Most states in the world remained impassive and averted their gaze while war crimes were taking place in Artsakh, showing total equidistance, or even tacit support to Azerbaijan and Turkey. The position of the international community in the worst moments of Armenia's recent history requires one to reflect and rethink the foreign policy of the country, giving up on efforts to please those nations that will not move for human rights or just causes, who for political or economic interests will never side with the Armenians.
It is now more true than ever that Armenia - and the future of Artsakh - is closely linked to Russia. However, the country has an opportunity to build and lay the foundations of a fairer order, with an approach to the claims of stateless nations. By defending the right of citizens to decide their future, even if it means contradicting the interests of some states that have not cared about Armenia, it can pursue a strategy that will lead to the defense of democracy with respect to the right to self-determination of peoples. Taking a principled position can raise Armenia’s profile among many nations, but also among citizens around the world who will view Armenia as a defender of justice for peoples who have no voice in the state-centered international order. Three essential points demonstrate the advantages of such an approach.
First, Armenia needs to be interested in generating an extensive debate on the right to self-determination around the world. The prevailing world order allows, at most, for Artsakh to remain a de facto independent state, and, in the worst case, for Armenia’s neighbors to erase it from the map through military force. By raising the profile of the principle, it could mark the agenda of Western states, or bring several cases on this issue to international courts. Rethinking relations can only be beneficial for Armenia. On the contrary, what fears does Armenia have about disturbing, for example, Spain, which has no diplomatic mission in Armenia, but conducts important business and sells weapons to Turkey and Azerbaijan, has its own internal problems and will never recognize the right to self-determination? During this past war, Spain blocked - with other EU member states - sanctions or any other action by the European Union against the aggressors, Turkey and Azerbaijan. Spain has no qualms about letting Artsakh disappear and leave the Armenians unprotected.
Second, being an actor with its own ideals and strategy on the international stage favors Armenia. For example, former Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo recognized that a squadron of military aircraft had been sent to the Baltics in exchange for Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia not speaking in favor of the self-determination of Catalonia. Having an independent foreign policy can make other states willing to make concessions or negotiate with you; on the other hand, simply following the Russian position on every issue leads to other countries not taking you seriously.
Finally, defending self-determination is the natural role of Armenia, where it can feel more comfortable, promoting freedom and democracy in a world and a region where authoritarian states are acting less and less respectfully. Armenia knows a lot when it comes to diversity, national minorities, peoples under the oppression of states or empires, the right to self-government, and keeping the language alive, among other issues.
In fact, in 1991, along with Estonia, Latvia and other states, Armenia helped establish the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) to promote self-determination, democracy and non-violence. However, there are currently much stronger ties, solidarity and understanding between the Basque Country, Kurdistan or Wales with states that have already achieved independence, such as Ireland, Slovenia, the Baltic countries or Belgium, than with Armenia. Outside Armenia, it is common to find murals in favor of Kurdistan in the Basque Country, the Catalan flag on the balcony of Dublin City Council or a Scottish delegation at celebrations for Catalonia’s national day.
Until recently, while Armenian communities abroad maintained a love for their language, identity and history, many remained aloof from any other cause, with a general ignorance of national movements around the world. Armenian citizens and civil society organizations have distanced themselves from these demands when Armenia became an independent state and began to prioritize relations with other states. However, these same states have not acted when Armenia has needed them.
Unlike Armenian diplomats, the diaspora, despite being little involved, has started to place greater value on the importance of language, political and cultural rights of many nations, which have no states now but perhaps may in the future. The weak Armenian diplomatic corps is completely beyond the reach of local and regional entities; they are ignoring any movement for national liberation and unsuccessfully trying to influence states that do not share the vision of self-determination. For commercial and economic interests, they will always bet on Turkey and not on small Armenia.
Catalonia, the Basque Country, Wales and Scotland have recognized the Armenian Genocide, shown their solidarity and strongly denounced the attacks on Artsakh, even if it means the rejection of Turkey and allies, without asking for anything in return. In fact, it is shocking that Armenia has stayed away from them while it calls on the world for the recognition of the genocide and the independence of Artsakh. Armenia has always been prudent - even if it is a just cause - so as not to disturb states that have not shown any sympathy. Armenia tries to look for any detail to differentiate itself and present Artsakh as a unique case, when in fact all the causes have legitimate reasoning. It could take a more consistent position in defending the rights of peoples to self-determination.
Surely, the defense of a cause like this would allow the Armenians to have true allies and friends with significant influence, in a world that goes beyond states and where sometimes people, organizations and cities can be key. Armenia can lead something great, be an important author. It may be irrelevant, but it can also be an example of tolerance toward minorities, human rights and democracy, which makes it even more obvious that it is a war between a dictatorship and people who want to be able to decide their own future.