Asbed Kotchikian

Intellectuals and the National Interest: Parallel Worlds or Worlds Apart?

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By Asbed Kotchikian

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

On October 21, an open letter addressed to Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan (see below) was sent to more than 110 academics and scholars in Armenia, North and South Americas, Middle East and Europe. The main concern of this initiative was that the military solution of the Karabakh war was not in favor of Armenia, and that a diplomatic solution (even with major concessions) was better than war where the human and territorial losses would be devastating for Armenia and Artskah.

The operating logic of initiating the open letter was that if PM Pashinyan was made aware that there are those who support such diplomatic solution (even with concessions), he might view such support as a lifeline to counterbalance the “fight till the end” rhetoric that was prevalent in Armenia and the diaspora. This was based on information that in fact the PM was seriously considering such a path and that if he felt that there was at least a significant segment of Armenian scholars and intellectuals who would support a negotiated settlement, he would be in a better position to choose that route. Furthermore, the timing of the open letter coincided with as similar initiative taken by the three former presidents of Armenia who offered Pashinyan public support if he were to take the diplomatic route, thus sharing the burden of such an action.

Out of the 116 individuals who received the letter via email, only 15 endorsed it. Several individuals responded by questioning the prudence of such a move, and even the sanity and ethics of such a campaign. The overwhelming majority did not respond.

The letter was to be published on October 21 in a Yerevan-based Armenian language newspaper, but was retracted from circulation because the news from Yerevan on the same morning carried a public statement from the prime minister in which he announced that “the Karabakh issue, at least at this stage, has no diplomatic solution.”

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It would be pretentious to think that had such a letter been signed by 116 scholars and academics in Armenia and the diaspora the outcome of the conflict would have been different. Nor is this failed initiative being brought up now to put forward a “we-told-you-so” argument. Rather, the initiative and the tepid response it received highlights several key points: the paucity of strategic thinking not only among political elites in the Armenian world but also among academics and scholars; the disconnect between this segment of our society and the larger issues that the Armenian nation faces; and the inability or unwillingness of academics and intellectuals to take an active, public role in shaping the future of Armenia and the diaspora.

The need to not only recognize and identify prevalent ideologies and belief systems, but to also, and subject them to serious critique is a task which is usually performed by the academic and intellectual segments of a society. We need that critical intervention now as we did before.

We lack the kind of thinking—critical, bold, and forward-looking—that was, and still is, needed to break existing stereotypes, question “undeniable truths” and speak rationally against the rhetoric of invulnerability, justice, and victimhood. We have an impressive array of academics and scholars, but few of them desire to be public intellectuals who can challenge conventional wisdom, articulate arguments that go against the mainstream mentality and groupthink, and develop concepts that are grounded in the present and future rather than enslaved to the past.

The introductory text (with some stylistic edits) is below.

 

We are all aware of the critical times Armenia and Artsakh are going through. What we say or don’t say today may make a difference in the policies that are being pursued for their defense and their future.

Many of us believe that we should contribute to the intense debate that is currently underway regarding the various paths forward.

We, a number of colleagues have thought it appropriate, may be necessary, to provide Mr. Nikol Pashinyan, the Prime Minister of Armenia, with support for one of the paths that could and possibly, should, be adopted:  To pursue diplomatic tactics toward the solution to the conflict based on compromises and avoid worse disconcerting scenarios.

 We are asking you, therefore, to join me in signing the attached Open Letter to the Prime Minister, urging him to find a way to end the bloodshed.

The full text of the proposed open letter is below

 

OPEN LETTER

To the

HONORABLE NIKOL PASHINYAN

PRIME MINISTER OF THE REPUBLIC OF ARMENIA

and

COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF OF ARMENIA’S ARMED FORCES

Your Honor,

We, the undersigned scholars in different parts of the world concerned with the current and future well-being of Armenia and Artsakh, salute your exemplary leadership in these critical times and the formidable resistance you have inspired the Armenian armed forces to manifest against the massive and dangerous aggression against Artsakh and Armenia.

This war has tested, once more, the will, dedication and patriotism of our people that has shown an admirable sense of unity and purposefulness under your leadership.

At the same time, we believe that the time has come to seek a more durable peace, when we must extract the most from the current situation. We think that our main objective must be the preservation of Artsakh. We believe, therefore, that we need to recognize the necessity to replace the security provided by Armenian control of districts outside of Artsakh Republic proper with other measures, including the interposition of international peacekeeping forces that can constitute a new and effective line of separation.

We are confident the people of Armenia and Artsakh, who have shown both exceptional courage and deep wisdom in moments of crises, will fully appreciate the historical significance and benefits of such a strategy, placing you among those leaders in the long history of Armenia known not only for their courage and patriotism but also as one of the wise statesmen who, in addition to having restored democracy and placed the well-being of the people above all else, created the possibilities of peace and prosperity in these ancient and cherished lands of ours.

We are also cognizant of the difficulty in adopting such a policy. A courageous step is now necessary in order for Armenia and Artsakh to resolve the current crisis with minimal damage and maximum possibilities. This possibility still exists because of the thousands of brave soldiers who sacrificed their lives and limbs. We believe, that such forward-looking policies based on circumspection will add the name of a statesman leader to shine in history for his wisdom as well as for their courage.

We, the undersigned, will publicly support this step should you decide to adopt it. And we are sure all others equally concerned and mindful of the current situation will join us. We also do not have any doubt that, under conditions of public discipline imposed by martial law, you will be able to secure the agreement of the people, because you will have taken a major step toward ending the bloodshed that has lasted decades, while ensuring the security of the people.

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