Sunday, November 22, 2020

Yerevan Must Avoid Falling into Weimar Syndrome – and Baku Must Help Armenians in That Effort, Artemyev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 20 – As a result of a war that has thrown Armenia back to where it was in 1988 as far as Karabakh is concerned, there are dangerous signs in the streets of Yerevan that many Armenians have fallen victim to the Weimar syndrome, believe they were “stabbed in the back” and must now seek revenge, Maksim Artemyov says.

            That must be overcome if Armenia is to develop into a normal country, the Russian historian and journalist says; and no other country has a greater interest in having Armenia overcome that syndrome than Azerbaijan – and can do more to ensure that Armenians don’t remain trapped in the mindset of late 1980s (

            The good news in the current situation, Artemyov continues, is that the joint declaration ending the fighting “opens before Armenia a path to rebirth and the possibility to become a normal country without historical complexes, phobias and myths” and to overcome what happened in Armenia under Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika.

            Because Gorbachev initiated glasnost in a country that was not prepared for it, many nations within the borders of the USSR began focusing on ethnic issues from the past even when those had not been major problems anytime recently. That is what happened in Armenia, which treated the recovery of Karabakh as the paramount goal of Armenian national life.

            Armenian “supporters of the redrawing of borders advanced the thesis of ‘territories immemorial,’” Artemyov says.  But such a notion, especially in the Caucasus “is not simply ahistorical but racist and inevitably led to conflicts and ethnic cleansing.”  Until the 20th century, the peoples in the south Caucasus lived under various powers and were mixed together.

            When the Bolsheviks restored Moscow’s control over the area after the clashes of the Russian civil war, they had to calculate how best to divide up the region that had descended into violence. By definition, “the final delimitation by the Bolsheviks could not be just because one could not speak seriously about that in a situation of extreme mixing of ethnic communities.”

            The Soviets imposed borders and statuses. “The Lezgins, Talysh, Tats, and Kurds did not receive any autonomy in Azerbaijan just as Azerbaijanis and Armenians living in compact settlements in Georgia did not either. This fact must be accepted as a given” since “when three parts are divided between two subjects, one always receives less.”

            But it was neither these divisions nor the almost 70 years of Soviet rule that was the source of the problems that have been at the center of life in the south Caucasus since 1988. Members of the three main nations generally lived together and intermarried with remarkable frequency, the Russian journalist says.

            Of course, there were complaints from all sides, but “the reduction of the percent of Armenians in Karabakh [during this period] was laughable compared to the reduction of the number of Azerbaijanis in Armenia itself or specifically in Yerevan.” To demand a return to conditions of a century ago was wrong and “100 percent racism.”  

            According to Artemyov, “the most horrific aspect of all this was that the leaders of the separatists in Karabakh and the populists in Yerevan who supported them was that they completely consciously condemned to destruction the Armenian communities in Baku, Sumgait, Kirovabad and other cities and districts of Azerbaijan.”

            The radicals wrote these people off as “’inevitable sacrifices’” needed for the recovery of Karabakh. As a result, approximately 400,000 Armenians fled Azerbaijan, 200-300,000 Azerbaijanis left Armenia, and another roughly 300,000 Azerbaijanis became IDPs.  And during the fighting about 20,000 lives were lost on each side and hundreds of villages and cities were destroyed.

            Moreover, the historian continues, “Armenia was blockaded.” Its economy collapsed, and its own population fled. Gyumri and Vanadzor lost from 30 to 50 percent of their residents, “and even the population of Yerevan was not able to reach the numbers of Soviet times.”  Now, it can be clearly seen that these losses were for nought, and that is the lesson Armenians must learn.

            The worst thing Armenians could do would be to begin a witch hunt for “’traitors,’ and to talk about some kind of “’knife in the back’” as some Germans did in the 1920s and express the desire for revenge. That led to the rise of Hitler in Germany; it could be as disastrous for Armenia if its people choose that path.

            “Each Armenian must understand that its military defeat and the loss of Karabakh occurred not as a result of any betrayal or a poor choice of allies or an incompetent command. Instead, it was the result of the incorrect choice of priorities of society at the end of the 1980s when the completely insane idea of territorial annexation seized the masses.”

            To overcome this Weimar syndrome, something many countries in defeat fall into, is “the main task of Armenia today,” Artemyov says. “Putting it in simplest terms,” Armenians must “not live with the idea of taking revenge.”

            They must recognize that the current defeat “however paradoxical this may sound, gives hope for the rebirth of Armenia as a normal state not weighted down by history. And Azerbaijan is obligated to help it in this. By the way,” the historian says, “three quarters of the Azerbaijanis live in Iran, but there is no hysteria about this in the country.”

            If Armenians and Azerbaijanis can live together in Karabakh, something made possible by the territorial divisions within it and the role of Russian peacekeepers, then the Armenians can overcome their complexes, something Baku more than anyone else has a deep personal interest in.

            Contacts between Armenians and Azerbaijanis need to be restored, and in this, figures like Garry Kasparov and Karen Shakhnazarov, can play an especial role. Kasparov for example, was born in Baku, had an Armenian mother, a Jewish father, is Russian by culture, American by place of residence and a Croatian by citizenship.

            None of this is going to be easy or happen overnight, Artemyov continues. But there are some signs that both Baku and Yerevan recognize the need to move in that direction. President Aliyev’s acceptance of the Karabakh authorities in the area they control as legitimate is a long step away from the traditional Azerbaijani view of them as terrorists and separatists.

            And Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has spoken openly about revisiting the meaning of Karabakh for Armenians and about looking beyond the current crisis to imagine a future in which Armenia and Armenians can flourish.

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