Commentary: Territorial Disputes

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

There is no statute of limitation on the crime of genocide, nor is there one on territorial disputes between nations. In both cases, Armenia and Armenians remain as plaintiffs, waiting for their day in court.

Spain waited exactly 500 years to apologize for the expulsion of the Jews in 1492. Indeed, King Juan Carlos of Spain finally admitted his country’s guilt in the harsh treatment of the Jews and apologized publicly in 1992.

Before him, Chancellor Willy Brandt went to Israel, knelt down at Yad Vashem Sanctuary and, after almost half a century, apologized on behalf of his government and people for the Holocaust.

Armenians have been waiting for almost a century for a day of reckoning. But the Turks had done such a thorough job through the Genocide, that Armenians have not been able to recover and lay a claim against Turkey. On the contrary, the criminals have become the guardians of the international law claiming territorial concessions from Armenia. Indeed, Turkey, as the rotating chairman of the UN Security Council, has been threatening Armenia with placing the Karabagh issue on the Security Council’s agenda. Through Turkey’s help and leadership and the cooperation of some Islamic countries, Azerbaijan was able to pass a non-binding resolution at the UN General Assembly, which “reaffirmed Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity” and demanded the “immediate withdrawal of all Armenian forces from all occupied territories there.”

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Although the resolution has no teeth and cannot be enforced, it acts as a valid propaganda tool for the Azeris and the Turks to claim that international law is on their side. It also demonstrates how isolated Armenia becomes when the chips are down.

The Turks and Azeris have been demanding the return of all captured territories during the Karabagh War, against some vague and reversible promises.

During the bloody rule of the Kenan Evren in Turkey, when answering a question about Armenian territorial aspirations, the dictator stated that territories are not given; they can only be taken by blood. That is where we are now. We have taken those territories by blood and no Karabaghtzi will be willing to compromise on that issue.

Although there is no practical value, it is time to turn the tables and ask Turkey when is it ready to return Armenian historic territory to its lawful owner.

In the light of these claims and counter claims, the wisest course for Armenia is to keep the Turks guessing whether Yerevan will ever debate, dispute or quit claims on the territories lost by the Treaty of Kars.

Recently, an interesting sideshow was evolving in South America during the summit in Bariloche, Argentina (UNASAR). The presidents of Bolivia and Chile, Evo Morales and Michelle Bachelet, met on the sidelines of the summit to discuss or settle a territorial dispute, which is 125 years old. Bolivia still claims its access corridor to the Pacific lost to Chile during the Pacific War (1879-1884).

For those who think that historic Armenia has been lost to Turks almost a century ago for good, need to take heart, that nations will never give up hope of restoring their historic rights, even after a relapse of 125 years.

Although time-wise some similarity exists between Armenian claims and Bolivian claims, the similarities end because Chile has captured that territory in a war between equals and has not committed a Genocide like the Turks to compound its guilt.

Today, both countries have attained democratic rule and they can discuss past grievances freely, especially when they need each other. Thus, Bolivia sits on the second largest gas reserves in South America and Chile needs to have access to those energy sources.

That is why an accommodation has been reached between the two countries, which is not yet a final solution. Peru, over whose territory the Bolivian corridor is supposed to stretch, has become a spoiler in the deal. As Bolivia reactivates its claim over the Atacama Corridor, Peru contends that a 1929 treaty establishes Peruvian participation in any settlement between the parties.

This arrangement is somewhat similar to the Kars Treaty, which recognizes Turkey as guarantor to Nakhichevan, stipulating that Baku cannot cede Nakhichevan to any third party, i.e. Armenia, without Ankara’s consent.

In this case Chile has been offering unrestricted but not sovereign maritime access through Chile for Bolivian gas and other commodities; an accord which has placed long disputed Isla Suarez/Ilha de Guajara-Mirim, a fluvial island on Rio Mamore, under Bolivian administration since 1958, but sovereignty remains in dispute.

Unfortunately in Armenia’s case, its territorial claim is not backed by natural resources, which the other parties, or the world for that matter, would need.

Justice is on our side. It remains to muster international clout and support to make good on our rights.

As the above cases testify, our claims never expire, even when sometimes our resilience does.