By Raffi Bedrosyan, Toronto, 20 November 2020
It has been a week since the Statement signed by Presidents Putin, Aliyev and Prime Minister Pashinyan announcing the ceasefire in the Artsakh war. I am sure most Armenians in Armenia, Artsakh and Diaspora were utterly shocked and devastated, as the official Ministry of Defense updates until the previous day still gave upbeat reports about the heroic defense of Artsakh by the Armenian forces against all odds, against a combined army of Azeris, Turks and jihadists which had manpower and resources at least five times larger. Although we do not know the exact details yet, Shushi fell unfortunately, resulting in potentially immense vulnerability for the rest of Artsakh and the Armenian soldiers. Under the circumstances, agreeing to a ceasefire secured by Russian peacekeepers saved the rest of Artsakh and the army, but with harsh conditions difficult to accept by the Armenians.
As soon as the ceasefire conditions became known, initial shock was quickly replaced with a vicious blame game to find a culprit for the lost war. Seventeen political organizations immediately started blaming Pashinyan and demanded his resignation, labelling him a ‘traitor’ and ‘land giver’. Protesters attacked the Parliament, severely beat up the President of the National Assembly. Government spokespersons blamed the protesters for not joining the war effort and not going to the front. The Artsakh President and the Minister of Defense blamed the lack of men and resources. Pashinyan blamed the previous government leaders for bribery and corruption, ‘eating’ the resources instead of strengthening the army. Several people blamed the previous government leaders for not negotiating seriously, not acknowledging that the ‘liberated’ or ‘occupied’ territories would be given away sooner or later in return for some security guarantee for Artsakh. Some analysts blamed Pashinyan for appearing anti-Russian, and for provoking Azeris even more by stating ‘Artsakh is Armenian, full stop’. Others blamed the Minister of Defense for boasting that ‘the next war will not be to exchange territories for peace, it will be war for more territories’.
All the blames may have some truth in it, but none of the blames will bring back the thousands of young Armenians martyred or wounded during the war. None of the blames will bring back the seven territories around Artsakh, or Shushi and Hadrut within Artsakh. It is time to stop the blame game, assess the facts, accept the facts, see the positives and negatives and start working based on the facts.
First, we need to realize that all Armenians, in Armenia, Artsakh, and the Diaspora, need to share the blame, acknowledge their own mistakes instead of blaming the others. The only persons not to blame in this war are the heroic soldiers and volunteers, who died or got injured, sacrificing for the nation.
Secondly, we need to realize that the ceasefire outcome is a proposal which was put on the negotiating table for almost 25 years, rejected by both sides with maximalist expectations at different times. It is now imposed not by Azeris on Armenians, but imposed on both sides by the Russians who did allow the occupied territories to be taken back by the Azeris, but also allowed Artsakh to be kept by the Armenians. Artsakh is intact, except for Shushi, which is under Russian control not Azeri control, with roads in and out of it still under Armenian control. As stated earlier, the occupied territories would be exchanged for some sort of security guarantee in the past. Now, that security guarantee for Artsakh is in the form of Russian peacekeepers. Provided Artsakh Armenians feel secure enough to go back to Artsakh, Artsakh will remain Armenian and not controlled by Azeris. Every effort should be undertaken by Armenia, Artsakh and Diaspora leaders to start reconstruction and rebuilding of Stepanakert and rest of Artsakh, and to provide all necessary social and financial assistance to the Artsakh Armenians to return to their homes as soon as possible.
Thirdly, the Armenian army proved itself as a formidable force against all odds. The technological deficiency of not having drones nor much defense against drones was the main obstacle to achieve victory. The critical importance of keeping up with advances in technology, not only in the military sector, but in all sectors including biotechnology, electronics, nuclear, transport, etc. will be the key for survival in a hostile environment. I keep wondering if there was enough emphasis on recognizing the importance of drones in preparing for the war, and whether there were enough steps taken to acquire drones from other countries, including even Israel. Every effort should be undertaken by Armenia, Artsakh and Diaspora leaders to engage, finance and maintain technical advances.
Fourthly, Armenians again discovered that no other state would be able or willing to help Armenia, no matter how sympathetic, supportive and eloquent statements are made by other state leaders. In whose interest is it to recognize Artsakh, no matter how many petitions, protests or road closures we organize in the Diaspora? In whose interest is it to stop the Azeri advance, gross human rights violations, murders or destruction of Armenian churches? The one and only ally would be the Russians, not because they love the Armenians, but because it serves Russian interests to help Armenia, to place their boots between Azeris and Armenians, to keep their control over Caucasus against other states such as Turkey. On that note, it would be wise for Armenia to adopt a more pro-Russian stance than present. After the situation stabilizes in a few weeks, hopefully an orderly process to hold early elections would help find a more suitable leader in Armenia, adaptable to the new realities.
Fifthly, the Diaspora proved that they can quickly mobilize and unite during a crisis. The amount of funds and essential materials transferred during October was more than the totals transferred in the past 20 years. We should recognize that the real crisis is not over, but just starting now, with even more need for uniting the resources of Diaspora with Armenia and Artsakh.
There is now a window of security for at least 5 years or more, without worry of military aggression or sniper attacks by Azeris nor Turks. Armenians of Armenia, Artsakh and Diaspora must use this time wisely, in full cooperation and unity, in order to prepare themselves for the consequences after the Russian security is lifted. During this time, there should also be diplomatic and economic efforts to deal with the Azeris and Turks to fully utilize the benefits of the blockades which will be lifted. No matter how much we are bleeding or burning internally, we will need to appear strong, calm and competent with our neighbors to the east and west, as well as to our allies and peacekeepers. Therefore, let us please stop the blame game and get to work.