Don’t Tread on Me: Little Armenia’s Bottom Line at 20

YEREVAN – Armenia’s president Serzh Sargsyan might be a nice guy, but he came to power by force of failed elections. He should step down and finally oversee the conduct of post-Soviet Armenia’s first free polls since 1991, the year it declared independence. The nation he aspires to represent deserves no less. Democracy must become an Armenian benchmark, not a motto thrown about to Western “partners” and other interlocutors who toast that best of systems, but then kill it with their duplicitous policies.

Sargsyan’s Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul is also a nice man, but he continues to represent a denialist regime that sponsors the killing of journalists such as Hrant Dink, strangles its minorities, and is the legal heir of the Ottoman Empire, which committed genocide against the Armenian people and dispossessed it of its ancestral homeland.  Gul’s and his just-too-sly foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s recent addresses at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg—and the outlandish bluster of EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis at Auschwitz—beg the point. Modern-day Turkey must face history and itself, recognize the great genocide, and cease its unlawful and inhuman occupation of Western Armenia.

Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliev is not so nice, but he is more honest in his authoritarian and occupationist demeanor.  Mountainous Karabagh, or Artsakh, is Armenian land, his predecessors lost what they never had in a war of aggression they unleashed two decades ago, and they will never see it again except as good neighbors.  He would do himself and humanity a necessary favor by respecting the rights of his own citizens, by returning the Armenian heartlands, including Shahumyan and Nakhichevan, still under Azerbaijani occupation to their rightful owners, and by making full redress to the hundreds of thousands of Armenians, Lezgins, Talishes, Tats, and other minorities which he and his have attempted to destroy.

If international law, self-determination, decolonization, and basic liberty are to carry true, not rhetorical import in the life and development of the contemporary world, then it must be ruled by rights equally guaranteed.  Mountainous Karabagh, like Kosovo and Abkhazia, is the cutting-edge litmus test and must be recognized de jure and without discrimination by the community of nations.  Who will be the first to recognize all three at once and to demonstrate that law and rights are worth more than a dollar in global affairs today?

Georgia’s man Mikheil Saakashvili is revered occidentally but ridiculed in the east.  He has brought some truly meaningful changes to his homeland and enjoys due credit.  At the same time, he continues to trample the ethnic, religious, and linguistic rights of the Armenian region known to all as Javakhk.  He ought to rediscover his democratic edge and renounce the xenophobic side of policies and prejudices.

Russia’s leaders, too, must get with the game and finally recognize the fundamental rights of their “strategic ally.”  It’s time to end the imperialistic, even if soft, design to control Armenia as its traditional, God-given “forepost.”  Either accept Armenia’s sovereignty and stand in true partnership with it—internationally, nationally, democratically—or let it go and face a new day.

We all need that new day, and there is no need to blame the other:  All persons and peoples have been mentioned herein without offense and with deference to their predicaments and interests.

But this is Armenia’s last stand—and ultimate responsibility.

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Raffi Hovannisian

Raffi K. Hovannisian, independent Armenia's first minister of foreign affairs, currently chairs the opposition Heritage Party and directs the Armenian Center for National and International Studies in Yerevan. 

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  • John Kevorkian

    I w’d like to react to this paper by saying that the behavior of this guy is very strange. On one hand he leads a political party in Armenia. On the other hand he slams his country leadership with a story posted on a foreign webzine. In or out ?

    • Artavazd

      Sir, have you heard of such a concept as “opposition party”? Raffi Hovhanissian happens to lead one in the Armenian parliament, and his critique is fully coherent with his status. So “this guy” is not terribly strange, just civilized, unlike many others is his own country and other countries in the region, as he amply presented.

  • Dans

    Paul Kujawsky gave an interesting commentary on the LA Examiner: the notion of Turkish occupation of “Western Armenia” is innovative. See

    The only nation Hovannisian seems not to have an issue with, in the region, is Iran.