Karabakh occupies a very small piece of the earth’s surface, but it represents the sum and substance of Hai Tahd (Armenian Cause) and the political fortunes of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF). Some may view this as hyperbole, but Karabakh does represent a defining moment in the history of the ARF. Not only were ARF members part of the Karabakh government that declared its independence from Azerbaijan, but ARF combat units were effective participants in the war for liberation. And it was an ARF unit in a well-coordinated surprise attack on May 8, 1992 that defeated the Azeri forces entrenched in the historic mountain fortress city of Shushi that marked the turning point in the war for liberation.
The 1994 ceasefire agreement “establishing” the de facto independence of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic (NKR) represented a major victory for the Armenian nation and the ARF in particular. However, much needs to be done before Karabakh and the liberated lands of Artsakh are recognized as a free and independent state. Achieving de jure independence would give credence to Hai Tahd, the Dashnaktsutiun manifesto, and would affirm to the Armenian people that the injustices rooted in the genocide, in the Treaty of Sevres, and the Bolshevik’s territorial dismemberment of Armenia can be overcome.
Failure, for whatever reason and from whichever quarter, will have a deleterious effect on the ARF andHai Tahd. Unfortunately, the present reactive policy of both Yerevan and the ARF will be more likely to guarantee failure than success for Karabakh. If Yerevan feels constrained for obvious or less obvious reasons, then the burden falls more heavily upon the ARF. At stake is Hai Tahd and the creditability of the ARF whose 120 year history identifies it as a force dedicated to the welfare of the Armenian nation. Within this context, success is more vital for the Dashnaktsutiun than it is for Yerevan.
Since the loss of Karabakh (historic Armenian Artsakh), Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has engaged in a repetitious harangue that threatens military action if negotiations (which exclude Karabakh as a participant) fail. As part of this ongoing attempt to undermine the resolve of the Karabakh Armenians and strain relations between Stepanakert and Yerevan, statements are routinely released alluding to agreements and understandings with Armenia or the Minsk Group mediators (France, Russia, and the United States) that have no basis in fact.
As part of this psychological attack, Azerbaijan recently announced that its 2010-11 military procurement budget will be about $3.4 billion. This is over 800 percent greater than the combined military budget for Armenia and Karabakh. Since 2002, Azerbaijan has earmarked approximately $10 billion for its military establishment. Yet, given this unprecedented military expansion, neither NATO nor the Minsk Group seems overly concerned. While ignoring the destabilizing effect this has on the south Caucasus and possibly beyond, the Minsk mediators continue to press Armenia and Karabakh that the first step toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict requires the withdrawal of all Armenian and Karabakh military units from the so-called “occupied” territories. Nothing is said about Azerbaijan withdrawing military units from occupied Shahumian and the eastern margins of Martakert and Martuni.
This is a lose-lose situation for Karabakh and Armenia. This unacceptable demand would leave Karabakh as an exclave, unprotected and indefensible, the Lachin Corridor road notwithstanding. And the Armenians would be no less vulnerable at the negotiation table. This proposal by the Minsk mediators is based solely on the principle of (Azerbaijan’s) territorial inviolability and completely ignores the principles of self-determination and remedial secession compatible with the objectives of the Karabakh Armenians (see “Artsakh and ICJ’s Advisory Opinion on Kosovo).
There is an ominous component to this determination by the Azeris to undermine the will of the Karabakh Armenians. During the past several months, six Karabakh Defense Force personnel have been killed along the Line of Contact (LoC). This is the number released to the public by Armenia. The latest killing was the result of sniper fire—an absolutely unprovoked and unwarranted death. It may seem a fine distinction, but it is a significant one. Whereas probing actions may or may not result in deaths, Azeri snipers have orders to shoot to kill any target of opportunity (obviously an Armenian soldier), but it could just as well be an Armenian civilian living near the border. With spotting scope and the proper gauge weapon for the task, it takes one round to kill someone without any danger to the sniper. Their use along the LoC, given the ceasefire agreement, cannot be tolerated.
Eldar Sabiroglu, the Azeri Defense Ministry spokesperson, proudly stated that Armenia “…does not have a power capable of neutralizing the Azerbaijani snipers.” Given the rigorous technical training and emotional and physical conditioning required of snipers, Sabiroglu’s confidence suggests that Azeri snipers may be trained by the United States and most definitely by Turkey. Armenia has offered to withdraw its snipers from the LoC—in line with the suggestion by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that all snipers should be withdrawn from the LoC. Azerbaijan refuses. One has to assume that these killings will continue as Azerbaijan seeks to undermine the morale of the Defense Force personnel and Karabakh civilians.
The Minsk mediators have taken no substantive action against Azerbaijan nor have they issued any serious condemnation with respect to these LoC violations. For that fact, neither Armenia nor Karabakh seem willing or deem it necessary to mount any measured response. There are numerous strategic objectives that would send a clear message to Azerbaijan, Turkey, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), represented by the Minsk Group, that Armenia and Karabakh are prepared to resist any military action by Azerbaijan. Equally important is the subtext of this message that Karabakh’s independence and the lands governed by Stepanakert will not be negotiated away. If the hard-fought gains in Karabakh cannot be protected, does it seem likely that the other injustices Hai Tahd represents can be successfully served?
Any further deterioration along the LoC could suggest to the Karabakh Armenians and their diasporan supporters that the situation is becoming precarious. Funds from the diaspora (if they continued to flow given this perception) can never override the need for a proactive policy that unequivocally indicates the determination of Yerevan and the ARF in keeping Artsakh (Karabakh and the surrounding territories) independent. Absent such a policy could encourage an out-migration of Armenians from Karabakh, a development that would be welcomed by Azerbaijan.
As it is, the population of Karabakh has shown no significant growth since 1994. The resettlement program envisioned by Stepanakert never materialized due primarily to a shortage of funds. In fact, the inability by Yerevan or the ARF to have a comprehensive resettlement program in place that would encourage the thousands of families necessary to strengthen Armenian claims to historic Artsakh represents a serious weakness. There is no shortage of potential in-migrants. How they view the long-term viability of Artsakh influences their decision to migrate. Any uncertainties or fears that affect the Karabakh Armenians will affect them as well. Such a malaise cannot be allowed to take hold.
Having said that, the question we must ask is what configuration the future independent state will have. Will it be the former Soviet autonomous oblast of Nagorno-Karabakh (the present-day Nagorno Karabakh Republic minus Shahumian) or will it encompass all of the liberated lands (historic Armenian Artsakh) governed by Stepanakert? This begs the question as to the fate of Shahumian and the Azeri-occupied eastern borderlands of Martakert and Martuni. This configuration has yet to be definitively expressed allowing some latitude for minor territorial adjustments. The present nomenclature defining the region offers no help. We have allowed the Minsk moderators (and ourselves) to divide the liberated territories into two distinct parts: the Nagorno Karabakh Republic and the “occupied territories” or “security zone.” The recent Minsk mission referred to the territory surrounding Karabakh as “occupied.” They went so far as to refer to the capital city of Stepanakert by its Azeri name (Khankendi) as well.
Place-names do have geopolitical significance which explains why Georgia has eliminated Javakhk from its maps. Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze recently claimed that he didn’t “…know what Javakhk is” and that “[t]here is no Javakhk on the map.” Obviously not; his government simply eliminated its use. The erasure and replacement of place-names has been the official policy of Turkey and Azerbaijan as well and is usually accompanied by the destruction of evidentiary physical cultural artifacts attesting to its Armenian antecedents. It might do well to refer to all of the liberated territory as Artsakh to indicate the intent of Armenia and Karabakh. This would be a bold move and sure to give Aliyev an apoplectic event.
It should not be difficult to see the connection between success in Karabakh and the beneficial impact it would have on Hai Tahd and the ARF. Maintaining the credibility of the ARF is important because its work is just now beginning with respect to Hai Tahd. This includes issues such as the state-imposed problems facing the Javakhkahayer (Javakhk Armenians) and the forgotten Armenians of the genocide who populate the lands of historic western Armenia. How would the concept of “a united Armenia, free, and independent, for all Armenians” be implemented? And then there are the issues of genocide recognition, restitution, indemnification, and reparations. These are significant issues that may or may not need to be addressed concurrently.
Within Armenia, the ARF must continue to serve as the catalyst to effect the changes necessary to create a system that will provide social and economic justice and opportunity within a democratic structure for the worker and his family. There is nothing new here. Historically the agenda of the ARF has encompassed many causes simultaneously. Present conditions now suggest a restructuring that will allow for an efficient and effective response by the ARF to the various issues facing the Armenian nation—a nation that it has successfully served for the past 120 years. How effective the ARF will be as it moves into the second decade of this century depends in very large measure on how the Armenian people assess its role in Artsakh, whether or not that assessment is justified.