By Vahan Zanoyan
“One need not destroy one’s enemy. One need only destroy his will to engage.”
― Sun Tzu, 544-496 BC, Chinese General and military strategist, author of The Art of War.
Second only to the thousands of lives that were lost, the costliest casualty of the 2020 44-day war for Armenia has been the will to fight for a just cause — both in the government and in a significant segment of the general public. There is a symbiotic relationship entrenched between a war-weary, disillusioned and demoralized public and a populist government convinced that the only way forward for Armenia is to reach a peace agreement with its enemies even at the cost of conceding Artsakh and an apparent readiness to make further political and territorial concessions, even if they threaten the viability of the Armenian state. In the absence of a strategic national vision and purpose, the two reinforce and sustain each other.
This dynamic largely explains the survival of the present government in face of the cataclysmic losses of the 2020 war and the subsequent loss of Artsakh. The government’s peace rhetoric is what the public wants to hear. This, combined with its recently intensified public visibility and anti-corruption campaign, the absence of a credible opposition, and the vivid memory of the chronic monopolization and abuse of political power by successive governments since independence, will likely sustain the symbiotic relationship for a while; but that dynamic is not sustainable in the longer term.
What makes the current situation particularly worrisome is the fact that Armenia’s “will to engage,” to use Sun Tzu’s terminology (which connotes the will to confront and resist enemy aggression), seems to have gone missing in a cacophony of “justifications” which have implications and consequences far beyond what they’re meant to rationalize — namely, the prevailing public apathy and certain popular policies of the government. These justifications include arguments such as the call for realism, expediency, the importance of peace with Armenia’s neighbors and probably the deadliest of all, the deliberate and systematic belittlement and degradation of the nation’s collective memory and heritage, its history, national values, cultural identity, traditional values, war heroes and even the symbols held sacred by the Armenian nation for millennia.