It has been almost a month since Artsakh’s blockade by Azerbaijan in full view of the Russian peacekeeping forces. Yet, there is a general apathy in the world and even in the world Armenian community — shocking, as the destiny of 120,000 Armenians is on the line.
On December 31, the Guardian newspaper published a summary of worldwide problems by its correspondents around the world mentioning hotspots to be watched during the new year. They listed more than 100 conflicts to be concerned about; Artsakh’s blockade was not among them. That demonstrates the priority of Artsakh on the global scale of crises and makes it understandable that the political world has much more pressing crises to tend to. Therefore it becomes exclusively our burden to watch and seek solutions for it, before Baku forces its own solution by depopulating Artsakh.
Armenians have seldom behaved with such nonchalance in view of a crisis. Have we collectively given up after witnessing so many continued tragedies which may have numbed our sense of responsibility?
The new state minister of Artsakh, Ruben Vardanyan, has stated that the people of Artsakh have three choices: join Azerbaijan, leave or fight. He concluded, “We have chosen to fight.” This is easier said than done, since the imprisoned population of the enclave can hardly assume the burden of fighting alone as people in Armenia and the diaspora watch that struggle powerlessly.
As the political puzzle of the situation in and around Artsakh does not leave any political avenue to resolve the crisis, that leaves the option of unconventional venues.
To begin with, the source and the cause of this apathy is the chaotic political situation in Armenia and the disintegration of leadership and authority in the diaspora. Many pundits and analysts in Armenia ask what coherent policy does the government have to tackle the situation, but there have not been no convincing answers to this yet.
In such instances of national emergency, it behooves all forces to rally around the government to mitigate the situation, yet no such move is visible on Armenia’s political scene. A fractious opposition behaves erratically, still claiming to have as its main agenda unseating Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan rather than pivoting its goals towards dealing with the impending disaster of Artsakh. On the other hand, the ruling party is firing off one wrong move after another, miscalculations which are shrinking its powerbase rather than broadening it. Among those are the continued harassment of members of the previous administrations, through imprisonment or hauling them into courts, and undermining of the Armenian Church through tacit or overt means, while Russia and Georgia have been using their churches as political assets to bolster their unpopular regimes.
In short, the government of Armenia is not trying its best to pull out its sister enclave from its death spiral; instead it is still trying to pick off political enemies domestically.
Azerbaijan will continue to pressure the Armenians until it achieves one of its immediate goals, while not renouncing its future ones. At the press conference following the foreign ministers’ meeting in Moscow on December 23, which Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan missed, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov reportedly declared that Lachin’s corridor is open one way — if Artsakh’s Armenians choose to leave for good.
By blockading Artsakh, Baku has openly placed its intentions on display: to wrest away the “Zangezur Corridor,” meaning a whole swathe of southern Armenia. That is why one of the calls during the recent rally in Stepanakert was a reminder to Armenia not to give in, in order to bring relief to their pain. Short of achieving that goal, Azerbaijan will force its will on Armenia, by establishing a checkpoint on the Lachin Corridor, in collusion with Russia. Pashinyan was right when he stated recently that the peacekeepers no longer control the Lachin Corridor as they have surrendered that authority to the powers in Baku.
Despite Armenia’s weak position, it was able to muster enough political will to threaten Moscow with the prospect of abandoning the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which, rather than being a defense structure, has become a sham and a liability for Amenia. It is not known yet how many points Yerevan can score with the West through that posture.
Armenia cannot pin its hopes on the standoff between Baku and Tehran, because that disagreement may prove to be temporary. Nor can Armenia rely on the appalling prospect of entertaining an Iranian military base in Syunik, which was rumored to be installed. That may prove to be disastrous in the end, as Turkey, Israel and Azerbaijan and Saudi Arabia are openly plotting to bring down the regime in Iran.
The potential of regime change in Iran may further be fueled by the Biden administration which has given up on the nuclear deal, and particularly with the rise of Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, with his penchant for lobbing preemptive strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Early in December, we witnessed a debate at the United Nations Security Council. Politicians and analysts placed too much value on those debates, despite the fact that most of the speeches were generic, run-of-the-mill statements, advising Armenia and Azerbaijan to resolve their differences peacefully, completely disregarding the fact that the people of Artsakh were on the point of starvation because of the actions of Azerbaijan and have no time to wait until the dubious outcome of these negotiations.
On the other hand, it was a perilous but necessary warning to Russia that Yerevan may divorce itself from the CSTO. To continue along those lines, Armenia may halt hosting the Russian military base in Gyumri. For example, a “popular movement” similar to Azerbaijani environmentalists can blockade that base until the Russian peacekeepers make good on their commitments.
Similar actions can take place around the world, particularly where large Armenian communities reside. Human chains can block Azerbaijan’s embassies to sensitize public opinion and activate the news media.
Already, some advocacy groups are encouraging their followers to call or write to their senators and representatives in the US. That move can be expanded to involve many more organizations until it makes an impact on the media and legislators.
There are many other ethnic or faith-based groups which have grievances against Turkey and Azerbaijan, such as the Greeks and the Kurds. Only a few weeks ago, the Turkish defense minister bragged openly that his country can hit Athens with missiles anytime it wants. We may enter into coalitions and organize rallies in major capitals of the world.
Azerbaijan and Turkey are way ahead of the Armenians in their lobbying activities and media connections. Our funding sources, benefactors and advocacy groups must be able to create the necessary resources and begin to make waves.
Before going too far and engaging others in our plight and fight, we need to break this chain of apathy which has paralyzed our forces.