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Culture, power and international relations. Armenia.

Alain Navarra-Navassartian

At a time when 120,000 Armenian individuals from Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) are abandoned to their fate, the appeals of various personalities, NGOs or politicians do not seem to have any real impact on the decisions concerning the survival of these women, children and men cut off from the world by an illegal and inhumane blockade by Azerbaijan. The appeals are multiplying, underlining the cultural proximity of the Armenian populations with the West from which we "expect a gesture". With great images or slogans calling for the humanitarian conscience of Western leaders. The meeting of Armenian culture with European culture seems to be a dead letter, but the phenomenon is interesting since culture is asked to convince the right of these populations to their existence on this territory. The desire to demonstrate the reciprocal nature of cultural relations is certainly an important tool, but it is used chaotically, belatedly and in a disorganized manner by all Armenian communities, and even by the Armenian state itself.

Culture has become an essential issue, an object of predilection for the powers that be, yet it is an object with vague contours. A polysemous term, culture will be defined by E. Tylor as: "a complex totality which includes knowledge, beliefs, arts, law, morals, customs and any other capacity acquired by man as a member of a society.

If culture is a kind of ideological missile for Turkey or Azerbaijan, what about its use by the Armenian state or the Armenian diasporas?


The use of culture as a tool of power is no longer in question, but it appears that the development of cultural strategies is lacking in all Armenian institutional actors (State, NGOs, diasporic associations, etc.). Symbolic hegemony counts as much in the balance of power as the classic material determinants (demography, army, economy, etc.). As a tool of visibility and prestige, the cultural issue has become a vector of influence on the international scene. Cultural strategies are increasingly targeted to support their political impact. Culture must therefore seduce, but also influence ideas and knowledge in the perspective of influence but also attractiveness. Culture has long been involved in the formulation of foreign policy (Gerbault 2008, Bellanger 1994).

The richness of the cultural landscape, the ability to renew stereotypes and the representations that foreigners have of a collective identity that refers to a set of narratives that describe the Nation are crucial issues. All of this is part of a strategy of attractiveness for individuals, companies and public opinion (Tessler 2010).

Thus, the updating of the various Armenian cultural models according to a set of contemporary criteria must be considered. Cultural identity can no longer be confused with immutable crystallizations, just as identity is not a stable and simply transmissible "continuous totality". It is a dynamic phenomenon that depends greatly on the creativity of the different actors and their encounter with a historical anchorage. It is a set of complex and singular processes through which the Armenian cultural actor gives meaning to his "being Armenian". Renewal should not frighten or be experienced in terms of loss or oblivion. Reconsidering new actors, partners, or at least certain roles is essential in light of the new situation in the Armenian world. It is not a question of setting up otherness as strangeness. Defending the music of Komitas, making known the Armenian manuscripts is obvious, as is the contribution of these cultural objects to world culture, but in the particular situation that the Armenian world is going through, it is a matter of understanding how cultural identity must be thought of from the resources that can be mobilized in this specific time and in contemporaneity for its construction and the strategies to be used for its dissemination. To get out of the fixed representations or the reified cultural habitus, to adapt to the situational requirements as well as to the current socio-political constraints is a major stake in order not to lose one's soul while using and understanding the role of culture in the geopolitical game. Turkey as well as Azerbaijan have grasped the importance of this in a moment where geo-culture has taken an unprecedented rise. Information and culture are presented as new sources of influence and legitimacy, the ability to produce cultural objects, but also the ability to produce information around them becomes a new standard of evaluation of power. Armenian institutions or diasporic associations are far from having understood what is at stake (lack of diversification of information and communication channels, content aimed at public opinions, etc.). Public diplomacy is still unknown and it is surprising that the lived identity is so different from the identity assigned by others.


Narrative communication is an emphasis on narrative in its various uses, it is a tool for managing and building identity. Armenian groups make extensive use of exemplary figures or testimonial narratives and there is a parallel to be drawn with myths and their function. These narratives serve to legitimize messages and actions. The mistrust with which other tutelary figures are used (Monte Melkonian) is an indicator of the markers in Armenian discourse, in the format and genre that allows this discourse to be identified, but also to be enclosed in a precise and increasingly restricted narrative perimeter: the humanitarian, the memorial, the absence of politics or the demand for attention. All this creates a relationship with the public, a kind of agreed-upon reading grid of Armenian culture. States are asked to "come to our aid" and audiences are asked to "have a heart". The Armenian cause has become part of a vast charity market, , an industry of production and redistribution of donations involving

canvassing agencies, donors and managers of the charitable windfall. The Armenian cause has been locked into the humanitarian order with the consent of a large part of the diasporic population. But the most incredible thing is that the Armenian victim is devalued, stripped, excluded from the conflict, an embarrassing abstraction. The 44- day conflict demonstrated this as did the blockade that deprived 120,000 Armenian individuals of the means of survival.

Culture, if it allows authoritarian regimes to buy themselves a suitable image in international forums, must allow peoples, like the Armenians, to get out of the victim injunction and to understand how culture allows to obtain a certain power at a lower cost and contributes to a stronger right to speak using the capital of reputation that certain cultural objects provide. If culture has an endogenous effect (it welds the group), it also has an exogenous effect (it determines the feelings of the external groups). It is necessary to take the Armenian cause out of the market of "humanitarianization" which modifies its structures of thought and action. Every market has its imperatives, especially that of promotion. Thus, during the 44-day war and the ongoing blockade, we have witnessed an accumulation of tragic images and tragedies managed in a more or less rational way, bringing out the image of the resilient victim. One almost forgets that in the traditional Armenian communities there was a claim and a will to manage one's destiny, even with weapons in hand. Victims do nothing to invigorate failing political communities, except to plunge them into a humanitarian third order and to deploy the Armenian cause, essentially in the charity market, which privileges the heart over reason, but above all the heart over the rights of this people. All the more so since the Armenian victims are devalued, even excluded from the conflict. They are only a bunch of "desperate" people outside the political field.

What place, then, for this Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh)? If we talk so much about their cultural heritage, is it not to better ignore their fundamental rights? It is hoped that a "regime of tolerance" will be established on the part of the Azerbaijani government, while forgetting the crisis of social and political inclusion of this group, which for decades has been treated as an intruder, an enemy and denigrated as such. The discriminatory effects of such a policy were crystallized in the pogroms of Sumgait (February 1988) and Baku (January 1990) and the destruction of the Khachkars' cemetery of Julfa (Nakhichevan) which lasted from 1998 to 2005.


The universal seems today a myth without real objectivity, but it is imposed as an objective truth, associated with the term progress. They have become the key words for building peace in the region. It would be necessary to clarify what kind of peace is being proposed to the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh). Is it really the kind that upholds the right of peoples to self-determination? Here peace seems to be bought for the defense of the universal and certainly not for the defense of particularities that disturb this order. War is refused, but at the same time the right is granted to certain regimes for the defense of their identity, which is refused to others. The Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh have been trying to settle their exclusion from the dominant Azerbaijani system through politics and not only through culture. They are reminded that international law has already replaced politics, that there is no room for "context" or "arbitrary situations", that there is a universal order imposed by the West and that one is asked to believe in it or at best to subscribe to it since its preferred ground is human rights. Particular ethics are banished, the common enemy varies according to interests.

Culture and realpolitik become inseparable, culture allows authoritarian regimes to buy a suitable image in international forums and become perfect cultural entrepreneurs. Turkey, Azerbaijan or Hungary are perfect examples. Cultural policies have been turning to nation-building for a long time; while economic liberalization and trade globalization have paved the way for philanthropic foundations for artistic creation, the discourse on culture remains the mirror of the nation's identity, shaped by the social codes and conventions of the moment. As Orban declared in 2018, "We must defend our identity and cultural sovereignty in the whirlwind of the European culture war." While the role of culture is to be welcomed, there is a caveat; we must know how to use the new modes of operation of the geo-cultural game. A cultural system is defined by a mode of communication, that is to say, the intellectual device that is implemented to produce, validate, and transmit knowledge and normative frameworks for action.


The Armenian cultural order does not fail to the rule, the power is exercised and induces the sense of cultural communication, but do we know how to question our cultural practices? Do we know how to do the archaeology of it? Do we prefer to adhere to this vision of culture: "someone who speaks confusedly to others who only understand what they want to hear about others who only manifest themselves through symptoms"?

Culture seems to be the last defense instrument allowed to Armenians, let's use it in the best way.

How can a country and in the Armenian case diasporas develop cultural appeal if they are not a figure of menace or use culture to convince of right?

Armenia has lost a war, but the outcome of this war also lies in the hands of the defeated, on the condition of its civil metamorphosis, on the condition that we return the dispossession and that we get out of the exemplarity that rivets us to our condition of defeated. Culture is an important tool in this process.

Cultural governance must be reviewed both in the country 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, namely, those who mobilize or coordinate resources aimed at supporting artists, creating new networks, those who support cultural and creative industries as well as those who work to promote knowledge and exchange. The diasporas are in this sense good potential cultural agents, but there is a need for poles of expertise and consultation and a real network that will be able to create or consolidate relations with international institutions and foreign audiences. The declension of several models according to a set of contemporary criteria is necessary as well as the precise analysis of the field of actions and interventions with the different public and private actors. Armenia boasts, for example, the performance of digital technology in the country and this offers vast possibilities in the cultural field, in particular, the production of artistic contents in real time and which allows innovative partnerships. A new geopolitics of culture cannot be ignored, otherwise the Armenian production will be locked in a "folkloric fair" for the pleasure of audiences fond of world culture. To situate Armenia and the diasporas on the new cartography of cultural exchanges is an emergency. To think culture or to make culture is also to make politics, in the good sense of the term, the taking into account of the stakes of power and the construction of a community of destiny.

What culture do we want to show to others in order to be known or recognized? "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 actors for a new geopolitics of culture that will know how to use the means of modern influence in a world that is more and more multipolar, where the centers of power are changing, leaving more room for emerging cultures.

Culture is a tool of power and persuasion, a challenge that the Azerbaijani government has well understood.


The discourse on otherness dominates the zeitgeist and the paradigm of difference seems to occupy an important place in the discourse of the authoritarian regime of Azerbaijan, but the identity and cultural belonging is immediately emphasized concerning the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh /Artsakh). From the discourse of "openness" towards the West one quickly arrives at the defense of the dominant normative values, namely, anti-Armenian racism. Multiculturalism is a cornerstone of Azerbaijan's foreign policy. During the 44-day war, the official and foreign media broadcast testimonies of personalities from different communities arguing for tolerance and the Aliyev government's desire to facilitate "living together". Endorsed by Europe, but confronted with more and more voices that speak out against the blockade that isolates and starves more than 120,000 Armenian individuals. The Azerbaijani government uses the culture and myth of Azerbaijani multiculturalism as a stereotype to define a collective identity abroad and set up a set of narratives that describe the nation as tolerant and open. Changing the image of the country requires this nation branding effort. It is necessary to succeed in changing the public's interpretation of the various actions against the fundamental rights of Armenians, against the law of war and against human rights carried out by the Aliyev government. 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 carried out for years by the country.

It is enough to recall President Aliyev's speeches against Armenians or the actions taken against Azerbaijani dissidents to understand that the desire for uniformity is the strongest. It is unthinkable to believe that a positive awareness of differences can be allowed neither against Armenians nor against Azerbaijani minorities.

It is not a question here of a simple right to difference, but of the survival of a population.

However, the myth of unity that is collapsing in the West is one of the arguments imposed on a population that has never been integrated into the Azerbaijani national construction. Being Armenian in Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) is not just a personal identity? It is also a collective identity because each individual supports and protects a social and political community without which being Armenian could not be expressed and shared?

Why are we so afraid of the demand for recognition of this Armenian people, like others around the world?

Why do we oppose it with an ideal of universalism that is permanently flouted, to demonstrate in a deceptive way that it is only a simple identity claim by wanting to throw confusion and ambiguity on it?

These people are accused of opposing justice by wanting fragmentation and separation instead of a common world, but Armenians have a long history of recognition without real justice, of impartiality without recognition of the historical facts, and this is profoundly unjust.

The abstract universalism of the West, the refusal to recognize the right of peoples to govern themselves, or the policy of double standards which is opposed to this Armenian population is a refusal of equity and negation which affects other peoples, the Kurds or the Palestinians for example. The tragedy of these populations is circumvented by the impartiality that renders their suffering abstract or sends them back into the field of humanitarianism.


The Armenians of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) are offered the false pretense of individual equality with the Azerbaijanis, but not collective equality. All the social and political dimensions of this pseudo-equality are thus denied. It is not a disembodied, anhistorical and abstract group as the Azerbaijani communication wants to demonstrate for more than two years. Europe keeps talking about respect for the individual, but this requires respect for the recognition of the collective identity of which he or she claims to be a part, and this is far from the case in Azerbaijan with the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh).

What is this concept of justice without attention to the demand for recognition of this population?

The Armenian population of this territory has been permanently exposed to disadvantages in social exchanges because of a characteristic that they collectively hold: being Armenian. To speak of cultural plurality without a structure of domination does not seem very appropriate.

Who could believe in a peaceful inclusion of the Armenian population in Azerbaijan?

It is not a question of opposing different cultures, at the risk of being trapped in a civilizational opposition that is of more interest to the West than to the local population, but of an identity that gives rise to a consciousness of belonging that delimits ethnic boundaries, the "them against us", and that retains all its social relevance and highlights the danger faced by the Armenian population. Culture is there to reinforce the ethnic identity that occupies an important place in the identity norm of Azerbaijani society. Unlike Western societies that refuse to admit that the norm of identity remains ethnic or racial, Azerbaijan, like other countries, does not hide it in any way. The Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh has always been experienced as an "intruder" in the Azerbaijani national imaginary, taking up here the configuration formalized by Norbert Elias of established/outsiders.

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