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BOOKS FROM THE THIRD REPUBLIC Armenian News Network / Groong By Eddie Arnavoudian May 25, 2009 The end of Soviet Armenia dealt a heavy blow to the Armenian publishing industry. The republication of Armenian classics slumped, as did print runs for new books. But the lifting of restrictions led to a flood of new titles. Many are of no value. But there are plenty that, even when hugely controversial, widen and even create new space for debate and discussion of the manifold issues confronting men and women in the 21st century. THE NATIONAL QUESTION UNRESOLVED After nearly 16 years of a relatively stable armed peace the future of the Armenian populated Republic of Mountainous Garabagh is no nearer a satisfactory settlement. Besides the rights and security of Armenian citizens, also unresolved is the plight of its exiled Azeri population and that of Azerbaijani refugees from Armenian occupied territories that had threateningly encircled Garabagh. Both in Armenia and in Azerbaijan the post-Soviet elites continue to demonstrate a casual indifference to the fate and future of the common people of Garabagh readily whipping up nationalist frenzies to use as political instruments to retain control of power and privilege. Despite uncertainty the Garabagh Armenians remain committed to total separation from Azerbaijan. During the Soviet era they had experienced Azerbaijani power as a colonial force. This determination was reinforced by the fate that befell the substantial and ancient Armenian community in the province of Nakhichevan. Also incorporated into Azerbaijan Nakhichevan's Armenians were methodically removed from a province that had been part of historic Armenia. For its part the contemporary Azerbaijani state and elite also remains unrelenting in refusing to countenance surrender of what it considers a strategically and economically valuable territory. The Azeri elite also fears that an Armenian Garabagh might become a Trojan horse for greater Armenian nationalist ambitions. In the first decades of Soviet power the 4388 sq. km landlocked Garabagh, populated even then overwhelmingly by Armenians was, against the will of its majority, incorporated into the Azerbaijani state. As the USSR collapsed, Armenians proclaiming the right to national self-determination demanded unification with Armenia. In opposition the Azerbaijani elite brandishing the principle of territorial integrity rejected Armenian demands. In the war that followed the Armenian side proved victorious, but at enormous cost: up to 50,000 Armenian and Azeri dead, more than 500,000 Azeri and Armenian refugees, Armenian and Azeri districts damaged or destroyed and all this topped by a vast reservoir of nationalist hate available to fuel renewed war. Bagrad Ouloubabian's History of Artsakh: from the earliest to modern times, (380pp, Armenia, Yerevan, 1994) for all its own sometimes blinkered nationalism, is a necessary reminder of some of the important features of the regions history. But even as one considers the historical background to this conflict and the prospects for a permanent and acceptable solution one must take as a starting point the present real threat to the Garabagh Armenian community's very right to existence. Fuelled by oil wealth, support from the Turkish elite as well as a European and US indifference, the Azeri state is preparing for war determined to re-establish its rule over Garabagh at any cost and in complete disregard for the views of the majority of Garabagh's population. I. HISTORY AND NATIONALISM A central plank of chauvinist Azeri war preparation is a campaign of historical fabrication that denies any ancient and unbroken Armenian presence in Garabagh, and presents Armenians as colonial settlers against whom all means of struggle are justified. Armenians however were among Garabaghs earliest inhabitants. This is registered among others by Greek historians such as Plutarch, Ptolemy and Straphon. The ancient Armenian presence is also affirmed by 5th century Armenian historians such as Pavsdos Puzant, Yeghishe and Khorenatzi in whose work Garabagh features as an integral part of Armenia. Armenian domicile is underscored by architectural, historical and cultural monuments. It is further reinforced by studies of 19th and 20th century Garabagh dialects that show these retaining close ties to classical 5th century Armenian. Ouloubabian's narrative also effectively puts to rest the claim of an allegedly Albanian Garabagh falling victim to Armenian conquest and then suffering the forced assimilation of its indigenous population. He notes that Movses Traskhanagerd's epochal primary source The History of Aghvank is despite its title, actually the history of an Armenian province, not of Albania further to the east and refers therefore solely to Armenians, never to Albanians. Being on the mountainous edges of Armenia, adjoining regions from whence foreign invasion never ceased Garabagh's fortunes did diverge from the Armenian mainstream, especially after the 4th century collapse of the Arshagouni dynasty. Yet isolated as it was, it retained a decided Armenian identity. As a feudal estate under Vatchakan in the late 4th century Garabagh registered remarkable cultural and political advance. To Vatchakan is accorded the honour of devising the first Armenian collection of legal documents known as Laws of the Constitution. In the 7th century Garabagh fell to warrior settlers of Sassanid descent who were then assimilated completely into Armenian life. In the 8th century the Garabagh nobility, alongside the Mamikonians, played a prominent part in the resistance to Arab rule. Thereafter throughout the Bagratouni period, the subsequent 11th century Seljuk-Turk invasions, the 12th and 13th century recovery under the Zakarians and then the Mongol-Tatar era, Garabagh and its local elite remained identifiably Armenian despite the settlement of a significant mass of non-Armenians. In contradistinction to other regions of Armenia, it retained its Armenian political physiognomy with estates such as the Broshians, the Orbelians, the Khabganks and others, whose reign produced prominent political, military and cultural figures. Among them was Hassan Jalal Tolal (1200-1261c) who managed to keep the ship of state afloat during the Mongol invasions and who played an important role in the Mongol-Hetum treaties that contributed to securing the new Cilician Armenian kingdom. Other figures include the brilliant legal mind of Mekhitar Kosh (1120-1213). The region's Armenian architectural legacy boasts some marvels and its intellectual heritage is registered by the 13th-14th century Gladzor and Datev universities. In establishing this unbroken stretch of Armenian political authority in Garabagh Ouloubabian advances a radical re-evaluation of Armenian history. He dismisses as pitiful misperception the longstanding view that for some five centuries after the collapse of the Bagratouni dynasty Armenians remained stateless and without political power. In Garabagh despite their weakened form and diminished size Armenian elites did in fact maintain relatively independent principalities right up to the 19th century Russian conquest. Sometimes fostered by the Persian State as bastions against Ottoman attack, Armenian lords were encouraged to retain armed forces, did battle against Ottoman aggression and in the 1720s under David Beg even secured virtual political independence. Garabagh's quasi-independent Armenian principalities proved however to be intolerable to Tsarism. An alliance between Garabagh's Armenian political principalities, its sturdily independent Church and the then formidably expanding Armenian merchant and commercial capital threatened to present Russian trade with an unwanted competitor. So as it extended its influence the Russian state began denuding the Armenian lords of their ancient powers, transferring their lands to Azeri lords and cultivating the settlement of non-Armenians. Provincial boundaries were redrawn and Armenian territorial units were variously attached to Georgia and Azerbaijan. Garabagh itself was detached from its Yerevan and Nakhichevan hinterland and tied to Baku and Shamakh. So, concludes Ouloubabian, was destroyed that last remnant of Armenian national statehood that previously neither the Persian Shahs nor their place men had been able to remove. But despite Tsarist endeavour Garabagh remained a bastion of Armenian life and during its 19th and 20th century revival played a central role. It was home to schools, libraries, printing houses and other national and cultural organisations and institutions and produced some of the most outstanding modern Armenian intellectual and literary figures as well as freedom fighters. But even as it testifies forcefully against Azerbaijani chauvinist fabrication this history does not assign to Armenians any exclusive rights to the region. Through the centuries as the proportion of non-Armenians increased, parallel to the Armenian experience was an emerging (conditionally termed) Azerbaijani one. Within Garabagh Azerbaijani people established communities, developed their customs and their traditions and this alongside Armenians. According to historians, Ouloubabian among them, Garabagh and Shushi in particular played an important role during the 19th and 20th century process of Azeri nation formation. For both Armenians and Azerbaijanis Garabagh became a vibrant centre of national culture and politics. But in the wake of the defeat of democratic nationalism it also became a hotbed of nationalist hatreds and wars that exploded into war at the turn of the 20th century. II. IMPERIALISM, THE SOVIET ERA, AND THE NATIONAL QUESTION The Armenian and Azeri revivals coincided with intensified European, Ottoman and Tsarist intervention in the Caucuses. Imperialist powers succeeded in subordinating respective national elites to their designs and ensured that these elites then played a decisive role in subverting Armenian and Azerbaijani democratic forces. As early as the 17th century the leadership of the Armenian movement made the appeal for European and Tsarist intervention the axis of its programme for national emancipation. It enthusiastically assisted Tsarist invasions and European interference, militarily, politically and economically. Parallel to this an (again conditionally defined) Azeri national movement emerged as a component of Turkic peoples resistance to Tsarist oppression. This movement saw its salvation in an alliance with the decaying Ottoman Empire that was regarded by Armenians as a primary foe. Close and subordinate relations between local elites and their external sponsors were such that frequently Armenian-Azeri clashes took on the form of hostilities between the imperialist predators. This subservience to external power provided fertile ground for chauvinist nationalism. Its Azeri wing could incorrectly depict all Armenians as agents of the hated Russian Tsar whilst their Armenian counterpart depicted all Azeris as agents of Ottoman violence. Democratic forces had little effective response to hatreds and fears being whipped by the well-established and well-funded elites. So the ground was set for the 1905 anti-Armenian pogroms and the bloody 1918-1921 Armenian-Azeri wars in which at least 25,000 Armenians died. Though correctly dismissing the view that these clashes were exclusively the result of Tsarist manipulation, Ouloubabian does give a shocking account of Russian and of British manipulation of national contradictions. In the imperialist manipulation of Caucasian national animosities the Armenians consistently came off worse. Despite deceitful pro-Armenian proclamations both Tsarist and British leaders had Baku oil as their primary concern and so bent to the desires of the Azerbaijani elites. Here Ouloubabian's evaluation of British policy in particular is endorsed by Christopher J Walker, who writes: `...it is no exaggeration to say that the present (1991) problem of Karabagh is due largely to British diplomacy in the first half of the year 1919, the effect of which was to prevent Mountainous Karabagh from being permanently attached to Armenia.' (Armenia and Karabagh, p97) The establishment of Soviet power put a halt to slaughter and pogroms. But it did not resolve Armenian-Azeri conflict. The Soviet reliance on remnants of older nationalist elites and its breeding of new ones opened the way for nationalist control of local states through which they continued the project to create as monolithic as possible national entities. They did this by peaceful means, by cultural discrimination and forced assimilation and by economic and political pressure that led to forced emigration. In Garabagh where Armenians had succeeded in securing autonomous status within Azerbaijan, the Soviet Azeri authorities laboured to undermine and eliminate their community. To isolate it from Armenia, part of Garabaghs territory (Shaumyan and Lachin) was detached while it was also encircled by artificially created administrative districts. The local Garabagh administration was in addition staffed disproportionately by non-Armenians and Armenian leaders, regularly denounced as nationalists, were removed from posts of responsibility. In educational and cultural institutions Azeri departments were privileged while Armenians were denied access to cultural resources from Armenia. The Azeri elite also operated to retard economic development. In the 1930s Russian language Armenian writer Marietta Shaghinyan noted that Garabagh was even then being starved of resources. Economic relations with Baku assumed colonial form. Wood, a plentiful raw material could not be processed locally but in Azerbaijan. Justified under the guise of rational planning these measures were designed to shift Garabaghs economic foundations further into the Azerbaijani axis. All this went hand in hand with the plantation of Azeri communities that together with cultural and economic pressures was to contribute to a steady decline of the Armenian majority. In 1921 Armenians constituted 94.4 per cent of Garabaghs population. Twenty years later the proportion fell to 88.1 percent and in 1979 it was 75.9 per cent. But the Armenians that remained continued a vigorous defence of their national rights. Gorbachev's so-called democratic renewal was to give them a new confidence. The Azeri nationalists disregarding the wishes of Garabagh's Armenian population mounted their violent campaign to clear them from the region at the same time as they were cleansing Baku and other Azerbaijani districts of their Armenian populations. In 1991 they abolished Garabagh's autonomous status and in 1990-1991 they drove thousands of Armenians from their homes and villages in the area. III. THE FUTURE IS IN THE PAST Within the terms of current elite control of political life and the prevalence of sectarian nationalism that has flourished internationally since the last quarter of the 20th century the national question in the Caucuses and Garabagh in particular appears intractable and all the more so in view of the regions particular character, history and the evolution there of the nation-state. Twentieth and pre-20th century demographic fragmentation in the Caucuses precluded any easy division of the territory into exclusive or homogenous national territorial units. Despite the demographic and economic relations that bound different peoples together, national oppositions became rooted as conflict over land resources and early industrialisation and commercial competition developed along national lines. During the era of nation formation cultural, religious and linguistic differences were deployed to define each nationality off from the other. With a keen eye on their interest in maintaining division and thus enhancing their power, imperialist intervention exacerbated and manipulated these oppositions. During the Soviet era national animosities were accentuated in significant part as a result of the prohibition of open democratic discussion. Subterranean often grossly exaggerated remembrances of past pogrom, slaughter, ethnic cleansing and other injustices came to acquire a dominant place in the defining national identity in the popular consciousness. This offered chauvinists ample ground to whip up nationalist frenzies as they themselves, in the wake of the Soviet collapse and indifferent to the fortunes of the people, fought to seize privilege exclusively for themselves. Yet a democratic and harmonious settlement of the Garabagh conflict is not an absurd utopia. The interests of the Armenian and Azeri people are not irreconcilable. The land can sustain both. It is fertile and capable of development. Its natural beauty and rich cultural heritage can also attract visitors from all corners to help oil the wheels of the economy. Moreover embedded in both Armenian and Azerbaijani history is a viable framework for a democratic settlement, a vision that that is not merely a profession of faith by an isolated minority but an integral aspect of modern Armenian and Azerbaijani social, cultural and intellectual development. Among Armenians this is represented by some of their most prominent thinkers, intellectuals and artists, by men such as Khatchadour Abovian, Mikael Nalpantian, Berj Broshian, Ghazaros Aghayan, Hovanness Toumanian and others. Toumanian sums up the spirit in his remark that: I am not worn down and despondent by the absence of an Armenian kingdom. For me the Armenian people's cultural independence within a brotherhood of cultured people is entirely adequate. Azerbaijani Azis Shariff, the first translator of Toumanian into Azerbaijani, recalls that Toumanian spoke of the possibility of harmony between the two peoples that he felt was borne of aspects of their common historical experience. Shariff adds that in the difficult year of the 1918 Armenian-Azeri clashes, he had worked hand in hand with Toumanian to secure harmony between the two people. In the early 19th century Khatchadour Abovian who was admirably fiery in condemnation of the enslavement of the African people and the genocide of the American Indians also demanded freedom for all people oppressed by the Tsarist, Ottoman and Persian empires, whether Armenian, Turkish, Kurdish or Azeri. Later Ghazaros Aghayan urging the elimination of national antagonisms insisted that the Armenian elite, which had disproportionate economic weight, support all the destitute, whether Armenian, Turk, Russian or Georgian. In the 20th century novelist Shirvanzade who lived across Shamakh, Baku, Tbilisi and Yerevan developed an Armenian patriotism that incorporated a multinational Caucasian identity. In his autobiography he defends this against what he regards as the ARF's extreme nationalism. He held the ARF along with chauvinists within the Azerbaijani movement partly responsible for the bloody 1905 Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict and undertook an active role in trying to end it. So deeply ingrained was this vision that even a more conservative representative of the Armenian national movement such as Berj Broshian gives it expression. A vigorous supporter of the emancipation of the western Armenian peasant Broshian also urged the liberation of the poor and oppressed Turkish peoples, who also heave and sigh beneath the burden of their own (Ottoman) exploiters and immoral judges. In Huno an Armenian Robin Hood-like bandit of the same name listened with care to everyone and within his means offered help without asking whether one was Armenian or Turkish. This vision also acquired its political manifestation, most remarkably in the writings of Hovsep Der Movsissian a late 19th critic of conservative nationalism. A correspondent of The Armenian Bee his starting principle is that in territories inhabited by different nationalities all have an inalienable right to equality and to free national development: `We are all members of one great human family. In the Caucuses more than anywhere else it is necessary to spread the idea of friendship among nations, to spread the notion that (different peoples) should strive for enlightenment hand in hand (p387).' Different peoples have a right to develop their national culture, their language, their religion and their literature. But: `There are many other areas of life where it would be a crime to consider them in nationalist terms, or to adopt narrow nationalist attitudes. (p387)' This was the case especially where political and economic organisation is concerned. In this regard taking into account the demographic structure of Yerevan, Movsissian criticises Armenian proposals to secure two thirds of Yerevan's city council positions leaving only a third for the city's Azerbaijani inhabitants. Through this he elaborates democratic principles for governing relations between people of different nationalities. `Bearing our national interest in mindit is necessary, as far as possible to approach those nationalities living around us - to approach them, befriend them and enjoy with them equal rights and equal duties (While) we will not permit others to deny us our rights, simultaneously we cannot permit ourselves to deny others their own rights. (p386)' Appropriately replacing the term Turks with that denoting other nationalities in the region Movsissian makes a universally urgent point: `If we do not have the patriotic sensibility to love the Turks (or Armenians or Georgians or Kurds or Azerbaijanis, etc), to love them without reservation and without dissimulation, then bearing our national interest in mind we should at least work to live together with them in peace and friendship. The future of Armenian and Turk is bound closely together and the friendly co-existence of these two peoples is to both their benefit.(p388)' * * * * * * * * * * In the current cacophony of hyped-up expectation mingled with war rhetoric it is a matter of the greatest urgency that the more honourable Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders fashion from their historical resources a democratic, non-exclusive political settlement that can address all the issues that have now festered with dangerous consequences for future generations. Its contours are not clear, the form of state or relation of states that can secure harmony is not clear. But the alternatives on offer at the moment can be brought about only by force and will in turn be challenged by force whether sooner or later leading to new and rounds of war and destruction. Yet, pending any permanent democratic resolution the Armenians of Garabagh must retain every right to organise and prepare defence against the escalating Azerbaijani state war preparations that today threaten to drive them from their historic homeland. -- Eddie Arnavoudian holds degrees in history and politics from Manchester, England, and is Groong's commentator-in-residence on Armenian literature. His works on literary and political issues have also appeared in Harach in Paris, Nairi in Beirut and Open Letter in Los Angeles.