Armenia under Diplomatic Siege

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

When Armenia signed the Protocols last October with Turkey it was believed that the administration in Yerevan was taking a calculated risk. Armenia being a strategic ally of Russia was desperately trying to implement its foreign policy of complementarism, by cooperating with NATO structures, dispatching symbolic forces to Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The idea of the Protocols was the centerpiece of Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy agenda and she had staked much on its success. Therefore, the Armenian leadership believed that they would be in the good graces of the US by giving a chance for the Protocols to succeed.

In addition to the desire to win over the US, Armenia’s calculated risk was in the belief that should the Protocols fail, the ball would be in Turkey’s court and the international community would blame Ankara for the failure. But it looks at this point that the calculation in that risk was not properly assessed, and that logic, justice, morality and fairness have no place in the international politics.

It is true that the powers that be have been equally pressuring both sides to ratify the protocols, but the impact at the receiving ends of the pressure is not the same. While such pressure may crush Armenia under its weight, because Armenia does not have too much room to maneuver, Turkey can withstand and survive the same amount of pressure because, it has a multi-dimensional foreign policy: It can play Israel vs. Arabs, the Islamic world vs. the European Union and the US vs. Russia. And that is where we are now. There is tremendous pressure on Armenia and the arguments, which ordinarily Turkey would have used against Armenia have been adopted or endorsed by the US, OSCE and the Council of Europe.

Armenians have certainly been lobbying for the passage of resolutions in the American and European legislatures.

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But their passage does not necessarily depend on that lobbying alone; there must also be an alignment of other interests to give support to Armenian endeavors.

Such an alignment recently happened in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US Congress and the Swedish parliament; in both cases, the Genocide Resolutions were adopted by very narrow margins. Then all hell broke loose; Turkey recalled its ambassadors from the respective capitals and threatened to take punitive measures against those countries, whose executive branches knuckled under immediately.

Swedish Prime Minister Frederick Reinfoldt rushed to call his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to apologize for his parliament’s action, facing a challenge from his country’s legislature and Mr. Erdogan, condescendingly, asked the Swedish premier to take the necessary steps “to correct the mistake.”
In her turn, Hillary Clinton, reneging on her pre-election campaign pledge has been actively and vocally trying to stop HR252 from coming to the floor in the House.

To compound this anti-Armenian stand, the State Department has issued one of the harshest reports about the human rights abuses in Armenia, rehashing stories from the last two-three years. No one can claim that Armenia is above any criticism on its human rights records, but the State Department lays out also some unfounded accusations about the lack of freedom of the press and freedom of assembly, while the opposition press stoops to the lowest levels of journalism to hurl insults at the administration, and the Armenian National Congress party organizes almost monthly rallies to “dismantle the kleptocracy,” meaning the government.

It turns out that the Protocols were smoke screens to derail other issues, namely the recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

Ms. Clinton argues that the passage of the Genocide Resolution will hurt US-Turkish relations and will also harm Armenian-Turkish reconciliation efforts. Only the contrary can be true. Once the US passes the resolution, Turkey will be forced to take the Protocols seriously, despite all the fuss. Besides, Armenian-Turkish relations could not be worse, therefore, Armenia has nothing to fear that they can deteriorate any further.
Recently Secretary of Defense Robert Gates added his support to Clinton’s pro-Turkish campaign in an interview on Arabiya Broadcast. He said that he was concerned by the action taken by the Foreign Affairs Committee because “Turkey and Armenia are progressing in their reconciliation efforts. And the Protocols were specifically designed for that purpose. I think that it is a necessary document, and similar resolutions may damage Turkish-American Relations.”

But the more massive political pressure came at the NATO seminar, which began in Yerevan on March 12. Participants from different countries and international agencies ganged up on Armenia advocating Turkish-Azerbaijani positions on a host of issues. The chairman of the International Crisis group, Sabena Fraser, Azerbaijani Tabib Husseinov, a member of the same group, and Sunat Kiniglioglu, the vice chairman of Turkey’s ruling party’s foreign relations group, essentially held the same positions. Tabib Husseinov and Kiniglioglu reiterated the Turkish condition that Ankara can open the border only after the settlement of the Karabagh issue.

Bernard Fassier, the French Co-Chair of Minsk Group, stunned the audience with his verbal gymnastics, when he first stated that yes, Karabagh should participate in the negotiations. When he further expanded on the topic it became obvious that he was endorsing Baku’s position, because by Karabagh he meant also the participation of the Azeri refugees after they settle in their former homes and after Armenia evacuates the five Azeri regions under its control. He further spoke about the dissimilarities of Kosovo and Karabagh.

It was not clear if Mr. Fassier was expressing his own views or those of the Minsk Group or the position of the French government.

This also explains why a scheduled press conference was cancelled following the meeting between President Serge Sargisian and Nicholas Sarkozy in Paris.

After forcing the two parties to sign the Protocols, Clinton had to predict the outcome. When the US State Department abandons its even-handed position, the Protocols cannot lead anywhere but into a quagmire. Only when Turkey’s bluffs are ignored and a genuine desire is restored in the US for reconciliation efforts that the Protocols may take a positive turn.

On the Armenian front it is not true that the protocols pitted Armenia against the diaspora.

That statement assumes that the diaspora is under ARF control, which is far from the truth. The division occurred along the traditional fault lines, between the forces supporting the government position and those who intend to unseat the present administration. Yet any division does not help to advance our cause when we need unity most.

On the issue of the Genocide recognition, Prof. Ashod Melkonian, head of the History Department of the Academy of Sciences, has offered some interesting comments which need to be taken seriously by our diplomats and lobbying groups. He states that we have to go beyond the recognition issue and explore the solutions to deal with the results of the Genocide, because the Armenian Genocide is not denied nor disputed by any party in the US and 42 states have already recognized it. He further focuses on the fact that “in many legislatures, where the Armenian Genocide is discussed, a crucial definition is missed. Except for the Russian Duma resolution, the venue of Genocide is defined as the Ottoman Empire, whereas the legal term should be historic Armenia.”
Recent developments in Armenia’s domestic politics have not been helping to formulate a coherent stand against this diplomatic siege.

Opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian had toned down his rhetoric in recent moths to give a chance to the government to negotiate a favorable deal for Armenia. But at the most recent rally of the Armenian National Congress it was again vintage Ter-Petrosian advocating a regime change.

International diplomatic pressure compounded by domestic instability has made it a daunting task to run Armenia’s government.

At this juncture, no individual statesman nor group can follow a partisan policy if they are concerned with Armenia’s future. The Karabagh problem is at a stalemate, the Protocols are in quagmire, domestic stability fractured and foreign diplomatic pressures are amassing.

We wished that there would be a more optimistic perspective for the situation, but there is none.