“Armenian Jerusalem”. What does Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) mean for Armenians?

Article written by Anzhela Mnatsakanyan, in English.

Artsakh, Armenia – Photo by Nare Gevorgyan on Unsplash

After the collapse of Soviet-Union the Republic of Armenia faced the challenge of building the country on the ruins of the Soviet-Union. In 1991, the newly independent Republic of Armenia had inherited a country that had not yet recovered from the earthquake in 1989, had two closed borders, experienced a transport blockade, had a decaying economy, had a memory of Armenian genocide and Sumgait massacre, and a de facto-war in Nagorno-Karabakh. In these circumstances the country built a foreign policy which was mostly based on Armenian identity linked to the pan-Armenian movement for the self-determination of Nagorno-Karabakh (1). 

It is worth mentioning that the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh dates back to the period of collapse of the Russian Empire after the October Revolution of 1917. Now, there is a real danger that the conflict could escalate further. As, Nagorno-Karabakh is an internationally unrecognized country with almost 10.000 inhabitants, remains in the Armenian collective memory as an inseparable part of the Armenian national identity (2), as an integral part of Historic Armenia (3). The official position of the Republic of Armenia on Nagorno-Karabakh can be summarized as follows: “Artsakh (Karabakh) is an integral part of historic Armenia”(4). Some researchers think that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is destroying Armenia (5), but the military doctrine of Armenia states that “The Republic of Armenia is a guarantor and supporter of security for the population of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic and the course of development it has chosen” (6), and the National Security Strategy of the Republic of Armenia states that “The key issue of the National Security of the Republic of Armenia is the settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict” (7).

As the third president of Armenia mentioned “Artsakh became the Armenian stronghold of our modern history, the symbol of the Armenian people’s ambitions, an emblem of endurance and victory.”

So why do Armenians are ready to give their lives for defending Artsakh? 

Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) is too important for Armenia from the perspective of identity- building (8). During the war of 1992-1994, Armenia lost almost 10.000 soldiers and during a four- day war in April 2016 almost 100 solders, the latter were mostly from the generation born after 1994. The population in Armenia is nearly 3 million and almost every family lost someone during the wars in Nagorno-Karabakh and the phenomenon is that instead of hating this place Armenians started to adore this land. Artsakh is become kind of saint land for Armenians, even in academic works we can see this kind of description “Artsakh: Armenian Jerusalem”. As the third president of Armenia mentioned in one of his speeches “Artsakh became the Armenian stronghold of our modern history, the symbol of the Armenian people’s ambitions, an emblem of endurance and victory. Just 30 years ago, the people of Artsakh stood upright, straightened their back, striving for freedom in a bid to shake of the yoke of alien bonds” (9). In light of the rampant discontent with the stagnating political and economic situation, any territorial concession in the framework of the conflict over Artsakh would, from the perspective of the ruling elite, be equivalent to political suicide and for Armenians and Armenian Diaspora would be betrayal of the national self-conception (10). 

  1. Aram Terzyan, “The evolution of Armenia’s foreign policy identity: the conception of identity driven paths. friends and foes in Armenian foreign policy discourse,” Research Gate, 2016, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/327040082 (accessed on 24.02.2020) 
  2. Tobias Schumacher, op. cit., 2. 
  3. Shahen Avakian, op. cit., 8. 
  4. Nagorno-Karabakh issue, The official page of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia, https://www.mfa.am/en/nagorno-karabakh-issue (accessed on 24.02.2020) 
  5. Fuad Chiragov, “The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict Is Destroying Armenia,” https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/nagorno-karabakh-conflict-destroying-armenia-61407 (consulted on 24.02.2020) 
  6. The Military Doctrine of the Republic of Armenia (2008) PO-308-P, preamble, 2 http://www.mil.am/files/LIBRARY/Hayecakargayin/825.pdf (accessed on 24.02.2020)
  7. National Security Strategy of the Republic of Armenia, (2007) PO-37-P, Art. 3, paragraph 2 http://www.mil.am/files/LIBRARY/HHAAR/828.pdf (accessed on 24.02.2020)
  8. Tobias Schumacher, “Armenia, Azerbaijan and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: why the ‘black garden’ will not blossom any time soon” Security Policy Brief, 2016 1 https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/08/opinion/solve-the- nagorno-karabakh-conflict-before-it-explodes.html (consulted on 24.02.2020)
  9. Address by President Serzh Sargsyan to participants of 7th Pan-Armenian Conference of Artsakh Freedom- Fighters’ Union, https://www.president.am/en/statements-and-messages/item/2018/02/14/President-Serzh- Sargsyans-address-to-the-participants-of-7th-forum-of-the-Freedom-Fighters-of-Artsakh/(consulted on 24.02.2020)
  10. Tobias Schumacher, op. cit., 3. 

Published by LA REGIONISTO

La Regionisto focuses on regional economic, political or cultural issues. Its aim is to enable everyone to deepen their curiosity for various regions of Europe and beyond, in a classic or fun way. We welcome articles written in any language and from any approach!

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