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Moving from armed struggle to non-violent popular resistance as a strategic and political necessity

Alain Navarra-Navassartian, PhD sociology, PhD art history.


Demonstration in Paris on Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day (24 April 1983)

How can we envisage the peace agreements proposed by Azerbaijan after the 44-day war, 5,000 soldiers killed, the abandonment of 120,000 people driven from their ancestral land after an illegal blockade, the violation of various human rights and certain rights of war?


Azerbaijan has imposed the validity of its warlike ventures. Its war could only be just, since the EU and certain Western countries supported it without remorse, allowing the balance of power and law to be reversed once again. It remains for us to note, as Clausewitz did, that war is a policy pursued by other means, to the detriment of the exodus of an entire population, and in defiance of the sacrifice of 5,000 men who have been cut off from their combat, to the point of losing the profound meaning of this conflict. A war, and above all a way out of conflict, which has become the extension of a disorganized mercantilist and Atlanticist policy pursued by the West, ready to do anything, once again, to please their "allies" Turkey and Azerbaijan. The normative architecture of the international order is shaped by the interplay of powers, but also by dominant values and ideas. We have written extensively on the invisibilization of the suffering of certain populations, such as the Armenians of Artsakh, but this article looks at what idea of community remains acceptable after such a cataclysm, and what forms of resistance are still possible.

 

HYBRID STRATEGIES FOR HYBRID WARFARE

 

Azerbaijan made perfect use of hybrid strategies, which are not only developed in the conflict zone and in kinetic warfare. Hybrid warfare showed how important indirect strategies were in this conflict, with coordinated actions across the whole spectrum of Armenian capabilities: population, civilian structures, economy, cultural diplomacy, intangible fields of disinformation, diplomatic pressure and so on. These actions, some of which flouted international law, were particularly effective in the face of a deficient military arsenal and unpreparedness on many levels. While the concept of hybrid warfare is sometimes vague (we use it here because it dominates the comments of many European speakers), its political consequences are concrete, notably Azerbaijan's attempt to polarize European public opinion. Clearly, weapons and technological changes in warfare are essential elements, but intangible systems of warfare and certain factors influence not only the behavior of combatants, but also the way in which international players view the conflict, such as whether or not international law is violated: the criminogenic nature of warfare, the definition of the aims of warfare, reasons of expediency, reasons linked to the personality of leaders are reasons that are increasingly being studied. The moral disengagement authorized by a certain Western attitude has encouraged, for example, violations of the laws of war by Azerbaijan. This behavior is facilitated by the disempowerment and justification of the behavior of Azerbaijani "troops" by both the government and its Western allies. If we tolerate violations of international legal norms or principles, we lose the symbolic benefit of the norm - even if it does not always guarantee appropriate behavior, it remains a brake on the spiral of violence. When will it be after the war we are experiencing in the Middle East?


The collective vulnerability of the Armenian population of Artsakh is certainly the variable that has led this population, like a majority of Armenians or individuals of Armenian origin throughout the world, to doubt the application of international law in the resolution of this conflict.


Baku must be recognized for its ability to frame and impose its interpretation of the facts, particularly with regard to Armenian heritage or certain episodes of the war, such as mosques transformed into stables. This initially discreet but persistent disinformation is becoming a fact. It should be pointed out that the Armenian government has been seriously lacking in this communication strategy.


The manipulation of information is nothing new, but the use of social media and their speed have changed the information situation around the 44-day conflict and the period following the ceasefire. Here again, Azerbaijan's strategic use of certain social networks - X/twitter and facebook in particular - has been important in describing the facts and imposing the "reality" of the facts, thereby relativizing the very notion of truth. The use of persuasion tools such as information is essential. Information is used to propagate a vision of the Azerbaijani state and society, a narrative that is plausible both inside and outside the country. Manipulation of the discursive field, manipulation of certain media or certain knowledge producers, was put in place very quickly during the conflict. The first target was Armenian religious heritage, which had become the production of the Albanians of the Caucasus with the help of "scientific" texts.


By applying public relations techniques, the Azerbaijani government got its message across perfectly to a Western world ready to accept it without batting an eyelid.

 

The Azerbaijani government is actively promoting its image: advertising pages for tourism, organization of sporting events, financing of cultural events or renovation work on various monuments in Europe, such as the Comodilla catacombs project in Rome in partnership with the Vatican. The latter project is part of the inter-religious exchange dynamic advocated by Pope Francis, but Azerbaijan's soft power policy has been in place for some time: restoration of the bas-relief of the meeting of Pope Leo I and Attila in St. Peter's in Rome.


It should also be remembered that the Pope did not single out Azerbaijan as an aggressor, but simply deplored the crisis in the South Caucasus. Winning over influential intermediaries in the Western world is a well-established strategy for authoritarian regimes, but in Azerbaijan's case it's less a question of imposing an ideology than of opportunistically recruiting choice allies. Demonstrating, with the help of these allies, that Azerbaijan is an important economic, cultural and geostrategic partner adhering to the universal values of the West has been a carefully thought-out task for the country's government, which has grasped the importance of culture in international relations. A favorite object of the powers that be, Azerbaijan has turned it into a kind of ideological "missile", and has implemented cultural strategies that have become tools of prestige and visibility. Even if the universal today appears to be a myth with no real objectivity, but one that is imposed as an objective truth, it is important for authoritarian regimes to buy a suitable image for and in international bodies.


It is regrettable that the Armenian strategies put in place to invalidate Azerbaijan's calculations and, in particular, its move to act (a frozen situation does not remain frozen ad vitam eternam) were almost non-existent or poorly prepared, but the legality of secrecy has accompanied all the disastrous episodes of this war, so it is difficult to understand what strategies and tactics the Armenian camp wanted to carry out.


Communication is an essential part of the tools of war, and European public opinion, grappling with the war in Ukraine on its doorstep, did not, in the end, give the Armenian population all the support it needed. And this, despite the fact that communication was essentially humanitarian in nature. Non-resistance by various means, and not just military, is dangerous. Overestimating the good intentions of others is a lack of political realism.

Peace can very quickly turn out to be nothing more than submission, which can turn into servitude. Have the interests of the alliances been properly calculated? Do we think they will be able to prevent any desire for hegemony on the part of Turkey and Azerbaijan? Can we call this peace? Certain decisions may appear to the population as the simple manifestation of the courage of cowards, all the more so as this peace is in no way based on law. There is no consent to the law on the part of President Aliyev, and no exclusion of violence - just listen to his speech in Lachin. 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?


We need to take the Armenian cause out of the "humanitarianization" market, which is changing the way it thinks and acts. Every market has its imperatives, notably that of promotion. So, during the 44-day war and the ongoing blockade, we witnessed an accumulation of tragic images and tragedies managed in a more or less rational way, giving rise to the image of the resilient victim. One almost forgets that in 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, other than to plunge them into a humanitarian third order and to deploy the Armenian cause, essentially on the charity market, which prioritizes the heart over reason, but above all the heart over the rights of this people. All the more so as Armenian victims are devalued, even excluded from the conflict. They are merely a bunch of "desperadoes" or separatists, outside the political arena.

 

This war, like others, was not waged according to Western custom, but the Western world endorses the fact with embarrassed silence. We are therefore imposing on some a vision of war that complies with international law, while we shamelessly authorize others to use unethical force. The popular cohesion of an entire people and its determination are essential vectors for making the world understand the peril of war, even if general cowardice imposes silence. "How long are we going to die?" could be asked by the Armenians, the Kurds or any of the civilian victims of conflicts in the Middle East. Counting the dead is a highly political exercise in wartime, but the death of an individual does not have the same value for everyone, since there are dead civilians who cannot be seen. The fact remains, then, that firmness is an act of combat, and public opinion, and sometimes foreign powers, are positively committed to an oppressed or endangered people, but only if a resistance movement has already shaken the edifice of domination. The Ukrainian resistance is a good example.

 

How can an individual practice of resistance be transformed into a collective one?

 

To account for a given social unity in Armenia and the diaspora, we invoke cultural or even spiritual "cement", but never question the forms of power. Most of the speeches and interventions by Armenian diasporic or governmental leaders simply reinforce the idea of the intertwining of relations of domination and political culture, a dependence that is accepted and even internalized. The term "dhimmitude" is often used by researchers, political scientists and geopoliticians.


The phobia of a phantasmal end produces the reality of a power that subjugates the consenting subjugated (J.P Dolle.2004). It is difficult to imagine the evolution of the diasporic leadership system or the Armenian state system, even if the state is not easily defined.

 

"Indecision is the sovereign of the lost"

 

This war has shown the profound changes that are influencing military operations, particularly technological ones, and we've been told often enough that Armenia has the capacity to adapt, and even to adapt new technologies, but inventing the technological breakthrough in warfare can't be done in a matter of seconds. Just like the implementation of a set of defensive combination strategies to thwart adversary calculations?


Nothing is less certain, and in any case, here again, secrecy allows only "insiders" to know the reality of resistance to opposing designs. Defeat is not only a military phenomenon, it is also a moment that reveals ruptures and provokes a multitude of behaviours. It has only been envisaged as a "pathology" inherited from previous governments, but has there even been a glimpse of a new organization of the community or an acceptable idea of the community after this disaster?


What's more, the Armenian government's desire to please the West after a period of waltz-hesitation has only lowered the reaction threshold of Western partners, even when Azerbaijan has exceeded the reaction threshold that may or may not lead to state intervention or the awakening of public opinion. I don't deny that resistance involves the use of weapons, but it is also the act of diminishing a force or violence by various other means. At a time when Western countries are procrastinating and failing to move away from "ethics without performance", but are seeking new ways to deal with the return of force, it is still possible for Armenians to challenge Azerbaijan's cultural activism. Clearly, it's not a question of comparing the tactics of kinetic warfare and immaterial strategies, but there is a logic of actions to collectively lead a resistance to the dominant discourses and political actions that have led to the exile of 120,000 individuals.


It will take time to build effective solidarity and a real collective feeling, especially as the Armenian Prime Minister's speeches and interventions are often incomprehensible to the diaspora. The modalities of struggle and collective organization is certainly an interesting subject to study in Armenia, where NGOs are so numerous and influence resistance practices.


As we have already pointed out, Azerbaijan's hostile intent will not disappear with the signing of agreements of any kind. Peace is the result of will. President Aliyev's oft-expressed desire to "regain the purity of the territory" does not augur well for the future. Resistance also means strengthening a population's determination and self-confidence. This negotiated peace will not be assessed on the basis of the rights and wrongs of the two sides, as we well know. The real results are obtained by assessing the power of the opposing groups. There are therefore different strategies for settling after a defeat, and different levels of consent.

 

INFORMATION WARFARE

 

In this conflict and its aftermath, informational warfare has been paramount. Reaching out to public opinion upstream is an essential factor, not only in the humanitarian field, and strategically setting up the conditions for informational deterrence is a challenge envisaged by all countries. The media system, like the capacity for action on social networks, could have been more significant: the use of trolls or viralization methods were instruments widely used by Azerbaijan. Myths are important in geopolitics, it seems, but they can be very costly for the Armenian population. Knowing one's dependencies, reducing them and knowing how to manage them is an important consideration for any government, as is emphasizing one's strengths. A chosen and well-considered interdependence is always preferable to a policy of panic-stricken weathervanes.


It is surprising, for example, that the digging of fault lines between Armenia and its diasporas, a policy successfully pursued by Azerbaijan and Turkey, has found an echo in the Armenian government, despite being an obvious means of destabilization. Manipulating perceptions of this war has been a crucial issue, and the Armenian government's unwillingness to put in place the means to oppose certain aspects of this hybrid conflict has cast doubt on its will to resist, No one, or very few, are willing to grasp the fact that there was never any question of making the current government responsible for the predatory state established by its predecessors, but a series of government reactions has led to popular questioning of the government's functioning, choices, options, communication and, last but not least, its legitimacy to take certain decisions.

"Everything was already planned" has become a litany heard around the world in the various diasporas and in Armenia itself.


There is no such thing as a conflict whose effects are independent of the frameworks of interpretation given to it - the Israel/Hamas war is yet another example of this. Giving a legitimate definition to the situation is an essential issue; it is a way of perceiving the reality of the conflict and will enable justifications and legitimizations in ethical, legal or political terms. The construction of meaning depends on previous events, and a chronological analysis going back beyond 1992 is necessary to understand the apartheid (Taner Akçam.2023) in which the Armenians of Artsakh have lived since 1918.

What remains today is the country's adaptation to the developmentalist paradigms of the peace projects proposed to the Armenians. The marketing of the rebellion is working well, and the backers have obtained what they wanted: the abandonment and exodus of an entire population. The spaces for mobilization for the population and for Armenia have given way to an expanded humanitarian field, which admittedly allows access to Western subsidies, and the number of calls for projects facilitates the peace process, but also favors the heteronomy of the country's forms of development, while marginalizing the context for the production of political thought.

 

A rational approach to the 44-day war and its consequences is obviously necessary, but President Aliyev's instrumentalization of the symbolic played an important role in his strategy, mirroring the Armenians' attempt to compensate for the asymmetry of military forces and international support by emphasizing a higher moral status. Of course, such strategies can only be successful if they meet the ethical expectations of the recipient countries. The question is: what kind of recognition have the Armenians received?

That of their rights? That of their own values? That of a moral discernment superior to that of the Azerbaijani government? It's doubtful.


Coming out of an armed conflict that was clearly leading to a military stalemate is no easy matter, especially when the enemy is "the absolute enemy". Negotiating in these circumstances is just as difficult, especially as the Armenian prime minister has repeatedly said that there will be no negotiations with Aliyev. The confusion of official Armenian discourse has only added to the original confusion about this war... Asserting a certain image of oneself and one's community is a key factor in fortifying one's international legitimacy, and it also has to do with symbolic capital.

 

A positive rapprochement between Baku and Yerevan is announced, but at the same time videos are circulating to make it clear that there is a Western Azerbaijan (Armenia) and that Vardenis on the sovereign territory of Armenia must change its name given its "historical" belonging to Azerbaijan.


Peace is the result of will. To think that things will remain as they are is an illusion. Peace can very quickly turn out to be nothing more than submission, which can turn into servitude. Have we properly assessed the interests of alliances? Do we think they will be able to prevent any desire for hegemony on the part of Turkey and Azerbaijan? Can we call this peace?


Certain decisions may appear to the population as the mere manifestation of the courage of cowards, all the more so as this peace is in no way based on law. There is no consent of President Aliyev's will to the law, and no exclusion of violence.


How can technical assistance, humanitarian aid and the ideology of progress and development be refused? Even at the price of abandoning the Armenian population of Artsakh?  But there is a therapy for this: the policy of modernization and development. All it takes is to present oneself unarmed and defenseless, to adopt the vision of the other, and to say who you are with your own words, as if you were fighting with only the forces of the other. The exodus of an entire population and the supposed end of the conflict is a victory for many, but it is only a victory over the humanity of a people.

 

Conflicts also revolve around symbolic issues, and the result has been the depersonalization of the other, the "Armenian of Nagorno-Karabakh", whose outright elimination as a cultural identity and consequently as a corresponding political entity has been pursued. In this war, as in those to follow, it seems, the absence of any moral or political quality opens the door to new strategies of domination and satelliteization.

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