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The moment of Responsibility: Thinking defeat

Alain Navarra-Navassartian

Demonstration in Stepanakert against the blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh (which has continued since 12.12.22 despite a ruling by the ICJ)

Thinking defeat. Defeat is not only a military phenomenon, it is also, more broadly speaking, a moment that reveals ruptures and continuities and provokes a multitude of behaviors. The 44-day war and what followed, from the disastrous peace proposals for the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh to the fact that it was forgotten by all those involved in the conflict, as well as the fact that part of the Armenian population doubted the functions of the state in a conflict between citizens and the state that went beyond mere demands, shows just how essential it is to "accept defeat". It's not a question of looking for those responsible, but of thinking it through and explaining it clearly. All that was lacking in the post-conflict period, during which the Armenian government reduced this defeat to a simple mechanical sequence, without placing it in the context of other logics. This defeat is presented as the ultimate manifestation of a "pathology" inherited from the era preceding the civil disobedience of 2018. Everything has been brought together in a single bundle of meanings, bringing together the scattered facts of the Republic of Armenia's history since independence. The defeat and the tragedy of the death of almost 5,000 men were presented as the manifestation of the two previous governments. The analysis of this defeat was dissolved into a collective identity or into the regimes of the two previous leaders.

Defeat is blurred out of the military sphere, as evidenced by the ambiguity of the war's end: violations of cease-fire, non-compliance with international law or violations of the laws of war. All that's left is the rhetoric. Compassionate rhetoric that occupies all international public space. We forget the goals of this war: the will to survive of an entire population for nearly a hundred years, and focus only on the individual perception of the event: the Armenian, victim by definition, defeated in a continuity-eternity that is ultimately reassuring for the majority. No one will question the abuse of the prerogatives conferred on the executive. The discrepancy between the objectives announced at the start of the war and the catastrophic parameters of the conflict's resolution.


We are responsible. Not in the short term, but in the long term for the world we leave behind. Utopian, we are told, is the fight we are waging to avoid resigning ourselves to the abandonment of the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh. Utopia does not simply refer to a future, but to a requirement combined with the present; utopia is a present responsibility for the future. N. Pachinian says in Brussels that Artsakh belongs to Azerbaijan. He confirms the 1991 Almaty agreements on the territorial limits of the two countries. Transformed into a land surveyor, the head of the Armenian government proclaims loud and clear on various platforms that Armenia is indeed a territory of 29,800 square kilometres.

We've been bombarded with talk of ethics and the need for them, inflicted with "the painkilling use of humanitarian vocabulary" (Delpla, 2003 ). We have been offered the appearance of unity for an Armenian diasporic community whose deep-seated desire for structural and ideological change has never been heard. And we have been enjoined to follow a binary choice: Allegiance to the Armenian government or the return of the old oligarchy - a sign of a lack of confidence in the moral autonomy of Armenian citizens or in the system, which therefore offers only a binary choice as the only solution, and underlines the fear-driven injunction to bend to avoid the abyss or nothingness. Obedience is only civil under certain conditions. 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 disrupts the course of history and "customs". We have become responsible for the responsibility of leaders who abandoned 120,000 Armenian individuals to the ethical goodwill of the Europeans.

We've let a window of opportunity pass, a wartime crack in which the subject can interrupt the course of history if we think about the tools to be judiciously deployed at that precise moment.

No one, or very few, want to grasp that it was never a question of holding the current government responsible for the predatory state established by its predecessors, but of questioning the way it operates, its choices, its options, its communication and, finally, its legitimacy to take certain decisions.

The words of Bernanos ring true here: "We do not suffer in vain. We are alone in suffering because we are alone in risking. We risk for the cowards who risk nothing. May God have mercy on us". (G.Bernanos, Français, si vous saviez…).

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 any 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 pointlessness of the sacrifice of nearly 5,000 men is scandalously obvious. It is obvious that a legal order can be perceived as unjust under these conditions. If there are "backrooms of power", I don't know them, and I can't know anything about them, so everything is limited to the visible dimension of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and we can only observe the political construction of the conflict's reality.

Has there been a glimpse of an acceptable organization of the community or idea of the community after this cataclysm? We have tried to ignore the fact that a losing state signing a surrender does not retain the same material and symbolic resources, while at the same time distancing ourselves from the notion of responsibilities to make way for "competing feudalities".

To account for a given social unity in Armenia and the diaspora, we invoke cultural and even spiritual cement, but never question the forms of power. Most of the discourse in the diaspora, as in Armenia, simply reinforces the idea that relations of domination and political culture are intertwined, and that dependence is accepted, or even internalized. There are still 120,000 Armenians held hostage.

The phobia of a fantasized end produces the reality of a power that subjugates consenting subjects. (JP. Dolle 2004). We are no longer looking for transfers of responsibility, but rather for the responsibility to protect an Armenian population in danger.


While Western actors have been singled out for the absence of real sanctions against Azerbaijan for its serious breaches of various international laws, Armenian governmental actors also bear responsibility for both the course of the conflict and its resolution.

First and foremost, they are responsible for their inability to manage communication in a war situation, but also for their inability to deal with the realities of defeat, the implementation of a settlement strategy and the different levels of consent. If this can be blamed on inexperience, it's the level of the government's advisors that is worrying.

The outcome of this war is blurred in every respect, with 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, forgetting the collective tragedy, even the meaning of the struggle waged by tens of thousands of Armenians for their survival and their right to exist.

All the protagonists: The European Council, the USA and even the Armenian government can only rejoice: the vanquished no longer even defend themselves, and the victims are merely the victims of the "barbarism" that is tolerated and accepted because mercantilism demands it. We come to lose the profound meaning of this conflict, and the victims are deprived of their struggle.

But what we should grasp, and those who put forward the "no other choice" argument, is that the resilient victim status accorded to the Armenians also victimizes this defeat in a reassuring continuity for all concerned. But a victim is by definition defeated, and we should not forget this for our future as Armenians.

Is the Armenian or diasporic social order doomed to be made up only of collaborators, victims or those who play a waiting game? It would be difficult to imagine the evolution of the system within such a framework. "Indecision is the sovereign of the lost and the prelude to sudden collapses" (T. Flichy de la Neuville).

Are we so engulfed in the phenomenon of self-victimization that we are divesting ourselves of our destiny without even struggling, using a set of conceptual tools as yet untapped by the Armenian government and diasporas? Clearly, the space for political activity varies considerably from one society to another, and each society generates its own conception of government, but Armenian leaders seem to lack knowledge of the spectrum of attitudes that fall within the scope of post-defeat settlement strategies. The servitudes that seem voluntary appear the worst to the society affected by defeat.


President Aliyev, visiting Lachin, issues an ultimatum to the Artsakh government and its population (resign or fear the worst). But will the hostile intent stop at Nagorno-Karabakh? Nothing could be less certain.

Everything has been said in Aliev's words and, to a certain extent, in Erdogan's as well. The Azerbaijani leader's resolve has been clearly expressed in many of his performative speeches: the need to regain the "purity of the territory", a simple ethnic interpretation of the conflict, Aliev appeals to pre-modern feelings of belonging, essentializing identity and using the psychological prism, as well as a set of emotions. Notably when he highlights the Azeri "genocide" committed by the Armenians, an argument used to promise the takeover of Western Azerbaijan, i.e. Armenia. The emphasis is therefore on the psychological aspect of belonging, an ethno-symbolism that sees the national bond as immemorial, and therefore a-historical. This war cannot be reduced to the 44 days of fighting, for it is a state of affairs that is part of a longer duration. It is an illusion to believe that abandoning the population of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) will put an end to the acute situations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Peace is the result of will. To think that things will remain as they are is an illusion.

This is the starting point for the reification of ethnic groups, which are inevitably subject to ancestral hatreds. History, called to the rescue of the vindictive discourse, only confirms the impossibility of breaking out of the "ethnic group" categories. To believe that the Armenian population of Artsakh will live in peace under the aegis of an authoritarian government such as Aliev's is either stupid or criminal. Western tolerance of the criminal act is all the more serious as it explicitly calls for further acts. It is therefore difficult to escape from a vertical vision of this conflict and its irreducibility. No other vision is tolerated by Aliyev, with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict serving as the linchpin of his domestic policy. To mask the failure and injustice of the Aliyev system, force is seen as a sign of the government's excellence. At the same time, the Armenian side was plagued by disastrous wartime communications, misinformation and the legality of permanent secrecy on the entire war and surrender process. All of which fueled the population's anxiety and left them in fear.

"It is more natural for fear to consult than to decide" (Cardinal de Retz).

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 (Armenia) than the destruction of the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh? The feeling of hostility will not stop with N.Pachinian's various allegiances.

Non-resistance by any means, and not just military ones,

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 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 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?


More than 120,000 Armenians are being held hostage, risking exodus or death, abandoned by everyone, including the Armenian government. The aim here is not to put the Armenians on trial, but to raise questions about this defeat and its consequences. First and foremost, the handling of this conflict by international bodies: the laws of war repeatedly flouted, prisoners of war whose fate is, at best, in abeyance, at worst already settled, the destruction of Armenian cultural heritage and many other breaches of international law. We therefore accept that it is the authorities who lay down the law, not the truth. We accept, therefore, for ourselves that it is the regimes most capable of expressing command that are more important than just regimes. This indecent ballet of force, submission and blackmail can only call into question belief in European "values" and create a real Euroscepticism of values. Politics is a matter of practice and action, subject to the criterion of efficiency. It is perhaps this practice that the Armenian government lacks, in order to think through this defeat with a broader set of strategies and a wider spectrum of attitudes.

I may be told that it's easy, from my position, to be in the camp of refusal or resistance, but beyond the stupor and dismay of receiving defeat, there are different levels of modes of consent.

So should we abandon 120,000 of our people?

Are we content to articulate normative theories that can guide our behavior by systematizing our moral judgments, in order to produce morally correct responses or a kind of moral realism? But morality cannot be conceived on the model of legislation. It's important to bring it back to our practices, our motives for acting or not acting, our relationships and so on. Morality is best understood through the prism of our very existence. If we allow the abomination we see before us to become part of the definition of what is "normal", we will be jeopardizing fundamental values that reflect the essence of humanity.

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