AW: Chidem Inch: Olympics and Artsakh

It is Thursday morning, August 31. Our bags are packed, and we are ready to fly to Washington, D.C. for the AYF Olympics, the annual gathering of AYF members, alumni and families to enjoy back-to-back athletic events and dances and meet friends old and new. The 90-year-old tradition with humble beginnings, held over Labor Day weekend, has grown and flourished into a celebration of being Armenian.

These long weekends have a magic and allure that keep us coming back. There will be the inevitable sadness on Labor Day, when we return home exhausted to resume our everyday lives.   

Yet while I am excited to go to Washington this year along with my whole family, I find myself departing under a cloud of sadness. We all feel constant angst regarding what is happening to our people in Artsakh. It is Day 263 of the blockade – let’s call it what it is, a siege of 120,000 Armenians. No food or medical supplies are passing through the Berdzor (Lachin) Corridor. Armenia cannot send aid and has no military options to break the blockade. There is a pall over everyone as we wonder when Azerbaijan and Turkey might use their militaries to…I can’t even type the words.

I am going to D.C. to live it up while all this is happening halfway across the world. I feel conflicted, but life must go on. Folks I know went to Armenia this summer, for weddings or vacations. I saw their photos and videos of a thriving Yerevan just a few hours’ drive from the blockade. I cannot criticize – I am going to the Olympics for the same reason. Our churches held picnics this summer with music and dancing. We have to keep our communities vibrant and financially solvent.  

Our collective sadness is amplified by the fact that we Armenians have little power to end the blockade. Diplomacy without some military or economic leverage is not helpful. As we near the one-year mark of the blockade, countries around the world are urging the opening of the corridor and a peaceful solution. What is a peaceful solution – what Azerbaijan and Turkey want? What about the Armenians in the homeland? 

We have the humanitarian and moral high ground for sure, but this is another example of us using a paper ladle to get our fair share.  

It is easy to criticize Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. I hear it all the time – people are always telling me, “I do not support Pashinyan,” or worse, “He is a traitor.”  I wonder what I or any of the rest of us would or could do in his position?  I have yet to hear anyone propose a plan that might work in our favor. It is gut-wrenching to realize our national impotence.

The “SOS Artsakh!” protest is taking place on Friday, September 1 in front of the White House. I imagine it will be well attended, as it should be.  Will it have any impact?  Will U.S. President Joe Biden notice?  Will he change course and stop aid to Turkey and Azerbaijan? Sadly, probably not. A month or so ago, Turkey agreed to let Sweden into NATO, within a day of the approval of the transfer of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey. In the behind-the-scenes discussions that obviously let this exchange happen, would the U.S. have insisted the blockade be lifted? I assume not.

In a discussion with Pauline Getzoyan, editor of the Weekly, she said we have to protest. Our people in Artsakh see and appreciate it and feel fortified by the support. So, protest we will. We will do whatever we can to urge the U.S. to take a stronger stand to guarantee the territorial integrity of Armenia and the security of the Armenians in Artsakh. 

Life must go on, but it feels like one foot on a dock and one foot on the boat, and the boat is drifting…

Mark Gavoor is Associate Professor of Operations Management in the School of Business and Nonprofit Management at North Park University in Chicago. He is an avid blogger and oud player.