Former Ambassador Djerejian Speaks at Annual Human Rights Lecture


By Alin K. Gregorian

Mirror-Spectator Staff

BOSTON — Former American ambassador to Israel and Syria, Edward Djerejian, was the speaker at the third annual K. George and Carolann Najarian Lecture on Human Rights in Faneuil Hall. Djerejian started off by joking that his daughter asked if he really is an expert on the Middle East, as other people have called him. When he responded in the affirmative, she quipped, “You haven’t done a very good job.”

His talk was divided into geographical regions. Armenia and the Caucasus made up the last portion of the talk. Sounding at times like the Cold War veteran that he is, he figuratively wagged his finger at Armenia. Djerejian was unhappy with the choice of friends Armenia has made — Russia and Iran — and suggested it should get a “truly democratic and enlightened foreign policy.” He stressed that

Azerbaijan and Georgia have instead cultivated strong ties with the west, which Armenia should emulate.

He said the “US has made a concerted effort to help Armenia,” giving “$2 billion in development aid” to the nation. He noted, “Serious challenges remain,” including high unemployment, inflation and emigration by the young.

He suggested Armenia had two problems it should solve in terms of foreign policy: its conflict with Azerbaijan and the stalled talks with Turkey.

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Djerejian stressed that Azerbaijan was escalating its arms race and that while now it was only paying lip service to renewed war with Armenia, it would be ready to battle Armenia for Karabagh by 2014. Thus, he said, Armenia should negotiate.

“The time for diplomacy is now,” he said. “The diaspora should discourage the idea that time is on Armenia’s side.”

With regard to Turkey and the issue of the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, he suggested that “The most pragmatic way is state to state” diplomacy between Armenia and Turkey. While he praised the “soccer diplomacy” of President Serge Sargisian in 2009, when he visited Turkey to attend a soccer game between the teams of the two nations, he suggested that Armenia was responsible for the “failure to ratify” the Protocols drawn up by the US and facilitated by Switzerland, for establishing ties between Armenia and Turkey.

“The stakes are simply too high,” he said, adding, “We Armenians can never forget the past. Our tragedy has made us the people we are today, yet I firmly believe that our first duty is to the future and the youth of Armenia.”

Djerejian started off by saying he was a child of survivors of the Armenian Genocide, before delving into his representation of America’s foreign policy in the Middle East. He said America’s foreign policy could be seen in two modes: idealist (propagation of American values and principles around the world) and realist (national security interests). He proceeded to give details about both.

In the idealist scenario, the US tries to encourage democratic values along the lines of the Bill of Rights around the world, helping the “sovereignty of the people and their institutional rights,” supporting “rule of law, equality before the law and free speech.” This approach, “Wilsonianism,” advocates for active global role in the spread of democracy,” he said.

By contrast, actions taken to defend US national security, seek to secure political, military, energy and cyber security. This mode of thought, he said, is most identified with President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Djerejian’s talk was thorough and far-ranging with regards to politics and the changing face of the Middle East. He recalled that in answer to a question from a New York Times reporter on the Arab Spring, he called it “a tectonic shift in the makeup of Middle East politics.”

He added, “We’re witnessing the end of post- colonialism in the Middle East.”

Reaching back to the previous centuries, Djerejian blamed much of the semi-permanent state of chaos in the Middle East on the colonial powers — Britain, France and Italy — which had drawn maps of the countries according to their own needs.

He spoke at length about — and against — the Syrian government, calling the al-Assad regime a “cleptocracy.”

“Nobody has a real solution for Syria today. This regime thinks it is winning and major parts of the opposition think they are winning. There is no doubt in my mind that we’re on the verge of a post-Assad era,” he said.

As for the Arab Spring, he said, “What is amazing is that there is no leadership. It is truly a grassroots and youth phenomenon.”

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, he said, the State Department has been looking for its next “enemy,” and those are, or should be considered, extremism and terrorism rather than any specific group.

“We have to influence regimes we are friends with in order to make them democratic,” he said, citing as an example Saudi Arabia.

US foreign policy can vary from country to country. He noted President Obama’s decision to not support an old ally, Hosni Mubarak, in Egypt, instead allowing for — and demanding — a regime change. “He doubled the military there, allow- ing [Mubarak] to leave peacefully,” said Djerejian.

However, another case, similar in nature, in Bahrain, has ended differ- ently, with a mere “slap,” as they are allies of firm US friends, Saudi Arabia.

Djerejian is the founding director of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. He served as ambassador to Syria from 1988 to 1991 and to Israel from 1992 to 1994. He has served in the US Foreign Service for eight presi- dents, from John F. Kennedy to William J. Clinton (1962-1994). Prior to his nomination by Clinton as US ambassador to Israel, he was assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs in both the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations. After retirement from government service in 1994, he became founding director of the Baker Institute. His book, Danger and Opportunity: An American Ambassador’s Journey Through the Middle East, was published by Simon & Schuster (2008). Among his many awards and honors, in 2011 he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and named to the Board of Trustees of the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Starting off the program was James Kalustian, the president of the Armenian Heritage Foundation. He spoke about the dedi- cation of the Armenian Heritage Park, happily recounting that “the overflow crowd was truly representative of the overall tapestry that is Boston.”

Dr. Carolann Najarian, in her remarks, paid tribute to Joshua Rubenstein, the northeast regional director of Amnesty International USA, who recently stepped down. Rubenstein, one of the co-chairs of the foundation, was present at the program and thanked the Najarians for their support.

Djerejian was introduced by Dr. Joyce Barsam.


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