AKADAMIGOS DR. PROF. BALABEK AVETISYAN, (DEKAN, REKTOR, KANTSLER),
PALITOLOG, ASDGHRAKED, STƏMAATOLOG, ASDVADZAPAN
(N.B., Because of the innate modesty of our Yerevan Kentron culture, I won’t mention all my other titles and specialties here.)
Over the past year, I have witnessed with joy, as well as humility I must confess, the Renaissance of political thought in Armenia. Grounded in deep factual knowledge and razor-sharp analysis, its findings inspire. But this Renaissance differs from many similar moments, say, in European countries; it is superior and unique, as could be expected from a nation with 19,721 years of history and unbroken statehood. Unique and superior it is, because it is accompanied by a Rebirth of the Armenian language, its poetic purification so to say. As Martin Heidegger, the great German philosopher, put it in his Über den ‘Humanismus’ (1947, transl. Frank A. Capuzzi),
Language is the house of Being. In its home human beings dwell. Those who think and those who create with words are the guardians of this home.
Under the guardianship of our current Renaissance brothers from Armenia, the Armenian Home is safe! Nothing can beat it. As a token of my respect, I offer them this modest poem.
(Nor oreru paramterkov panasdeghdzagan ports baydzar Hayasdanean kaghakagan midki Zartonkin artiv)
Do Hay hayvanner,
Do ay Trkadzin kishganer,
Hle, trchnakhelk mrchuner,
Hle, Sorosadzin khlinkner.
Zenk chprnadz pustye benisner!
Ter chvizhvadz vizhvadzkner.
Do ay srpaPrindz droshniknikner,
Do ay GlavnyieEsher.
Mkhle LGBTQ+neri siraharner,
Flhe dagankakuyn lgdiner,
Plkhe mezhdunarodnye idiotner,
Ghlkhgrrrhee kapitulant moghesner,
Do ay vortsevekner! Do ay Shchrshchikner! Do ay shizophren retardnikner!
(Kentron, Yerevan, Armenia, August 25, 2021)
This is what passes for political thinking and debate in Armenia. Its quality and depth are unmatchable.
We should also applaud the long overdue introduction of physical activities in the Parliament, but that really deserves a separate article. Suffice it to state here that over the past decades it has been painful to me to see how many of our nation’s representatives were unhealthily overweight. Happily, the newly introduced sports curriculum—including at this point bottle throwing, boxing, sexualized insulting, and Muay Thai (Jujutsu will be added in two weeks, I understand)—will significantly improve our deputies’ cardio and, what is most important, martial skills. A healthy deputy is an efficient deputy!
Let’s Leave Sarcasm Aside, Now.
The systematic recourse to vulgar and often violent language in Armenia’s public life over the past years, which has worsened since the tragic end of the war, points to a corrupt culture, degraded human values, the absence of a true elite, and the total vacuousness of political thought. (It should be stated that the current Prime Minister [PM], Nikol Pashinyan, has also not shied away from such language.) As if this was not enough, we are witnessing an attempt at making any rational discussion impossible, because such discussion would have to reveal what has gone wrong in Armenia over the past thirty years. As a result, a combination of vulgar ad hominem attacks, threats, primitive explanations, and fake, pseudo-emotional outbursts presumably generated by an unbearable form of wounded national feeling is being hammered day in and day out in the news and social media. Any mild dissent based on reasonable facts and arguments is immediately savagely condemned and its author insulted.
What the kakistocracies of the past thirty years (that is, the governance by the worst, most unscrupulous people) and their pseudo-intellectual agents are currently doing is no less than an attempt at spreading a totalitarian culture. These are the people who have looted Armenia, corrupted all its institutions, including the army, turned its constitution and the rule of law into a farce, and de facto transformed the country into a colony of Russia (all the while parading as proud nationalists, even Nzhdehagans). And because of the social media, spineless “journalists,” needy and attention-seeking “intellectuals,” mercenary talking heads, internet trolls, and often well-meaning but ill-informed followers, they have also almost succeeded in infecting the diaspora. It is these people who have lied to the Armenian nation for more than twenty years: they would not even return one square foot of land to the Azerbaijanis; if a war started, they were going to advance at least up to the Kura river, the more heroic types would have tea in Baku; if Azerbaijan attacked, they were going to blow up this or that dam and half of Azerbaijan would be flooded, etc.
Meanwhile, while spreading this megalomaniacal disinformation to the masses, their glorious leaders (Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian) had made massive concessions in secret at the negotiating table, agreeing in particular to the return of at least six of the seven provinces under Karabakh army control, and even most of the seventh province, Lachin (depending on which stage of the negotiations one considers). For instance, the width of a narrow Lachin corridor linking Armenia to Artsakh (presumably under international supervision) was one of the four sticking points in the negotiation process as of 2009. According to a (secret, no foreign distribution) State Department report authored by US ambassador to Azerbaijan Anne Derse, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Matthew Bryza’s understanding was that President Sarkisian “was now prepared to discuss the corridor, and might agree to define its width using the range of small arms and light weapons.” Notice that in this report the issue is not whether Armenia will keep the Lachin province, but merely the width of the internationalized corridor. Finally, these leaders had been agreeing during their presidencies, and behind the scenes, to what looked very much like the step-by-step solution to the Karabakh problem they themselves had rejected in fall 1997.
Hypocrisy does not end there. When a meeting took place with the PM at the end of the third week of October 2020, where the latter told them that through Russian mediation Azerbaijan would stop the war in exchange for the provinces surrounding Karabakh, plus the return to Shushi of its previous Azerbaijani population, none of them supported this arrangement. Now, however, they accuse the government of not having stopped the war then. One can easily suppose that had the PM agreed to stop the war at that point in time and allowed the return of Azerbaijani refugees to Shushi, they would have accused the government of selling out Karabakh. Heads I win, tails you lose… The sophistry of these leaders and their parties is striking. Enumerating the list of lies and contradictions uttered in their propaganda would take, indeed, several pages. It is Karabakh-enamored Kocharian who excluded the Karabakh authorities from international negotiations at the beginning of his first presidency, a mistake even first president Levon Ter-Petrosian had not made. This deprived Armenia of much wiggle room in the ongoing and subsequent negotiations with Azerbaijan and the Minsk Group co-chairs. Former presidents Kocharian, Sarkisan, and their cronies, who have governed Armenia and Karabakh from 1998 to 2018, had at least twenty years to fully repopulate Shushi, a historic and strategic city overlooking Stepanakert. It had barely 4,000 inhabitants at the start of the 2020 war, whereas its population exceeded 26,000 in the late 1880s and was close to 20,000 before the Karabakh conflict started in the late 1980. The same careless mismanagement could be noticed in the failure to thoroughly repopulate the no less strategic area of the Lachin corridor, the main route linking Armenia to Artsakh. During those twenty years, however, they portrayed themselves as the selfless defenders of Artsakh, the guarantors of its independence.
Mr. Kocharian was also the main beneficiary of a number of unresolved assassinations, starting with the death of Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) member Artur Mkrtchyan, First Chairman of the Supreme Council of Nagorno-Karabakh in April 1992, and completed by the assassinations in the Armenian Parliament of his key political counterbalances (Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan, Parliament Speaker Karen Demirchyan, and others) on October 27, 1999. Whether he had a hand in these remains to be proven, however. More generally, other significant unresolved political assassinations, combined with violent repression of the opposition and unexplained self-enrichment, characterized his two-term presidency.
The assassination of Poghos Poghosyan, a gentleman from Javakhk said to be an ARF member, is perhaps the most outrageous and visible case directly linked to Mr. Kocharian. A half-inebriated Poghosyan dared to say “privet Rob” [Hello, Rob.] to the latter, while leaving the Aragast Café (also known as Paplavok) in Yerevan. This was enough for Kocharian’s bodyguards to drag him to the subterranean restroom of the restaurant and to beat him to death. For sure, they did not drag Mr. Poghosyan towards the restroom without the former president’s order or ascent, and the latter was unlikely to have believed that his bodyguards were in fact inviting Mr. Boghosyan for a cognac nightcap. Despite the testimony of a courageous British witness, only one of his bodyguards, one Aghamal Harutyunyan, also known as (the well-named) “Kuku,” received a suspended sentence for involuntary manslaughter…
Pseudo-patriotic posturing is the specialty of the born-again saviors of the nation. They (including Mr. Kocharian) reject the opening of North-South communication routes, what President Aliyev deceptively calls the “Zangezur corridor.” They seem to have forgotten that in 1999 it was then President Robert Kocharian who very seriously considered various “Meghri options,” as foreign minister Vartan Oskanian put it: exchanging Meghri against Lachin and the transfer of Mountainous Karabakh proper to Armenia. This is also confirmed by then defense minister Vagharshak Harutyunyan. The tragic October 1999 Parliament killings—some associate them with Vazgen Sargsyan’s and Karen Demirchyan’s opposition to the Meghri corridor projects—slightly postponed the consideration of these plans, which re-surfaced a couple of years later during the negotiations at Key West (2001). Ironically enough, it is Azerbaijan (led then by Heydar Aliyev) that rejected that solution after coming very close to agreeing to it. Had such a plan been implemented, Armenia would have been left fully surrounded by hostile or duplicitous and often inimical powers (Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Georgia) and the old pan-Turkist plan of linking territorially the two Turkic republics would have been realized. Quite an achievement, for sure.
Today, there is vast consensus on the part of all major powers—China, Europe, India, Russia, and the US—that the North-South communications lines should be opened. Various plans are floated and compete with one another. Even though Armenia is not exactly the type of state that can oppose the will of such players, not to mention the Azerbaijani-Turkish utterly detrimental plans, these opposition politicians simply posture by rejecting these plans, portraying themselves as great geopolitical thinkers, whereas real statesmen would consider the existing power relations and devise plans about how to benefit from the better options available and the competition among the above-mentioned powers. In the same vein, any talk of discussions with Turkey is portrayed as treason, as if the apex of diplomatic wisdom is to reject any contact with one’s enemy. Based on the heroic attitude adopted by these political minds, one suspects that the US was foolish to maintain contact with the Kremlin at the height of the Cold War and is totally incompetent today because it is holding negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Iran… Indeed, there is nothing wrong with discussions and negotiations; what can be wrong is accepting the possibly unacceptable outcome resulting from them—as former president Serzh Sarkisian did when his foreign minister signed the Armenia-Turkey protocols in Zurich on October 10, 2009.
In the same vein, there are academics, closely affiliated with some of Armenia’s parties, who talk with a straight face about the Treaty of Kars (1921), which the Bolsheviks and the Kemalist Turks imposed on the newly Sovietized Caucasian republics—it defines the borders of Armenia with Turkey and Azerbaijan and the status of Nakhichevan, among other things—its invalidity, and the necessity for Armenia to abrogate it immediately. And they do so in these catastrophic times. Any hardly moving invertebrate would know that abrogating the Treaty of Kars would result in suicide for Armenia, especially in the current circumstances. It would simply mean picking a full fight with both Russia and Turkey, not to mention Azerbaijan, at the same time. As if this were not enough, it would also antagonize Iran, because the latter rejects any modification of, or instability along, its borders with Nakhichevan. The case of these academics is, however, interesting: it is hard to tell whether their views stem from pure lunacy, from a desire to parade as super-patriots, or from a combination of both. Be that as it may, it does feel good to appear as a national intellectual, doesn’t it?
In fact, these people, openly calling now for “deeper integration” with Russia, have no political agenda, other than handing over what is left of Armenia’s “independence” to that country. None of them has dared reject the November 9 ceasefire agreement brokered by the Russians. In a sense, Mr. Kocharian had already set the background to the integration he is calling for when he handed over to Russia during his Presidency the scientific and energetic crown jewels of Armenia to repay an extremely modest loan. What he handed over was worth many times the size of that loan. More was handed over subsequently. For these leaders, “integration” with Russia would ensure the instauration of a Putinian-style authoritarian, kleptocratic, puppet political system in Armenia. A paradise for these “patriots,” who apparently see not problem at all with an even more diminished sovereignty for their country.
The twenty-five years preceding the war were years shaped by the deceptions, lies, incompetence, and corruption of deeply provincial, Komsomol-shaped small strongmen, semi-criminal “businessmen,” and Soviet-shaped predatory bureaucrats. All of them shared common traits: the absence of any ideological belief system, utmost opportunism—many moved from the Communist Party to supporting President Ter-Petrosian, then Kocharian, then Sargsyan—and the conviction that serving oneself first and foremost, looting public goods, and extorting private citizens, including diasporans, are the highest form of statesmanship and public service. In fact, the idea of “public service” is to them like a foreign country on Jupiter, which they have not visited yet. Real institutionalization of governance looks also exotic to these people. Statecraft is non-existent: there is no institutionalized analytical forecasting of dangers or risks and no analytical center that develops credible scenarios about future developments or that assesses opportunities. Armenia has no serious specialist of China, Georgia, India, Iran, Russia (yes, Russia), and the United States, among many others. Less than a week ago, PM Pashinyan proudly announced that over the next years, he intended to create a foreign intelligence service. It had not occurred to the great statesmen who have ruled Armenia for thirty years that the country needed one… For comparison’s sake, Israel proclaimed its independence on May 14, 1948; the Mossad, its famed intelligence service, was formed on December 13, 1949.
These people formalized and structured a system that covered up all their corrupt, and even criminal, activities and policies. The economy merged fully with the predatory state and its key agents (including parliamentary deputies), as it was structured as a semi-criminal cartel, with its extra-legal rules of the game and “quotas.” To legitimize this whole edifice, it was then coated with a pseudo-nationalistic rhetoric and fake, grandiose self-confidence. The words of Arthur Meschyan’s magnificent song are fitting:
Կար լոկ դիմակ վստահութեան,
Միայն ստուեր խիզախութեան
Եւ իբր վերջ՝ ապտակն ուժգին
(“Էլ ոչ մի վիշտ,” Արթուր Մեսչյան)
Here, we should not forget the man who shaped the subsequent path of Armenia’s “development,” for a while the beloved child of the West, President Ter-Petrosian. The current catastrophic situation has its origin in the inept “indefinite” ceasefire—as if anything were indefinite—that his regime signed with Azerbaijan in 1994, following the massive victory of the Armenian forces in the preceding two years. Ter-Petrosian’s legacy is both rich and innovative: among other things, his regime gave birth to rigged elections, corrupt privatizations, violent repression of the opposition, and the emergence of a kleptocracy. Not bad for one person and his acolytes.
To sum up, the past thirty years were to a significant extent wasted. Armenia did not come close to achieving its potential. To eradicate the existing human rot and make any kind of real state-building possible—assuming it is not too late already as the current leadership, made up of a small group of individuals jumping from one governmental appointment to the next, lacks planning ability, foresight, talent, and willpower—the Armenian people would do well to say “No Pasaran!” [They shall not pass!] to those who want to muzzle their voice and destroy the country from inside, either because they serve foreign interests or because they are incompetent. The Armenian people, including the diaspora and its organizations, must understand the failures of the various post-independence political regimes to draw the appropriate conclusions and lessons from the disastrous war. Over the past decades, I have heard too many diaspora leaders dismiss the ills plaguing Armenia by means of invalid comparisons with the post-Soviet Central Asian republics, or on patriotic grounds. The policy of the ostrich… It should have been clear to them that Time was not on Armenia’s side, a country almost surrounded by enemies. And if those republics were even more rotten than Armenia, that should have been little consolation. If comparing one’s kid’s IQ with that of a pigeon makes a parent proud, then for sure s/he is not too demanding…
What now? We must look first into the abyss to then see the mountain summit. These verses from Schiller’s “Sprüche des Konfuzius” should guide us:
You have to climb into the depths,
Should the essence show itself to you.
Only persistence leads to the goal,
Only plenitude leads to clarity,
And the truth lives in the abyss.
There are no easy solutions to the current situation: defeat, catastrophic human and territorial losses, endless military skirmishes, economic hardship, a well-meaning but substantially rudderless leadership, a bureaucratic and judicial apparatus gangrened by corruption, incompetence, and sabotaging, and politicized higher ranks of the military. A temporary government of “National Unity” is urgently needed, assuming there are still a few State-oriented politicians left on all sides of the political spectrum, including in the extra-parliamentary parties, who realize the urgency of the situation. That government must immediately take emergency measures to totally mobilize the nation against the threats it is facing. It should also fully and systemically integrate the best Diasporan talents in all fields into Armenia’s governmental and bureaucratic apparatuses. My hope might just be wishful thinking, though…
Bar total mobilization under such a government, Armenia is very much likely to be on its way to losing the last tatters of its formal independence and sovereignty in the coming years. That’s what is at stake now. Those indulging in insults and threats in their interviews and talks and in shouting matches in the parliament, without proposing any clear and credible plan to address the current situation, are just contributing to this outcome, and nothing else.
It is not surprising that the Armenian people massively rejected them—the PM’s party won easily in all the marzes and in Yerevan—even though this catastrophic war was characterized by many dysfunctions on the Armenian side. The conclusion is simple: the Armenian people did not want to “enjoy” more years under Mr. Robert Kocharian’s rule. The return of the latter to politics, under the ridiculous garb of the “National Savior,” was in fact a God-given gift to Pashinyan’s lackluster party and leadership: it is Mr. Kocharian who secured the PM’s victory. The reaction of the losing opposition’s “pundits” was also telling: a flow of insults uttered against the peasantry and all those who voted for the current regime… Some of the insults were revealing: these voters were ignorant people, not “intellektuals,” and they cared only for their stomach. One suspects this was just a projection of what that opposition cared for when it had been in power for twenty years, with some of its “intellektual” deputies uttering strange, un-understandable sounds in their parliament speeches, probably some form of paleolithic proto- Armenian… More generally, it is telling how much these opposition figures, who want to lead the Armenian people, despise it.
In the context described above and in the presence of pseudo-elites of this caliber, it is difficult to see how the threat of a de jure loss of statehood in the medium run can be avoided. The rot accumulated over thirty years has a price: chickens always come home to roost. Even though time is running out, it is not too late yet, and it is to be hoped that responsible politicians in Armenia and leaders in the diaspora will come together to address and face the current challenges.
As a conclusion, two citations:
“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” (Confucius)
And a few more verses from Arthur Meschyan:
Նայէք իրար, նայէք ձեր մէջ,
Ինչ կայ հզօր յաղթող յաւերժ,
Եւ որն է խաչը հաւատքի,
Ով է հայր մեր:
Արդէն բաւ է միմեանց խաբենք,
Քանի դեռ ուշ չի, կանք դեռ մենք,
Քանի դեռ սուրը ոսոխի
Ճամբին է դեռ:
(“Էլ ոչ մի վիշտ,” Արթուր Մեսչյան)
2 The Russian verb peredat’ is used (deliver, pass, hand over, etc.).
3 The 1999 version of this plan can be found here: https://www.armtimes.com/hy/article/215321
4 One Argishti Kyaramyan best illustrates this phenomenon. He was appointed to close to ten different important positions from the summer of 2018 to 2021, including that of director of the National Security Service, even though he had no background whatsoever in that field and was not even thirty years old. See, https://hraparak.am/post/00f690f883e9595f3bee4314d6c6a4a0