October 15th 2020
Artsakh right for self-determination
by Arto Artinian Honorary Counsel for Armenia to the Kingdom of Thailand
Being an expat for the past 25 years and having the honour to represent my country as the Honorary Consul of The Republic of Armenia in the Kingdom of Thailand, has been one of the highlights of my life. However, it is not only for the title, there is so much more in it than just carrying the title.
Over the last few years I have had the opportunity to meet, engage, appreciate and understand many different cultures, especially those of my host country Thailand, which has become a permanent home for me. Coming to understand the Asian culture at the same time I have learnt the values of building strong personal relationships within the differing expat communities in Thailand.
I have witnessed the economic development, growth and prosperity of Thailand and the whole SE Asian region. The formation of the ASEAN union of countries and how neighbouring countries in this region cooperate together towards the growth and development of their combined countries and their people, by increasing the level of education, creating economic prosperity, cooperation and most importantly by living in peace and harmony together.
Since my appointment as the Consul it has been a great honour for me each year to host the celebration of the Independence Day for the Republic of Armenia, it has been a great opportunity to present Armenia’s cultural heritage. The economic development and prosperity, a young and vibrant nation that is eager to prosper and elevate to an international level and become not only economically viable but also to become a role model in sustainable development, democratically independent, enjoy a civilised society and most importantly a peaceful life in the region.
We have been celebrating independence for almost 30 years, however for us Armenians the most important aspect of this very important part of our history is not about the number of years but the fact that it was attained after centuries of struggle, fight and determination and that we have finally gained the right of Independence.
Unfortunately, this right of self-determination and independence did not come for all Armenian’s in the Armenian highland strongholds of Nagorno Karabakh which the Armenians call Artsakh. The Republic of Artsakh, an unrecognised country until today with it’s 100% Armenian population, did not get the acknowledgement right of independence, and yet for centuries Artsakh have been part of the ancient Armenia’s borders that have stretched from sea to sea (the Caspian to the Black Sea). The vast highlands of Armenia’s lands, mountains and lakes have been the crossroads of civilisations between East and West. Traders made their way via these routes and empires have fought wars over this small but important crossroads. After the collapse of the Armenian Empire the lands have always been the dividing borderline between empires – the Persian Empire, the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire. The Armenians on these lands always had to fight for their right of survival in their ancestral lands and no matter how hard it has been for centuries one very important aspect has been that regardless of which empire was in power the Armenian people have always lived and survived on their ancestral lands.
This mountainous area of the Artsakh region expands 4400sqkms and it was during the Soviet Union period in 1923 that Joseph Stalin cut and separated the two provinces of Armenia and placed them under the administration of Azerbaijan SSR in order to encourage Turkey to join the Soviet Union. The two provinces were Artsakh and Nakhichevan, the latter does not even have a border with Azerbaijan, and to sweeten the bitterness with the Armenians, Stalin designated these two regions as autonomous territories within Azerbaijan SSR for its majority population of ethnic Armenians.
At the brink of the Soviet Union collapse on 20th February 1988 the Karabakh Council voted unanimously for independence from Azerbaijan SSR. It is important to note that the Soviet Law on Secession from the USSR under Article 72 of the constitution permitted that an SSR or an autonomous region could leave the Soviet Union after conducting a referendum. Hence Baku lost the control of Nagorno Karabakh since 1988 and as a consequence of the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 the Karabakh people conducted a second referendum, this time to exit from the USSR and voted with 82% of the vote.
It is important to note that as the Soviet Union ceased to exist in 1991, with it the federal nations and its borders ceased to exist, hence newly formed republics and its Declaration of Independence with new borders became reality.
The principle of self-determination overrides the argument of territorial integrity. The newly formed Azerbaijan Republic has no legal right over the Karabakh region with its majority Armenian population and which under the Soviet era ceased to exist. As we can see from examples in the disputed areas such as Kosovo, when in 1998 Muslim Albanian Kosovo, who were the majority of the state, declared their independence and in 1999 NATO intervened and carried out air strikes against Serbia to force its government to allow the Muslim Albanians to create the independent state of Kosovo. It is important to note that Turkey, an ally of NATO at that time, supported the Muslim Albanians right to self-rule but today Turkey vigilantly opposes extending the same right to the Armenians of Artsakh. This is a classic example of Turkish injustice and hypocrisy.
Another classic example of double standards by Turkey we see is the occupation of Cyprus. In 1974 when the majority of Greek Cypriots declared independence from Great Britain to join their Greek brothers, Turkey invaded Cyprus and claimed 37% of the island which it occupies until today in order to justify the 12% Turkish Cypriots for self-independence, and it refuses to acknowledge the UN Security Council’s resolutions.
Unfortunately, NATO and the international community has been ignoring the right of self-determination of the Artsakh people in Karabakh and upholding the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. This is not only an unjust double standard being applied against Armenians but also represents the height of hypocrisy and it is the demand of the Armenians to be treated equally as it was the case in Kosovo. Where the territorial integrity of Serbia was totally ignored and while the Albanian right of Kosovo self-determination was upheld and justified.
The Armenians of Artsakh demand the same right that was granted to the Albanians in Kosovo for self-determination. The two cases are almost identical, and it should be fair therefore to be treated in a similar way. Most importantly that Artsakh people have been living on their ancestral lands. They are not occupiers nor are they separatists on their own land. In fact, they are the true owners of their lands. It is the legitimate right of the Artsakh people to live peacefully on their own ancestral land under their own democratic leadership rather than living under Azerbaijan dictatorial and racist rule.
They remember what happened in February 1988 at Sumgait when Azerbaijani mobs attacked the village with axes and murdered, raped and burned alive over 700 innocent villagers – women, children and elderly people. Such savage behaviour cannot be forgotten, and unfortunately a similar incident happened again in 1990. The capital of Baku where over 250,000 Armenians had to flee for their lives leaving behind all their belongings.
Growing up as a kid I was always interested in history and especially the history of my people. My grandfather who came from the Western part of Armenia, which is now part of Turkey, survived with his family the atrocities of the 1915 Armenian genocide, where more than 1.5 million Armenians were killed and displaced from their ancestral lands. Until today only half of the world recognised that, these atrocities were carried out by the Ottoman Turks during the First World War and it was obvious the reason was to clean up the population of the Western Armenia so that there will not be anyone after the war to claim their lands.
Until recently I could not understand “where was the international community while the Armenian genocide was taking place in 1915, why there was no international intervention for help of the Armenians and why Turkey could have systematically mass murdered, displaced, butchered and massacred over 1.5million without anyone even raising a voice”.
When I say anyone – yes there were some groups who attempted and warned their governments, even the media wrote about it but of course back then we were living in an area where there were no mobile phones, no social media and people hardly knew what was happening on the other side of the world, and not to forget the distraction of the First World War.
However today we live in a completely different era, an era of technology, satellites, mobile phones and social media yet there is still little have been done to stop the war that has started once again in Karabakh, most of the media has been very conservative about the news to the extent that The Armenian diaspora in USA, Europe, and Australia took pretests in the street for the media to cover the true story of the situation in Artsakh.
On September 28th, 2020 Azerbaijan started a full attack on the mountainous area of the Karabakh Republic of Artsakh. The attack had been planned for months with the full support of the Turkish military a NATO member and with the deployment of terrorist groups flown from Northern Syria. Bombing continuously even using cluster bombs which is illegal day and night – bombs rained down on the peaceful citizens of Stepanakert and the surrounding villages.
In just two weeks the entire city of Stepanakert had been destroyed with immense numbers of high-tech bombs, artillery and drones that had been used on this small region. Yet the fabricated news by Azerbaijan that was supplied to the media claimed that it was the Artsakh people of 150,000 who had declared war and started this aggression.
If you can imagine a small population with less than 10% of the Azerbaijan’s power – an oil rich country with enormous military budget, why would Artsakh declare war on them, this hypocrisy is to justify the use of force on the people of Artsakh and to expel them out of their homes and off their lands by continuous bombing.
It seems that there is a double standard in this world that we are not aware of by the same nations who claim democracy, human rights and justice to be the guidelines of our life. It puts us in great surprise that a democratic country such as Armenia, who respects human rights and is part of the civilised, forward moving nations and has less power. Less respect from the international community as averse to a dictatorial oil rich country such as Azerbaijan.
We need to remember that exactly 100 years ago the same way war was declared on Artsakh, war was declared on the newly formed Republic of Armenia in 1920 by Turkish Nationalists, where Armenia lost most of its ancient Western Armenian territories to the Turks. Was forced to sign a new treaty in 1921 – the Treaty of Kars, followed by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 which secured the new borders of modern Turkey today, which totally ignored and rejected the previously signed Treaty of Sevrés that the Ottoman government accepted followed by their defeat in the First World War where they had to return all Armenian lands including Artsakh, that treaty was short lived and failed to bring peace to the region.
History repeats itself!
We often hear about the phenomenon of history repeating itself, however we as civilised nations and people living in an era of resolving climate change an era of advance science, an era of globalisation, understanding human rights and the self-determination of people… where do we stand!
2020 has been hit with Covid-19 which has dramatically changed our way of life, our socialising and also the way we look at and appreciate life. So many economies have been decimated, the virus has changed the social structure and the way we were living and what’s worst is that we are far from over with numbers increasing every day in Europe, America and all supposed developed nations.
We still need to figure out how to continue normal life, how to send our children to school. Surely the last thing we need is regional instability and war!
Both Armenia and Azerbaijan have been hit hard by the pandemic, socially and economically. Even though Azerbaijan has the advantage of having natural assets like oil and gas but with the current low prices it has its own internal financial problems as well. Baku can dramatically improve their economy especially if they stop spending money on military assets – as well as Armenia which has perhaps one third of Azerbaijan’s budget. As both countries have more serious matters to deal with there should be a priority on that first.
Over 50% of the Karabakh population are now displaced and homeless refugees. Their homes and cities are completely destroyed, this is not a war to recapture the land – this is a war of total destruction, the destruction of civilisation, creating history by bombing schools, churches, hospitals and historical monuments.
The beautiful city of Stepanakert which had been beautifully rebuilt since the 1994 ceasefire has now yet again become ground zero!
The aggression of both Azerbaijan backed by Turkey is a very crucial turning point for the Armenian people, it is exactly history repeating itself 100 years later, but this time the Armenian people are aware of the atrocities that this aggression could bring, it is a fight for existential and survival.
However, war is not the way in order to resolve conflicts!
Armenia has always been in favour of peace talks for two simple reasons. Firstly, Armenia’s spending on military capability does not match those of oil rich Azerbaijan, hence Armenia would rather spend that budget for the development of its own country for its citizens. Secondly, and most importantly Armenia wants to live in peace and build a peaceful future for its children and generations to come.
Human history has shown that the only way to move forward is to live in peace and harmony. It has been a good lesson for me living in Asia – experiencing the last 30 years of development that has been as a result of the peace and cooperation between nations and most importantly neighbouring countries.
Armenia has always been eager to live in peace and to prosper, but only if we are given the opportunity and freedom to do so on our own ancestral lands that we have been living on it for thousands of years. That is the right of the people of self-determination and if we can’t do that in the 21st century then what kind of world are we leaving for our children, another world of hate and war or a world of peace and prosperity!
We have the choice to make and we can make it all together.
I really hope that it is not too late for all nations to realise that it is time to stop the war. Now is the time for peace and compromise on both sides and to plan for more progressive and peaceful future for both nations.