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Brussels 15 July 2023: tripartite meeting, Armenia, Azerbaijan, EU. The day of the dupes

Dr. Alain Navarra-Navassartian. PhD.Art History; PhD Sociology.

#OpenArtsakh #OpenLachinCorridor

A new round of negotiations was opened in Brussels on 15 July 2023, under the auspices of the European Union, which assures, through the voice of Charles Michel, that the discussions were "honest and substantial". Of course, all the speeches included the obligatory mention of solidarity and humanitarianism.

But what kind of solidarity are we talking about? For some time now, the Union seems to have been mired in a process of weakness, or worse still, cowardice. The Ukrainian crisis and the war have revealed the return of the notion of power and force, unthought of by a Europe that continues to play politics with "humanitarian support". Yet the leaders of authoritarian regimes never cease to proclaim their alternative vision of the "decadent Western world", and impose their geographical representation of their territory. Never mind that populations such as the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) find themselves the victims of an idealized space in the Azerbaijani national narrative. The point here is not to enter into a debate on the changes in strategic vision that Europe will have to make. The grammar of war has changed, and the 44-day war in Artsakh was an excellent laboratory before the war in Ukraine. Nor is it a question of going back over the immaturity of an Armenian government which, through lack of knowledge, imagination or significant shortcomings in its advisors, has not put in place a post-conflict strategy.

There are different ways of expressing power, and in different fields: diplomatic, legal, cultural, etc. One can also lead a challenge that either calls for common rules to be respected, or calls them into question. All this requires the implementation of a communication strategy that will enable the loser of a war to widen his conceptual field of consent to defeat. But for all this to make sense, we need to know how to deal with the irruption of novelty in history. The subject must test his habits, his character, and answer for his abilities in the face of a new situation that upsets the course of history and "customs". We have become responsible for the responsibility of leaders who abandoned 120,000 Armenians to the ethical goodwill of Westerners.

Solidarity for the Armenian people of Artsakh, which seems to be merely expressive, is coupled with obvious political cynicism. One has the unpleasant impression that the serious crisis facing this population is merely a collateral effect of the greater crisis facing Europe. We had hoped to see a more determined solidarity on the left, but it was on the right that it was most clearly expressed, with the risk of falling into a civilizational conflict. Unwilling to admit either their powerlessness or their desire to please the head of an authoritarian government described as a "trusted partner", certain politicians are leading, or will lead, more and more voters to question the existence of political responsibilities here. Who can still believe in international law when every day we see that impunity, backed by Europe's strategic rout, gives free rein to crimes committed by rogue states? The impotence of the law will have repercussions even in our democracies. Are we facing the disappearance of "a democratic community"?

The war in Ukraine has had a paradoxical effect. On the one hand, it has made European states aware of the mistake they have made in refusing to assume their role as a fully-fledged strategic player in the face of security challenges, but this shock does not seem strong enough to extricate them from this error. When Europe finds itself confronted with power rivalries, it demonstrates that it is not a real power for peace, just an agent. One can only wonder which positions Europe is aligning itself with in the dupe's ball of this 15 July in Brussels.


We have often pointed out the unfairness of the treatment of the 44-day conflict, just as we did for Syria or Yemen, trying to respect the standards of the technicality of discussions set by NGOs for over twenty years. But today it's harder to remain totally detached, using only the technical vocabulary of the academic or the NGO president. It's about my people.

But this is the only way to express a protest stance, since any other space is off-limits to those who want to defend the right to life of this Armenian population. It's clear that the impact of our actions, repeated since 2020, is difficult to assess, since authoritarian states, with everyone's assent, make a mockery of universalist discourse and human rights. How, when you're personally involved, can you avoid being swallowed up by the "imperialism of virtue" (Dezalay/Garth. 2000), which imposes the norms of contestation, but also of domination, while reducing the meaning of politics to the sole field of consciousness-raising for democracy? Let people like the Armenians of Artsakh accept this magnificent gift-package: a neo-liberal peace that disregards their existence, with the added bonus of a self-centered discourse that promises them that President Aliyev will respect their rights.

How can we claim to want to enhance the competitive advantage of democracies over autocracies by building more inclusive societies, while shamelessly supporting a government such as that of Azerbaijan in its determination to eradicate or drive into exodus an entire indigenous population?

If ethical considerations seem quite useless today, as a new cartography of influences is being put in place, what direction does Europe want to give to power policies? The proposal made to Armenia for the abandonment of this population is economic in nature, but it would be naïve to believe that this will prevent the geopolitics of territories led by Turkey and Azerbaijan. This war has become an instrument at the service of the Azerbaijani state, and the political significance of the conflict transcends the purely military dimension. Perhaps it is more the destruction of the enemy state that is targeted (Armenia) than the destruction of the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh? The feeling of hostility will not stop with N. Pachinian's various allegiances. Real peace depends on the political regime in force in each state, so what about authoritarian or treacherous regimes like Azerbaijan, which flout the international law that is supposed to guarantee peace?

It has been pointed out that what is happening to the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh is yet another echo of history for this people, but more than that, it is a challenge to the international order based on rule and justice, the only order in which small countries can exist.

It's not just a question of blaming a failure on destiny, collective victimhood, dhimmitude and so on. It's also about questioning the defeat in order to explain and understand it. The moment in Armenian history represented by the 44-Day War and its aftermath is a moment in charge of the whole past, but also of the whole future. Every historical moment carries its own judgment. Should we expect supposed compassion from others? "History does not judge human actions; human actions judge history. Each moment in time passes judgment on certain moments that preceded it". (C. Requena).

The narrative put forward by the Armenian government is truncated because it no longer speaks for a community: in order to please the Turkish government, Nikol Pachinyan has made unfortunate remarks about the diasporas, accepting a truncated common memory. It's not a question of calling on the diasporas to wake up, when in many ways they were ordered to keep quiet a few months earlier. Thus, in a haphazard fashion, if not on a humanitarian level, the diasporas have led their fight for the survival of 120,000 of our people, without clear support from the government, which has made the legality of permanent secrecy a mode of action. The outcome of this war is blurred in every respect, with the defeat presented more morally than militarily, forgetting the future stakes of the agreements signed and the death of 5,000 men.

All that remains is the eternal compassion and victimization of the combatants, which makes us forget the real reasons for the conflict. Everything is reduced to the individual, and the collective tragedy is forgotten, even the meaning of the struggle waged by tens of thousands of Armenians for their survival and right to exist.

For Europe, expansion seems to be more of an economic and civilizational project, but the extension of power is indeed a project for other states. The absence of a common European strategy is still evident in the case of the "peace" offered to Armenia.

There are major differences between the values defended by the European Commission and certain member states, such as Italy, which is considering a military rapprochement with Azerbaijan, with which it has strengthened its energy partnership. The result is a division that leads to sectoralized practices and separate semantic fields, but above all to distinct diplomacies. It's easy to understand why common strategic interests seem to be non-existent, and why analyses of power relations, antagonisms and fault lines differ from one country to another. Calling on Europe to address the right to life of the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh will be like calling on Europe to address the migration crisis: a back-and-forth game between a European desire to be a moral beacon and a player capable of taking action. Hopefully, Europe will be able to shake off the illusion of its role as mediator, for in this conflict, as in others, it is a stakeholder in a game of power and counter-power. It is no longer a question of simply laying down rules, but of taking political action. Europe is not immune to the history being written elsewhere than in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.


At a time when Europe itself is hesitating in its self-knowledge narrative, Armenia had a card to play, but a lack of political imagination or knowledge led to a poorly put-together narrative, vacillating between the simple humanitarianization of the conflict issue and adherence to "Europeanization", Brussels' ambiguous project, forgetting even the important but disturbing figures of Armenian history.

The Armenian people end up being a people to weep for, but not to fight with. It's a pity to overlook the strategic importance of a narrative that not only provides a link between past, present and future, but also gives meaning to the sacrifice of 5,000 individuals and provides an identity in time other than that of the victim.

If Armenia demonstrates a certain lack of understanding of the strategic actions to be taken when losing a war, Europe continues to wander between moral judgments and its inability to propose a collective strategy in the face of different players: Turkey, China or the USA. Yet it continues to offer countries like Armenia technical decisions that are presented as unquestionable and offer few alternatives. At a time when the European "narrative" seems to be coming together after the shock of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, Armenians and part of the diaspora are clinging to frameworks in the form of "history": genocide, the first Christian state, and so on. It's more a question of articulating events that, unlike narrative, don't respond to new needs and situations.

International relations are certainly dominated by "objectivist" approaches that emphasize material factors such as power or economics. The war in Ukraine has certainly redistributed the cards, but this conflict has also highlighted the fact that it is not only objective factors that count in international life and in the perception we have of the players, particularly in a conflict.

It's not a question of opposing values or ideas to material forces and interests, but rather of understanding the interactions that will lead to a change of point of view in the notion of interest and its definition on the international chessboard: what's the point of supporting Armenia? It's a question of thinking how to get other players to think that it's in their interest to act or intervene on behalf of another international player. Once again, it's a question of different strategies. All choices are not conditioned solely by objective constraints, but require a clear awareness of the interplay of power relations, diasporic factors and their potential, as well as recent or more ancient historical experiences. Purely utilitarian explanations do not suffice for the 44-day war, as does the instrumentalist explanation that reduces ideas to a mere reflection of material infrastructures.

What remains are fear-driven injunctions to bend to avoid the abyss or nothingness. There will remain the responsibility of those who have become the surveyors of Azerbaijan, proclaiming loud and clear that the territory of Armenia is indeed 29,800 km2. Without knowing how to manage the irruption of novelty in the history of Armenia, and despite the displeasure of many, we're back in the days of competing feudalities.

There are still 120,000 people held hostage. Bernanos wrote: "We risk for the cowards who risk nothing." But the Armenian population is demonstrating in the streets of Yerevan, debating the legitimacy of this government to take certain decisions and remembering that in 2018 this was indeed civil disobedience carried by an entire population. It was a form of political action that carried the political idea of the subject's decision-making autonomy, but also an awareness of its capacity. We could only rejoice that everyone was "finding their voice" to express their dissatisfaction with the intolerable course of public affairs. In recent days, the Armenian population has once again taken to the streets. It is true that we remain astonished by the government's ignorance of the spectrum of attitudes that fall within the scope of post-defeat settlement strategies. The servitudes that seem voluntary appear the worst to a society affected by defeat.

Clearly, the lack of decision in the international order surrounding the blockade of Artsakh is not the Armenian government's fault. But the acquisition of new skills is. There is no modern discourse on authority that does not emphasize competence, for it is not only one of the foundations of authority, but also a necessity for navigating the new geostrategic configuration taking shape in the South Caucasus and beyond.

It becomes necessary not simply to choose a classical, culturalist, constructivist or idealist approach to the 44-day conflict and the post-conflict period, but to grasp that material forces do not move in only one predetermined direction, and that the perception of material forces by other international players can be an important strategic issue.

Strategy is a science, wrote Bernard Brodie in a seminal 1949 text, but it doesn't just apply to military art or economics.


Culture seems to be the last defense tool available to Armenians, so let's make the most of it. Culture is a kind of ideological missile for Turkey or Azerbaijan, but what about its use by the Armenian state or Armenian diasporas?

How can a country, and in the case of Armenia, its diasporas, develop a power of cultural attraction if they are not a threatening figure, or use culture to convince others that they are right? Armenia has lost a war, but the outcome of this war also lies in the hands of the vanquished, on condition of its civil metamorphosis, on condition that we reverse the dispossession and get out of the exemplarity that rivets us to our condition of vanquished. Culture is an important tool in this process. Cultural governance needs to be reviewed both at home and in the diasporas.

It is important, for example, to have a clearer idea of the individuals, groups or institutions that can play the role of cultural agents, i.e., those who mobilize or coordinate resources aimed at supporting artists and creating new networks, those who support cultural and creative industries, and those who work to promote knowledge and exchanges. The diasporas are good potential cultural agents in this sense, but we also need expertise and consultation centers, as well as a genuine network that can create or consolidate relationships with international institutions and foreign audiences. The development of several models according to a set of contemporary criteria is necessary, as is a precise analysis of the field of action and intervention with the various public and private players. Armenia, for example, boasts a high level of digital performance in the country, which opens up vast possibilities in the cultural field, notably the production of artistic content in real time, enabling innovative partnerships. We can't ignore the new geopolitics of culture, otherwise Armenian production will be confined to a "folk festival" for the pleasure of audiences fond of world culture.

Situating Armenia and its diasporas on the new cartography of cultural exchanges is a matter of urgency. Thinking about culture, or doing culture, also means doing politics, in the true sense of the word, taking into account power issues and building a community of destiny. Today, we are paying dearly for the absence of a genuine communication strategy supported by diasporic and transnational groups that can redefine the interest of international players in Armenia, but also in the hostage population of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh). Looking at organizational cultures, for example, helps us to better understand national variations in foreign policy.

What culture do we want to show others in order to be known or recognized? "Ultimately, there is nothing more international than the construction of a national identity" (Anne-Marie Thiesse). The writing of history is also the history of cultural choices shown to the world. New players for a new geopolitics of culture, using modern means of influence in an increasingly multipolar world where centers of power are changing, leaving more room for emerging cultures.

Culture is a tool of power and persuasion, and the Azerbaijani government is well aware of this. Endorsed by Europe, but confronted by a growing number of voices speaking out against the blockade that isolates and starves over 120,000 Armenians. The Azerbaijani government uses the culture and myth of Azerbaijani multiculturalism as stereotypes to define a collective identity abroad, and to set up a set of narratives that describe the nation as tolerant and open. Changing the country's image involves this nation-branding exercise. We must succeed in changing the public's interpretation of the various actions taken by the Aliyev government against the fundamental rights of Armenians, against the laws of war and against human rights. In this sense, the cultural actions supported by Azerbaijan abroad, such as the insistence on national multiculturalism, can be understood as part of the cultural diplomacy the country has been pursuing for years.


After these tripartite meetings, and in particular the one held in Brussels on 15 July, can we still believe in the "democratic peace" advocated by Europe? We can legitimately question Europe's ability to spread the standards of freedom, the rule of law and democracy beyond its borders, at a time when the Russian-Ukrainian conflict has seen the return of brute force.

We could borrow from military terminology the idea of a counter-offensive, which does not only involve arms. Re-articulate a strategy that takes account of hybrid techniques in contemporary warfare, such as information and communication, which are essential issues, as are new technologies. It's not just a question of making drones, but of having the ability to use them to best effect, as well as the capacity to build a "narrative" that presents an image of oneself that shapes the perception of other international players. What can we deduce from Armenia's capabilities?

If all we find are calls for more compassion, more charity, more solidarity, there's a danger of expecting too much from the solidarity of other states. Every day, we see that Europe considers authoritarian countries like Azerbaijan to be trustworthy partners. In contradiction with the ICJ ruling of 22nd February 2023, Charles Michel spoke of the Latchine "road", instead of a “corridor”, a semantic difference of great importance in international humanitarian law.

As for the European Union, certain questions may be asked concerning the blockade of 120,000 Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh: sanctions or policy of compromise?

The result is an EU human rights policy that is riddled with inconsistencies and inefficiencies, and which undermines notable results. The European Union is the economic-political union that imposes the most sanctions abroad, but very few, if any, within its own borders. Even in the case of fundamental rights violations, as in the case of Poland and Hungary. The discrepancy between the very idea of sanctions and the whole European policy of compromise and mutual accommodation is obvious. While there is considerable scientific literature on the structural environment in which the common sanctions policy emerged, there is little on the legitimacy and appropriateness of EU sanctions policy in general.

These double standards, at work in Western policies, enable these regimes to prohibit the ethical and political practice of recognizing the other and to favor the antagonistic friend/enemy discourse, defining the enemy by its nature and not just by its actions.

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