[ 25 November 2008 | 19:14 ] politics |
An interview with Alek Yenikomshian, a friend of Monte Melkonian and a founder of the “Miatsum Initiative”
Alek, today, November 25th, is the birthday of Monte. You, who knew him for almost 30 years and who is familiar with his views better than most, what do you think Monte’s opinion would have been regarding the political settlement of the Karabakh conflict?
Monte answered this question back then, there are statements he made during interviews where he noted that, “the war will only end with our victory.”
This means that any reconciliation will be signed on the basis of our victory. This is something that I have added. Monte made numerous statements that show that he considered the territories as perpetually Armenian. At the liberation of Karvatchar, during an interview he granted with Dadivank as a backdrop, Monte stated that there are Armenian monasteries all over the place, wherever you travel you come across Armenian settlements and that we haven’t stepped a foot over the boundary of our historic lands…Whatever lands we have taken have been our historic lands. These are just recollections of some of Monte’s sayings.
Here are some more specific quotations from his statements: “We have once again become masters of our homes and lands” (Nor Gyank, USA, July 23, 1993); “We have gone into those areas that have historically been ours. We will be turning the last page of Armenian history if we lose this land” (Artsakh TV interview, October 4, 1992); “This question is an historical one. It is extremely important for our people to reconnect this area (Karvatchar) to Armenia. As you see, wherever you go there are Armenian monasteries, this is Armenian land. Enter any village and you see that this is Armenian land. And it is vitally important to connect these 3,000 square kilometers of land. The liberation of this region will also play a decisive role in the history of Artsakh as well…spiritually, politically, strategically, in all ways. It is very important to gain a victory.” (Interview given on March 29-30, in vicinity of Dadivank, during operations to liberate Karvatchar); “My view is that we must return to the historic borders of Artsakh, by drawing a line from the Araks to the Kur. In this way the defense of our positions will be made much easier because we’ll have natural borders as our defenders, the rivers and mountains. For as long as we have our defensive lines looking like a lace patchwork we will be consumed in defending several fronts simultaneously and will be making the task of the Azeris much easier.” (Les Nouvelles D’Armenie, June-July 1993).
Monte proved that these lands were historic Armenian lands and that we didn’t capture the lands of others. In terms of the defense of security this has been the historic way and it remains so today. The present territories must remain because those same territories insure our security. Otherwise, the borders of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region, in terms of insuring defensibility, have much to be desired in any number of ways. In other words, there are principled reasons here to exercise the right to historic justice and also in terms of insuring practical defensibility. In my opinion, this would be Monte’s position.
Today, active negotiations are taking place around the issue of mutual concessions. I know that you are personally opposed to mutual concessions in general. However, don’t you think that something can be conceded in the name of peace and in exchange for the recognition of the independence of Artsakh?
I am not alone in thinking that there can be no talk, and shouldn’t be any talk, of mutual concessions when it comes to the issue of the territories. I have noted principled reasons, i.e., that we have regained our former rights. At a minimum we have been losing land for the past 1,000 years and it has only been in this war that we have liberated our historic lands. This fact has great psychological importance – today or the next day, this great leap forward, the first in over 1,000 years, will be reduced to nothing. I can’t picture what type of psychological state of mind an Armenian will find himself in after such a shameless outrage if those lands are returned. What I want to say is that the Armenian spirit would be broken. Here it’s not only a matter of principle but a question of the future. Beside from a purely military issue of defensibility, from a psychological perspective, it would signify “devastation”. Let me restate, after all this, that there can be no talk of land or territory concessions. There were those 14 years, before the truce of 1994, on the Armenian side who were talking about minimal demands in the context of mutual concessions and for them the border line was the self-government of the region; namely the demand that Azerbaijan accept the right of the people of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region to self-determination. And Azerbaijan didn’t accept this. Azerbaijan didn’t even accept this minimal demand when simultaneously the weak Armenian side was ready to give back almost all the territories. But if Azerbaijan hasn’t accepted this minimal demand for 14 years, there is no such mutual concession that is possible to realize. This is a fact. Azerbaijan has shown that it will not accept the minimal demand. If Azerbaijan is confident that it can regain those lands by military means from the hands of the Armenian forces it wouldn’t hesitate doing so for a moment. Thus, if we signed an agreement or not, with or without mutual concessions, Azerbaijan will take that step and will not accept the minimal demand of the Armenian side. Thus, there’s a bit too much importance being given to the concept of mutual concessions. There is no such mutual concession that Azerbaijan will accept and we will not enter into obligations regarding the territories. It is possible to think along other lines.
In your estimation, what issues are the negotiations revolving around? Is there a question about the return of those territories in the negotiations?
From the first days of negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan there was mention made of the territories and that was scandalous. Now they say that the Madrid Principles aren’t known but we all know that in that framework there is mandatory talk about 5, 6 or 7 regions of the territories. No one can say that the first point of the negotiations process isn’t about the return of those territories. I believe this is to be rejected out of hand. Thus, for all this time the negotiations have been revolving around the principle of territorial concessions. Sadly, the official Armenian side has always been ready to go the way of concessions, with the condition that the self-determination of the people of MK (Mountainous Karabakh) be recognized. But aren’t we aware that after the lands are returned Armenians now residing there will leave especially since they won’t feel protected. The same can happen in Zangezour and Syunik and down the line. Any weakness on our part will just lead to larger loses, both territorially and in issues of existence.
Holding on to those territories isn’t an aim in itself. Those lands must be settled by our people and it is just not our just historic right to once again live there. The resettlement of those lands can solve a myriad of other issues. Those territories are some of the best agricultural lands around and we know of the problems faced by our agricultural sector even since Soviet days. These lands could help with managing the size of our agricultural imports. I haven’t yet touched on a very important matter that these territories might solve, the problem of emigration. Where once people moved overseas from our cities, now this trend has reached the villages as well. If there was a serious policy to redirect those people who feel that they can no longer make a living in the villages to these territories in an organized fashion, we could resolve these issues from a demographic viewpoint.
Why hasn’t the problem of resettling the territories yet been resolved?
I am certain it has two main reasons. There is no political will. Those making decisions have yet to do so regarding the resettlement of these territories. They pass decisions to the contrary because they believe that sooner or later these lands will be returned. The other reason is the lack of adequate policy of socio-economic assistance. In other words, those lands are only being employed to ensure the profits of various clans and not for resettlement of people or to ensure those people with a decent lifestyle. Thousands of hectares of land are under the control of a handful of people, they are the master of the land’s fruits. No assistance is given to the people living there and trying to eke out an existence.