A view shows aftermath of shelling in Stepanakert, October 4, 2020 (RFE/RL Photo)

By Van Lapoyan

The purpose of this article is to try to find out what went wrong and why. I am sure that more investigations in the future will be required to have a thorough and detailed understanding of what happened. However, for the time being, it is up to us to self-assess, reflect and ask ourselves, given the circumstances Armenia finds itself today, what kind of options Armenians have to secure Armenia’s survival in the future.

This Trilateral Agreement between Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia was very difficult to accept for the Armenians in Armenia and all over the world, especially for those who have lost their loved ones in the combat and also for the families who ended up losing their home, their land and their homeland.

All of the opposition parties in Armenia, and most of the Armenians in the Diaspora, including His Holiness Aram I Catholicos of Cilicia have refused the trilateral agreement. Of course, everybody wanted a better outcome but did the Armenians have a better alternative considering they were the defeated army? Are we forgetting that?

For three decades, Armenians considered Nagorno Karabakh, including the seven Azeri-occupied regions, a part of Armenia where 146,000 Armenians lived in an area of 12,600 square kilometers. A real luxury of space. And for 26 years, no country in the world recognized Artsakh as a sovereign state — including Armenia and Russia.

The non-resolution of the conflict was a heavy economic burden on Armenia and Karabakh. It was imperative to find a solution to the Artsakh question. But returning occupied land for peace was not acceptable to the Armenian public in general and for Artsakh people in particular.

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On the contrary, the Armenian Diaspora was asked to invest through Hayastan All Armenia Fund, and other private foundations, in building roads, kindergarten schools, residential houses, water supply lines, and all kinds of infrastructure projects, right at the bordering towns and villages with Azerbaijan to consolidate their grip on the occupied land with no intention of returning them.

It is true that Armenians, historically and for centuries, have lived and built their churches and monasteries in those regions, and therefore have a legitimate historic claim on them as their homeland, but unfortunately since Stalin maliciously annexed them to Azerbaijan in 1923, there was a legal problem to resolve, which needed some concessions.

As no political solution was being contemplated, Armenia dedicated a significant portion of its budget, every year, to its military buildup, though still only half the size of the Azeri military budget. This affected the Armenian economy, and scores of Armenians emigrated to find better life in other countries.

Azerbaijan, on the other hand, had oil and gas revenues to rely on. Israeli military and technological support to Azerbaijan based on their mutual interest gave the latter a huge advantage on the battlefield. Meanwhile, Turkey’s military involvement with their troops, armored divisions and their air force and Bayrakdar drones, were equally important in tipping the balance towards Azerbaijan.

The Turks proved their military might not only to the Armenians, but to the Russians as well, who were very cautious to engage them, which forced Armenians to capitulate. Under these circumstances, is it fair to hold Prime Minister Pashinyan the only responsible party for the humiliating defeat?

Given the circumstances under which the Armenian forces found themselves on the battlefield early November 2020, Mr. Pashinyan did not have any other alternative other than to sign the agreement. Armenia should thank the Russian government for its timely initiative and intervention in this conflict, risking its own soldiers’ lives against the Turkish deadly drones, though protecting their own geopolitical interest in that region, but at the same time saving 20,000 Armenian soldiers and civilians from indiscriminate massacre.

Had the Russian government not committed itself to intervene in the conflict and worked hard to prepare the Trilateral Agreement document, today we would have witnessed the Azeri flag flying on Stepanakert and all the remaining Artsakh territories.

Since April 2016, when Azerbaijan used its Israeli drones to kill one hundred of our soldiers and wounded more than two hundred, it was obvious that Azerbaijan had the upper hand in the military hardware and therefore, it was imperative for the Armenians to catch up with the drone technology at least to be on par with Azerbaijan.

The Armenian president at that time, Serzh Sargsyan, tried to solve the Karabakh problem through diplomatic means with his Azerbaijani counterpart but failed due to Artsakh leaders’ refusal to accept concessions. He also failed in modernizing the Armenian Army by not acquiring modern drone technology-based equipment and sticking to the old 1990s equipment.

His corrupt regime was unbearable for the Armenian people and Mr. Pashinyan was able with his populist speeches and unrealistic promises to win the hearts of the disgruntled population. With the West’s intelligence agencies help, he achieved the so-called Velvet Revolution in May 2018.

We have to give credit to Mr. Pashinyan for his courage and determination in taking over the government. The masses supported and adored him overwhelmingly, not because he was qualified for the job, but rather because of their hatred of the ancient corrupt regime.

From May 2018 up until the eruption of the war on September 27, 2020, almost two and half years, Mr. Pashinyan had ample time to prepare the Armenian military for a drone war with Azerbaijan or to solve the Nagorno Karabakh conflict through political and diplomatic means.

He failed in both fronts miserably: On the military side, rather than upgrading the Armenian army with sophisticated drone technology, he spent $120 million buying four SU-30 jets without their missiles and auxiliary equipment, making them completely useless. On the political front, his pro-Western, anti-Russian policy did not secure him any military support from the West nor any help to enforce a much-desired ceasefire with Turkey and Azerbaijan.

The head of the Armenian Armed Forces, Gen. Onnik Kasbarian, warned him on June 12, 2020, three months prior of the start of hostilities, that a conflict with Azerbaijan and Turkey was imminent and that war should be avoided at any cost since Armenia would be the clear loser.

At this stage, I wonder if Azerbaijan would have accepted any compromise or a political solution. After almost 10 years of military preparation and strengthened political and military alliances with Turkey and Israel, Azerbaijan’s Presidetn Ilham Alyev needed a military victory to take his revenge for the country’ embarrassing defeat during the Karabakh war of 1990-1994 and glorify his image in Azerbaijani history.

Furthermore, Aliyev would have insisted on the return of all territories, including Artsakh, to Azerbaijan, which would have been categorically refused by the president of Karabakh and the Artsakh people and is still a difficult issue today to solve, even after the cease fire and the capitulation of the Armenian and Karabakh armies.

So we can say that on June 12 the war was inevitable and Pashinyan could have done nothing to stop it. But were there any other opportunities to stop the war during the 44 grueling days of intense hostilities?

On September 30, after three days of war, General Kasparian recommended to the prime minister of Armenia to accept a cease fire at any cost, after Armenia’s air defense system comprising the Russian S300 batteries as well as all radar systems were completely destroyed by Turkish Bayrakdar drones , thus leaving the skies of Nagorno Karabakh open to the Turkish F16s and the Israeli and Turkish drones which killed scores of Armenian servicemen and destroyed huge number of tanks and multi-launch missile equipment.

Several ceasefire agreements were reached, sponsored alternatively by Russia, France and the US, but to no avail as Azerbaijan and Turkish forces kept on breaking them one after the other in order to achieve their military campaign objective of capturing Shushi and the Lachin Corridor and then negotiate the capitulation of the Armenian forces once reaching the heights of Shushi 10 kilometers from Stepanakert.

Mr. Pashinyan and Mr. Arayik Haroutyounyan, the president of Karabakh, had another opportunity to accept a ceasefire agreement on October 19, proposed by Russia, keeping most of the Artsakh region intact and returning the seven regions back to Azerbaijan with a condition of accepting the Azerbaijani displaced refugees back into Shushi. Pashinyan and Haroutyounyan lost the best opportunity they had been offered, by refusing the proposal and ended up signing the capitulation agreement on November 9.

It was a huge mistake, for which they will have to answer to the families of more than 5,000 Armenian soldiers who valiantly fought and died for their country.

Knowing well the destruction of all Armenian air defense systems, the leaders of Armenia and Artsakh called for general mobilization of the Armenian people, promising them victory with a slogan: “ Victory is Ours” (HAGHTELOU ENK) , thus sending thousands of patriotic Armenians to the frontline to be massacred by the Turkish and Israeli drones.

Mr. Pashinyan and Mr. Haroutyounyan knew very well that the Armenian and Artsakh Armies could not withstand the coalition of the Azerbaijani, Turkish and Jihadist armies, but nonetheless they continued the war.

In their minds, signing a ceasefire at this early stage and giving away the seven regions without securing the independence of Artsakh would have been considered by the Armenian general public as treason. Yet, their decision meant the loss of thousands Armenian lives and half of Artsakh despite several proposals by the Russian government which were much more advantageous than the last agreement.

Pashinyan and Haroutyounyan did not have the courage to accept the fact that they were not ready for this war and to stop it with the minimum losses possible. They chose blatantly to lie to the Armenian people, claiming the Armenian Army is delivering heavy losses to the enemy and that victory was at hand. And this is where they bear full responsibility.

What about on the political and diplomatic side?

Since Mr. Pashinyan took over the government in May 2018, his primary focus was using his intelligence apparatus (A-A-DZ) to incriminate his political opponents with any fabricated excuse to put them in jail and gain popularity with his followers. A couple of his victims were Robert Kocharyan, the pro-Russian ex-president of Armenia and Gagik Tsaroukyan, a wealthy businessman and the leader of the main opposition party.

He wanted to fulfill his promise to bring all wealthy people (oligarchs in his terminology) down to the asphalt (literally) as wealthy people were all considered corrupt.

He is still using the same tactics today, against the leaders of the opposition political parties who are asking for his resignation after the embarrassing defeat. He intimidates them by handcuffing and putting them in jail, just for the fact they called for his resignation.

His Promise of Democracy, Justice and Freedom of Speech for which he was elected for, are well forgotten. Rather than focusing all his efforts to solve the multiple challenges he is facing today, after signing the capitulation agreement, he made sure to convene the parliament, in these unprecedented circumstances, to strip away Tsaroukyan’s parliamentary mandate. Unbelievable.

He thought that his pro-Western, anti-Russian foreign policy would make Armenia an independent nation. And he acted as such, damaging the historical and excellent ties with the Russian federation and specifically with Vladimir Putin.

If we look at the map of the Caucasus, we see that Armenia is a very small landlocked country compared to its neighbors Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Iran, and if it exists at all, after 5,000 years of calamities, it’s due to its people’s spirit of survival, and of course due to the Russian presence in the region and their geopolitical interest.

At any moment, should any of Armenia’s neighbors decide to invade Armenia, it would not take them too long to achieve their target. Recently, there have been several declarations by Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Armenia is Turkish territory, while Mr. Aliyev declared that Armenia is Azerbaijani territory.

The only reason Armenia still stands, is because of Russian interest in the Caucasus. The future of Armenia is closely linked to the wellbeing of the Russian nation. If NATO succeeds to bring down the Russian Federation, Turkey and Azerbaijan will waste no time in marching to Yerevan.

Mr. Erdogan’s recent aggressive and expansionist policy in Azerbaijan was supported by Washington and the British Intelligence MI6 whose Director Mr. Richard Moore, the ex UK ambassador to Turkey, is Mr. Erdogan’s close friend.

Mr. Erdogan, the self-proclaimed leader of the Islamic extremists of the world, and his ambition to unify under one flag the Turkish-speaking former Soviet countries of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan thus creating a so-called Turkish/Islamic NATO, in the southern borders of Russia is the perfect ally of the west, to destabilize the southern region of the Russian Federation.

Therefore, Pashinyan’s pro-western and anti-Russian policy did not serve Armenia’s interest. Being open to western civilizations should not be at the expense of losing Armenia’s main protector, Russia.

Mr. Pashinyan’s policies and decisions in the last 2.5 years brought Armenia to its knees. The opposition parties, who have refused The Trilateral Agreement, want to renegotiate it to bring back some of the lost territories and are asking for the Prime Minister’s resignation. Russia made it very clear that they are not interested in any new renegotiation. They are having difficulty controlling the Turkish demands of expanding the Turkish troops throughout Nagorno Karabakh and want to stick to the original agreement. They will have to live with Mr. Pashinyan’s cabinet until the implementation of the agreement is complete.

Mr. Pashinyann’s, he will never admit guilt and will never resign unless forced to. He will always find somebody else to blame for his failures. In the same token, Mr. Haroutyounyan , the president of Artsakh blamed his own soldiers for running away from the frontline and not dying under Bayrakdar drone attacks. He should have blamed himself for not providing aerial protection for his soldiers. How could he send those young kids to their deaths and blame those who have chosen to survive?

Of course, the Armenian people have their own share in this fiasco as well for the following reasons:

  1. For choosing and supporting blindly a populist, superficial, incompetent leader and his young inexperienced and incompetent team, who were more interested in grabbing and sticking to power by any means rather than facing and solving the challenges of the nation. They can even be considered corrupt by using government money to hire an army of fake email operators to use in social media for their own benefit and advantage. They have divided the nation, rather than unifying its people by labeling their opponents as Black Armenians while they considered their supporters as White Armenians. They have lied to the Armenian Nation by misrepresenting the reality on the war front and sent young Armenians to the front lines to be killed.
  2. For thinking that Armenians are unbeatable. After winning the war in 1994, the leaders of Karabakh thought that they were unbeatable. Their religious leader had claimed during a speech in Stepanakert in June 2019 that the people of Karabakh were the chosen people of God and therefore they would never be defeated. The success of 1994 was a morale boost to Armenians all over the world, considering the fact that most Armenians had a tragic memory of the 1915 Genocide and the success of Karabakh was a rebirth of their identity. They associated with that success and forgot that Armenia was a very small nation, compared to the other nations of the world, and they cannot survive unless they are protected.

It is funny how Armenians think about themselves: “They think they are the most intelligent people in the world.” Their army is the strongest army in the world. Any famous scientist, actor, politician or wealthy businessman has an Armenian antecedent. If that were true, then Armenia should have been one of the greatest nations on earth. But the reality is, Armenia is one of the poorest. They forget that this small weak Christian nation nestled and landlocked between three large strong and rich Muslim nations, which have been their historical enemies for centuries, cannot survive unless it is protected by a superpower. It takes courage to admit and accept our weaknesses, rather than claim that we are unbeatable and go to the front line and die.

And even today, after the capitulation, you will see some rhetoric on Armenian T.V. stations : “You can’t beat an Armenian”. It is time for Armenians to wake up and see reality the way it stands. They are not better nor more intelligent than any other nations in the world. On the contrary, they have a lot of work to do, to survive and keep this tiny piece of land from evaporation.

  1. For complaining that Armenians are left alone and no country in the world is helping them. Armenians love playing the victims. It has been like this for centuries and it has become part of their DNA. It is time to change it. Armenians’ success or failure are in Armenian hands, do not blame other countries for not helping you. Blame yourselves that you have not been able to create enough interest for other countries to help you.

After this horrendous defeat, Armenia’s Economy today, is in shamble, its currency will be devaluated dramatically in the next coming months. Unemployment will reach all time high. Huge number of Armenians and Karabakh citizens will leave the country for better life in the Diaspora. Pasinyan’s “Proud citizens”( HBARD KAGHAKATSI) will not be so proud at the end , after his two and half years of disastrous and miserable rule. He and his inexperienced and unskilled team, will be judged by future generations as the most incompetent, inept, superficial, intentionally misguiding, self-serving team Armenia had through its history.

It is time to think seriously about the security and the wellbeing of the future generations. The real victory for the Armenian people is to provide a secure country to its citizens, at peace with its neighbors, nurturing and preparing healthy future generations.

To achieve that, Armenia should revise its policy regarding its lost territories. The priority should be given to secure present Armenia’s and Artsakh’s borders, whatever its left of it , and focus on the economy and the wellbeing of its citizens.

Turkey has amassed a huge army on Armenia’s borders. Armenia cannot protect its borders without the Russian army’s physical presence on its territories. Unfortunately, Russia’s military presence will cost Armenia its independence and Armenia will be under Russian Protectorate whether they like it or not.

  1. For failing to consider the diaspora as a part of the Nation. Today, the Armenian diaspora has been considered as a “milking cow” for their financial support and being kept out of the Armenian political scene. To have a secure Armenia at peace with its neighbors 4 conditions are necessary to happen:
  2. A) A Financially strong Armenia, and a thriving economy.
  3. B) A strong Military Structure to deter its neighbors from any thoughts of aggression.
  4. C) A military pact with Russia to secure the integrity of its territory to protect them from any aggression.
  5. D) An international political support to Armenia’s security and wellbeing.

As you may notice, conditions A and D cannot be achieved without the full involvement of the Armenian Diaspora.

A country of 2.5 million people has less probability of survival than a country of 10 million people.

The Diaspora should be considered a part of the Armenian Nation and be given Armenian passports for those who consider themselves Armenians. They should have the right to vote during elections and have their own representatives in the parliament and government. However, in order to acquire that right, each Armenian in the diaspora should pay 5 percent of their yearly income as National Tax (azgayin dourk) to the Armenian government. It should be done automatically while they are filing their income tax in their country of residence. This will allow a constant flow of financial support to the Motherland and improve the economy.

Of course, this may be quite a task to achieve, considering that there should be a consensus on how many representatives from the diaspora will be allowed in the parliament and government and also many revisions to the constitution which will be quite difficult to achieve, given the present conditions of the country. However, do Armenians have a better alternative?

As far as the diaspora’s political contribution to secure political and financial support from the countries they live in, coordinated meetings are necessary between the Armenian Foreign Ministry and the representatives of the Armenian Diaspora to unlock Diaspora’s potential in this field.

The future is scary. Armenians don’t have the luxury of being passive. They need an intelligent government to take them out from the situation they found themselves in and steer them smoothly to safety and prosperity .They have to act fast and work hard for their right to exist and survive. This defeat should wake them up.

(Van Lapoyan is a resident of Toronto.)




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