THE ARMENIAN QUESTION TODAY
I. Strategic Level
“Divide and Conquer”: The Dismemberment of the Armenian Question
In 2010 the question of the immediate formal recognition of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) was again raised in the Parliament of the Republic of Armenia (RA). Unfortunately, both the initiators and opponents of this step consider recognition of NKR exclusively in the superstructural combinations of the diplomatic game, ignoring its base – the strategic level. The fact is that the Karabakh conflict is part of the unresolved Armenian Question, all the main components of which – the Turkish-Armenian conflict, the Karabakh conflict arising from it, the international recognition of Armenian Genocide and the issue of Javakhk – continue to be assessed by the political elite of RA in complete isolation from each other. Accordingly, there is no holistic view of the strategic challenges facing the Armenian state, severely weakening its international law and diplomacy positions in all major foreign policy areas of interest. Therefore, effective national planning of RA foreign (and domestic) policy – including a substantive analysis of the practicability of recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh – is possible only after we, for ourselves, have a clear and levelheaded understanding of the current state of the Armenian Question in the context of the geopolitical situation that RA has been in since regaining its independence in 1991.
Particularities of the Armenian Question in the 21st century
Let us start with the fact that since 1991 the Armenian Question has returned to the international arena, but not as a matter of physical salvation of Western Armenians as it was known in late 19th-early 20th centuries. The Turks completely destroyed Armenian population in Western Armenia and partly in Eastern Armenia during the Genocide of 1893-1923, implemented in three stages – in 1893-1896, 1909 and 1915-1923. During Soviet times vast new areas of Eastern Armenia – including Nakhichevan and Northern Artsakh – were also subject to de-armenianization. Presently the Armenian-Turkish conflict has entered a new phase, the main feature being the existence of an internationally recognized Republic of Armenia. But Turkey’s policy to eliminate Armenia from the map was never revised; the new objective is to stifle the Armenian state in its infancy. Turkey is trying to reach it indirectly, through its ally Azerbaijan, since the current international context, as well as serious internal political and economic problems prevent direct Turkish invasion of Armenia (nevertheless allowing for longstanding economic embargo, and an all-out psychological warfare against Armenia).
Fully in line with the Turkish plan, in 1991-1994 the newly reconstituted Armenian state suffered from Azerbaijani aggression along the entire length of its Eastern borders. In this situation, reliable security guarantees and, above all, defensible borders were vital for Armenia. This strategic goal was partially met, albeit at the cost of enormous sacrifices, by liberating some of our homeland, native Armenian lands (formerly 7 administrative districts, tacked to Azerbaijani SSR) along the borders of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region (NKAR). More than 15 years later this territory is still controlled by the Armenian army. We generally assume the liberated territories to be a purely military necessity – the only way to suppress the enemy’s advance. Although this point of view, reflecting the actual ground situation during the Artsakh war, is correct in principle, at the same time, being a strictly military perspective, it is superficial. The scope of the significance of the liberated territory is much broader: it contains the entire spectrum of historic, geo-strategic, geo-economic, demographic, international legal, cultural and even existential problems of the Armenian state. The general weakness of the Armenian political thought, incomplete and insufficient understanding of the Armenian Question and the corrupting intellectual influence of external forces are the reason that the aforementioned 7 districts were originally called “a buffer zone” and even “conquered territories.” Subsequently, the latter unacceptable name was gradually pushed out (though unfortunately not completely) by the more accurate, but somewhat vague “liberated territories” term. Meanwhile, this land should be defined by a strategically adequate term – namely, “the liberated territory of Armenia”, since the question is about Armenian land, and it does not matter whether it is declared an administrative unit of RA or NKR, because strategically speaking RA, NKR, and the liberated territories constitute a single whole, all of them united as Armenia. Modern Armenia is the territory controlled by the Armenian army. And the recently liberated 12,000 sq km are an essential segment of our homeland with its demographic, socio-economic and cultural specificity.
Contrary to popular opinion, the Armenian Question is not the international recognition of Armenian Genocide and not Artsakh’s right to self-determination, but the question of land, the territorial question. However, neither during the war of 1991-1994, nor presently has the Armenian ruling class matured enough to understand this simple strategic axiom. The essence of the Armenian Question today is the creation of political and territorial conditions for free and independent life of Armenians in their homeland, the Armenian Highland. There can be only one answer to the Armenian Question: the restoration of statehood, if not on all 350,000 square meters of historic Armenia (which is unrealistic in the foreseeable future), then at least on large enough of its territory to ensure long-term existence and development of Armenian civilization. In other words, the Armenian issue is a question of security of Armenians, and it requires two preconditions: first, the creation of a functioning and strong Armenian state, and second, territorial guarantees that reinforce the security and viability of that state. Moreover, fulfillment of only one of the preconditions is not feasible: neither the Armenian state would be able to survive on the very vulnerable, “aggression-friendly” territory 29,800 square kilometers of the former Armenian SSR, nor would it be possible to preserve the collective national life in the Armenian-populated areas of Armenian Highland in the absence of an Armenian state. Therefore, the Armenian Question today is a geo-political question of defensibility and economic viability of the reconstituted Armenian State.
The mission of the Armenian Army is liberation!
The Armenian Question exists objectively, independent of the wishes and preferences of today’s Armenian political elite, because neither Turkey nor Azerbaijan (as clearly demonstrated by the collapse of stillborn “football diplomacy”) are not ready to reconcile with the existence of Armenian statehood, even on the small territory of 42,000 sq. km, where it is realized in the form of RA and NKR. As shown by the last two decades, these 42,000 sq. km are the minimum area necessary for the Armenian nation to exist, semi-surrounded by hostile Turkic allies – Turkey and Azerbaijan. Losing even a small part of this territory of modern Armenia can irrevocably destroy the military balance in favor of Azerbaijan, thus jeopardizing the very existence of the Armenian state. On the other hand, the 42,000 sq. km may be an insufficient safeguard against Baku’s plans to unleash a new war. Consequently, the Armenian strategy of countering a probable Azerbaijani aggression will have to include (at minimum an instinctive and at maximum a preplanned) expansion of the zone controlled by Armenian armed forces, i.e. restricting Azerbaijan to such geographical limits, which will force it to stop its aggression and give up plans of any resumption for a long time or, preferably, forever. The liberation of 12,000 square kilometers of our occupied homeland suppressed Azerbaijani aggression for at least 16 years. But it is very possible that the term of this very effective – territorial – guarantee of peace is nearing its expiration, and to protect Armenia for at least another 50 years or more, this guarantee may soon need to be not only reaffirmed, but also expanded as much as possible, up to complete destruction of the aggressor state, especially that the latter has genocidal plans. Unfortunately, the task of liberation of the occupied territories of Armenia is forced upon us by the enemy, while it is imperative for the Armenian government and Armenian people to be willing to accept the challenge and ideology of liberation on their own (which implies a deeper – intellectual and psychological – liberation), and not just react to external stimuli, such as Azerbaijani aggression, as it happened in 1991-1994 and led to serious mistakes and missed opportunities. Having a strategic proactive goal to ensure long-term security for Armenia, first of all, means having a deep-rooted awareness of the invaluable nature of native Armenian territory and seeking its liberation with all our hearts. Furthermore, it is not important when (or by whom) this territory was occupied, whether in the 14th, 18th or 20th centuries. Clearly, Azerbaijan, following the destruction of cultural and historical heritage of the Armenian people throughout the territory that it currently occupies, is now using that same territory as a powerful lever of economic strangulation and a springboard for the next large-scale aggression against the remaining part of Armenia. Therefore, from the standpoint of military necessity, the relative length of the occupation of Armenian lands plays absolutely no role in determining the appropriateness of their liberation.
If the Karabakh war of 1991-1994 were acknowledged not only as a war of self-defense and a fight for survival, but in the context of the Armenian Question, then the early 1990s’ army of the Third Republic could rightfully and accurately be called the “Armenian Liberation Army,” because it had already honorably and in some measure carried out its objective-historical mission of liberation. Only time can tell how it will be able to realize the same unfinished mission in the future. However, its failure could spell out the end of Armenian civilization already in our own generation, just the way it is being planned in the inner layers of governments in Ankara and Baku. Therefore, the Armenian army must fulfill its mission no matter what!
Thus, the issue of Armenia’s security, also known as the Armenian Question, may again lead us to liberating native Armenian territories, much deeper to the East of the current line of contact between the Armenian and Azerbaijani armies, all the way up to Kura River and Caspian Sea.
Doctor of Political Sciences
This article was first published in Armenian and Russian in the
“Sobesednik Armenii/Hayastani Zrutsakits” weekly (Yerevan), #41 (159), 26 November 2010