OPED: The Beginning of a New Struggle

By Armenia Media | Saturday, 30 September 2023

Oped: The beginning of a new struggle

By Haig Kayserian and Vache Kahramanian

Former Executive Directors of the Armenian National Committee of Australia

On 25th October 2012, the New South Wales Legislative Assembly unanimously recognised the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh). In the lead-up to this historic motion, introduced by Marie Ficarra MLC, our team at the Armenian National Committee of Australia parked ourselves inside the walls of NSW Parliament House at Macquarie Street in Sydney, informing the dozens of parliamentarians of the plight of an heroic people.

We explained that Nagorno Karabakh had never been part of an independent Azerbaijan despite it enjoying international recognition as the owners of the territory, which remained continuously inhabited by its indigenous Armenians for millennia. We articulated that the only reason the region was contested was because Nagorno Karabakh was handed to the control of the Soviet Administration of Azerbaijan by one of history’s worst dictators, Joseph Stalin as part of his divide and conquer strategy.

We provided evidence that during this Soviet Azerbaijani rule over the territory, the region’s Armenians were subjected to at least three significant massacres, simply because they were Armenians. We revealed that when the Soviet Union was breaking up, the suppressed Armenians, who never left their homes despite the death and destruction of Azerbaijan’s iron fist of hatred, held a referendum and exercised their right to self-determination to establish the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh.

We asked them to recognise the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh and these peoples’ human rights to self-determination. On 25th October 2012, the NSW Legislative Council became the third legislature in the world to recognise the Armenian Republic of Nagorno Karabakh.

In honour of the thousands who had dedicated their lives to preserving this piece of Armenia over the preceding 20 years, we celebrated this small milestone of validation by deciding to dedicate our life’s work to the preservation of a peaceful, democratic and independent Artsakh.

Fast forward 12 years. Our Armenian National Committee of Australia teams collectively achieved more motions of validation in local and state legislatures, we established the Australian Friends of Artsakh network of prominent nationals supporting the self-determination of Nagorno Karabakh’s Armenians, we hosted delegations from Artsakh in Australia, and Australian delegations in Artsakh.

Not once did we think we were doing anything of great significance, because in parallel to our pursuits, Azerbaijan continued murdering innocent Armenians with border fire and threatening force to take land that was never theirs to begin with. They continually thwarted international community efforts––co-sponsored by the United States, Russia and France––to secure a permanent end to the dispute through proper consideration of three core principles: non-use of force, territorial integrity and the rights to self-determination. Every time a settlement seemed close, Azerbaijan unleashed hell and fire on Nagorno Karabakh, fearing a productive negotiation table would recognise Artsakh’s status as Armenian.

This escalated most significantly with the brutal dictatorship’s 44 days of war crimes from September 2020, which led to Azerbaijan’s occupation of the majority of the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh. The heroic people of Artsakh still did not leave their capital and surrounding villages, hoping for the protection of the installed Russian peacekeepers and the international community. Our international movement failed to convince countries like Australia to protect the indigenous Armenians of the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh beyond words. No sanctions were applied. No weapons were provided for a meaningful defence. No forces were deployed.

Emboldened and boasting that he was able to achieve by force what the international community failed to deliver through peace, Azerbaijan’s corrupt dictator Ilham Aliyev turned Nagorno Karabakh into an open-air concentration camp for nine months, blockading the region from Armenia and the rest of the world, leading to deaths from starvation and illness with no food, fuel and medicine getting into the region. More empty words, International Court of Justice rulings, academia’s calls that a genocide was under way and cries to open the roads from the international community. Until an unpunished Azerbaijan launched another attack this month, killing many and taking more homes and lands––this time, finally making it untenable for the Armenians to stay in the homes their ancestors had built.

We are now heartbroken as we see most of the 120,000 Armenians from Nagorno Karabakh flooding into Armenia as refugees, as the region’s leadership was forced at gunpoint to declare the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh) will cease to exist from 1 January 2024.

While many will feel it is time to lick the wounds left from a lifelong pursuit that has led to failure, we see this as the beginning of a new struggle. We do not accept any signature under duress. We accept this as a challenge.

In honour of the heroes of Artsakh, those who have given their lives over the past three decades, we will add Nagorno Karabakh to a list of territories forcibly taken from Armenians––like Ani, Van, Mush, Ardahan and countless others in Western Armenia––and will say it is time to rise again and fight for our rights for a free, independent and united Armenia.

For now, we focus on feeding, treating and resettling our heroic brethren from Artsakh arriving in Armenia, while we recalibrate and strategise towards the next victory. As unlikely as victory may currently seem.

Genocide, whether it be 1915 or 2023, cannot go unpunished. We declare ourselves to this pursuit.