Some attack Nikol Pashinyan and his regime, others denounce the Old Regime. Alas, Armenians helplessly witness this sterile and dangerous brawl—with its share of absurdity, violence and name-calling—about who is responsible for the military defeat of the 2020 Artsakh War. But the evil runs deeper; the responsibility for the defeat is collective because the plague of history affects all Armenians. The “manufacturing defect” that envelopes their identity explains their inability to live in the world as it is and to integrate the harshness of reality as it is into their daily lives. Subsequently, when it strikes, it hits the mark… and it hurts.
In the midst of the Armenian Genocide a century ago, the intellectual and Hnchak Party leader Stepan Sabah-Gulian (1861-1928) attempted the impossible: to identify those responsible for the great massacres of the Armenians committed by the Young Turk regime during the First World War. His essay entitled “Les Responsables” was published in 1916. His daring approach does not attack a particular institution or organization, but rather a series of behaviors, and even pathologies, of the Armenian society that was crumbling before his eyes. More than a century later, his book, which should appear in French in the near future, can serve as a model to once again enumerate proportional responsibility, this time for the painful ordeal that the Armenians have been going through since the military defeat of 2020. Indeed, how did we get here? How could the Armenians, masters since 1993-1994 of a Karabakh adjacent to the Republic of Armenia, have lost the 44-day war when nearly 30 years of unification of this strategic space in Yerevan should have prevented this debacle?
The question is on everyone’s mind and is all-consuming. It seeps through in the articles, analyses and interviews that the Armenian media rush to publish to understand the incomprehensible. This is not about pointing fingers at the successive regimes, although, they have their heavy share of responsibility in the history of state neglect and in the unwillingness to think the unthinkable. Neither is it a question of pointing a finger at this or that Armenian organization for conveying a boundless conservatism here or carrying an unattainable ideal there. No, it is rather a question of pointing out a way of thinking and of thinking about oneself, a way of projecting and of projecting oneself, a way of acting and of acting oneself, a way of believing and not believing in ourselves; approaches which all refer to an identity always under construction, a mentality halfway between the real and the unreal, the reasonable and the excessive, the possible and the impossible, an inferiority complex and a superiority complex.
This “manufacturing defect” dates back to the origins of the construction of the Armenian identity. But for convenience, we will not temporalize it. This defect is not exclusively attributable to a singular religious identity—even if divergence from the Council of Chalcedon, confirmed at the Second Council of Dvin (554 AD), constitutes its undeniable basis through its refusal to consider Jesus’ human nature to be on par with his divine nature. This deprived the Armenians, collectively, of a strong real world experience, pushing them to look beyond the harshness of the real world by believing in the virtue of a kingdom elsewhere, infinitely large, infinitely outrageous, infinitely excessive. This manufacturing defect is not attributable only to the Armenians of the Caucasus, nor only to those of the diaspora, even if these two spheres contribute their share in the construction of the Armenian identity, which we will come back to separately.
Armenian identity is a sum of elements, comprising ingredients of individual excellence and success that push the bearer up, while collective mediocrity and failure push the bearer down. As if the Armenian individual could brilliantly project himself, construct and think about himself in the world, breaking with a collective identity marked by desolation and incapable of projecting oneself, to build and think about himself successfully. It often gives the impression that, on an individual level, the Armenian, as an archetype, is an undeniable success because he is a builder who participates in the influence of humanity and civilization, as well as on the collective level. The Armenians, from an essentialist point of view, do not belong to this world. They live elsewhere, in an impalpable sphere, prisoners of a destructive imagery which deprives them of understanding the world as it is. As a result, the individual flees the morbid collective to secure his own survival; and the collective, out of powerlessness, condemns the individual for leaving the identity mold.
This manufacturing defect is even more glaring when the restoration of political sovereignty (the State) knocks on their door or on their conscience. The state is by definition a clash with reality, an actor of systemic reality, calling everyone to a sense of responsibility in the interest of peace, belonging and cooperation. Political sovereignty or the State is an inescapable principle of responsibility, maturity and composure which obliges everyone to make choices, to face reality as it is in order to adapt to the international order on which the Armenians have not really left a strong imprint, its history always on the margins, often under the domination of foreign powers that dictate the rules, excluding Armenians from that process. The restoration of the state in 1991 caused a shockwave against the construction of the Armenian identity; the Armenian elites never knew how to integrate into the paradigm shift caused by this rupture in History. The years 1991-1994 were a rude awakening, a slap in the face, a cold shower reminding Armenians of Charles Tilly’s words: “The State makes war and war makes the State.” And since this break, the Armenians have not collectively known any great rendezvous with history, no major breakthrough, except a litany of slogans that sound reassuring (“One nation, one homeland ”) but which in fact ring hollow in reality.
So what did this return to reality come up against, this emergence of the state, among the Armenians? Quite simply to a destructive imagery itself founded on a mythology of power, founding myths of greatness and excellence which bathe the community in excess, hubris, like an unlimited package but without being given the means to embody this force: as if the excess of the slogan and the creed of nationalism were sufficient to immunize individuals against any aggression. This is the theme of Greater Armenia, the myth of the territory claimed and liberated against the State necessary to be built urgently. No political force has thought of the state as such, no political force has thought of the people as such, but each has shrouded them with a destructive imagery which takes the form of a thick veil in charge of memory but empty of positive elements consolidating mentalities in a world that does not exist, made up of bitterness and violence, miracles and frustrations but also incomprehension, rigidities and ignorance.
By hiding behind the damage caused by the trauma of the 1915 genocide, then by hiding behind the military victory of 1994, the message conveyed by this destructive imagination safeguards its defenders from any criticism, any capacity for change and any desire to move the needle, to stimulate minds as if ideas could not evolve, as if the thought was blocked in space and time, as if just the fact of existing was enough to rigorously applaud the slightest creation. How many times have we heard, without echoing the slightest cultural or political explanation, defensive expressions, such as “it’s easy to criticize” or “at least it has the merit of existing”? How many times?!
This obsession with recognition, defensive from the outset, amplified our collective pathology during the renaissance of the state in 1991; because the mirror effect of the return of political sovereignty in 1991-1994 created the conditions for a continuity of the Soviet model in Armenia with all that this entails of symbolic and non-régalien power, illusions of independence and weight of servitude. While, in the diaspora, the emergence of the State has brought to light the memorial model of identity, clientelism and patronage. In both cases, the Armenians did not grasp the meaning of History, the meaning of the State, did not understand what it meant to endow themselves with a State, to build and solidify it in time and space. Because they did not see the need to build the State, to endow it with large institutional bodies – apart from a badly written Constitution – such as we dress an individual in clothes to civilize and protect him. The Armenians weaken the state in its status as a sovereign actor, question its supremacy over other actors in the nation and devote their time to the eternal question of recognition, always recognition, nothing but recognition. But recognition of what exactly? Of everything and nothing truth be told, while the mother of all battles must be the construction of a state on its sovereign pillars (defense, justice, diplomacy) and of an autonomous, fluid, transparent and inclusive society.
Thus the Armenians lost 30 years in the (de)construction of the State. An immeasurable waste that they will take a long time to overcome. So much ineptitude of a logic of recognition has blinded them and deprived them of a structured reasoning that is part of reality. What have we been entitled to during these three decades of illusions? In Armenia, the spectacle we are witnessing is a shadow theater of sovereignty, an illusion of power, of pretenses of statehood which at the slightest shock turns Armenia into a hollow pocket and a memorial state. As a result, everything is a decoy in Armenia: institutions, citizenship, civil society, individual rights and even infrastructure. And for what good reason? Independent Armenia is more the heir of Soviet Armenia than of the First Republic (1918-1920).
Evidenced by this incredible tendency to want to present post-Soviet Armenia as the Third Republic, as if Soviet Armenia could be considered sovereign and embody the Second Republic. Not to conceive of Soviet Armenia as a republic without sovereignty is to accept the idea that independent Armenia does not have to claim more sovereignty than that of the Soviets. And this is what happened: post-Soviet Armenia is a mixture of servitude, conservatism, fatalism and corruption, like the Soviet Socialist Republic of Armenia, incompatible with asserting itself on the international scene as a sovereign state. To say this is not a provocation or a settling of scores, let alone an attempt to rewrite history, as if Soviet Armenia did not exist. On the contrary, it is because Stalinist and post-Stalinist Armenia was a reality that it must be taken into account in order to better emerge from it and break with this “square of submission”. What did the post-Soviet Armenian elites accomplish in 30 years of independence? In Armenia, is there the equivalent of great reforms, such as the Grenelle Agreements of May 1968, the Vatican Council II (1962-1965), the social reforms of the 1970s and 1980s? There are none… Can we be shown the great reform of national education in 30 years of independence? There is none. What can we show for the great public health reform in 30 years of independence? Nothing. What can we show for the great Armenia-Diaspora reform in 30 years of independence? There has never been one… Let us be shown the great religious reform, a sort of Vatican Council II, there is none… Nothing great or small has been accomplished in 30 years of independence… Shocking.
And during that time in the diaspora, another show has taken place and has been in a loop for a hundred years: that of a fixed fiction of identity in the traumatic and post-traumatic representation of the genocide which irrigates collective mentalities from four branches: emotion, security, recognition and memory. The emotion that passes from one diasporic community to another is not political, it is even anti-politics. The emotion, elevated to the status of an official message, is criminal and sterile. It becomes a bulwark against reflection, it sets itself up as a wall against thought. Emotion creates nothing, if not resentment and desolation because everything is observed from the balcony of the immaculate overlooking the real. Emotion is the fuel of victimization, an unbearable state for the politician and above all repressed because it is unknown by the international system. International order has no memory and no feeling. It is devoid of sensitivity. Suddenly, advancing and disseminating any discourse based on this sentimental fiber can only provoke a reaction of rejection if not from the recipients at least from the interlocutors. So when emotion meets security, a major theme in the diaspora, the merger turns into pathology, conspiracy, excess and irrationality. The distancing from reality widens to the point that any individual who recognizes himself in the emotion-security pair tires, wears out and marginalizes himself; in short, he becomes insignificant. The emotion-security pair projects the debate into a pool of inconsistencies, a logorrhea that mixes up all concepts and drowns the state under a pile of considerations as fanciful and delusional as above ground and dangerous. Because emotion and security, wrapped in all-out recognition, form the backbone of a memorial discourse out of step with reality, reality and the need for the State. It is for the state to absorb memory, it is not for memory to suffocate the state. Thus Armenia and the diaspora met on the highway of the memorial state, even if the two spheres unknown to each other were spinning in the opposite direction from each other, the only common point being a cult of sacred memory. Just as in Armenia, the absence of a State was accompanied by an overdose of nationalism and conservatism transforming the country into a conservatory; in the diaspora, the ignorance of the state has translated into a nationalist and phantasmal escalation transforming communities into museums…
So where is the State and these diasporic museums in this Armenian conservatory? Memory everywhere, the State nowhere; one might say, excess everywhere, pragmatism nowhere. The surrounding discourse is in the same vein as the Ten Commandments: Intangible principles of the absolute, of power, of the sacred and of intransigence, as if the Armenians wanted everything with nothing, without giving themselves the slightest means. But the State is an end and a means. However, with the Armenians, it is a finality on paper and a vaguely empirical means. The proof of this non-existence of the State can be traced to 1994, when Armenian elites placed their security destiny in the hands of a foreign power (Russia) in the name of a sanctified alliance and their political destiny in the hands of international diplomacy (Minsk Group) in the name of a desire for peace. How did these same elites fail to see that they were handing over the keys to sovereign power, defense on the one hand, diplomacy on the other. The keys of the Armenian State in the hands of external actors?! But since when has Russia been pro-Armenian in principle, and since when has international diplomacy been pro-Armenian in principle? History is there, however, to show us the path to follow, but it is still necessary to know, evaluate and to underscore it in order to rise to the rank of a people with a State and to break with this state of memory without a State. This is the challenge that the new generation must take up in Armenia as in the diaspora – to finally build the State. The childlike faces of our 4,000 soldiers who died on the front lines impose this on us, so that they have not died for nothing. The Armenians owe them that.
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