2016 Became A Defining Year For Nagorno-Karabakh

Residents of Stepanakert mark the 25th anniversary of Artsakh's independence

Residents of Stepanakert mark the 25th anniversary of Artsakh’s independence

“Politics consists of never venturing more than
is possible at any moment, never going beyond
what is humanly probable.”
Soren Kierkegaard


The year 2016 shook the very existence of Nagorno-Karabakh to the core. The short four -day April war was prevented from becoming a disaster thanks to the heroic resistance and self-sacrifice of our soldiers. The war revealed shortcomings in intelligence, ammunition and military hardware. The war was abruptly halted just when the Armenian side was set to regain lost territories. In Armenia, the war set off resentment towards Russia for not honoring its commitments, and outrage at our unpreparedness. Worldwide, there was an outpouring of support for Artsakh and specially our soldiers, among Armenians. The war ultimately left deep scars in our psyche.

The short-lived war was a wake-up call to us all. It proved that Azerbaijan is intent on resolving the conflict solely by military means. It showed us the sophistication in the armaments they used, including the Israeli attack drones that they utilized for the first time. It showed us that our intelligence was inadequate; that some generals used funds targeted for the army’s preparedness, for personal use. On the brighter side, Azerbaijan was not able to accomplish its objectives. However, the sad truth is that our human losses were massive, front line villages and villagers were ravaged. War crimes were committed. Some territory was lost…


A lot has changed since the April war. It exposed vulnerabilities related to our defense structure, such as supply mechanisms to the soldiers guarding the front line and inadequate fortifications. It revealed a major foul up in our intelligence capabilities. We found out that military hardware that was promised was never delivered by the Russians. Our lagging foreign policy was misdirected, our negotiating stance had been weak. Our relationship with friendly as well as adversarial countries is incoherent and unreliable.

On the diplomatic front, it is still a stalemate. The American and French representatives in the OSCE Minsk group have been replaced. James Warlick’s departure is particularly welcome as his views were more in line with Baku. The OSCE chairmanship will be handed over from Germany to Austria. Germany was not able to enforce its resolve to implement monitoring mechanisms. Hopefully, Austria will be able to instill new impetus to the negotiations. For now, it seems that the Russians are increasingly playing a larger role in the mediation efforts. Surprisingly, the Armenian government is sticking to its precondition that the agreements reached in St. Petersburg and Vienna have to be executed before negotiations can be resumed. In Hamburg, the OSCE did reiterate- without pointing fingers, of course- that those agreements have to be executed, that there can be no military solution and that war crimes should not be committed.

The hope is that Armenian government authorities have learned their lesson. They seem ready to change course. Asked what he thought of a step-by-step resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharian stated that the attack by Azerbaijan in April proved that Azerbaijan is not interested in a package deal. He went on to say that the only viable solution would be for Azerbaijan to recognize the independence of the republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, return territories belonging to Nagorno-Karabakh and start negotiations to designate the frontiers between the two nations.

What is troubling is a speech given by failed first president Levon Terpetrosian. His recommendation is to resign to the fact that the only solution to Armenia’s economic viability is to be ready to cede territories. He is oblivious to the fact that one cannot talk of concessions with an untrustworthy megalomaniac like Aliyev who has laid claim to Yerevan and has sworn to conquer it. Terpetrosian’s kind of thinking desecrates the memory of all those who fought and died for the liberation of Artsakh. Most disturbingly, Azerbaijan has garnered military support from Israel and the president of Belarus- a member of the Collective Security Organization- has sided with Azerbaijan.

An unexpected but refreshing statement was made by Kostantin Zatulin, director of the CIS Institute, where he directly named Azerbaijan as responsible for the April attack. He reiterated Russia’s responsibility in helping Armenia. According to him, Nagorno-Karabakh cannot be part of Azerbaijan, since there are no longer Soviet Azerbaijan territories as such.

Several factors that will give us an edge and make us stronger:

1. Azerbaijan, by initiating its attack in contravention of its cease fire commitments, proved once again that it is not negotiating in good faith and that a step by step agreement cannot survive nor can be trusted.

2. Armenia, surviving and overcoming the attack with minimal territorial losses.

3. Armenia, acquiring Iskandar missiles (this might be offset by Azerbaijan acquiring the Iron Dome and the Barak 8 missile systems from Israel).

4. Armenia, insisting on monitoring mechanisms all along the line of contact.

5. Nagorno-Karabakh, strengthening its defense fortifications along the front line.

6. Nagorno-Karabakh, investigating and exposing to the world human rights community proven war crimes committed by Azeri forces, on the military as well as civilians.

7. Diaspora Armenians, strengthening support for Artsakh.


  • Lessons learned:
    A much needed change in the terms of our negotiating stance.
  • Building better fortifications on the frontier.
  • Creation of an arms industry.
  • Organization and training of volunteer army reserves.
  • Refusal to attend any negotiations until resolutions reached are enacted.
  • Clearing of corruption from the armed forces.
  • Creation of a ministry of Veteran’s Affairs to help the families of fallen or injured soldiers.
  • Initiating and reinforcing new settlement projects in front line villages.


2016 was dramatically marked by a heavy and unjustified toll in human losses. We should never
allow this to happen again. For this not to happen, we need to be more aggressive both on the diplomatic as well as the military front. It is unfair on our part to rely solely on the bravery of our soldiers and their love and commitment to the homeland to compensate for our shortcomings as a nation. This is even more dramatically true for us residing in the Diaspora, when we don’t do our share in contributing to the survival of Artsakh.

Nagorno-Karabakh is ready to pursue its inalienable right for self-determination. It has the necessary historical justification, a compelling rationale, which the United States should support in its bid for statehood. There is compelling, reliable, popular support for its independence as a viable, democratic, full-fledged, self-sufficient entity. Finally, there is precedent. One cannot ignore the case of Kosovo or in more recent times, the case of Crimea. “A good start would be to amend the concept of self-determination so that it is regarded as something that has to be not only asserted but also granted.” (Richard Haas)

In this endeavor, all efforts should be directed to reinforce and fulfill the drive to statehood. The time has come to break the mold and take bold steps to reach for the humanly probable. It is, in the long-run, counter to the national interests of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh to hope for a just settlement of the conflict. The all-out attack in April proved that running down the clock is not the right approach. It is a time bomb ready to explode into another devastating all-out war. There needs to be a shift away from negotiations, directed instead towards garnering support with our friends for the recognition of the right of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, to statehood.

My wish for 2017:

  • No more fallen heroes.
  • Peace and freedom for the people of Artsakh.
  • A strong Armenia

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