Energizing the Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) Argument

Editorial, 10 May 2016

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”- -F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The above doublethink by the author of “The Great Gatsby” is his most popular quote although its cognitive dissonance is jarring. How much of the tortuous and tortured thinking was a result of his alcoholism and mental illness should make an interesting topic for a Ph.D. thesis. Meanwhile, sagacious diplomats around the world seem to live by the American novelist’s tendentious pensee. To wit: they simultaneously believe in the concept of a state’s territorial rights while claiming to honor the contradictory principle of respect for a people’s right to self-determination.

That brings us to the Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) conflict.

Editorial, 10 May 2016

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”- -F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The above doublethink by the author of “The Great Gatsby” is his most popular quote although its cognitive dissonance is jarring. How much of the tortuous and tortured thinking was a result of his alcoholism and mental illness should make an interesting topic for a Ph.D. thesis. Meanwhile, sagacious diplomats around the world seem to live by the American novelist’s tendentious pensee. To wit: they simultaneously believe in the concept of a state’s territorial rights while claiming to honor the contradictory principle of respect for a people’s right to self-determination.

That brings us to the Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) conflict.

Which concept should the world respect when deciding the fate of the unrecognized Armenian republic? So far, the world has generally given precedence to Azerbaijan’s “territorial rights” argument.

Global diplomatic ethics being what they are, it’s no surprise that consistency and integrity take back seat to self-interest in the tension between the two concepts. Thus when it was in the interest of the Western powers to dismantle Yugoslavia, they were for self-determination for the various nations which comprised that republic. Russia, which opposed self-determination for the Yugoslav nations recently advocated  self-determination in eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile Moscow opposes self-determination movements in Northern Caucasus. Similar inconsistencies abound in global diplomacy (Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus, the separation of southern Sudan from Khartoum, East Timor, etc.).

States give short shrift to self-determination mostly because many of them have separatist, secessionist, autonomist movements. From Albania (the Northern Epirus minority) to the United Kingdom (Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland) to France (Corsica), states feel threatened by minority groups which demand some sort of self-determination. When Canada faces separatism in Quebec, Ottawa will not support separatists in Spain, France, or in the Caucasus.

Since the Armenian espousal of self-determination for Artsakh has failed to get traction, Yerevan/Stepanagert need a new game plan which will advance a more persuasive rationale for self-determination.

But first Armenians should put aside the argument that they have been in Artsakh for millennia. Recent history (Persian, Russian, and Soviet Azeri rule of Artsakh) has more weight at the UN than our 1,500-year-old churches. As ineffective is the argument that Stalin illegally granted Armenian lands (Artsakh/Nakhichevan) to Azerbaijan. Historian Rouben Galichian’s sensible argument (“The Invention of History, Clash of Histories in the South Caucasus”) that the decision of one of the world’s cruellest dictators should not become the basis of international negotiations has fallen on deaf ears. Let’s also not waste time pushing the argument that Azerbaijan is a recent fabrication. Many states are…from Israel to Jordan to the Gulf States and practically all the African states. There are no buyers of that argument.

A new blueprint for advancing the self-determination principle is eloquently supplied by Dr. Armen Mazmanyan, director of the Apella Institute and its Centre for Constitutional Studies. Dr. Mazmanyan argues that Azerbaijan is interested in territorial integrity but without the people who inhabit it. Azerbaijan’s April attack demonstrated that Baku is intent at eliminating  Artsakh Armenians. The Azeri army’s use of weapons of mass destruction , the shelling of settlements, the threat to shell Stepanagert, the slaying of elderly civilians in their homes, and the ISIS-style killing of soldiers are evidence that Baku is intent at ethnic cleansing in Artsakh—a repeat of the genocide Azerbaijan’s older brother committed a century ago.

Azerbaijan’s state policy of anti-Armenian racism is another reason why Armenians can’t trust Azeri rule over Armenian lands and people. All day long, on Azeri media and in schools, Baku spouts anti-Armenian propaganda. Meanwhile Azeri columnists spread calumny about Armenians.

The case of Lieut. Ramil Safarov, the Azeri axe-man who killed an Armenian officer in Hungary during a NATO military gathering, is another reason not to trust Baku. When the killer of Lieut. Gurgen Margaryan, was prematurely released by the Hungary (the release was lubricated by Azeri purchase of Hungarian government bonds) in 2012, the murderer was welcomed in Baku as a hero. No less than Azerbaijan’s president welcomed the coward. The axe murderer was granted the title of National Hero, promoted from to major, given a house, a car…Why Baku has been tardy in making a movie about Safarov is a mystery. Perhaps Azeri officials are negotiating with Ben “Batman” Affleck who now shills for the Turkish Airlines.

Upon his “triumphal” return to Azerbaijan, the murderer, who had killed the Armenian officer while the latter was asleep, said: “My job is to kill Armenians. As long as they live, they will suffer…If there were more Armenians I would have killed them all. However, this was the first and I didn’t have time to prepare more punctually to commit this action.”

As if the rewarding Safarov wasn’t sufficient barbarity, a few weeks ago Aliyev personally gave an award to the Azeri soldier who, during the early April Azeri attack, had decapitated Kyaram Sloyan, the Yezidi soldier in the Armenian army.

Despite Safarov’s crime and his obscene crowing, the international community hardly condemned Azerbaijan for its scandalous celebration of Safarov’s brutality. The world also didn’t condemn Aliyev for honouring the Azeri soldier who beheaded Sloyan. So how can Armenians trust the goodwill of states which are now telling Armenians that everything will be fine if Armenians allow Azeris to rule over them?

When Armenians of Artsakh say they can’t trust Azeri rule, they have a lucid exhibit next door in Nakhichevan. That Armenian region was heavily inhabited by Armenians when Stalin handed it to Baku. Seventy years later—supposedly under the even-handed umbrella of Big Brother Moscow—there were no Armenians left in Nakhichevan: they had been pushed out by the Comrade Azeris. This is further proof of the maniacal Azeri hatred of Armenians. Although there are no Armenians left in Nakhichevan, several years ago Baku authorities went on a paroxysm of destruction and shattered thousands of Armenian graves, some from the Middle Ages. How can any reasonable person maintain that ethnic harmony can prevail in Artsakh if Baku is handed the stamp-sized Armenian republic?

The same argument applies to the Azeri territories occupied by the Armenians. An independent Artsakh would be at the mercy of Azeri guns if the seven areas are handed to Baku. Suicide is not an acceptable national policy. Israel, which has occupied the Golan Heights since 1967, advances the same argument for holding on to the heights. Tel Aviv cites UN Security Council Resolution (Nov. 22, 1967) which calls for “secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force” for every state.

Armenian diplomats, political scientists, and international lawyers have their job cut out for them. They should use these and other relevant arguments to buttress the thesis that Artsakh self-determination is the only viable solution to the conflict. Raffi K. Hovannissian, the first foreign minister of present-day Armenia and a former presidential candidate writes, "Azerbaijan’s belligerent conduct, a hell-bent design developed over the years to wipe out not only Karabakh but Armenia in toto, renders a negotiated settlement no longer possible, and it is imperatively time for the international community to take a stance in equivalent application of international law and, yes, in pursuit of guaranteeing strategic security interests" (Foreign Policy Journal, May 6, 2016).

Finally, error-prone, dim-witted Baby Aliyev unintentionally betrayed secret Turbeijan intentions when he said that not only Artsakh and Zankezur belong to Azerbaijan but also all of Armenia because “Armenia was part of ‘ancient’ Azerbaijan”. In other words, the grey wolf will not be content with Artsakh. Next on the vulpine menu is Yerevan. Aliyev’s statement is the clincher. It’s the nail in the coffin in the concept of the so-called Azeri territorial integrity in Artsakh.

  1. The British & Not Stalin
    It was the British that sold Karabakh & Nakhichevan to the AXEris for 1 million barrels of black poison.
    Stalin, simply inherited the fait accompli situation & did not stir it, as it suited Moscow not to inflame the Muslim soviet republics.
    There are only liberated historical Armenian lands.

  2. Argument strategy

    Excellent  argument!  …With many “furthermore”s (f), some “however”s (h) and one “by the way” (b).

    (h) Yes, Stepanakert/Yerevan need a new game, and quite urgently so, but I don’t  think it would be wise to completely stow away the old ones – though ineffective – lest they be portrayed as inconsistent and/or opportunist  by the wealthy Istanbul/Baku propaganda machine.  Let them expand their list; and of course stress those mentioned in the article.

    (f) There is a third concept everyone claims to respect viz. legality: Artsakh’s plebiscite  for independence (and not separation)  was held about the same time as Azerbaijan’s  declaration of its own independence (without a plebiscite), thus it was legal by law of the time and does not contradict with Azerbaijan’s Territorial integrity. The buffer zone (and it should be made a household word) is another matter and could be brought up in time.

    (h)Yes, recent history is easier to sell but current history says that for nearly three decades Artsakh has been a working democracy and much less corrupt than Azerbaijan with all those political prisoners and The Great God Aliyev who nearly tops the Panama papers. And then, a subtle equation of Azerbaijan with Israel might even work well with a lot of countries.

    (f) Certainly, the Safarov case and that of the other atrocities, should never be allowed to wither away; they should become the top Armenian argument and be repeated at any opportunity; even suggestions could be made that if his pardon and medals were taken back and an international guaranty made against similar occurrences, peace talks would go on more smoothly.

    (b) Artsakh needs no explanation in brackets; and then, who (except Russians) understands what Nagorno is? Why not Mountainous  or Upper – or their equivalent in other languages – Gharabagh, and not Karabakh?

  3. Energyzing the Artzakh Argument

    Thank you Editorial Board & Arpiar for your intelligent comments. I had always wondered why the issue of the Artzakh plebiscite preceding the declarations of independence by Azerbaijan, the Sumgeit massacres, & the mass expulsion of ethnic Armenian citizens from their ancestral homes in Baku was never forcefully mentioned by the Armenian side in support of the principle of self determination as opposed to the principle of territorial integrity. Our corrupt government & its lethargic ambassadors overseas are the main cause for our failure to convince other governments of Artzakh's just cause for independence.

    While we discuss G recognition & the energies spent on it under our diaspora  leadership, we have lost 2 important buffer zones to the Azeri criminal regime. According to our president's pronouncements & the most recent google maps of the area we have lost 800 hectares (1 hectar = 10,000 sq meters) which at depths ranging between 200 to 300 meters (as declared by Serj to the European press) amount to 2 strips of buffer zones totalling 32 kilometers. The larger strip skirts northern Artzakh east of Martakert.  While the smaller strip skirts the Martuni town on the south east .  Please look at the map shown by this editorial to appreciate how important these 2 areas are/were. We are informed that the Artzakh army & volunteers are ready & capable to take these areas back. But the order has to come from the commander-in-chief.

  4. Artsakh buffer zones

    Thank you Mike for this lucid analysis, which is supremely worrying.

    The entire episode with sudden full-blown attack from north to south and just as sudden cessation of hostilities seemed strange.  This was interpreted by so much of the media as a 'stupid outburst of a stupid dictator'.  We have well too often called the other side 'eshek' to our grave detriment.  Seen in light of your analysis I get the sense that this is a multi-stage plan of invasion.  In this step, they achieved their mission of capturing two significant buffer zones, quickly enough, prior to too much reaction from observers etc, to boot killing 100 of our precious soldiers.  The next step of this program is likely not too far in the future…

  5. Artzakh buffer zone invasion

    Dear Berge & friends
    Thanks for calling this an invasion. And invasion it was I believe. Note the following:

    1. The border village of Talish was ransacked & a few residents were killed and perhaps beheaded & ears cut. But the majority of the population, about 500, were evacuated prior to the attack. A similar thing happened in the neighboring village of Madaghis, several kilometers inside Artzakh border. What this tells me is that the enemy came in huge numbers to occupy a sizable part or an entire important buffer zone. Its intention, it seems to me, was not to violate Artzakh, yet.

    2. It must have had the advice of the wily Turks & perhaps the larger world powers to just nibble on the buffer zones & occupy the most vulnerable ones for now to crush the invincibility spirit of the Armenians & force the week & corrupt Armenian government to compromise.

    3. It was made known to the Armenian public very recently that President Sakissian agreed during his meeting with Aliev in Astana (2011) to accept the withdrawal of Armenian troops from the "occupied" territories as a first step in implementing an overall settlement. We don't know yet what sort of guarantees & safeguards he insisted upon or was offered in return. 

    4. We also know that a highway passing through the heartland of the liberated areas connecting Armenia & Artzakh traversing Kelbajar was being built with diaspora funds through Himnadram. So our president could not be trusted by OSCE & by anyone, let alone our rich & powerful antagonists.  

    5. It became crystal clear only recently that our "leaders" were so corrupt that they dipped into our defense budgets for self enrichment. World governments especially USA & Russia must have known where Armenia was most vulnerable. And they must have decided the only solution was to degrade the fighting spirit of the Armenians. Therefore, my & the general belief that Azerbaijan could not have acted alone.

    6. The 2 decade old settlement proposals suggesting withdrawals from the buffer zones & liberated territories AND leaving the Armenians the few kilometer wide Lachin corridor assumed that the Armenian army was so powerful that a corridor was sufficient to safeguard the lives of Artzakh Armenians. Modern armaments & lack of it for the Armenians have made this proposal suicidal if drastic measures are not taken soon.

    7. For this to happen our government has to tap in & call all 10 million world Armenians, and the 2 to 3 millions in Armenia & Artzakh to declare a new Sardarabad.  

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