Javakhk). However, the principal thrust of its strategy remained focused on Turkey: genocide recognition, reparations, the return of religious properties, and the criminalization of public denial of the Armenian Genocide. These efforts can be easily defended because each victory immediately meets the expectations of the Diasporan Armenians. Unfortunately, these victories have no political legs.
Yet they are important because they do assuage the psycho-emotional needs of our people. Having said this, we must also accept the fact that a century later we are no closer to achieving the justice we seek nor is the Turkish leadership any closer to acknowledging the genocide that sought to destroy our nation.
Compounding our difficulties is the serious misunderstanding on our part between what world political leaders mean when they suggest that Turkey revisit its past and our expectation of what it means for Turkey to revisit its past. The disconnect is that our demand for acknowledgment is a component of Hai Tahd. What is suggested by foreign political leaders has no connection to Hai Tahd. It is simply a need for Turkey to confront its past history and acknowledge what the Armenians have suffered during the dying days of the Ottoman-Turkish Empire. It is not accusatory. Having said that, I can think of any number of governments, some of which have recognized the Armenian Genocide, that would eagerly support a hypocritical Turkish apology based on a sanitized version of what happened.
Support from these so-called sympathetic foreign governments cannot be depended upon. These governments have no intention, desire, or the fortitude to confront Turkey on the genocide issue when it includes restitution, reparations, or boundary rectification. This is the meaning of Hai Tahd to Armenians and it is these demands that make Hai Tahd a political issue. Can you name a foreign government that would take up the cudgels for Armenia vis-a-vis Turkey, let alone for the ARF, in this political context? We refuse to consider that given the opportunity, foreign leaders would eagerly opt to have the genocide issue simply go away, to vanish forever.
While the diaspora is engaged in these skirmishes, the key to Hai Tahd, the credibility of the ARF, and the future of Armenia has been and still remains victory in Artsakh. Independence is neither guaranteed nor will it be handed to us as a gift.
Artsakh represents the only political victory our people have experienced during the modern period of Armenian history. And at this moment in time, it is not yet a done deal. De jure independence would be a major diplomatic victory for Armenians and a humiliating defeat for Azerbaijan and, by extension, its ally, Turkey. Not only would it represent a seismic shift in the political fortunes of Armenia, but it would be a fitting memorial to the thousands of Azatamartiks (freedom fighters) who sacrificed their lives for their families, their land, and their inalienable right to live as Armenians. And it would endorse Hai Tahd as a bona fide Dashnaktsutiun manifesto. No effort alone or in combination currently underway within the diaspora can match the importance of this potential political victory. And there is no victory that could better prepare us as we enter the post-2015 years.
From an economic standpoint, de jure recognition would encourage a sharp increase in foreign investment in Artsakh as well as an increase in economic and humanitarian aid from the diaspora and from foreign governments that have hesitated to enter a politically delicate situation. Given the spirit of the Artsakh Armenians, this would be the catalyst that would set the region on an explosive growth that could easily sustain a minimum population of one million (see “The Key to Armenia’s Political and Economic Future,” The Armenian Weekly Special Issue, January 2010). Artsakh should be recognized for what it represents. It is the future economic frontier of Armenia.
The ARF must live up to its revolutionary heritage. The party must take the lead with Stepanakert to convene a series of working conferences, each of which would be given a specific mandate. Conference “A” would involve specialists in Soviet constitutional law who would frame the case for Karabagh’s legal right to have declared its independence. This is crucial. It does not matter that the ARF or Stepanakert believe the people of Karabagh had that right. The findings of this conference with its distinguished participants should be published and distributed to as wide an audience as necessary.
Conference “B” would explore the right of the Artsakh Armenians to declare their independence based on either the principle of remedial secession or self-determination. International legal scholars should be given the task to frame the case for the Artsakh Armenians. These findings should also be published and distributed to as wide an audience as necessary.
Participants of Conference “C” would author a well-documented report that covers the 70 years that the Armenians of Artsakh were subjected to the discriminatory policies by Azerbaijan; the separation of the historic Armenian Shahumian district from Karabagh and its subsequent depopulation; the various permutation of genocide-including pogroms and the destruction of historic Armenian artifacts; the military occupation of Shahumian and the occupation of the border districts of Martakert and Martuni by the Azeri military; and the continual breaches along the Line of Contact and the unprovoked killings of Karabagh military personnel by sniper fire. This report should be published and distributed to as wide an audience as is necessary. Unfortunately, the full story of Artsakh has not been told to the world, let alone to the majority of Diasporan Armenians who remain on the sidelines during this significant moment in our history.
There is an absolute need that Karabagh become a principal party in the negotiations. Doing this would undercut Azerbaijan’s position by recognizing Artsakh and eliminating its claim that this is an irredentist movement by Armenia. By making this claim, Baku is able to define the conflict as an attempt by Armenia to regain lost territories and threaten its territorial integrity. Again, experts must be consulted to separate the usual conflict that arises between the claim of territorial integrity (which technically does not apply) by Azerbaijan and humanitarian intervention rightfully exercised by Armenia. After nearly 20 years (from the 1994 ceasefire) we have yet to define the Artsakh issue to our advantage. How can this be viewed in a positive light? None of the principles that the Minsk Group has proposed over the years to guide the negotiations ever speak to Artsakh becoming an independent political entity. That in itself should cause us alarm.
Short informational films that depict various aspects of life in Artsakh should be available to inform our people and others to see the giant strides that have been made. These films should show the destruction, as well, that was caused by Azerbaijan’s intransigence. There should be a steady stream of visiting legislative leaders, news-makers, business people, and educators among the various groups that should be cultivated to espouse our cause. Our public relations effort has been woefully inadequate.
Our lack of the required effort should not be excused by our need to pursue what many like to tout as our present successful strategy. No one is advocating an either-or strategy. The work being carried on in the diaspora must continue, but it must be understood that Artsakh’s de jure recognition far transcends all else. Our mission in helping Artsakh gain its deserved recognition by the world community of nations must be comprehensive, multi-faceted, coordinated, properly staffed, and financed. A failure in Artsakh will have a domino effect on our century-long struggle for justice, especially as we approach the watershed year of 2015. Hai Tahd will lose its relevancy; and Armenia would be relegated to a position within the south Caucasus that makes it politically and economically subservient to neighboring Turkey, Georgia, and victorious Azerbaijan. It would be a situation that I would regret having lived to see.