By Edmond Y. Azadian
Any objective analysis must seek a rational solution to intractable problems. News media and some government agencies may become more alarmist to dramatize certain critical situations. However, there are historic moments where the distinction between rationality and alarmism is blurred. That is the situation in Armenia today.
Recently, in this column, we quoted a statement from the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, which sounded a death knell for Armenia.
He specifically said that Armenia’s population is dwindling while Azerbaijan’s armed forces are growing. “We can wait until Armenia’s population is reduced to one million and then we can take over its territory,” he had said.
In that scenario, Azerbaijan does not need to use its recently-acquired modern weaponry, estimated to be worth $1.6 billion. Nor does it need to use the military drones supplied by Israel. Instead, the leadership in Baku is counting on a waiting game which is working in its favor.
The situation is similar to the demise of the Soviet Union. The nuclear arsenal of the US and all the western countries were unable to dismantle the Soviet empire, but internal decay caused that seemingly impervious empire to implode, without a single shot fired by the West.
In their unabashed statements, the Azeri leaders have claimed not only Karabagh (or Artsakh) as part of their territory, but also the entire territory of Armenia, as recently stated by President Aliyev himself, characterizing Armenians as “recent settlers on Azerbaijani territory.”
Any student of history can turn the tables and state as a historic fact that the opposite claim has historical veracity, that in fact, Azeris are the recent settlers in the region.
Aliyev is not the only leader entertaining such dreams; before him, another president, Abulfez Elchibey, threatened to occupy Armenia, wash his feet in Lake Sevan and drink tea on its shores. Incidentally, he also threatened to occupy “northern Azerbaijan” in Iran and annex it to the modern Republic of Azerbaijan.
If during Elchibey’s administration such designs were dismissed as pipe dreams, today they have become — and must become — serious issues of concern.
The fact is Armenia is being depopulated and Aliyev’s waiting-game policy can no longer be considered a far-fetched plan. For two decades, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), as well as regional and major governments, have been negotiating to find a solution to the Karabagh conflict. (Actually, they are spinning their wheels.) The fact that no solution has been found indicates that it is not in the interests of the parties involved to solve the problem. That keeps Karabagh’s future in limbo, with the population facing a paralyzing uncertainty. Even Armenia’s only strategic
partner, Russia, has a policy of duplicity. During the Soviet era, Moscow’s foreign policy was driven by ideology. No more. Today it is driven by interest, sometimes marked with ironies. For example, the only Russian military base outside its territory is in Armenia, ostensibly to defend
Armenia against any perceived threat from Turkey. Yet the foreign policy establishment in Moscow finds it perfectly compatible with its policy to sell $100 million worth of weapons to Turkey.
The West is interested in winning over the Azeri leadership to have access to that country’s energy resources and to wean it away from Moscow. This is the same policy Britain exercised in 1919, trying to convince Armenians in Karabagh to accept Azeri rule “temporarily,” until the status of the territory was determined at the Paris Peace Conference. The Armenian National Council of Karabagh refused the British diktat, risking the destruction of the region by Sultanov’s forces, a “governor” handpicked and imposed on the locals by Britain.
The population in Armenia is dwindling and it certainly is not increasing in Karabagh. Any solution to the Karabagh problem will surely include a popular referendum on the status of the territory. Baku’s leadership may wait out and when Armenians lose the critical mass in the territory, they may agree to a referendum, after having calculated the outcome.
Foreign investments in Armenia and Karabagh are very slow, hampering job creation and economic recovery. The dysfunctional legal system also does not encourage foreign investments. Even local oligarchs have moved some of their businesses outside the country.
There are some bright spots and valiant undertakings in a rather gloomy background. For example, recently a local benefactor, Levon Hayrabetyan, financed the weddings of 700 couples in Karabagh, also pledging to set up trust funds for children born out of those marriages. That was an individual initiative, which can only go so far. A similar national program must be adopted and implemented by both governments.
Another investor from the diaspora established a meat processing plant in Karabagh, spending $1 million. When asked by a journalist what he would do with his investment if we lose Karabagh, he responded: “I will not cry over my one million, as I will have a bigger loss to cry about.”
These are acts of courage few and far in between. A more massive program is needed to stop the hemorrhage and to put Armenia and Karabagh back on the path towards revitalization.
Unfortunately, a rudderless diaspora is no help, either. We are fragmented and trivialized like never before. Lay and religious leaders of national prominence who commanded respect ironically disappeared from the scene just when they were most needed, as Armenia attained independence.
There is a national emergency but we don’t seem to feel a sense of urgency.
Armenia’s depopulation will mean a catastrophe of historic magnitude. We must not let Aliyev’s design come true. We waited for six centuries to finally have an independent homeland. Can we survive another six centuries if we lose this opportunity?
In view of the gravity of this situation, all of our current priorities pale and should thus receive corresponding importance; they lose their significance completely should Armenia fail. This traumatic situation must move all Armenians with a passion in order to stop the downfall. It is a nightmarish prospect — and obsession will be forgiven in pursuit of a solution.
We need to disprove Aliyev and all the enemies of Armenia. Is any one listening?