ACOM Book Club News for September 2019

ACOM Book Club Selection Sep 19The ACOM Book Club met on September 19, 2019, at the Merriam Park library in St. Paul. In attendance were Tom, Peter, Azad and me.

One reason for the low attendance might be the book selection for the month: "The Making of Nagorno-Karabagh: From Secession to Republic" edited by Levon Chorbajian. While it is definitely a worthwhile book and contains a lot of information on an area that none of our other books has covered, it was very difficult to obtain copies of. Neither the Ramsey County nor Hennepin County libraries have copies. Three Minnesota university libraries have copies, but they are a bit more difficult to get (but that's how I got a copy to read). Copies are available from Amazon or some used book stores, but are quite expensive (more than $60.) Because of this, only Azad and I had read the book.

That said, we had a nice discussion about the book amongst the four of us. Even though Tom and Peter hadn't read it, they both had background in some of the areas that it covered and expressed their opinions about them. It worked out well.

The book is actually a selection of papers from a conference which was held in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in May of 1998. It was sponsored by the Zoryan Institute for Contemporary Armenian Research and Documentation. The papers which were included in the book are the following:

1 - "A People's Will: Armenian Irredentism over Nagorno-Karabagh" by Lalig Papazian.
2 - "The Anguish of Karabagh: Pages from the Diary of Aramais (Misak Ter-Danielyan) April 26-July 26, 1919" by Robert O. Krikorian
3 - "Civil Society Born in the Square: the Karabagh Movement in Perspective" by Levon Hm. Abrahamian
4 - "We Are Our Mountains: Nation as nature in the Armenian Struggle for Self-Determination, Nagorno-Karabagh" by John Antranig Kasparian
5 - "The Diaspora and the Karabagh Movement: Oppositional Politics between the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and the Armenian National Movement" by Razmik Panossian
6 - "Betrayed Promises of the Karabagh Movement: a Balance Sheet" by Markar Melkonian
7 - "Possible Solutions to the Nagorno-Karabagh Problem: a Strategic Perspective" by Armen Aivazian
8 - "Nagorno-Karabagh: International Political Dimensions" by Richard Giragosian

There is also a long introduction by Levon Chorbajian which gives a lot of background information and sets the tone of the book.

So much information was presented in the book that that we could only cover a small portion of it in our discussion.

We discussed the history of Nagorno-Karabagh. In ancient times, it was known as Artsakh. The dominant population of the region has been Armenian for at least two millenia. Even when the area was invaded and conquered, it almost always had Armenian kings as local rulers. When the Soviet Union decided that having a single SSR covering all of the Caucaucus Mountains wasn't working and split it up into the three SSRs of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, Stalin, in a fit of pique at Armenia, put the provinces of Nagorno-Karabagh and Nakhichevan into the Azerbaijani SSR. One of the papers states that Nagorno-Karabagh was the only region in the USSR which was primarily of one ethnic group and was put into a different ethnic SSR even though it was right next to its similar ethnic SSR.

In the 1930s there were several instances of ethnic cleansing carried out by the Azeri government against Armenian villages in Nagorno-Karabagh. Both the Nagorno-Karabagh region and the Armenian SSR applied to the Soviet government several times that the province be transferred to the Armenian SSR, but it was always refused. When the attitude during the Gorbachev years seemed to allow more open dissension, there were many mass demonstrations held in both Karabagh and Armenia to transfer the territory. Azerbaijan responded by holding many attacks on Armenians living in Baku and Sumgait in Azerbaijan and on some of the cities in Karabagh. Finally, when the Soviet Union split up, Armenia was one of the first SSRs to declare its independence in 1991. At about that time open warfare was started between Azerbaijan, Karabagh and Armenia. A cease fire was arranged in 1992 and has held with periodic minor conflicts, but a peace treaty has never been signed.

We discussed the conflict between the Armenian Diasporan based political parties and the political parties internal to Armenia. A surprising thing to me, which was pointed out in the book, was that when Armenia was considering declaring its independence, the primary political party inside the country (the National Democratic Union?) was very pro independence, but the primary Disasporan party, the Dashnaks, felt that the country was safer if it remained a part of the USSR. Once independence had been established and Karabagh had declared its independence from Azerbaijan, the Dashnaks pushed strongly for Armenia to commit its full support to defending it, but the NDU hesitated for fear that a war with both Azerbaijan and Turkey would ensue and the whole country would be destroyed.

We talked about the fact that Azerbaijan claimed Karabagh, Nakhichevan and other parts of what is now Armenia because "Azeris have lived there for millenia", even though there was no such thing as an ethnic Azeri until the 20th century. They based their claims on the territories settled by Tatars, Albanians and other ethnic groups which now constitute the Azeri population.

One topic that we covered is the conflict between the territorial rights of a country and the right of ethnic groups to establish their own freedom. The attitude in Europe and America from 1990 until now remains that Karabagh was a part of Azerbaijan and it should remain so, even though the people of Karabagh don't want that.

Of course, one sticking point in any discussion around the world is that Azerbaijan has major oil reserves and so it is more valuable for other countries to retain good relations with it than with Armenia.

One of the papers in the book discusses several proposals for a peaceful solution to the Karabagh conflict, none of which seem achievable even today.

At that point, we ran out of time. I think that we could have continued discussing the topics from the book for at least another hour.

For next month, the proposed book is "Nowhere a Story of Exile" by Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte. It is the biography of a young girl whose family fled the ethnic cleansing in Baku in 1991, spent some time in Armenia and then ended up in the United States. Unfortunately, I can't find it in any local library. However, it is available as a new or used book online for about $10 to $15. I know that we're trying to stick with books that are available in the local libraries, but this is another area that we haven't covered previously in the club and we think that it's important.

If any of you have alternate proposals for a book for next month, let the group know.

Farewell for the month and keep reading.


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