An Open Letter to My Armenian Family

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

George Santayana

As a nation with a history that extends well before the time of Christ, the Armenian nation has many opportunities to learn lessons from its past.  Fortunately, in this case and for a lesson applicable to our time, one need not go back very far – to a time well-known to the modern generation via stories from our grandparents and great-grandparents.  This is a story set in the aftermath of the Genocide, the Battle of Sardarabad during May, 1918, and the formation and dissolution of the short-lived First Armenian Republic.

Sardarabad

The Turks, having slaughtered the Armenian population of Turkey, were now moving into Armenia itself.  Armenia, previously under Russian rule, was left to fend for itself in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution and the Brest-Litovsk Treaty. Sea Glass Sweep Earrin... Buy New $34.95 (as of 06:25 EST - Details)

The Turks were far superior in number and strength, amassing an army of 35,000, against an Armenian force of 12,000.  Further, there were perhaps 300,000 Armenian refugees of the Genocide – disease-stricken, starving.  A plague was moving through the people and the troops.

The Turks were within ten minutes of Etchmiadzin, the home of the Armenian Church and home to the oldest cathedral in the world, dating back to the first decade of the fourth century (the existing cathedral dates to the fifth century).  This was the last stand: victory would mean life and hope; defeat would have placed Armenians as another footnote to history, going the way of the dozens of tribes in the region lost since the time of pre-history.

Catholicos Kevork V was advised to leave Etchmiadzin, but he refused – ordering the priests and deacons to fight alongside the others.  The most sacred place on earth for Armenians would be the site where their fate would be determined.

General Silikian made an emotional appeal – all men, women, and children are needed now.  He organized a counter-attack, eventually forcing the Turks to retreat.  With the enemy on the run, 750,000 Armenians in Yerevan were saved.  Saved to survive a horrendous winter, homeless, starving, filthy, emaciated, surviving on dead cats and dogs.  Perhaps 200,000 people died that year – about twenty percent of the country’s population.

The First Republic

From this victory, such as it was, the short-lived First Republic of Armenia was born.  The time was as the Great War was in its final months.  This Republic was somewhat larger than the current state of Armenia, extending into regions that are today Eastern Turkey.  While some form of stability was found, internal strife, political disagreements, and external military pressures continued.

Delegates were sent to the Germans, asking that influence is used against its ally Turkey.  The situation was so dire, that a second delegation was sent to the Turks – to Enver and Talaat, two of the masterminds and perpetrators of the genocide – expressing gratitude that the Turks allowed an Armenian state to exist while asking for relief.  Such was the condition of Armenia, that it would ask for help from those who would see it removed from history.  No help came from this quarter. Geometric Leather & Ac... Buy New $12.50 (as of 06:25 EST - Details)

Armenians would send a delegation to Paris – the treaties that would deal with the end of this first phase of the two World Wars.  Arriving in Paris, it was learned that Armenia was not even on the official list of participating states.

Further complicating matters: there were two Armenian delegations in Paris.  The official delegation was led by Avetis Aharonian, and represented a minimalist position: secure provinces in eastern and western Armenia, and a corridor to the Black Sea.  A second delegation, led by Boghos Nubar Pasha represented a maximalist position: basically, every region that ever in history was somewhat governed or occupied by Armenians – including access to both the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.  In order to present a united front, the delegations settled on the maximalist position.

The Armenians believed Wilson’s Fourteen Points would carry the day.  Of course, political realities weighed more heavily, as Allied powers were either unwilling or unable to implement such utopian visions.  Beyond Britain wanting to protect the Baku-Batum pipeline, there was little Allied desire for a project in this region.

The reality of western withdrawal from the region was not obvious to the Armenians – despite not being officially invited and not recognized by even the naïve Wilson.  Even had the major powers supported this maximalist position, the Armenians had no means by which to implement it on the ground nor hold it if occupied.  As it turns out, Armenians were unable to hold even the minimalist position.

Territorial battles would ensue, against Georgia to the north and Azerbaijan to the east.  Armenia, believing Britain would offer support, soon learned that it was Azeri oil that drove Britain’s interest in the region, nothing more.  Armenians were increasingly isolated.

In the meantime, war was raging in Russia: White Russians and Bolsheviks.  Within two years, the situation began to change rapidly: the Bolsheviks gained the upper hand, allowing the new government to look again to the periphery – the former Russian lands, now independent.

Women Who Rock Earrings Buy New $52.00 (as of 06:25 EST - Details) Through Stalin, attention turned to Transcaucasia: Azerbaijan, Georgia, and, of course, Armenia.  Terrorist and clandestine activity was organized, often using Armenian agents.  The purpose was to topple the government in Yerevan, and replace it with a Bolshevik government favorable to Russia.

Armenian leadership believed they could use these Bolshevik agents to win favor with Moscow against Turkey – not considering such favors always come with a cost.  In any case, none of these wishes would come to fruition: Lenin, wanting to settle issues along at least some of the fronts, wanted to establish better relations with the Turks, now led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

The Treaty of Sèvres was signed by the Great Powers in August 1920.  The treaty carved Turkey into many zones, several under the authority of various European powers – not at all acceptable to Atatürk.  Most importantly, northeastern Turkey would be part of the new Armenian Republic.  The treaty brought Lenin and Atatürk closer together: Lenin wanted to rid the region of the Europeans, as did Atatürk; Lenin, in hopes of moving Turkey toward Bolshevism, Atatürk with the desire for a new Turkey.

Azerbaijan was taken over by Bolsheviks; next in line for the Soviets was Armenia.  Keep in mind, much of this subversive activity was led by Armenians.  On the day that the Treaty of Sèvres was signed, and after suffering military aggression at the hand of the Red Army, Armenia signed an accord – accepting Soviet occupation of Karabagh and Zangezur.

And in the meantime, Turkey was planning to take full advantage of the situation.  Told that Lenin had desires for all of Armenia, Atatürk decided to strike first.  Early in 1920, the Turks began massacring Armenians in Cilicia – approximately 150,000 Armenian survivors of the genocide had returned, as the region was under French supervision.  The French would withdraw, the Armenians would flee during the harsh winter.

In September, 1920, the Turkish attack began.  The Turks moved swiftly; Armenians appealed for foreign help but none came.  In addition to the overwhelming power of the Turkish onslaught, the Armenian military was busy dealing with the internal conflicts driven by the Bolsheviks.

By the end of October, Kars was taken and thousands of Armenians were slaughtered.  Turks immediately were moved into the region – changing the facts on the ground.  Meanwhile, the Turkish troops were once again threatening Yerevan – a repeat of the advance from two years’ prior. Sleeper gold hoop earr... Buy New $18.00 (as of 06:25 EST - Details)

The Fall

The Armenian will to resist had been broken.  From a completely weakened position, facing internal strife, along with exhaustion from the remnants of the genocide, wars, disease, and starvation, the Armenians signed a cease-fire agreement with Turkey.  They then turned to the Soviets to quickly negotiate a deal – equally from a weak position, as was the case with Turkey.

The Soviets wanted to Sovietize Armenia.  Rejecting this proposal, the Armenians looked to Turkey.  The Turks wanted to turn Armenia into a vassal state of Turkey.  The Turks and the Russians were in a race for Armenia, aided by the internal violence driven by Armenian against Armenian.  All that was open to Armenian was this choice: the Turks or the Soviets.  Or annihilation.

Armenians signed an agreement with the Russians.  They also signed an agreement with the Turks – hoping to stop the advance.  In this agreement, Armenians agreed that the terms of the Treaty of Sèvres were void.  In any case, in the end, the Armenians lost provinces to Turkey in the west and to Azerbaijan in the east.  Ultimately, Armenia came into the Soviet orbit, where it stayed for seventy years.

Impotent and late, Woodrow Wilson would draw the map of the region, incorporating the terms of Sèvres.  Like much of Wilson’s naïve optimism, this would prove folly when placed against the actions of those in the region and the realities on the ground.

Internal violence would continue for a short time in Armenia: Armenian Soviets against Armenian Dashnaks.  The government would change hands for a short time, only to be finally crushed and firmly in the hands of the Soviet Union.  On September 30, 1921, Soviet Russia and Armenia signed a treaty sealing this unity.

The Situation Today

In the aftermath of the signing of the recent agreement between Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia, there are many Armenians around the world quite upset with the agreement and with certain of its provisions.  This is more than protests in Yerevan.  There are petitions floating around the internet urging rejection of several points of the agreement.

Vladimir Putin had this to say to Armenians such as these: “That would be suicidal.”  Further:

“The people who are trying to do this (to slow down the implementation of the agreements – Ed.) should understand that there can only be one alternative, i.e. war. And if, God forbid, this happens, the blood of the victims will be on the hands of those who are trying to torpedo these agreements.”

If anyone has any doubt about the ability for Azerbaijan and Turkey, armed further with Israeli technology and supported by Syrian terrorists to have finished of all of Artsakh – or to finish it off now if the agreements are rejected – they are living in a fantasy world, deadly for any Armenians remaining in the region.  The rest of Artsakh, along with all Armenian inhabitants, will be lost.

Appeals to fairness, international law, self-determination, or the Minsk process are all irrelevant.  To complain that military might should not be the determining factor in this situation is to offer ignorance in the face of history and naïveté in the face of Azerbaijan’s and Turkey’s objectives and purposes.  Further, to ignore the entire international community – via the UN and other institutions – regarding the seven provinces, was never going to be a fruitful path forward for Armenian security.

Certainly, there are realities that have not been explained or have yet to be explained.  Actions and inactions by the Armenian government and military over the course of the last twenty-five years have led to this point.  There are many who are asking such questions, with answers as varied as one might expect.  Understanding these issues and speaking openly of the mistakes will be necessary.

But whining or complaining will not change the reality on the ground, nor will it change the mistakes in the past decades.  The reality today is: without this current peace, all of Artsakh will be lost.

Learning From the Past

Armenians, united, stopped Turkey at Sardarabad in 1918 from destroying the nation.  Armenians divided begged Turkey for salvation in 1920.  Armenia ended up in the Soviet orbit, which may have happened in any case, but now in a much-weakened position.

Armenians believed the West will provide stability; they ended up turning east only when all hope was lost.  Coming to acceptable terms and holding onto unrealistic demands only after reaching hopelessness is never possible.

Armenians holding out for the maximalist position in Paris in 1919 did not even end up keeping the minimalist position in 1920.

Armenians, without a strong military, are never in a position to enforce any desire.

Applying These Lessons Today

The infighting must stop.  There are, at most, three million Armenians in Armenia – surrounded by hostile neighbors of substantially larger size, wealth, and capability; these neighbors have tremendously wealthy and powerful allies.

The Church must reopen – in every community, around the world: it is the one and only Armenian institution that has held the nation together for 1700 years – through far more desperate times than this.  The issue is simple: obey man and lose the nation, or obey God, meet together as a family, and offer a place for unity for the Armenian people.  Only one of these options will bind the nation; only one of these options will please God.

Stop relying on the West to do what you believe is the right thing.  The West doesn’t care about Armenia.  This does not mean to stop trade and diplomatic relations; it means stop looking for support.  It didn’t come 100 years ago and it didn’t come today.  It will never come.  The West is only growing weaker, tearing itself apart.  The West’s words of justice are just words, nothing more.

Look north to Russia; look south to Iran; look east to China and India.  The center of the world is moving this way, and Armenia is perfectly positioned to thrive in this world.  Armenians have a history in the Silk Roads of the past, establishing communities based on trade throughout Eastern Europe, Russia, the Middle East, the sub-continent, and the Far East.

Focus on one thing only: how to secure that which is held.  This will require capable diplomats, who understand the realities of the region and of the players.  Now is not the time to argue about regaining all of Artsakh or any of the other provinces.  Any dreams or hopes beyond the remaining boundaries are irrelevant until the current boundaries can be secured.  Be good stewards of what we have; thereafter we might secure more.

Finally, focus on the military, and begin by focusing on defense.  In five years, any of the three parties (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia) can terminate the current deal.  Russia will if Armenians give it cause; Azerbaijan will if it sees an opening to take the rest of Artsakh by force.

Any failure to be prepared for this reality is unconscionable.

Finally, do not despair.  We have no right.  We had far more cause for despair after the earthquake and collapse of the Soviet Union, after the Genocide and subsequent wars with Turkey, even after Battle of Avarayr.  There are a dozen other times in our history of equal calamity.  Our ancestors proved their strength.

We have no right to do otherwise.

Additional Sources:

  • The Armenians, John M. Douglas, 1992
  • The History of Armenians, Simon Payaslian
  • The Armenian People, edited by Richard G. Hovannisian (who also was the author of the chapters relevant to this period)