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For Artsakh’s Survival: Some Damage Control Strategies

Sometimes even to live is an act of courage Seneca

On September 20, 2023, Artsakh surrendered to Azerbaijan after an unprovoked blitzkrieg attack at Stepanakert, the capital city of the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh). After the first day of the attack on September 19, 2023, the casualties consisted of 200 deaths and some 400 injured due to the surprise attack by Azerbaijani forces on the trumpeted-up excuse for rooting out hidden terrorists from Artsakh.

For a complete capitulation, Azerbaijan demanded from the Artsakh leaders to disarm their Defense Forces, turn in their weapons and equipment, and dissolve their government body.

For nearly 30 years, Armenians around the world have invested in Artsakh in terms of energy, efforts, and dreams. Instead of spending on projects in the Republic of Armenian, most of the money raised in the Diaspora has been spent on Artsakh. New roads, bridges, schools, government buildings, defense forces, and other infrastructures were built there over the years.

Boom! In 24 hours, all the improvements and developments in Artsakh have been handed over to Azerbaijani authorities.

Basically, I see three somewhat mutually non-exclusive ways to categorize an important loss through the mindset of those who had lost their homeland:

  1. Lost forever – What has been lost is gone with the wind. We do not fuss about it anymore. Therefore, there is no need to plan for the future. This is another sad chapter in the history of the Armenian people. Pessimism rules the mood of everyone.

  2. Temporarily lost –Chances are good we would regain the loss within a short period of time. Therefore, it is a matter of remaining patient before our Western friends will get us back what has been lost. A moderate level of optimism seems to prevail.

  3. Hopeful of recovery –Although there are remote chances we would regain that which has been lost sometime in the distant future, but we do not know as to when that will take place. Therefore, there is a need for a long- term planning to realize, to materialize the day that which has been lost is regained. There is a very weak pessimism for the present, but greater optimism for the future.

Especially, the above third mindset requires the application of Damage Control (DC) concept and practice, which can be defined as “action taken to limit the damaging effects of an accident or error”.

The DC concept and practice have been used in many human activities. Surgeons have used the concept of damage control surgery for years, and controlling hemorrhage with packing is over a century old. In the area of medical surgery, DC has been used in recessitation as well.

DC has also been extensively used in the maritime incidents for management by objectives to minimize further loss in an accident. For example, in a maritime accident when a ship hits an iceberg, the ship follows certain DC strategies and equipment planned in advance (i.e., as contingency plans) to avoid management by crisis.

To continue with the above example, if water were to rush into one of the chambers of the ship due to a hole in the hull of the ship, measures will be immediately taken to shut down that chamber to stop the flow of the water into the other parts of the ship. Or, if they want to evacuate the people onboard, they have ready lifeboats hanging on davits ready to be hoisted down to move people to safety.

In the case of Artsakh, it is analogous to a shipwreck. While the people did not have contingency plans for DC, measures need to be taken, nevertheless, to minimize their loss.

While DC is scientifically applied in a ship accident, or in medical surgery, the use of it for social and political purposes has not been yet put in specific methods of operation. Many industries have devised their own DC based on management by objectives rather than dealing with accidents based on management by crisis.

The calamity of Artsakh is analogous to a ship in distress or to a shipwreck. Artsakh is being the ship sinking and the passengers and the crew as the people. It is important that measures be taken to minimize losses in terms of material and human lives. DC is adaptable to any situation that goes awry.

Of the the two, life and land, the former is the most important. However, when life is in a safe and secure mode, then land, especially when it is a homeland, is also imprtant to try to save it.

Ideas have changed the world; ideas hopefully will help the indigenous people of Artsakh. Strategies proposed here to be followed now for the future realization of getting back most of what has been lost now.

1. If the Armenians would risk life and limb by staying in Artsakh, then they should evacuate immediately, but if the danger is not real, or a ploy for ethnic cleansing, then they should not abandon their homeland. Of course, President Ilham Aliyev wants them to leave as soon as possible to claim his second victory over the Armenians.

If the decision is to leave, then lock up your house and leave a forwarding address and phone number, if any, posted on the door and take pictures of it. Do take all your property titles with you and take pictures of all your valuables to be left behind. Through registered mail, send the information on your property and whereabouts you would be reached to the Office of the Foreign Relations of Azerbaijan or to the newly established office to deal with Artsakh Armenians. Otherwise, your property will be sold for a song as an “abandoned” house or it may be given away to an Azeri citizen.

Please do not forget to apply for a passport at the same time as you contact the Office of the Foreign Relations. For your real estate property, you may even later use it as a summer house until you make a final decision about it. As you know, you may also have dual citizenship.

In 1939, after WWI, when France decided to hand over the Syrian Province of Antioch under its mandate to Turkey, the Armenian community there left the province in a hurry without any DC for fear Turks would massacre them again. As a result, they lost nearly everything even though France had made agreements with Turkey to minimize their losses.

Later I found out that my parents’ house was sold by the government for 1,000 liras (about $33 in the 1960s) and the money was put at the central bank in an non-interest bearing account. The lucky buyer had turned the house into a small maternity hospital. The loss was due to lack of DC measures taken in 1939.

2. If the risk of danger of staying in Artsakh is not that high, then Artsakh leaders should make an effort to keep as many Armenians as possible stay in the homeland — provided there is no more any change for their bodily harm to come their way.

In my opinion, PM Nikol Pashinyan is making a mistake to emphasize time and again that the Republic of Armenia can accept 40,000 refugees from Artsakh. The more Armenians were to stay in Artsakh safely and securely, the better chances of recovering the enclave when the opportune time present itself either during our lifetime or during the life time of our next generations to come.

3. History tells us that Armenians have had the tendency to give up their homeland and establish new ones elsewhere. Three big examples of Armenian exodus into exile are the Hemshen Armenians who fled their homeland from the vicinity of Lake Van around 620 or 780 AD when the Arabs attacked Armenia. The second exodus was when the Seljuk Turks invaded Armenia, a large group of Armenians established a new principality in Cilicia in 1080. And the most recent example is the fate of the Nakhitechvan Armenians who abandoned their homes there and moved to Soviet Armenia due to the shabby treatment of Azeris when Nakhitchevan was assigned as an Autonomous Republic under the Azerbaijani control in 1921. Presently, there is nowhere to establish a new homeland for the Artsakh people.

4. For integration into Azerbaijani society, Armenian leaders should negotiate with the Azerbaijani government to let the Armenian schools, churches, and social clubs operating as before. If President Ilham Aliyev boasts of having a multicultural nation, he should allow different ethnic groups in Azerbaijan exercise their religion, language, and traditions with utmost ease and freedom.

5. Keep educational relations with the Republic of Armenia open and encouraged. The Armenian Diaspora and the Republic of Armenia should offer scholarships to Artsakh students to continue with their higher education in Armenia.

6. Establish a teacher exchange program with the Republic of Armenia. For example, the University of Yerevan and the University of Artsakh should not lose time to establish a teacher exchange program if they already do not have one.

7. Keep Artsakh alive in the minds and hearts of the new generation both in the Republic of Armenia and Artsakh through various cultural events. Music is a big attraction to young people to come together for concerts and festivals.

8. When organizing conferences in the Republic of Armenia, always invite the people of Artsakh to attend.

9. Try to avoid blaming the demise of Artstakh on either the Republic of Armenia or the leaders of Artsakh. The unfortunate incident would create hard feelings and even contribute toward becoming revengeful. Measures should be taken to pin the blame on the real culprit, Azerbaijan, where it really belongs.

10. The Republic of Armenia should encourage Artsakh to sell part of its agricultural products to it. Commerce will also bring people together and foster friendly relations.

11. The Republic of Armenia should offer asylum to the former government officials of Artsakh if Azerbaijan forces them to go into exile. They would be symbols of freedom to remind the people of Artsakh that they were once free and hopeful to build a strong democracy through the principle of self-determination.

12. Try to be registered with the Amnesty International as the indigenous people with an ancestral homeland occupied by Azerbaijan. There are 476 million indigenous people and speak more than 4,000 languages around the world and they are spread across more than 90 countries. The vast majority of the indigenous people –70 percent–live in Asia.

Amnesty International has worked to defend the rights of indigenous people in all regions of the world and demands that states apply and develop needed laws to protect their properties in terms of lands, cultures, and livelihoods. Here is where to write for more information as to what to do to protect your rights: Office at the United Nations, New York ∇ Amnesty International Tel: +1 212 867 8878 United Nations Office Fax: +1 212 370 0183 777 United Nations Plaza, fourth floor E-mail: AIUN @ AI-UN-NY New York, NY 10017 U.S.A.

13. The people of Artsakh should know that Armenians are there for them. Armenians around the world would do their best to help them out with their distressful times. Sometimes, moral support would do more to a beleaguered people than by just giving them money.

14. Any social, cultural, economic activities that would enhance the possibility of the people of Artsakh to remain in their ancestral land would be a win-win situation for the Armenian nation. Only the indigenous people can control the destiny of Artsakh.

Many Armenians may consider attempts at keeping Armenians in Artsakh would be a futile effort. Regardless, we should try to perpetuate the presence of Armenians in Artsakh even if there is a sliver of a chance to succeed –provided they would be safe and secure there. It would be better to chase a ray of hope rather than become despondent of any success.

Let us remember and be inspired by another indigenous people ruled by Azerbaijan. The Talysh people in Azerbaijan also declared independence from Azerbaijan in the early 1993. After three months of building a government called Talysh-Mughan Autonomous Republic (aka Tayshistan) led by Alikram Hummatove who became its first president, the former President Hydar Aliyev crushed their movement just after three months of independence. Despite their defeat, the Talysh people remained in Azerbaijan waiting in the wings for an opportunity one day to become independent again when Azerbaijan as an empire will implode from within.

Some may very well consider my kind of thinking naive, but I firmly believe that it is better to have hope, high spirits, and dreams in one’s heart and mind than the destructive feelings of despair and despondence. Those who dream are risk-takers who plan for the future for survival is a delicate balance between risk and reward.

I also strongly believe that one day we shall all have a community picnic in a lush valley in the shadow of our majestic Mount Ararat, have a concert at one of the lofty castles of Cilicia, and enjoy a barbecue (Ah, khorovats!) and a hike in the stunningly beautiful mountains of Artsakh –when all these sacred places become again the inalienable Homeland of the Armenian people around the world.


The people of Artsakh, like this ship in the picture, are in difficult straights. What the people of Artsakh plan for Damage Control will determine the future of their homeland. They should not forget that every winter has its spring. It has been often stated that Armenians are a bunch of resilient people, meaning they rise from the ashes. We hope, pray and dream that the indigenous people of Artsakh will one day be able to roam again through its stunningly beautiful mountainous landscape of their homeland.

Prof. Z. S. Andrew Demirdjian,

Los Angeles,

28 September 2023



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