MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS
CATHOLICOS ARAM I
GREAT HOUSE OF CILICIA
YEAR OF ARTSAKH
At the year 2021 begins, from the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia in Antelias, we greet and bless the National General Assembly, the Religious and Executive Councils of the National Central Committee, the Brotherhood, the Prelates and the Community Leaders, as well as every union, organization and educational, cultural, and charitable structure that operates in our national life. We pray to God Most High that the New Year that begins may be filled with health, success and joy in our individual, family, and national life.
We had proclaimed 2020 the “Year of People With Special Needs.” In this sense, we paid visits to the Birds’ Nest, the Armenian Nursing Home, the Armenian Clinic, the Zvartnots Center, charitable, humanitarian and social and medical centers, and we expressed our fatherly care and support as well as our appreciation to all fellow Armenians who help our daughters and sons with special needs who are housed in the aforementioned organizations and receive their care there. We gave the same advice to our Prelates and Community Leaders. However, the crisis that ensued in the course of this year did not allow us to prepare more thorough and consistent plans and carry out more work in this regard. Nevertheless, our concern and responsibility remain the same.
Indeed, this past year, 2020, was a year full of many crisis of different sorts for humankind in general and for our people in particular. In the first place, the perilous situation created by the coronavirus pandemic had a profound effect on all walks of life. The entire world was shocked; the pandemic caused a very large number of cases of contagion and death as well as an economic crisis. The pandemic continues with the same intensity despite the preventive measures adopted and the development of a vaccination. Naturally, life in Armenia, Artsakh and the Diaspora bore the heavy consequences of the pandemic.
Along with the pandemic, 2020 brought an additional crisis to the Armenian community of Lebanon. Indeed, as the financial difficulties grew worse, they created serious economic concerns for our families and organizations. Moreover, the catastrophic explosion of August 4 in the port of Beirut left Armenian casualties and caused a lot of destruction. Both the Catholicosate and the Prelacy as well as all our organizations did their utmost to succor families in need, rebuild destroyed homes and lead the reconstruction of the Armenian community of Lebanon. In this sense, the material and moral support of the Armenian state, the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, the Patriarchates of Jerusalem and Constantinople, our prelacies and communities as well as individuals, was an important pillar for the recovery of the Armenian community of Lebanon. Assistance continues to be provided in phases, under our auspices and under the supervision of the committee made up of representatives of the three denominations, political parties and charitable associations.
Since September 27, 2020, the Armenian people aregoing through a terrible crisis that surpasses the ones mentioned before: the joint attack by Azerbaijani and Turkish troops on Artsakh. Indeed, the commotion caused by the Artsakh war in all its aspects and consequences is unprecedented in the history of the Armenian people in a century. For decades, we prayed and communicated, we wrote and sang and, especially, we believed that Artsakh is ours and that we were “going to win” this war imposed on us. In fact, however, the opposite happened. Most of Artsakh was occupied by the Azerbaijanis, we had hundreds of dead and injured, monasteries and homes were destroyed, and a large number of families became refugees. Our sons and daughters of both Artsakh and Armenia continue to bear the heavy consequences of the war.
Therefore, taking into account the strong link of our people to Artsakh, its right to self-determination and independence, and driven by the expectation of making Artsakh the focus of our concerns and work, we proclaim 2021
YEAR OF ARTSAKH
We are sure that the sons and daughters of our people know, to a greater or lesser degree, about Artsakh; some have visited Artsakh and some others have even settled there. Nevertheless, on this opportunity, we believe we have to provide basic information about the geography and history of Artsakh, an important region of historic Armenia, followed by some remarks and suggestions.
ARTSAKH YESTERDAY AND TODAY
Artsakh, in the east of the Armenian Highlands, with its towering and impregnable mountains, its deep passes, profound valleys, dense forests and wide plateaus, has been a fortress in the defense of the Armenian identity and the vanguard in the national liberation struggles unleashed against foreign conquerors and tyranny.
One of the fifteen provinces of historical Armenia, Artsakh borders: to the East and Northeast, Utik; to the West and Southwest, Syunik, and to the South, the Araxes river. Artsakh is divided into fifteen districts. Its main cities are Shushi, Hadrut, Martuni, Stepanakert, Askeran, Martakert, Talish, Arrajadzor, and Vank.
Almost every river in Artsakh originates from the western and southwestern high mountains and,descending through valleys and glens, flow to the East and the Southeast. Artsakh also has cold and hot mineral waters and fountains. Approximately half of its surface is covered with dense forests with a large variety of trees and vegetation, including a rich diversity of fruit and wild trees. Artsakh is also rich with a diverse fauna as well as mines, including those of copper, lead, gold, iron, sulfur, marble, limestone, tuff, sand, and clay. The climate of Artsakh is mostly dry: winters are cold, with heavy snowfall; spring is pleasant; summer is sunny, and autumn is mild.
The land of Artsakh is fertile. Thanks to its rich pastures, Artsakh has ample potential for raising cattle. Beekeeping is especially developed. The dialect of Artsakh has subgroups, and different regions and villages have their own variants of speech. Since ancient times, Artsakh Armenians have been famous as carpet weavers.
Since the oldest days in Armenian history, Artsakh has been a part of the Armenian state. Greek historian and geographer Strabo includes Artsakh in Greater Armenia. King of kings Tigranes the Great built the city of Tigranakert in Artsakh, named after him. After Christianism became the state religion of Armenia, St. Grigoris, grandson of St. Gregory the Illuminator, became the first bishop of Artsakh and CaucasianAlbania after being ordained a bishop in Caesarea and founded the monastery of Amaras.
For a time, Artsakh hosted the Caucasian Albanian Catholicosate, with Bishop Abas being the first Catholicos. As this Catholicosate was transferred to the monastery of Gandzasar in the fourteenth century, it became known as the Gandzasar Catholicosate. In 1815 it became a diocese, with the Ghazanchetsots All Savior’s church of Shushi becoming its seat. Artsakh had many monasteries, which also became centers that irradiated culture and education: in addition to its role in culture, for a time Gandzasar was also a center of the liberation struggle. Artsakh was rich in churches and shrines. In the course of history, Artsakh has given many religious, educational, public, and political figures, including Catholicos Karekin I Hovsepian, of blessed memory, of the Antelias period of the Holy See of Cilicia.
For a long time, Artsakh preserved its singular political status and its autonomy, including the period of Arab rule over Armenia. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, it endured the invasions of the nomadic Turkish-Mongolian and Turkmen tribes. Since the fourteenth century, when the ethnic makeup of the Armenian Highland had changed and the Turkic tribes were already becoming the ruling majority, the name of Gharabagh began to be used instead of Artsakh. At the end of the seventeenth century, to fight Persian and Turkish rule, five principalities were formed in Gharabagh, which history records with the name of Khamsa Melikdoms.
After the establishment of the Soviet regime, Artsakh was occupied by Azerbaijan, and, with the intervention of the Soviet Union, the Autonomous Region of Mountainous Gharabagh was created in 1923. The liberation movement of Artsakh began in 1988 as the Soviet Union was beginning to collapse, and in 1991 the Republic of Artsakh was proclaimed; Shushi was liberated on May 9, 1992. The liberation of Shushi became a symbol of the national renaissance of Artsakh.
Today, most of Artsakh is occupied by Azerbaijan. In the course of its long history, Artsakh has been subjected to this kind of blows, but it has always endured and survived. A defeatist state of mind is incompatible with the spirit of the Armenians: their refuge is faith and hope. The only path to victory for the Armenian people that are shocked as a consequence of the blow sustained by Artsakh is the dedicated struggle, anchored in their faith, to recover their rights.
FROM TRAGEDY TO REBIRTH
As we mentioned, in the early days of the collapse of the Soviet Union, thanks to the heroic sons of our nation, the independence of Artsakh was proclaimed and new territories were liberated with the goal of ensuring the security of the Republic of Artsakh. Azerbaijan refused to accept this new reality. The attempts by Azerbaijan to reoccupy Artsakh and the occupied districts failed, and Armenia and Azerbaijan signed a ceasefire in 1994. The ceasefire was followed by political negotiations under the auspices of the Minsk Group, co-chaired by the United States, Russia, and France. The negotiations lasted approximately 15 years. The approach of Armenia was always based on the same principle: that Artsakh needs to be a party to the negotiations; the return of the liberated districts and a decision on the status of Artsakh must be done simultaneously as one indivisible whole, and the people of Artsakh must reestablish its right to self-rule. The approach of Azerbaijan was always the same: that the occupied lands must be returned and that Artsakh is part of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and that the matter of its autonomy can be examined in a later stage.
Attempts to find common ground between both rival approaches obviously failed in the negotiations. On different occasions, Azerbaijan tried to impose its claims by force of arms, especially during the four-day war of 2016. In the face of Armenia and Artsakh’s uncompromising position, Azerbaijan signed a military agreement with Turkey, adding terrorists from Syria and other countries to its ranks, and on September 27 it launched a surprise attack on all fronts over Artsakh. The Azerbaijani and Turkish army, endowed with modern and sophisticated weapons, not only subjected the Armenian army positions to relentless air bombardment and land attacks, but also every city and village of Artsakh beginning with Stepanakert, causing many casualties and terrible damage. The war lasted 44 days: the Armenian army bravely resisted the huge Azerbaijani and Turkish army.
Taking into account the grave destruction caused by the war and the geopolitical consequences for the region, the United States, Russia, and France issued repeated calls for a ceasefire; Azerbaijan did not even respect the agreement it signed. Thereafter, on the initiative of Russia and under its auspices, an agreement was signed between Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia. Officials and political leaders in Armenia, Artsakh, and the Diaspora, as well as generally our people, have serious reservations about the aforementioned agreement, considering a number of ambiguous and vague provisions, which may harm the security and the independence of Armenia.
Based on the present circumstances, we wish to formulate a number of important remarks and reminders:
1) As we said, the present agreement calls for a serious reexamination, because beyond the context of the ceasefire it contains provisions that may compromise the foundations of Armenia’s statehood and its territorial integrity. Therefore, it is vital for the government of Armenia to pursue both the perfect implementation of the agreement and its major overhaul, displaying at the same time a more aggressive diplomacy and following with seriousness the negotiations of the Minsk Group.
2) During the war, a large number of families from Artsakh found refuge in Armenia. After the ceasefire, they need to return to Artsakh to rebuild their homes and workplaces, with the immediate help of the state. The physical presence and the demographic growth of the people of Artsakh have a vital importance in security and political terms.
3) The Armenian government must continue to make consistent efforts for the return of prisoners and the search of the lost soldiers, as well as provide care for the injured and compensation to the families of the soldiers who lost their lives.
4) The safe preservation of religious and cultural sites of Artsakh must be pursued within the context of the agreement signed between Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as guaranteed by both the Minsk Group and UNESCO.
5) The international recognition of the Republic of Artsakh must be a priority. State and political structures and officials in Armenia, Artsakh and the Diaspora must carry out methodical work in this regard.
6) The reestablishment of Artsakh, in its economic, state, political and other facets, calls for an all-Armenian planning, participation, and dedication. Our nation is faced with a huge challenge. It is not possible to reestablish Artsakh with the customary plans and the usual work. Therefore, the all-Armenian input and power for the rebirth of Artsakh are more than mandatory. We believe the Diaspora has a key role within this context.
7) Finally, let us not forget that new geopolitical conditions have emerged in the Caucasus that are not favorable for Armenia and Artsakh. In view of this situation, a new strategy and new tactics must be developed; caution must prevail, and we must be realistic and unanimous, abstaining from actions that may cause internal commotion.
In view of the reminders and proposals we have made, we want to especially emphasize that in all circumstances:
- a) The self-determination right of the people of Artsakh must remain non-negotiable.
- b) The international recognition of the Republic of Artsakh must be a priority.
- c) The demographic growth of the people of Artsakh and the development of its economy must be a key issue in the all-Armenian agenda.
Based on these thoughts and expectations, we issue a fatherly call to our prelacies:
First, keep our collective will and responsibility alive in our people to reestablish Artsakh, by way of conferences, publications and different initiatives during 2021.
Second, make Artsakh—with its past, present and especially a vision for its future—a living presence, especially among the younger generation, with special events and prizes.
Third, within our immediate vicinity and especially in our rapports with international structures and circles emphasize the imperative of the self-rule of the people of Artsakh.
Fourth, promote the material support by wealthy fellow Armenians, businessmen and non-Armenians for the various plans in Artsakh as well as investments.
Why and how did we lose this imposed war in Artsakh? There are several interpretations about this and it is normal that there will be. The governments of Armenia and Artsakh need to offer a thorough and objective account of what happened to our people. We must not lose our hope; our will must not be weakened. We were defeated on the battlefield, but our nation and our homeland were not defeated and they never will. Let us remember the battle of Vartanantz; let us also remember the Armenian genocide and the will of our people to survive. With renewed faith and resolve, our people will continue its struggle. Azerbaijan and Turkey must know well that Artsakh is an inseparable part of the life of the Armenian people, that our people of Artsakh has the right to reestablish its independence, and that Artsakh remains the focus of the support of the entire Armenian people.
Dear Armenian sons and daughters, let us salute the brave Armenian army, pray for the souls of our martyred soldiers and the speedy return of our prisoners and lost soldiers. Let us provide practical support to our wounded and families in grief and in need. Let us pray for the security of Armenia and Artsakh for the wellbeing of our people. May the Creator and Lord of all of us protect our nation and our homeland.
With warm fatherly love,
CATHOLICOS ARAM I
GREAT HOUSE OF CILICIA