Empowering Artsakh’tsis with a Government in Exile

Prof. Z. S. Andrew Demirdjian, Los Angeles, 19 October 2023

Based on a shamefully lame excuse of dislodging harbored terrorists, Azerbaijani armed forces conducted a sneak attack by firing artillery and missile bombs against the people of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) on September 19, 2023 despite the ceasefire agreement of November 9, 2020.

After 24 hours of a blitzkrieg, Artsakh surrendered on September 20, 2023. The ceasefire stipulated that the Artsakh Defense Forces to be disarmed, to turn in their weapons and equipment, and to dissolve its government in Stepanakert, the capital of the Republic of Artsakh.

The casualties included 200 deaths and 400 injured due to the surprise attack which violated the ceasefire agreement. The ceasefire was supposed to endure until 2025. These acts, as irresponsible as they are, tellingly illustrate how wanton is President Ilham Aliyev in breaching signed agreements and in waging offensive warfare against civilians.

Because of valid fear of ethnic cleansing and genocide (forewarned by several genocide watch organizations), the population of Artsakh was forced to flee their homes to seek asylum in the Republic of Armenia (RoA). Of the 120, 000 ethnic Armenian population, nearly 100,000 Arsakhtsis (Residents of Artsakh / Nagorno-Karabakh) became instantly refugees and leaderless in the RoA.

Most of the government officials were arrested by the Azerbaijani guards at the check point station on the Berdzor (Lachin) Corridor as they were trying to cross over to the RoA. The former presidents of Artsakh and the rest of the government officials were sent to Baku for trial for alleged war crimes.

While the host country, Armenia, is doing its best to accommodate the refugees, Artsakhtsis are disadvantaged having lost their leaders.

The critical question is then, what could possibly help the Artsakhtsi refugees under these dire circumstances?

One way to alleviate their problem is to form a government in exile. Here is a way to efficiently and effectively form a government in exile based mostly on the book titled The Dynamics of Organizing a Diaspora (c.2015):

  • Form an organizing committee, preferably members from the various political groups of Artsakh.
  • Either use the constitution of the Republic of Artsakh or formulate a new one.
  • Identify and emphasize the bylaws to be observed and abided by the politicians as well as by the people.
  • Determine the mission, vision, and goals and objectives to be achieved while in exile to help the refugees as well as to advance the cause of Artsakh for statehood.
  • Nominate candidates for the presidency and vice-presidency from a pool of individuals who are willing to serve the people and the Republic of Artsakh.
  • Hold elections separately or in conjunction with the host country’s elections. Remember, separate elections would be expensive and time-consuming.
  • Enlist the help of Armenia as well as its Diaspora as advisors to the president as well as to the governments’ various ministries. The Armenian Diaspora is full of talented lawyers, politicians, military personnel, teachers, doctors, scientists, journalists, experts of military equipment who, out of patriotism, would serve the Artsakh people.
  • Devise a financial plan for running the government in exile (e.g., benefactors, crowd funding, donations, etc.). Without a regular flow of funds, the government in exile can not operate properly.

It is noteworthy to remember that the most efficient way is to replicate the former Artsakh government system by electing a president and a vice-president rather than changing into a different type of government. Adopting the same constitution would also be efficient for the group.

For harmonious relations with the RoA government, members of the Artsakh government in exile should address themselves to solving refugee problems rather than getting involved in local politics.

For the sake of simplicity, the Artsakh refugees can be largely categorized as a pessimist group devoid of hope to return to their homes, and the other optimist group would dream of one day returning to their homeland when it becomes safe and secure to live in their ancestral land. A government in exile would serve both the pessimists and the optimists in their host country.

The whole idea behind the establishment of a government in exile is to help the refugees as well as to facilitate their return to their homeland. Naturally, there are other benefits to take into consideration.

Fundamentally, governments in exile are governments of self-governing groups exiled from their territories. They claim legitimate authority over a territory they once controlled as their own ancestral land, or claim legitimacy of a post-exodus authority. The claim may stem from an exiled group’s election as a legitimate government. In their every endeavor in exile, democracy should prevail.

In modern times, the classic example of organizing a government in exile is that of the Poles when they were ousted by the Nazis in 1939. What makes the Polish government in exile unique is that after Poland had transitioned from communism to a Western-style liberal democratic political system in 1991, their government in exile was not dismantled. It still operates in England today.

To empower the refugees of Artsakh, their government in exile must represent the displaced people. Their leaders have to be democratically elected and charged with the mission of solving their problems as well as their wishes to return to their homeland. Such an organized group will be able to interface with other world leaders, to negotiate with other powers to protect the rights and interests of Artsakh refugees, and to shore up international support for the restoration of the Republic of Artsakh. As well, to serve as a liaison organization between the refugees and international organizations established to assist refugees forced to flee their homes and homeland because of war, violence, and persecution. No other international organization is going to genuinely assist with the refugees quest to regain their homeland of thousands and thousands years other than the Artsakh government in exile.

Self-sufficiency and self-reliance requires one to organize in an effective way to carry out the missions to fulfill the goals and the objectives of a group of people, such as the displaced people of Artsakh.

Western nations’ sympathy for Artsakh over Azerbaijan is not worth a dime for sympathy alone does not make the people feel safe and secure to return to their homes.

As Roman poet Ovid said: “Only the mind cannot be sent into exile.” I add to that by saying “Only the mind and the heart cannot be sent into exile.” The exile is torn between living abroad and returning to its native land, a true home. Hopefully, the heart yearns the day to return to the highlands of his or her place called Homeland Artsakh.

This somber ethnic Armenian family from Artsakh is walking along the road leading to Kornidzor, where a humanitarian hub had been established on September 26, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Vasily). A crowd is faceless, but this young mother’s face is a detailed portrait expressing many sentiments. She is in acute distress, hurrying to provide for her most cherished possession –that is her family. She personifies “Mother Armenia” with her strength and poise. She is holding back her tears for leaving behind her homeland of many memories. Although no longer wracked with fear of Azeri assault, her children are sensing her deep sadness. She would like to tell the international community how callous they have been of human sufferings by remaining as bystanders when a crime against humanity was being perpetrated and to let indigenous people like her go into exile. Although her life has been lately topsy-turvy, although her world has shrank, her determination is contained in the expression that –the pain you feel today is the strength you feel tomorrow for every challenge we face there is an equal opportunity for success and happiness, especially with the help of Artsakh’s government in exile.

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