The following is a follow up interview with Armen Kaprelian a Research Assistant at the Armenian Ministry of Economics and Alum of the Terjenian-Thomas Internship Program Alum with a Burkean correspondent Michael Sonne given a few days before Christmas. In it Mr Kaprelian gives on the ground insight as to the aftermath of the recent conflict with Azerbaijan on the beleaguered Christian nation and its prospects for the future.
- Since our last interview, the ‘2020 Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire agreement’ has been signed. Is this a cause for celebration?
Certainly no celebrations. Since the last time we talked, a trilateral agreement was signed with the facilitation of Russia on November 9th. Briefly, the agreement came after thousands of deaths on both sides, but with Azerbaijani forces making significant inroads to Artsakh (aka Nagorno-Karabakh) territory. Notably, the agreement granted a significant majority of the territory to Azerbaijan.
Though the loss of each additional life is a tragedy to Armenians, so too is the loss of centuries old landmarks like the beautiful 12th century Dadivank Monastery. No later than the ceasefire was signed, and videos of dozens of Azeri war crimes were released, Azerbaijan has already begun proclaiming the entire south of Armenia as their “historic land”. The same lie they used with Artsakh, and one which I hope in 10 years is not again reduced to “both sides should find a mutual solution”.
Following the ceasefire, international overseers like the UN and EU expressed platitudes of relief and encouragement for the tepid resolution to the conflict.
A perspective I’ve noticed between diaspora Armenians (~ 8 million population) and those in the homeland (~ 3 million population) is in terms of their relation to these international organizations. In general, native Armenians are a hardy people who have developed a healthy, though sometimes excessive, dose of cynicism. Tell them that the UN is “monitoring the situation” or that OSCE is “negotiating for peace” and you’d likely get an eyeroll.
By contrast, many among the European and US diaspora were true believers in international law and humanitarian policy. There was hope that lobbying for Genocide recognition or identifying as an oppressed minority would conjure political goodwill. Since November 9th, I have noticed a shift among some of this (typically younger) group from idealism toward political realism.
- You have recently been volunteering for the country’s effort and assisting other international journalists in their reporting. How is the volunteer effort going? There have been reports that the public is pressuring Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to resign, is that correct?
There is a lot to do here! Yes, on the journalism front I met Fin dePencier from Palladium Magazine to help with translating and accompanying for his reporting in Artsakh. The several days we spent there deserves its own full conversation, one which I’m sure Fin will document in detail in his upcoming article.
Volunteer efforts otherwise range from collecting supplies for refugees to doctors flying in from all over the world to help soldiers with missing limbs and white phosphorus burns from Azerbaijan’s use of chemical weapons.
Per your last question, yes, calls for resignation of the current government leadership are growing here. Protests in Yerevan and cities bordering Artsakh are now common. General wisdom suggests that following a major military loss, political leadership should resign. The consensus among politically moderate Armenians seems to be that this should only take place given safeguard against corrupt replacements and following the initial few weeks or months of turmoil following ceasefire. The topics of our current leadership’s faults or mitigating factors are hotly debated here as more information leaks, but perhaps beyond the scope of this response.
- You recently partook in the “iGorts” program which organized Christmas presents to be given to refugee children from Artsakh who are residing in neighboring Armenian territories. How was this experience, and how are the children understanding Christmas in light of war?
Yes, this was so much fun! Displaced families housed in multiple locations were visited by iGorts, with my group volunteering in the town of Ararat’s elementary school. The children seemed in good spirits despite everything and happy to join us in several games and dances. We didn’t spend much time talking to them about life before or during the war, which was for the best. To be honest, given their enthusiasm there were times I forgot the horrible context some of these 6-14 year old children just endured. I know the whole iGorts team hopes that we were able to give them the best Christmas spirit possible!
- What does the situation look like for Armenia in the new year?
New Year’s celebrations this year have been canceled out of respect for our fallen soldiers. Going into 2021, the answer really depends on the resolution to the political question. I think there is a high potential for change of leadership, though even in the best case the degree to which a PM can alter the terms of the November deal are likely null. The full details of said deal are not yet disclosed, so the question of national sovereignty and border demarcation remains at the front of our thoughts.
If Russian peacekeeping forces and strong Armenian leadership can ensure stability here, I would hope to see that confidence translate to a spring of investment and economic growth. Optimistically, Armenia could return to its 5%+ growth rate and become reliable partner in a critical and unique geographic crossroads. I look forward to pro-business programs which leverage diaspora investment as well as new opportunities for foreign investment from China.
- Christmas is referred to as a time of miracles, and prior the new year one tends to have ‘resolutions’. What would be a miracle for Armenia, and what resolutions ought Armenia be adopting?
The miracle Armenia needs is a revived and unified consciousness of our Identity (Ethos). The most obvious institution keeping this together is the Armenian Orthodox Church (Logos). But we must add to that and unify on every level of nationalism, state structure, and economic investment methods. Having a population split among several countries with different modes of assimilation is complicating, but I will continue advocating for repatriation, traditional morals, cultural preservation, and putting nation above ephemeral humanitarian goals. To that end, we need and are working toward a reawakening of faith, educational reform, and thorough investigation into NGO’s which push non-native social policies.