By Aram Arkun
WATERTOWN — Journalist and analyst Tatul Hakobyan gave a talk on current Armenian events at St. Stephen’s Armenian Apostolic Church on September 8 as part of a tour to various venues in seven Armenian-American communities, including Chicago, Detroit, Fair Lawn (NJ), Nashville, New York and Washington DC.
Hakobyan is a reporter and analyst for the Civilitas Foundation in Yerevan and director of the Yerevan-based ANI Foundation for Armenian Studies, established in 2015 to deal with contemporary Armenian issues. He speaks Armenian, Russian, English and Spanish. He is the author of two books in Armenian, which have also been translated into English: Green and Black: Karabakh Diary and View from Ararat: Armenians and Turks. The latter work received the Tekeyan Cultural Association’s Haigashen Ouzounian Literary Prize in 2014.
Hakobyan spoke clearly in Armenian in an informal and lively fashion. He prefaced his talk by proclaiming that he was an independent journalist without ties to any political parties or the Armenian government. He said that the main theme of his talk is that the cause of all the problems of the Armenians is to be found in Armenia, hidden within us. This implies that the cure, too, is to be found in the same place.
He began with the questions of whether a new war was possible in Artsakh and why the April fighting took place. He said, “I have been writing for 25 years on the topic of Karabagh, and I believe that a new war will take place since the conflict has not been resolved.” Azerbaijani journalists on various occasions in Georgia have told Hakobyan that as soon as Azerbaijan’s ruler Ilham Aliyev learns that Russia would not intervene for a period of 10 days for any reason whatsoever, he would begin the war on the next day. In other words, Russia is the fundamental factor holding Azerbaijan back.
This does not mean that Russia will by all means help Armenia, he continued. Hakobyan said that in his opinion, the reason for the April war was that Azerbaijan felt Russia would not interfere for several days. There were of course other reasons, he said, such as the Azerbaijani opinion that its weapons purchases had tilted the military balance in its favor. The lack of results from diplomatic negotiations over several decades at the same time led Azerbaijan to believe that diplomacy was futile, so that only war could solve the Karabagh issue.
Hakobyan said that despite the exaggerated rhetoric of victory by both sides, Azerbaijan did not win the war, yet Armenia and Artsakh were not defeated. Armenians exaggerate the numbers of Azerbaijanis killed, but Hakobyan believes over 300 were killed, along with over 125 Armenians.
Hakobyan said that as a freethinking journalist he had to speak freely. He said that several myths were destroyed. First, Russia as Armenia’s friend would come and help Armenia if war breaks out. Yet not only did Russia not help Armenia, it provided Azerbaijan with weapons. This should lead Armenians to understand, he said, that Armenians can only put their hope on themselves if they have a problem.
Secondly, though 12,000 bombs or rockets rained down on Karabagh over four days, compared to 36,000 over the entire Karabagh war of three years, Azerbaijan saw that buying weapons was not enough to win the war.
A third great myth was that Armenian domestic governmental corruption would not affect the Armenian army. Many tanks were not working while the soldiers’ food was taken by others. Great corruption was revealed in the army.
Meanwhile, Armenia has become more dependent on Russia so it has to take Russian interests into greater consideration than before. Relations with the European Union and the US have retreated to a certain extent, and, he said, “our Western partners began to look at us with different eyes, as almost a Russian vassal state. This is insulting to a certain extent, but it is possible to change this.”
Here Hakobyan reiterated that all of Armenia’s problems are primarily internal. It is easy to blame the Turkish and Azerbaijani blockade for economic problems, but, he asked, why should the Georgian-Armenian border, which is still open, be monopolized by an oligarch? Who is responsible for the ongoing emigration of the Armenian population? Which one of Armenia’s neighbor’s is responsible when police in Armenia beat their fellow citizens?
In other words, Hakobyan said, “If we do not solve Armenia’s internal problems, we will not be able to solve problems connected to the Genocide, Karabagh and many other things.” The way for the diaspora to help, he said, was to broaden its agenda to work for the rule of law in Armenia. He said, “Armenia can afford being a little poor, a little bad, but cannot allow itself to be unjust. This injustice is the reason for the emigration which emaciates Armenia.” During the eight years of Serzh Sargsyan’s presidency, 310,000 people left Armenia.
Hakobyan encouraged diasporan Armenians to help Armenia to conduct reforms and not be afraid to speak out. He said, “When journalists are beaten or imprisoned, do not remain silent. Your voice is extremely important….Do not think that if you bring up these issues that the authorities will act poorly towards you…Above all, this is your country.”
Armenians are among the fortunate peoples of the world to have a state structure now, and Hakobyan said that the continued existence of an independent Armenia is important to nourish and renew Armenian identity throughout the world.
During a lively question-and-answer session, Hakobyan commented that the change of prime minister announced the very day of his Watertown lecture was necessary because of the economic decline of the past two years. Communications intercepted and released in Wikileaks showed that American diplomats were calling former Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan an unsophisticated thug.
The new prime minister in theory is good because he is not directly connected with the criminal world but Hakobyan said that he could not have big expectations because it is the system, not an individual, that is the issue. As long as the law does not work in Armenia, no matter who the individual is, even if he is Jesus Christ, he will not be able to change anything, Hakobyan exclaimed.
Hakobyan in answer to a follow-up question on how the diaspora can help Armenia have normal parliamentary elections, declared that diasporans could come and participate as observers, and point out any electoral fraud. Hakobyan said that he believed that changes in Armenia must be through elections, not through the use of guns and force as a political weapon.
At the same time, he could not denounce, he said, the men of Sasna Tsrer, who felt that no other way of action was left them but to take up arms since elections were always falsified.
He made the point that if Armenia held fair elections forming a government with the confidence of enjoying popular support, that government would be able to negotiate from a position of strength with Putin and Russia on many issues. Again, Armenia’s problems are in the hands of the Armenians. He said, “If we say Russia is responsible, then we accept from the start that we are defeated. If all lies in Russia’s hands, then we believe that we have nothing to do. I do not believe this.”
When asked when Armenia and Artsakh, two separate states, would unite, he replied that Artsakh is in practical terms already part of Armenia, and Armenian soldiers stand there in defense. However, declaring legal unity today would lead to an immediate United Nations Security Council resolution against Armenia, so it is best, he said, to first reach the full independence of Artsakh before taking such a step.
Hakobyan concluded the evening by thanking the sponsors of the lecture and stating that he hopes to come again to the US next year to present a new book he is now completing on the domestic and foreign policy of the contemporary Republic of Armenia.
Hakobyan was introduced by pastor Fr. Antranig Baljian with a brief biography. Hakobyan was born in the village of Dovegh in northeastern Armenia near the Azerbaijan border. He graduated from the Journalism Department of Yerevan State University in 1995 and worked as a correspondent for newspapers such as Yerkir and Azg in Yerevan, Aztag in Beirut, and the Armenian Reporter in New Jersey. He served as a political observer on the Radiolur news program of the Public Radio of Armenia.