“The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” This one line, spoken by the Athenians to the Melians over 2,400 years ago and recorded by Thucydides, is all you need to know to understand how international relations work. It is also all you need to know to understand why Armenians today live on a fraction of their homeland, dispersed throughout the world. It is also all you need to know to understand why Armenians are experiencing what they are today.
Over the past month and one week, Armenians the world over have been confused, angry, and sad that Turkish-Azerbaijani armed forces have indiscriminately bombed civilians, beheaded and executed Armenian soldiers, and destroyed Armenian cities and Christian monuments. They are appalled at the genocidal calls for exterminating Armenians from Artsakh, Armenia, or wherever they may be. They can’t understand why this is happening and why nobody cares.
You know why? Because the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must. Because once the tanks, soldiers, drones, and guns are where they aim to be, who is going to risk their own people to die for a plot of land where there is nothing but our history, our culture, our monasteries, and our people? We have nothing to offer the world and our existence is important only to us.
Did the world do something about the Genocide? It was no secret what was happening to the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire; the New York Times wrote over 100 articles about in 1915 alone. But that same year, long before the true horror of the Turkish sword and the consequence of humanity’s inaction were evident, Siamanto wrote, «Ո՜վ մարդկային արդարութիւն, թող ես թքեմ քու ճակատիդ…» (“O’ justice of humanity, I spit on your face.” Perhaps he knew something we don’t.
Khrimyan Hayrig had warned years before the Genocide that we cannot depend on others. Neither the positive impressions people have of Armenians (Khrimyan’s “good looks”) nor raising awareness (Hayrik’s reference to “petitions”) make any difference among those with swords – and we are always among those with swords. So he told us to get guns – and more guns. We didn’t. We were slaughtered.
The Turks committed a genocide over 100 years ago and nobody intervened. Yes, they saved some starving orphans, for which we must be and are eternally grateful, but think about the fact that the world’s powers knew Armenians were being massacred, as attested to by their own newspapers, missionaries, and diplomats, and they did absolutely nothing.
Stop and think about that. Since then, while we wasted our time on the Wilson Arbitral Award and trying to convince someone (who, exactly?) to give us our lands back, Turks built one of the most powerful countries in the world with one of the most powerful militaries, supported by one of the most powerful economies. Our lands are theirs, our churches are theirs, our homes are theirs and no one is going to gift those to us.
Nobody is advocating becoming a genocidal nation that has some inexplicable and irrepressible bloodlust but one thing is clear and that is that we have to stop seeking approval for the way of life we must adopt. We do not have the luxury of constant distraction by the fanciful dreams of European living in Yerevan, Stepanakert, or Goris. We are a nation at war and we will always be at war. Turks are not going to go away and neither are Azerbaijanis. They will continue to try to eliminate use from this earth, as they have for the past hundred years. If this was not already abundantly clear, as it wasn’t for many, I hope seeing the barbarism perpetrated against Armenians today and the calls for genocide will suffice for at least one lifetime, if not more. This is the starting point. There are no alternatives.
If strength determines what you can and can’t do, what is the solution? Fortunately, it is as simple as the sentence that started this text: accumulate strength. What is strength in international relations? It is a powerful military founded upon a powerful economy. All else is secondary. While we were lucky that certain founders of the modern Armenian state understood the need to have an army and for it to be strong, not everyone did. We’ve managed. We are composed of strong men and women and that is sustaining us, but we are learning that that is not enough against enemies resolved to eliminating us. Our strength must not be just individual, it must be national.
When we understand what we should have been doing – strengthening our nation against the perpetual threat of war – we will understand how much time, money, and sweat we wasted on the programs pushed unto us by Europe, international organizations, and NGOs whose interests were their own and not Armenia’s. That was time, money, and sweat that we should’ve been used to develop an economy that would not only be able to buy but also be able to build guns, drones, and other weapons. We may not have been the apple of anyone’s eye but we would’ve been strong.
We love the craftiness of our observation that Israel, a nation of survivors of a genocide, is selling weapons to not one but two genocidal regimes. Why are they? Because they learned their lesson. Perhaps the message was clearer for them than it was for us. While the Armenian Genocide was perpetrated by a failing empire in the deserts of Syria, the Jews were methodically massacred in the center of Europe by one of the most civilized countries on earth which, in the previous 200 years, had produced Beethoven, Kant, Bach, Nietzsche, Goethe, and others. So, when they survived, they knew full well that “the civilized world” could watch six million people be murdered without batting an eyelash. They understood that they had become complacent. They understood that their attitude of appeasement in the hope of being saved caused their near total destruction. And they did what they needed to do to make sure it didn’t happen again. You may not like it but Israel is a powerful, rich, and independent country. It does what it needs to survive and thrive and the price it pays is to be hated. Are we willing to be hated to live on our land? Are you?
When this war is over, we will again have a choice, as we did in 1994, when the ceasefire to suspend the first Artsakh Liberation War was signed. The choice will be between what we prioritize as a people. Are we willing to be ignored, disparaged, and hated so that we may live as Armenians on our land and govern ourselves? We will come out of this war alive, but we will only stay alive and live a meaningful existence as a people if we can answer that question in the affirmative unequivocally and perpetually.
And those Melians? They didn’t take the Athenians’ advice and were annihilated, their women and children sold into slavery. Had you heard of the Melians before reading this? How about the Athenians? Now do you understand?
The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must. We can swallow this bitter pill and thus live and flourish or we can choose to toss it aside and perish forever. The choice, as always, is ours.