BY PATRICK AZADIAN
Come and take it, we can’t deal with this any more! This was supposedly the message in Zori Balayan’s letter to President Putin of Russia on the issue of Karabakh. Apparently, Mr. Balayan has suggested that based on the Treaty of Gulistan, Russia is the rightful owner of the de facto Armenian republic of Karabakh. Interestingly, since this ‘news’ hit the Armenian media outlets, Balayan has rejected the notion of offering Karabakh to Russia.
Karabakh’s unification with Russia is a radical idea that should raise some very thick eyebrows in the region.
It is difficult to go through all the permutations of who meant what, but either Mr. Balayan did suggest this idea himself or some people took his attempt to remind President Putin that Russia should own up to its historical responsibilities in the region and twisted the spirit of the letter to serve their own narrow personal interests.
Regardless of whether anyone takes the idea seriously, we can’t just dismiss the sentiment. The urge of handing over everything Armenian to Russia is a real and present danger for the Armenian people.
Let’s pretend for a moment that Mr. Balayan was in favor of such an anti-Armenian proposal. Why would an Armenian patriot born in Karabakh suggest the handover of his motherland to Russia on a silver platter? I can only think of two general possibilities. Either he was under the influence of tti oghi (mulberry vodka) or he genuinely thought this was in the best interest of the Armenian people.
I suggest Mr. Balayan was as sober as a God-fearing mullah from Qum when he wrote the letter. You see, I know this because I am a diasporan Armenian and have felt the effects of vodka combined with patriotism. Drinking produces Dutch courage, not meekness and treason. If Mr. Balayan was in fact under the influence of mulberry vodka, his letter would have been something like this: “Dear Mr. Erdogan, we are coming to take Western Armenia. Dear Mr. Saakashvili, Akhalkalak is ours. And you, Mr. Aliyev, Nakhichevan is our next Karabakh. War on all fronts, at any expense!”
Now that we are certain that Mr. Balayan wasn’t drinking, the next possible question is what could have he been thinking to prompt such a letter? I have to assume that with someone of his legacy, he was thinking this would be the best option for the Armenian people. There are a few scenarios that may have passed through his mind.
Here is the most unlikely scenario: Russia takes Karabakh; Russia turns around and gives it to Armenia. This scenario needs no discussion but I’ll entertain the idea briefly because it has been suggested by some.
If Russia takes Karabakh, it is not guaranteed that there will be no backroom deals with Turkey and Azerbaijan to ensure that Karabakh is not annexed to Armenia. There is also no assurance that Russia will not hand it over to the Azeris in exchange for major concessions from Turkey and Azerbaijan.
History suggests that a handover of Karabakh to Azerbaijan by Russia is not out of question. It has happened once already. It was under the auspices of Soviet Russia that Nakhichevan and Karabakh were included in the territories of Soviet Azerbaijan. It was the same big brother that also facilitated the transfer of Kars and Ardahan to Turkey. One could argue that this was a different Russia – the Godless kind. What’s more terrifying is that the Godless big brother’s record is actually better than the churchgoing one when it comes to the Armenians. At least on paper, Soviets believed in brotherhood of nations and under their rule Armenia and Armenians prospered in certain realms. Back then, we were known as the more progressive peoples of the empire. Now, Russia views us as the backward South Caucasians.
Next comes the scenario of Russia taking Karabakh, keeping it and making it a paradise where Armenians live happily ever after. Take one look at how Russia treats its own provinces and ‘autonomous’ republics and it is not difficult to see that this scenario is as naïve as the last.
I can’t imagine Mr. Balayan is naïve enough to believe in any of the above-mentioned scenarios. Thus, I have to conclude that there are elements in the Armenian society that want the transfer of Karabakh to Russia. First, to rid themselves of the Karabakh problem and perhaps benefit financially from Russia’s further exploitation of the region.
Which brings us to a final scenario that could not have been Mr. Balayan’s brainchild. Russia takes Karabakh and sucks the blood out of it natural resources. In the process, Armenia avoids the Azeri (and Turkish) threat while some Armenians pad their pockets with Russian-Armenian joint ventures.
Here, we come full circle to the following question: Why does the price of security and prosperity have to be slavery and servitude to Russia?
The common thread in all of these scenarios is the assumption that Armenians cannot govern and protect themselves. Mr. Balayan’s letter has brought to surface this type of slave mentality and love for greed that exists among some Armenians.
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Every nation suffers from some national illnesses. We have our own share. Not taking responsibility for our own long-term future must be on the top of this list, right there with illusions of grandeur, infatuation with symbolic victories, and our vintage pack up and leave mentality from almost every place on Earth where we encounter difficulties and challenges.
Perhaps, Mr. Balayan is aware of these national maladies and feels he must choose between the least of two evils before it’s too late. But it is difficult to believe that the Armenian people have been left with no other alternatives than selling off everything to Russia. Some ex-Soviet republics are trying to crave out an independent path for themselves. Why can’t Armenians entertain such a path even if we were to recognize Russia’s supremacy in the region?
Have we exhausted all other alternatives? What have we (I include Diaspora and Armenia in the ‘we’) done with Karabakh since its liberation? What are we doing with Armenia’s potential?
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Despite our national ailments, we have managed to experience some miracles in recent history as well. We are respected for our spirit of survival and entrepreneurship. After just about 600 years of statelessness and immediately after the trauma of the Genocide, we managed to declare a republic in 1918. Regardless of the circumstances, that was no small feat. In retrospect, that was a miracle, which lead to our newly gained independence, to our youthful and fragile Armenia – yet another miracle. Who would have bet on the Armenians emerging victorious against the Azeris in the Karabakh war? And on a much smaller scale, who would have put money on the Armenian national soccer team giving the four-time world cup winners Italy in Napoli a scare few weeks ago (the game ended 2-2. Maladetz tgherk!)?
So perhaps, we do have the potential to take our rightful place among other nations as a living, breathing culture with our dignity intact. Maybe there is a possibility to maintain some self-respect while trying to carve out an independent path that ensures the survival and growth of our culture on our ancestral lands (emphasis on the lands we already have).
Maybe it’s time to take responsibility for our destiny and recognize the resources that we do and do not have.
As a people we don’t do realistic with a hint of idealism well enough. We are heavy on utopianism with a rare splash of practicality. We are addicted to symbolic causes and we have forgotten how to think about practical, long-term solutions that improve our chances of national progress.
Thank you, Mr. Balayan for bringing to surface our national maladies and exposing the sell-out elements of our society, even if you didn’t mean it.
Bolshoe spasibo, Mr. Balayan. Blagodaryu!