Karabagh Forum at Tufts Unfolds Quietly


By Thomas C. Nash
Special to the Mirror-Spectator

MEDFORD, Mass. – In the midst of talk of the Armenia-Turkey protocols for establishing ties, Tufts University held a symposium on September 26 on the Nagorno Karabagh conflict that occurred off the radar for all but a few academics and analysts.

The organizers, two professors at the Tufts Fletcher School of Law Diplomacy and the US State Department-sponsored Imagine Center for Conflict Transformation, have refused to say why the symposium was not better publicized locally to an Armenian community that has long had close ties with the school.

In addition, organizers avoided questions relating to why the symposium featured speakers who currently hold positions in the Azeri government while waiting until the last minute to invite a representative from the Armenian embassy, and not including Nagorno Karabagh officials at all.

“We didn’t have time,” said Phil Gamaghelyan, co-director of the Imagine Center, who arranged the September 26 symposium’s speakers with the Fletcher School’s Contemporary Turkish Studies Program Director Andrew Hess and International Conflict Management Prof. Eileen Babbitt. “It came together very last minute.”

Joyce Barsam, who heads a scholarship fund for young Armenian government officials to attend the Fletcher School and is on Fletcher’s Board of Overseers, says otherwise. She said Gamaghelyan approached her months ago looking for funding.

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“We determined it wasn’t part of our mission,” Barsam said. “We decided we did not need to support Azerbaijan’s presence there.”

In addition to Bentley’s Prof. Asbed Kotchikian and Armenian Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Varuzhan Nersessian, the first panel, titled  “Challenges and Prospects of the Nagorno Karabagh Peace Process in the Context of New Regional Realities,” included Taleh Ziyadov from the Azerbaijani Diplomatic Academy at Cambridge University and Elin Suleymanov, consul general of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles, and Rouben Shugarian, currently on the faculty on Fletcher, who was the former ambassador of Armenia to the US.

The panel was disrupted at one point by Nagorno Karabagh Representative Robert Avetisyan, who demanded to know why a representative from the republic had not been included in the panel.

“I feel like the whole thing was tilted toward highlighting the Azeris,” said Barsam, who attended the first day of the symposium (a second was closed to the public). “Why they had a conference on Nagorno Karabagh and didn’t give people from Nagorno Karabagh [an opportunity] to speak, I have no idea. It was a bewilderment to me why the conference took place in the first place.”

The Nagorno Karabagh office did not respond to a request for comment. Kotchikian, who will speak at a forum organized by Babbitt at Harvard on November 18, said the symposium provided a chance for an “exchange of ideas,” eschewing the suggestion that the last-minute addition of Nersessian stacked the discussion in favor of the Azeri side.
“The level of discourse could have been much higher, with representatives from a more balanced perspective,” he said. “I’ve worked in the past with officials from Azerbaijan. At the end of the day, I don’t do politics.”

“Unfortunately there was no opportunity for Armenians to select who they wanted,” Barsam said. “It was an attempt to bring Armenians and Azeris together … and unfortunately I feel the people who represented Armenia’s case were unable to be prepared and those are on the Azeri side knew well in advance.

“The timing was not good for Armenians, and the set up was not good for Armenians.”

The seminar was co-sponsored by the International Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Program and the Southwest Asia and Islamic Civilization Program, both of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy; the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School and Imagine Center for Conflict Transformation.

Neither Babbitt nor Hess could be reached for comment.

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